Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Another Homily for Fr. Joey Fermin

Fr. Joey Fermin, S.J. used to hold regularly Sunday Mass at the Boys' Residence Hall of the Philippine Science High School (PSHS) in Diliman, Quezon City when I was still the Campus Director of PSHS. Fr. Joey and I both graduated from the Loyola School of Theology (LST). Fr. Mario Francisco, S.J. gave a homily during the funeral mass for Fr. Joey at the Church of the Gesu in Ateneo de Manila University last January 9, 2009. Fr. Mario was my professor in one of my theology subjects in LST.

From the Ateneo Blueboard:

January 9, 2009
Church of the Gesu
1 John 1, 5-7; Lk 12, 2-4

Jose Mario C. Francisco, S.J.

Cryptogenic: I first encountered this Greek-derived word meaning of "unknown
origin" in reference to Joey's liver cirrhosis a year ago. The usual suspects
for such a condition proved innocent in his case --no traces of the different
hepatitis forms, cancer or the effects of excessive drinking. (Yes, Joey
enjoyed a shot of scotch but only on occasion.) From that initial stage of
diagnosis through the transplant and after, this struggle with the unknown
characterized each step of the way. With the competent skill and dedicated
service of his doctors (Dr. Vanessa de Villa and Dr. Janus Ong), we -- his kin and
Jesuit family as well as Joey himself -- navigated these twists and turns until
last weekend.

It was almost like prying open the dark secrets of the flesh. We remain in the
dark whether there was obstruction in the bile ducts or narrowing of the
hepatic veins. We will never know the cause of the unusual hyperacute rejection
of the liver graft nor the ultimate origin of his disease. This wrestling with
the unknown has made his passing on more difficult to bear. We do not even have
the comfort of being able to name the culprit. What took him away from us, his
family and friends, at such an early age of 46?

But there are things that we do know. About Joey: born November 25, 1962,
raised in F. Icasiano St., Paco, bused to Loyola Heights for Grade- and High-
School, began Engineering in U.P., joined the Jesuits in 1986, finished his
undergrad at Ateneo, taught at Xavier University 1992-94, continued studies at
LST, ordained in 1998, assigned for two years at Subanipa in Zamboanga del Sur,
and appointed (Ateneo Grade school) Headmaster from 2001-2007.

Through these dates and places weave our memories and associations of Joey—
expressed since Tuesday in the insightful homilies of Frs. Rene Javellana, Ben
Nebres and Art Borja, in the spirited conversations of family and friends and
in the silence of our hearts. They capture the same picture of Joey -- a reliable
presence punctuated by flashes of temper, characterized at-times by sphinx-like
reserve. This Joey we know, we who are a gathering as motley as here today:
friends at work or classmates from long ago, lovers of his dogs Frankie,
Samantha and Motley or not, a mother insistent on visiting him just to say how
he changed her son or an Assumption high school girl writing him a love-letter
last Sunday; we from the different places and phases of his life who stayed
with him along the tortuous path.

What draws us to this presence is what came to light during his illness. No, he
did not change. His sting was even aggravated by the physical and emotional
effects of disease that poor sister Anna often bore its full brunt. What came
to light was the depth of who he was, best described not by qualities but
through stories. Allow me three short ones.

First story: On New Year’s day, fully aware of his grave condition, Joey sends
me this text message: ”Mario! Favor, kindly ask fr. candy [Fr. Luis Candelaria]
for one labrador pup for mrs. Chona siruno of the grade school as a favor for
me. Grandpups ni sammy [his dog Samantha], good line.”

Second story, actually a series: My conversations with him about his illness
and the critical medical and spiritual issues that had to be faced. In early
2008, Joey was still in denial. Though increasingly weak, he resisted going to
hospital as needed. One evening after he failed to turn up for dinner, I found
him trying to clean up his mess in the bathroom and told him he had to go to
the hospital. Thereafter, he took every effort to make our conversations
easier, though they remained heart-wrenching. He had definite ideas about what
he needed or what should be done, but he would always say without reservation
that he would follow what Danny [Huang] or Jojo [Magadia], his superiors,
decided this till the very end when he expressed his final wish for no further
major intervention.

Third story: When I visited him last December 31, Joey shared his desire to
come home. Home for a Jesuit, according to Part VII of our Constitutions, is
where he is missioned. It is common that when a Jesuit leaves for a new
assignment, he writes a note to the community he leaves. Often such notes say
three things: ”thanks for my stay in the community, sorry to those I have hurt,
and pray for me in my new mission.” These were exactly what Joey asked me to
tell Fr. Jojo. We could not control our tears. Sabi niya, mahal niya tayong

On the way home after, I caught a rock song on the radio that seemed
appropriate, that Joey would like: ”I’m going HOME / back to the place where I
belong / And where your love has always been enough for me.”[”Home” by Chris

Now that Joey has gone to his final mission, we realize, more than ever, how
much we know of Joey. We know him, but we got to know him more profoundly this
past year. In trying to pry open the dark secrets of diseased flesh, we, all of
us and Joey, gleaned something of the mystery of spirit. And what was hidden
through years of quiet service suddenly took on a flash of transparency.

Some people think that the unknown is what is most fearful. What we know of
Joey and of God through him is what makes the unknown bearable, even

In this church at Fr. Honti’s funeral Mass almost exactly a year ago, the gaunt
figure of Joey inched its way to receive Holy Communion. This morning as we lay
him to rest, let us turn our tear-filled eyes from the darkness of the unknown
to the light of the Paschal Candle.

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