Over the past days most of us gathered here, in our minds and hearts, have been sifting through memories of Fr. Boboy. And in doing so, perhaps we have latched on to one particular memory that encapsulates for us the best of what Fr. Boboy was for each of us. As I went through this process these past days, what has stayed with me is a very tender, somewhat amusing, and typically Jesuit memory. It is that of Fr. Boboy, sometime earlier this year, coming home after a long day at the Junior High School. It was a day in which he persisted at work even with all the pains and aches in his body, as had become increasingly common during these last few months. He came in a little late for our community dinner that evening but seemed very happy and energized because he was holding in his hands a small bowl of pili fruit. Yes, pili fruit! He gingerly laid down the bowl at our community dinner table and started to explain to the ignorant non-Bicolanos in the community (including myself) how we should consume the mysterious fruit before us.
This heart warming memory from our Jesuit community life has consoled me during these days of grief. This simple, caring gesture that is so typical of Fr. Boboy highlights for us Jesuits, and for all of us here, three important facets of Fr. Boboy’s generous and loving witness, a witness that shines forth especially during this Easter season.
First is Fr. Boboy’s quiet determination. In our first reading we see the apostles, in the midst of the growing persecution of the early Church, boldly proclaiming: “We must obey God rather than men.” As we have seen in the many tributes and testimonies that have been pouring in these past days, Fr. Boboy was indeed someone who served God rather than men. This was evident in the most menial acts he would perform, including going through those pili trees to your left, just beside this Church, after a long day’s work, to gather fruit and serve these to his Jesuit brothers. This was so Fr. Boboy. Many of you saw it as well in Fr. Boboy’s ready availability to say mass, to hear confessions, to give spiritual direction, to listen, to provide counsel, hardly ever turning down anyone. It was a quiet apostolic determination that drove Fr. Boboy to give his all in every task he was assigned, even to the point of ravaging his weary and sickly body, until there was literally nothing left to give.
If you look through his Jesuit curriculum vitae, the assignment that Fr. Boboy had most often after his ordination was that of “minister.” A minister is someone tasked with caring for the temporal needs of a Jesuit work or community. At different points of his priestly life, Fr. Boboy was minister for three different communities: De La Costa House, which is the Jesuit Provincial’s office; San Jose Seminary, the diocesan seminary run by the Jesuits inside Ateneo de Manila; and what were then the Jesuit Infirmaries, also inside Ateneo de Manila. Perhaps because of his quiet apostolic determination, it came naturally for superiors to assign him to such positions of service. And we certainly saw this same determination in his final assignment at the Junior High School, a job he did not want, but which he took on with great dedication out of a sense of sacred duty and obedience. Truly, Fr. Boboy saw in each and every task a means of serving his Lord and Master Jesus Christ.
Second is Fr. Boboy’s abiding love for God’s creation. In the astounding vision presented by John in our second reading from the Book of Revelation, we see the triumphant Lamb of God in all His glory, being praised by all creation. And in great ways and small, we saw Fr. Boboy joining in that glorious heavenly praise in his love of creation. That evening when Fr. Boboy proudly brought the pili fruit to our dinner table, I remember him very intently explaining to us that every part of the fruit had a purpose: the flesh to be consumed, the nut to be processed for food or resin, the shell itself to be used as fuel or compost. Again, that was so thoroughly Fr. Boboy. Such was his love for creation that he spent several years doing graduate studies in environmental management. He put that knowledge to good use by enjoining people in his apostolic assignments to be environmentally conscious. In our Jesuit community and in the Junior High School, for example, he would always champion waste segregation and recycling.
But there was a contemplative, a very spiritual side to this love of creation as well. If at work Fr. Boboy was the man of quiet determination, in his silent moments of prayer and relaxation, he was a lover of God’s created world. Many times in our Jesuit community, we would find Fr. Boboy, first thing in the morning, attending to the small garden in the Jesuit Residence, feeding the fish, pruning the plants, and doing so in a very reverent and prayerful manner. Very often his abiding love for creation would intersect with his genuine love for people. He loved traveling with many of you his friends, not for some extravagant or expensive outings, but often to some simple place in the mountains or by the sea, to enjoy the sunset, to admire the ocean, to behold the stars. Some of you his friends have spoken about such trips planned already for the next few months. We will all truly miss how Fr. Boboy taught us to love God in all His creatures.
Third and last is Fr. Boboy’s unwavering sense of mission. In the gospel we hear of Peter being subjected, three times, to Jesus’ question and exhortation: “Do you love me? Feed my sheep.” It is not difficult to imagine Fr. Boboy taking Jesus’ question and exhortation to heart, the good Jesuit always asking himself, “What more can I do for the mission?” That same evening at dinner, after discussing the merits of the pili nut, Fr. Boboy also gave us a short lecture on the travails of pili farmers who were struggling to eke out a living. That too was very much Fr. Boboy, always on the lookout for those most in need, scanning every nook and cranny of his already very busy schedule to find some way to be more available to those in the peripheries. His weekend apostolate in the Naga City prison exemplified this—a work which he eventually encouraged me to participate in—and now the PDLs or people deprived of liberty incarcerated there mourn the loss of a loving guardian and father.
Fr. Boboy’s sense of mission was so great, we now know, that even as we welcome him home here in Ateneo de Naga, Fr. Boboy had in fact already set his sights beyond Bicol. He would share in a most intimate and heartfelt way among us Jesuits, and most especially with his closest Jesuit friend in our community, Bro. Noel Cantago, about his restlessness and his longing to be called to greater pastoral availability. Because of this Fr. Provincial recently assigned him to the Jesuit mission station in the Diocese of Caloocan, right at ground zero for the scourge of extra-judicial killings plaguing our country. Fr. Boboy was truly excited for his new mission, but it was not to be. God soon called him home, and now He is surely declaring before Fr Boboy, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
This is the Fr. Boboy we celebrate today: the man of quiet determination, the lover of God’s creation, the Jesuit committed to God’s mission. We have all encountered these facets of Fr. Boboy’s ministry, and we will miss them in the most personal of ways. For me, I will miss the fact that he was the Nagueño bridge of our largely non-Bicolano Jesuit community. I will long for the times when he would give me wise and gentle counsel. From time to time he would tell me: “Bert, this teacher was hurt by your remarks”; or “Bert, you need to take it easy on this person”; and many times, “Bert, you need to smile more.” I grieve for someone whom I have mentored in the Society, from the time of the pre-ordination “Arrupe month” I directed for his presbyteral class eighteen years ago, to the brief and privileged period I have worked with him here at the Ateneo. But truth be told, I mourn because I realize now that it is a mentor I have lost in Fr. Boboy. In life and in death Fr. Boboy has taught my brother Jesuits and me what it means to be generous, to serve the Lord as He deserves, to give and not to count the cost.
I end these reflections with a very short prayer, an old Celtic fisherman’s prayer that Fr. Boboy would have surely encountered in his year of Tertianhip in Ireland, a time he immensely enjoyed. “Oh God, Thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.” “… Thy sea is so great, and my boat is so small.” We continue that prayer by saying: “Loving Father, how immense Your grace, and how brief have been these forty six years during which You shared Fr. Boboy with us. But in these forty six years we have been in awe at the greatness of the sea of Your compassion pouring out from Fr. Boboy’s loving, generous heart. With tears in our eyes and with gratitude in our hearts, we send him forth back to the sea of Your great love. May Fr. Boboy reach shore in Your loving embrace. Amen.”
Fr. Roberto EN Rivera SJ
University Church of Christ the King, Ateneo de Naga
5 May 2019, 3rd Sunday of Easter Year