Magna Anima Teachers College VP for academic affairs and formation, and Give Thanks and Praise author Fr. Carmelo ‘Tito’ Caluag.
Fr. Tito Caluag: ‘God’s great miracle will happen’
WORDSWORTH - Mons Romulo (The Philippine Star) - July 7, 2020 - 12:00am

During the lockdown, one thing I always looked forward to was Fr. Carmelo “Tito” Caluag’s live-streamed Sunday and daily Masses. His homilies are always simple, short, direct to the point and touching. Listening to him speak the word of God gives me the comfort and peace of mind I need most especially while in community quarantine.

Father Tito is an educator at heart. He started teaching at the Ateneo de Manila in 1980 and entered the Society of Jesus in 1983. He was ordained as a priest in 1993, and took his masters in Science in Educational Administration and specialized in Jesuit Secondary School Administration at Fordham University.

In 2006, he requested to be dismissed from the Society of Jesus. After it was granted, he founded Magna Anima Teachers College, a social enterprise focusing on the transformation of public school education in the Philippines through teacher education, training and formation. He is now its vice president for academic affairs and formation.

Father Tito shares with us his insights regarding the COVID-19 lockdown.

1. The first thing that struck me when the lockdown happened was how transitory life is. The first week of the lockdown, we were supposed to work on major initiatives in public schools, and in a few days, everything just changed. They were dream projects we had worked hard on for years. Then in one moment, it was all on hold. Then you realize how, in the words of the poet Robert Burns and popularized by John Steinbeck, “the best laid plans of mice and men go awry” is so true.

In an instant, everything was uncertain. But there was a choice to let the turn of events throw you into a fit of anxiety and fear, or to step back, discern and renew one’s faith, reconnect with what is essential.

2. The March 28, 2020 Extraordinary Urbi et Orbi of Pope Francis somehow defined for me this whole experience. The image of his solitary figure on the square, the benediction to the city and to the world to an empty square, these and his words said it all: “You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgment, but of our judgment: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others.”

3. The crisis showed a deeper crisis in our society, globally, in fact, the great inequality between those who have access to income and resources, and those who don’t. The latter are the ones who suffer the most. I sincerely hope this is something we will take to heart and find ways to share more, and to provide opportunities for a better life. This is one of the important choices we need to make.

4. The death of many relatives and friends, both because of the virus and of other causes. It again reminds us of how transitory life is. But one death that really affected me was the death of former Tourism Secretary Mon Jimenez. When I was preparing my homily for one of his novena Masses, I decided to end it with his own words — thanks to Gian Lao, who ended his article on Mon with these words from Mon’s 2014 speech: “Your obligation as a public servant is to be happy only to have been part of the beginning. You have no business trying to stick around for the ending — that will be someone else’s satisfaction... I am one of the many leaders of government whose ultimate job is to leave you with something worth continuing. A vision worth completing. A dream worth fulfilling.” What a graceful exit if we could say this as we complete our own journey.

5. Do good. Be kind. Pray. One night, Bianca Gonzales-Intal asked me to guest in her online talk show. Toward the end, she asked what we could do in this time of the pandemic and the lockdown. From the heart, I naturally said: Do good. Be kind. Pray. Again, choosing the essentials of life.

6. During the first week of the lockdown, I noticed there were many more birds flying around, and they were singing more, too. Then I saw a feature story on CNN that explained the reason for this phenomenon of nature — the noise level was down. Nature was healing itself from the harm we have done to it.

7. As chaplain of ABS-CBN, I was saying the daily TV Masses. At first, it did feel unusual saying Mass to “an empty” chapel, but after you realize how the Mass is helping others in so many ways, there was so much grace in celebrating it. I pray this devotion to the Mass will grow and continue even after the lockdown is over.

8. Related to the TV Mass, there was a text message that went around a few days ago saying the sacramental blessing of the Mass was not valid in a replay, etc. The reaction and discussion after made it clear to me that this is a chance for the Catholic Church, for us, to renew ourselves; what Pope Francis said from the start of his papacy, that the Catholic Church has to be more pastoral and less dogmatic. People were making a choice to pray and are rediscovering a core grace of our faith, the Mass lovingly celebrated by the community.

9. I see this time as a great opportunity to renew our sense of mission as a church, as a human family inspired by the words from scripture (Revelation 21): “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away… Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God]. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away... ‘Behold, I make all things new.’”

10. I find myself now renewing my faith in what I always told my students 25 years ago when I was still principal: There are no accidents in God’s plan. The period of this pandemic, the lockdown and the ensuing crises is framed in the time of Lent, Holy Week and Easter — a time of renewal and repentance, of suffering and death, of new life and a glimpse of eternity as the horizon and home of our life, all that is happening to us.

All this we will bring back to what is called in our liturgical calendar as the ordinary time. After Pentecost Sunday, we went back to ordinary time after going through seasons of grace. Now more than ever, what my late spiritual director, Fr. Benny Calpotura, SJ would always tell us rings true and become a source of hope and, yes, even excitement, pray we discover God’s extraordinary grace in the ordinary moments of our life. All miracles in the Gospels took place within the context of a crisis.

Perhaps in the midst of this great crisis we face, God’s great miracle will happen. There are no accidents in God’s plan.

(We welcome your suggestions and comments. Please e-mail me at monsrt@gmail.com.Follow me on Instagram @monsromulo.)

TITO CALUAG
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