PRESIDENT'S 50TH BIRTHDAY THANKSGIVING

Good evening everyone. I'm truly grateful to God that you are all here tonight. Allow me to say that the very reason why we are having this celebration is because of a biblical prescription. As I indicated in my invitation, according to Leviticus 25:10 "You shall thus consecrate the 50th year… It shall be a jubilee for you." Jubilees need to be celebrated because a Jubilee is always a time of grace and a time of thanksgiving.

Jubilee celebrations have become personally important to me. It all began in 1997 when our then Bishop Gungon appointed me Chair of the Diocesan Jubilee Celebration in 1997 until the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. Bishop Gungon told me that I was made a Monsignor exactly 10 years ago yesterday, because of my successful chairmanship the Jubilee celebration. In 2008, we celebrated the Silver Jubilee of the Diocese of Antipolo, and last year, we celebrated both the Golden Jubilee of Cainta Catholic College and my very own Silver Sacerdotal Jubilee. And today I am celebrating golden jubilee of my life. That is why I would say that Jubilee Celebrations has since become an important part of my system. And so, as I reach my 50th birthday, which according to the bible is a Jubilee Year, it is but fitting we celebrate today, thanking God for all the graces He has so generously showered upon me during all these years!

Fifty years old. The last decade of middle-age before reaching the dual citizenship of Filipino and senior citizenship is an exiting time. Some people are hesitant to celebrate their 50th birthday, precisely because it means that you are on the verge of senior citizenship! But as my cousin replied to my text when I greeted him during his 50th birthday last year, he said, "No worries. Nowadays, 50 is the new 30!"And as I read somewhere, "As life begins at 40, fun begins at 50!"

A decade ago, I always say I still feel young and strong. I was very hyper-active and I always feel physically powerful. I was still very physically active then, joining the Parilympics, playing tennis and basketball with priests 10 to 15 years younger than I, some of whom were my students when I was still teaching Theology in San Carlos Seminary. It was only two years ago when I decided to "hang my jersey" and stop playing basketball because every time I did, I would always be in the hospital the next day due to torn ligaments. And it was only last year when I experienced so many kinds of sicknesses and I always felt dizzy. At first I thought it was vertigo. But later on doctors found out that I had a cholesterol block in my carotid that obstructs the oxygen supply to my brain, and thus explains my dizziness. That's because my cholesterol level became more than double the normal limit. Thus, I really need a change of lifestyle. Whereas before, I used to work and play to my heart's content, now I have to slow down. Whereas before I used to sleep late and regularly had only three to four hours of sleep, now doctors are ordering me to sleep at least seven to eight hours a day. Because of my ultra-high cholesterol level, I have to stop eating meat altogether, which I miss so much. It has been almost 10 months that I am in a no meat diet. Likewise, I have to take so many medicines everyday. No wonder a friend told me last week that the medicines I'm taking are very much the same as her 80 year old Mom!

It's very difficult but it has its rewards as I lost more than 20 lbs since I stopped eating meat. Also no more coffee which I also love so much. And no more alcoholic drinks. And worst of all, no travelling at the moment because I cannot ride an airplane without artificial oxygen! Grabe, ang hirap palang tumanda! But I don't lose hope because during our Annual Retreat last week, many brother priests were greeting me, Welcome to the club! And most of them are happy people: Fr. Pepe, Fr. Louie, Fr. Rico, Fr. Ric. Oh, I have such great company! Hopefully, I'll more years ahead of me…

During the Silver Jubilee of my classmate, Msgr. Rolly dela Cruz and the just celebrated 70th birthday of our dear Bishop Gabby Reyes, they both shared the lessons they learned and lived by during their years. As a moral theologian, we usually abide by and follow certain principles in my life. So now allow me share mine.

  • Number 10. "All work and no play makes John a dull boy." Ever since I was young I have always been very playful. Maybe I was one of the earliest cases of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) syndrome which was not yet known then. One reason why I fully enjoyed my seminary life was because I was able to play everyday. In the seminary, I play almost all sports--basketball, tennis, volleyball. Being a son of an athlete, sports run deeply into my blood. I missed that when I became a priest, especially when I was in Antipolo. When I became parish priest of Montalban, I was able to resume playing basketball and even formed a team that competed in inter-commercial leagues together with Fr. Pepe Pedraja. When I was in San Mateo, Fr. Fred Ganzon took me to play bowling. When I was in the Collegio in Rome, I was able to play basketball and tennis to my heart's content. In Rosario and Marikina, I resumed playing tennis and basketball, and now, as I got old, my ball has become smaller, as I'm now into golf. Sports is very important for me in order to cope up with too much stress in my ministry. One of my favourites in the many anecdotes of Bishop Reyes is when I woman was asking her visit her son who was being possessed by a demon.
  • Number 9. "Bloom where you are planted." I have been assigned to different parishes and one reason I never have misgiving in any of those is because I try to live by this principle.
  • Number 8: "Principle of Maximalism." One of the things I remember from our great professor in philosophy, Fr. John Zwaenepoel is this principle of giving your best in everything you do. Many people mistake me for being a perfectionist. No I am not as I am very much aware that nobody is perfect. But I have always believed that it is better to make a mistake than do nothing at all.
  • Number 7: "Success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." I always believe in hard work. I always maintain that I may not be very intelligent but I always try to go the extra mile in whatever I do. I really believe this is the secret to success and being a winner in life. Just to share a text I received a week ago:
  • A loser is always part of the PROBLEM.
    A winner is always part of the ANSWER.
    A loser always has an EXCUSE.
    A winner always has a PLAN.
    A loser says, "THAT IS NOT MY JOB".
    A winner says, "LET ME DO IT FOR YOU".
    A loser sees A PROBLEM FOR any ANSWER.
    A winner sees an ANSWER FOR any PROBLEM.
    A loser says, "IT MAY BE POSSIBLE BUT IT'S TOO DIFFICULT."
    A winner says, "IT MAY BE DIFFICULT BUT IT'S POSSIBLE."

  • Number 6: "The truth shall set you free." I always believe in the truth. I always believe in honesty not only in words but also in deeds. I always try to give importance to transparency and integrity that is maybe why I have always been made treasurer since I was a seminarian, already investing millions of pesos for our scholarship foundation then. And until now I am always deeply indebted to the trust bestowed upon me by Bishop Reyes for being the diocesan treasurer and financial administrator for ten years now. And speaking of financial administration, I always try to live by one of the most basic financial principle: Never spend more than you earn, a principle I always abide by.
  • Number 5: According to Buddha: "If you wish to be happy, do not expect too much." One reason why I live a happy life is because I don't expect too much from life and from God. If you expect too much and did not get what you want, you'll always get frustrated. But if you expect less, you will be ready for whatever may come.
  • Number 4: If you give someone fish, you help him for one day. But if you teach him how to fish, you help him for the rest of his life. Charity is always an important part of our priestly ministry. Almost everyday, we never run out of people seeking help for almost everything. But I don't believe in dole-outs, except in emergency situations. I always discourage gift-giving which is just a band-aid solution to a cancerous situation. I believe that the best way to help is to assist the person to stand by his/her own two feet. And this can only be done by means of giving them tools for employment like scholarship, skills training, cooperative, micro-financing, etc.
  • Number 3: It's not the years in life that matters but the life you put in those years. I always believe in living the life to the fullest, in the Latin saying, carpe diem – seize the day; to make the most out of life. Yes life is short. So why waste it on nonsensical matters? Why waste it on disdain, depression, hatred and anger? Life is beautiful. Live it to the fullest!
  • Number 2: God cannot be outdone in generosity. The more you give the more you will receive from God, pressed down, shaken together, and running over – siksik, liglig, umaapaw! This is my own personal experience – the more I become greedy, the less I have. But the more I share what I have, the more I receive from people. And the more I give, the happier I become. This for me is the secret to happiness. [Bishop Francis' Secret to Happiness].
  • Number 1: Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his justice, and all other things shall be given unto you. Justice is one of my most passionate advocacies. Since I specialized in Social Moral Theology and taught the subject Justice and Development in the seminary, it has always been my personal crusade. Give to each one what is due to them. Don't be greedy. Precisely because God is a provident Father, and if you give priority to him, you don't have to worry about anything else because He really does provide for more than what you need.

At this point, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to whom gratitude is due. First, to God Our Father Almighty. All my life God has been so good to me despite my multitude of sinfulness. He has showered me with all his graces, and has always guided me in my priestly ministry. God has always been so good and generous to me. He never got tired of me and He never fails to manifest his compassion and deep love during all the years of God. Thank you Lord! Thank you dear Father. And with all sincerity let me proclaim: God is good!

This morning, I, together with the Cainta Catholic College Community, had a tree planting activity in Boso-Boso, Antipolo City, near the boundary of Pintong Bucaue, San Mateo, in the former garbage sanitary landfill dump site which we were protesting then when I was still parish priest of San Mateo in 1991. Now that the dumpsite is closed, we are replenishing the area with trees. We planted 500 trees – ten trees for my every year of existence. It is my own small way of giving back to God. Since I don't and won't have children of my own, I view tree planting as my way to be God's co-creator, my own share in God's creation. This to me is my own way of procreation! Last year, our school theme in CCC was "Loving God, Living Green," as environmental protection has always been one of my personal advocacies. I have always emphasized that we cannot fully love God our creator if we do not care for His creation. It is my small contribution for our future generation. I also admonish everyone to do the same.

Second, I thank Mother Mary, who became much closer to me ever since I lost my mother last year. I owe my perseverance in the priestly ministry from her.

Third, to my dearest parents, the late Francisco Lagarejos and Aida Fuentes, who gave me my very life. I owe everything I am now from them. Again, I dedicate this celebration to them.

Fourth to Bishop Gabriel Reyes - the best bishop in the world! Bishop Francis de Leon - the best auxiliary bishop in the world! And Bishop Bacani – the best theologian in the world! To my brother priests, especially to the clergy of the diocese of Antipolo, whom again I would boldly say, the best clergy in the world!

I also would like to thank also all my dear friends from all the different parishes I have served: Antipolo, Montalban, San Mateo, Rosario, and Marikina. Thank you so much for being here.

And of course, I will not forget all the wonderful people of my current assignments: the people of Our Lady of Light Parish Cainta, led by the Parish Pastoral Council headed by our PPC President, Bro. Chito Cubacub and the Parish Finance Council headed by Ms. Emy Villanueva, who took charge of this celebration. And of course all the administrators, faculty, personnel and students of Cainta Catholic College as well as my staff in the Diocesan Finance Office headed by Sis. Cora Mamarion, MSH. I would like to give special mention to my brother priests in the parish ministry, Fr. Paul Merida, our Parochial Vicar and our guest priests, Fr. Tony Gerente, Fr. Mel Atubog and our most able chaplain in CCC, Fr. Blaise Garcia, MMHC, without whom I won't be able to perform the numerous tasks entrusted to my care. Maraming salamat po sa inyong patuloy na pagtityaga sa akin.

I also would like to thank my dearest family and relatives for continually supporting me, especially in the difficult situations of my life. To Tita Patsy and my brothers and sisters and their respective families, for always making me feel I belong to a family.

Lastly, I would like to thank all of you for sharing me your precious time and effort for being here with me today. The reason why you are all here is because you have been a very important part of my 50 years. Thank you all for being here.

Fifty years old…. Half a century… Not young anymore. On the verge of being old. Well at least as a priest, I don't have to worry about avoiding temptation anymore. As they say, as you grow older, it will be the one to avoid you! It is somewhat dreary to be fifty and not as strong as you used to be. I can't work or even play for long hours anymore. But surprisingly, I realized I still possess the agility and freshness of spirit untouched by age. As it has been said that 50 is the new 30, I hope that this age will bring my ministry to an even steadier fire of passion as it was twenty five years ago when I was ordained priest.

As I reflect on those years that passed me, and regretting that I can not jump as high in basketball as before or make a 300 yards drive in golf, I found a stronger and more powerful strength that lies inside me, and that is God Himself! That is why, with St. Paul, let me also say, "Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, it is then that I am strong (2 Cor 12:10). Because in weakness, I rely more not on my strength any longer, but on God!

Maraming salamat po sa inyong lahat!