The parishioners of the Church of the Divine Mercy Penang (CDM) said goodbye to their first parish priest, Fr Martin Arlando at the weekend masses of the 26th & 27th September. It was an emotional moment when Fr began his last homily on the gospel of the different responses of two sons to their father’s request for help (Matthew 21:28-32).
In his usual way, Fr began by relating a story of a police cadet answering a final exam question. The question asked for the action to be taken by the cadet when he faced the following scenario. While on petrol there was an huge explosion, a hole opened up and a van ran into it and overturned, there was strong of petrol and then there was a cry from a man and a woman. Approaching the scene the woman was the wife of the police chief and a passing motorist driven by a wanted convict went to help. There was also a cry from a man who said that his pregnant wife was experiencing labour pains brought upon by the excitement and large sound of the explosion. A man had also fell into the nearby river and was in danger of drowning. The question posed was what was going to be the response of the policeman in dealing with the situation. The cadet when took up his pen and wrote, “I would take off my uniform and mingle into the crowd.”
Fr explained this is to illustrate how difficult it is at times to living up to the morals of Christian living. Exams can be most difficult and it has be estimated that up to 80% of the time the questions will be based on that one class that you missed or that one book that you had failed to read. When this happens, the world falls apart in front of you. Even when exams are over, there is the anxiety waiting for the time of reckoning when the results are due. Those that score the ‘A’s will reap the rewards and the limelight. Those with the ‘F’s will be labeled failures as they will be also forgotten. But failure is not the opposite of success as it is part of the first steps to success when we learn from it. It is good if it does not become a habit as to FAIL means “First Attempt In Learning”. If plan A doesn’t work there is still another 25 alphabets to go.
In the gospel, Fr explained there are two responses to God’s calling. The first being those who thought about the call and did it. While the second were those who heard the calling but never thought about doing it. The failures were the tax collectors and prostitutes who stayed in the shadows of society. They were making their way into the kingdom of heaven. They were the failures that repented like the first son. While the second son heard the calling but did nothing. Repentance means to have thought better of it and responded from the initial failure to answer the call. To learn to gain from that failure and make it a success. The results of a single event is not reflective of the person’s character or ability but to move on and turn it into a success by learning from it. Fr then went on to relate another story of a couple who had a Downs syndrome child and felt burdened. But as they grew old this was the only child that remained with them to help them in the golden years when the other children had left them. What seemed a burden had turned into a blessing.
In the gospel, the forgotten and overlooked had responded to the message of repentance of John the Baptist and did what God asked of them. Fr reminded the congregation to let the change that always takes place be positive and to take advantage of it. To think better of those who have failed and to respond by accepting them and show them the love of God in our being.
At the end of the Saturday evening mass, the congregation prayed a special prayer for Fr Martin for being their shepherd these last seven years. Fr was given a PowerPoint presentation of thanks and appreciation followed by a video presentation of all he had done at CDM to make it a vibrant Catholic community. On the second day, a second video presentation was showed highlighting all those he had in passing touched their lives. At the end of each video presentations, the congregation was invite to join in the the words of the song “On Eagle’s Wings” to reflect the parish’s feeling for him. After this, the congregation were all invited to stand and the commentator led them in thanking Fr in each of their own dialects. On the second day too a photo of Fr Martin was presented to be hung up in the CDM hall of fame. In addition, a big cake was cut to celebrate the occasion. Due to the limited seating in church those that came for mass were accommodated in Faustina Hall. The heavy showers did not dampened the spirits of those who came to bid farewell.
In reply to the farewell, Fr expressed his heart felt thanks and were at times overcome with emotions and tears. He explained that he had found it most difficult to find the words to express his feelings. He related the experiences when he first arrived as a parish priest for the first here and the help he was given then. He repeated an amusing story he had given in his installation and said he had followed the advice of two close fellow priests to always show love and mercy. However, as a human being he was fallible and bound to have hurt some people. For this, he begged for forgiveness and asked for continued prayers. He had given all his energy and attention to his CDM baby. He had focused on the spiritual side by introducing various prayer groups, formations and the 8.05 pm daily prayer. He had ventured to give international exposure in organizing AACOM IV, building the Holy Door and having a Children’s Christmas Musical. But now it was time to let go and let another carry on with the journey to grow further. He asked for all to continue to give their best to assist the new parish priest, to give their best in oneness and to reflect Jesus in their lives.
For those who were unable to attend this memorial occasion, the events can be reviewed over at Facebook at https://facebook.cdm/cdmsgarapg.
Dr Ivan Filmer
29th September, 2020.