We walk by faith and not by sight (St. Paul)

Photo above: First BCBP in Mindanao, 1991 Cagayan de Oro

Talk by Eduardo S. Canlas and Angelita C. Canlas, BCBP Chicago, January 15,2022

Dr. Canlas is retired and Mrs. Canlas is with the Catholic Diocese of Columbus.

(edong.houses@gmail.com)

Eddie and Lita: O Lord, open our lips, that our mouth may proclaim your praise. O God, make haste to help us. Glory be to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. 

Eddie: Today we tell our story of God’s goodness and his salvation in our life’s spiritual journey.. But this is also a story of the  men and women, who walked with us, they struggled too, and they believed, and had faith in the Lord. It was in 1949, a few years after the Japanese Imperial army left our town and the American forces taken over, when as a fourth grader in Lingayen, Pangasinan that our BCBP slogan “Be honest even when others are not, be honest even when others will not, be honest even when others cannot,” became concrete in my life. I had seen in the Baltimore Catechism a comics  illustration showing a boy’s heart spotted black before confession and that same boy’s heart completely white after confession, that I decided that a white heart is what I’d rather have, than a black one.

In Grade 4 I knew I was at risk of failing a test in arithmetics and I knew the only way I could pass was to copy, which was what every body else was doing. Copying would have been the best solution for me but even at that age, I decided I was going to be honest. With that decision I had chosen to fail. Henceforward, honesty became for me a “cross” for the rest of my life. Despite this however, I was still able to get my PHD, but any fool can tell you that cheating can rarely, ever, get one an honest to goodness doctoral degree.

As a single I worked at Xavier where I felt God wanted me to be.  I had to make a choice because working in a small college in a small town was not glamorous at all but I am grateful that God helped me make that choice. Because decades later God gave me a property which today still provides for me and my family here in the US. University work was not well paying and the pension not so good, but God, well, he took care of us. 

In 1962 I went to Nova Scotia.  It was an answer to a child’s dream for when I was young I had prayed “Lord, can I see your world?” This simple  prayer was not in English, nor was it in Pangasinan or even in Tagalog. Fact was I do not even recall how I said it. But say it, I did and I know that God listened and understood. John 15 says “ If you live in me and my words stay part of you, you may ask what you will and it will be done for you.” 

in my lifetime I have travelled and have seen so much of the world that at some point I even had to ask God for a respite from my travels.

After my Nova Scotia studies I met Angelita, a young God fearing woman, a graduate of St. Theresa, Manila who came down to Cagayan as a volunteer and who today, 56 years into our marriage, continues to pray daily with me. 

Lita:  This is the prayer we pray as Eddie drives me every day to my work at the Catholic Diocese of Columbus. “May the good Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. And may the Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace, and may the blessings of Almighty God be with you always” praying for our children, praying for our grandchildren, praying for friends and others whose needs are brought to our attention. 

Proverbs says: “When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls. Her husband, entrusting his life to her, has an unfailing prize. She brings him good and not evil, all the days of her life.”

Eddie: In 2003, after our retirement my wife and I travelled to the US as tourists. We had no plan to stay but things just happened. Today we know things just don’t happen for God intervenes always. “God has an in-escapable power over our life and our existence.”

Again we stood on God’s promise that if we seek Him first, that everything else will be added unto us: Like a US citizenship, including a new life and a family reunited, and even adequate finances to build our own home.  

In 2004 I became Visiting Professor in Ohio State. Something to brag about, yes? No, not really, because the position was basically an honorary one, without pay. I could have worked from home, for all they care, but since  they gave me an office, a computer and even a research assignment, I decided to report daily because staying at home in the US, doing nothing could really, really drive anybody crazy.

I call this blessing a “negative benefit,” because instead of being paid, I had to be the one to pay the price, meaning, to pay with hardship: reporting to work daily, and often crying silently inside. The option was to stay home, which is worst. I never cried like this even when I was a graduate student, but now: I was weeping.  

Lita: At this low point in our life in the US, both of us retired and in the sixties, and separated from our second batch of minor aged children ( Andrew, Noel and Lauren) who were left home in Cagayan de Oro, without their parents or the hope of joining them,  Eddie asked our family to pray this Psalm (115) which had come to his attention”

Psalm 115: Those who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord

He is their help and their shield.The Lord remembers us and will bless us.

May the Lord bless you more and more. Both you and your children

May you be blest by the Lord who made heaven and earth.

Heaven is the heaven of the Lord. But  the earth he has given to the children of men.”

We had come here as tourists but when a call to his doctoral adviser resulted in his inviting Ed to an honorary position at Ohio State, the path to legality suddenly opened up. The rest, as they say, is history. 

And so it happened: Citizenship? Yes. Family together? Yes. It all took quite a while, several years in fact: But all the legal hurdles, all the bureaucracy on both sides of the Pacific, check. Everything, check. God indeed answered all our longings. We just had to trust and to wait, because God’s negatives are often positives in disguise. A colleague in Cagayan asked us, “How did you do it?” The answer is simple: “We did it by prayer. By hard work. By obeying the law. And by more prayers.”

Eddie: We lived in Columbus where on one November 1976 Thanksgiving weekend my family’s journey almost ended on I-80, in Breezewood, Pennsylvania, halfway between  Columbus and New York City.

It all happened in the blink of a few seconds when a lapse in judgement caused our car to zigzag uncontrolled towards the cold, black and yellow tip of the highway metal railing. 

So while holding our little 3-year old Susan on my lap on the passenger side, I had to reach out with my left hand to correct the driver’s steering wheel.

At 55 mph, we narrowly missed the deadly steel, but not completely because our rear fender hooked on it, slowing our car but causing it to spin across the highway, and crash us on the opposite railing, effectively stopping the vehicle but we’re now facing the opposite direction. The impact flipped open the rear door and spilled Maya, Ronald and Myra, who were all sleeping in their blankets in the folded, flattened rear area, spilling them out unto the hard, cold highway, cut and hurt and stunned and bleeding. But otherwise spared from tragedy. I jumped down and scooped my children in my father’s puny arms. But nothing I could do, or could have done at that moment, or, any tears I could have cried, would have saved them.  

In fact God had already saved them, had saved all of us.

Traffic and passing motorists came by seconds soon after and they threw us their pillows and blankets and stuff, things coming from the generous American hearts. As St. Hillary once said, “Everything that seems empty is full of the angels of God,” even a desolate highway in Pennsylvania.

Lita: By the grace of God, and with help of one of God’s angels, one angel whose name we know was literally there  to help us on that highway. We can say that God had intervened.

Susan, on the day of this sharing, texted these words to her Dad and me: “I once dreamt about the car spinning vigorously. I believe it was a memory of the accident. I was then sitting on your lap, and I recall the state trooper asking us through the window, “if we were all right?” I was afraid to tell him that I had a stomach ache.”

Lita: Psalm 91: “For to his angels he has given command about you, that they guard you in all your ways. Upon their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.

Eddie: We all believe in the absolute mystery we call God. But do we also believe in angels? I do believe in angels, and our family angel has a name.

57 years go, our first born Ana Marie had lived only 2 days. When our pediatrician told me that she had the  “blue-baby syndrome,” I went to Fr Ocampo so and he baptized her that night, before she died. 

Our first born was interred  that day in gray wooden box of a coffin, dressed in her white baptismal dress,  symbolic of our belief that our child had “put on Christ,” and had become, by the sacrament of baptism, truly a child of God and in her innocence, an angel. 

In 1980, our family went home to Cagayan. We could have stayed in the US  but then again, just like the boy in Grade 4, I chose to be honest, to honor my commitment. In 1986 I was appointed a state college president, a part of the Cory peaceful revolution. But there remained still the challenge of facing up to systemic corruption. In my effort to clean up the system, my life was threatened, and since my family was not safe, we had to evacuate to a safe house. But still we stood on God’s word to be honest.

Lita: Seek first his kingship over you, his way of holiness, and all these things will be given you besides.”  Mathew 6: 31-33

Eddie: I went through many trials but the details do not belong here.  When I reported on Day 1, I was already met by signs and placards, among which was one which said “Jesuit boy, stay out of this college.”   One evening in the first week  someone threw a grenade at Xavier’s Loyola House. Thankfully the grenade, which landed on the second floor hallway, did not explode, but Fr Millar reported it to the police. 

At that time, John 16 caught my eye. 

“I tell you this: that in me you will find peace. You will suffer in the world. But take courage. I have overcome the world.“  

I claimed that passage and I found peace which showed apparently in my demeanor.  I personally felt as if God had thrown a protective invisible blanket over me. Somehow I was tranquil in the midst of campus turbulence. At one point, when friends  Dito Dela Cerna, Wewell Sison and Jong Tiro and my police bodyguard were with me in the president’s cottage, the demonstrators burned stuff outside the house, otherwise doing threatening things, forcing my bodyguard, gun in hand, to say “anyone who enters the house is mine.” 

Dr. Wewell Sison commented: “You were that kind of a person when I got to know you. I was also peaceful inside when we were in your home during that incident and your peace  overflowed to me.” I survived my six year term there.  But the succeeding president, two or three terms down after my term, was not so lucky. Until today, they have not yet solved his murder. 

With such a horrifying ordeal and my career over, and no future to look forward to, I would now walk down the hill to go to town, with a leather bag on my shoulder full of documents refuting all their false charges, I would walk down, thinking blank thoughts and not knowing literally  where to go next or what to do. So when reached the corner of Velez and Arch. Hayes streets I  was forced to asked again, my Invisible Friend, “ Lord, where are we going today?” 

In 1993  I was appointed president of Camiguin Polytechnic State College. I asked Congressman Romualdo why he requested that I be transferred to Camiguin island and he said, simply: “Because I heard you are clean.”  I replied. “OK. I will come to your island,” There is a deep mystery in coming to an island. One feels that one is coming to a place of quiet or rest, leaving behind the hustle and bustle of the city. I needed such an island to rest in, to recollect myself and to nurse my wounds. This is what islands are for. Not everyone has an island to live on, to come home from or to go home to. 

But all of us must make our own islands within our hearts, where fear cannot dwell, islands where we can cross over the bridge of our days to and to be made whole again.

On our 25th anniversary my wife Lita and I went to Cebu and to look for the Catholic lay group, Opus Dei whom we planned to join. 

My high school buddy, Dr. Romeo Du met us and that same evening, he brought us to attend their Action Group in a house in Lahug and to my/our great shock and utter amazement, we saw them praying out loud and even praying in tongues and reaching out with their outstretched hands high up towards God and up to the heavens!   

Lita: It was on that evening in  Cebu, during this BCBP prayer meeting, that God introduced us to a charismatic type of prayer and a way of praying that changed our lives forever. 

That night we witnessed men and women exercising the practice of the gifts of the Holy Spirit same spiritual gifts St Paul talked about thousands of years ago in his letter to the people of Corinth.

1 Cor 12: 4-11

Brother and Sisters: There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord.

There are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in  everyone.

To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.

To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom.

To another expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit.

To another, faith by the same Spirit. To another, gifts of healing by the One Spirit; To another, mighty deeds; To another, prophesy;

To another, discernment of spirits; To another, varieties of tongues;

To another, interpretation of tongues; 

But one and the same Spirit produces all of these,

Distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.

Eddie: After Cebu,  Lita and me went back changed persons. 

On the boat ride home I was already literally doing air travel inside my head, mulling who to recruit, to invite, who would be most suitable or not,  Since our city then was but a small  town, in my own  mind I travelled like a bird: street by street, house by house, block by block, eyeballing who lived where and in what house, and do we know him or her, and should we recruit him or her? etc, etc.

That was my plan and that is how it should begin, I thought. But the Holy Spirit had other plans. When I chose a certain person, it turned out that it was not  he who would  later join the BCBP, but his brother. 

When I selected someone to succeed me as Chapter Head, the entire assembly was in a total uproar and would not allow it. When I finally brought my successor to Bohol so he could be informed that he was to be incoming Chapter Head, he wept so unashamedly, and he resisted, explaining that he was a sinful person and said “why me?”  

When someone who thought he should have been the one chosen but learned that he was not the one chosen, he also wept like a child, in my house, with me. He was to face more trials in his life. But eventually he was chosen as Chapter head also. God was busy at work, slowly forming and moulding us, even using our group to help the church resist the Casino at Pryce Hotel.

A buddy who was part of our pioneering group told me that before BCBP came into his life, that he had mistakenly thought that Jesus came from the planets like Mercury or Pluto. This person’s own life was so radically changed that, after his death, his own daughter was so inspired by her Dad, to become herself a nun. 

On another occasion, when I read aloud a scripture message to another brother, who was in deep prayer in the chapel, remorseful and repentant about his indiscretions, this brother also wept bitterly, saying “Ed, para akung pinukpok ng martilyo sa ulo,” signaling his repentance and his remorse. Indeed, God’s word impacted him like a hammer.

God was truly at work, intervening in his/our lives, pardoning our sins.  

Lita:  The words from Sirach that cut our brother to the heart, were the following: “Give no woman power over you to trample upon your dignity. Be not intimate with a strange woman, lest you fall into her snares. With a singing girl be not familiar, lest you be caught in her wiles.”  

Eddie: The death of that member early in our BCBP days was like  the cement that glued our group like never before or since, and I consider him a “martyr for BCBP Cagayan”,  a sinner among sinners who repented, and of whom Jesus had said “would go to heaven even before the righteous ones.”  

During the wake at his house, where we all had gathered and sang and prayed, one of his uncles, so touched by our ministry on that occasion that he commented “Who is that genius who formed this group?” 

Lita: Before we went to Cebu, our daughter Maya, and her husband Tata Malferrari prayed  that we  would somehow meet the charismatic leaders  in Cebu and their prayers were heard. In the CLP Tata’s parents were there, and so were we. 

So today, we remember and we pray for those now gone and we praise God for his great love and mercy. 

Lita: For God had intervened  when we longed for our children. God intervened when we were timid and lukewarm in our religion. God had intervened when we were ignorant or were proud. God had intervened when we were rich or when we were poor. God had intervened when we were abused or when we were the abuser. 

Eddie: God intervened when we were humble or were humbled. God had intervened when we did not know how to love or when our relationship with money and wealth, or with  power and prestige or with false gods and with fake news were more pressing than our relationship with our one true God, or even when we fell in love with ourselves. Or when we wandered the night streets and the honky-tonks or when our hearts were made of stone and our sins were scarlet and many. God indeed had intervened and saved my own family on that cold highway in Pennsylvania.

God did not stop knocking at our doors until we opened our hearts and our families’ hearts to him. So while this sharing is a history of a journey, it is also a look at the future road ahead of us, and it is our hope that the God of both the journey and the road will bring us all safely home to him. So we conclude with this: that our “community is not the community of those who possess God’s grace as opposed to those who lack it, but the community of those who can confess explicitly what they and the others hope to be: to be saved by Christ.” Which makes us both humble and hopeful. 

God revealed His mercy to us in very specific ways, in certain years and in very unmistakable events or occurrences. This fact of salvation is something we experienced in our lives.

Psalm 26: “ When a man fears the Lord, he shows him the way he should choose. He abides in prosperity and his descendants inherit the land. The friendship of the Lord is with those who fear him. And his covenant for their instruction. My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for he will free my feet from the snare.”