Text and photo by Dexter R. Matilla
For the Philippine Daily Inquirer
YEARS of going to Sunday Mass and I still find myself mystified by parables during the gospel readings. But as Xavier School President, Fr. Johnny Go, SJ. would say, that it is where the beauty of the parables lie.
In the book, 50mething (reads as fifty something), friends of Fr. Go collect 50 of the Jesuit priest’s most memorable homilies spanning his 13 years in the clergy; fifty because Fr. Go turned 50 recently. The homilies, given in different venues such as Mary the Queen Parish, Xavier School, and New York, are often filled with questions because Fr. Go feels that even a priest such as himself doesn’t always have the correct answers to our spiritual questions.
“When you’re honest with people and you tell them that you don’t know the answer, they appreciate that,” Fr. Go says.
Relative to that, Fr. Go shares that the hardest homily for him to give isn’t when he sees a couple or more faces in the crowd frowning from the length of his sermon but when he has to do it during a mass for the dead—especially when the deceased is very young.
“When a young person dies, and you’re preaching to the parents, how do you tell them that it’s God’s will?” Fr. Go says. “You can’t. It’s almost like you’re cheapening their grief. So you join them in their bewilderment and ask ‘why did this happen to somebody so young?’ Our job as priests is to accompany people and we really don’t have an answer. The answer can be ‘it happens’ but how do you draw meaning from that? You cannot pretend you know.”
For Sunday masses, Fr. Go thinks that a seven- to eight-minute homily is the ideal length for a Sunday mass. For weekdays, he says that it should be shorter.
“It’s harder to come up with a short homily rather than a long one because all you have to do is just talk and talk,” Ft. Go says. “It’s as if we have fallen in love with our voice, we get carried away, and in the process kill everyone with boredom. Beyond eight minutes it gets boring already because even I get bored with myself when I talk that long.
True to his words, Fr. Go’s homilies in the book are anything but boring. Fr. Go infuses modern pop culture into his sermons by discussing films such as Harry Potter, the Exorcist, and the Devil’s Advocate. He also talks about world events especially the 2004 tsunami in Banda Aceh while also touching on the ever-growing metrosexual lifestyle of people who want to hide their blemishes and perhaps change their physical imperfections.
“When most of us would prefer to hide our smallest blemish, the Risen Lord shows off His wounds,” Fr. Go says in the book. “And it gets worse when you realize that the Lord’s resurrection actually gives Him a once-in-a-lifetime chance to exchange His old body for a brand new one, but what does He do? He chooses to keep His wounds! I don’t know about you but… if I were going to rise from the dead and get a new body… why keep the wounds? Some of us here can’t even wait for our resurrection to fix our faces and bodies… no matter how much.”
50mething Pieces of Prayer and Reflection is for Catholics who want to make sense of their faith, according to Fr. Go, who joined the Society of Jesus in 1987 and was ordained a priest in 1998. Prior to that, he was Brand Manager of the Fruit Drinks Division at Magnolia.
Proceeds of the book will go to the ERDA (Educational Research and Development Assistance) TECH Foundation, a technical school in Pandacan for the poor children of Manila. Beneficiaries of the ERDA Group include school dropouts and potential dropouts, child scavengers, street children, out-of-school youth, child laborers, children in conflict with the law, children of persons affected by leprosy, and children of indigenous people.
The ERDA Group was founded in 1974 by Fr. Pierre Tritz, a French-born Jesuit who was 60 at the time. He was so moved by the plight of poor Filipino children who, unable to finish school, would have been doomed to a life of poverty. He then took it upon himself to provide them access to education and it was to become his personal mission for the rest of his life, even giving up his French citizenship to become a Filipino citizen so he can work more effectively.
Fr. Tritz believes that to allow a child to go to school is to give him hope. Donations can be made by contacting the ERDA Foundation, Inc. at (632) 732-4327 or via email: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
50mething Pieces of Prayer and Reflections is available at National Bookstore.
Email the author at email@example.com