Eulogy for Eli Segundo
Friendship Re-Membered

Fifty-two years ago this year I met this young man from the North. He determined fast that I was from the South and we agreed we were foreigners for now in a class that seemed to know exactly where it was going.

We sat beside each other in the front row. This was CKMS – Christ the King Mission Seminary 1960.

Elias F. Segundo, 16, came from Ilocos Norte. I was a transferee from Leyte. The Ilocano and the Waray (a famous couple of those regions was yet to come): both of us had a hard time with Tagalog. But there were other Ilocanos in the group and a whole lot of Cebuano speakers. So, then, we found the English rule just fine.

Eli and I whispered a lot to each other in consultation – during class, which was not allowed but necessary if we had to catch up with the mainstream and understand what was going on right in our midst till, well, wail[1]– by constantly helping each other, we more than caught up and everyone forgot our foreign origins.

Pictures race in my mind of those years half a century ago  – Quezon City, Calapan, Puerto Galera, Baguio, Sorsogon, Tagaytay  – when I would understand later, much later, the deep feelings I experienced that classic philosophers had termed amor amicitiae –love of friendship.

Eli Segundo 2012

Thinking now upon those years, I surely know that we were not thrown to each other by accident  – no such thing – but by Providence. I looked at the screen now and I saw fire and water.  I always envied his natural cool, as I seemed to be always on fire.

I may be wrong but I feel sure that Eli looked exactly the same, bodily speaking, in his 1960 model as he did in his 2012 version. Of course, I did not see the fast deceleration of the last few weeks. I did not want to.

Once I had a younger brother, Eugene, who also just had an inexplicable tooth ache (Eli’s was a stomach ache) but when brought to the hospital was discovered to have leukemia. What a harmless word for cancer of the blood! How can I forget his suffering? It came to a point that all the donated blood was coming out of his pores.

Honestly, my mother asked her God more than once to take Eugene away fast if he wanted to and be done with all the suffering. Of course not all leukemia types are the same but I had a “knowing” that Eugene’s and Eli’s were alike and I was just relieved that classmate Sammy Yap had taken over. No, I was not in denial. I just knew, and did not quite know what to do. One month, I said: less, a little more, but not much more and Eli would change his mode of being.

So I allowed myself to go back to the past, luxuriously, daily, to re-member. Father Peter Michel taught us Horace and the long-memorized lines kept popping up:

Exegi monumentum aere perennius    
I have created a monument more lasting than bronze
 Reglalique situ pyramidum altius…
and loftier than the royal structure of the pyramids
Non omnis moriar multaque pars mei  
I shall not wholly die and a greater part of me
vitabit Libitinam…      
will evade [the goddess of death] Libitina

And I remember we’d smile then (in gratitude, to be sure, though not always quite humbly) at such a weak notion of immortality. Here was Eli S., sure of his divine nature, already a living monument in the hearts and minds of many – his beautiful family, two brothers who went only a few months ahead of him, one after another, to the timeless realms, his co-workers in the many living cells and tissues and organs of the Christ body that he had helped into being – the Perpetual Rosary Movement (PRM), the Lay Society of St. Arnold Janssen (LSSAJ), what have you – on fire, for sure, but always cool-hand style, Eli’s way, calm, steady Eli.

Father Richard McGervey made us memorize Shakespeare and Shelley and Gray and Keats on the worldly view of mortality halo-halo style and the lines just would not go away even as I was no longer sure who wrote what, just sure that Eli and I and our beloved classmates went through them together:

We look before and after/ And pine for what is not./ Our sincerest laughter/ With some pain is fraught./ Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought;

or these – The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power/ And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave/ Awaits alike the inevitable  hour/ The paths of glory lead but to the grave;

and the more famous – Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow/ Creeps in this petty pace from day to day/ To the last syllable of recorded time/ And all our yesterdays have lighted fools / The way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle/Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/That struts and frets his hour on the stage/ And then is heard no more. It is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing.

Poor Shakespeare, Eli knew a whole lot more. He had written me a special letter a few months ago, on September 26, 2011. “Hi, Charlie,” he said. “Your reflection goes to the core of our Christian faith and its essential expression and test. The message can’t be any more focused and clearer than this.” We had learned a lot from Braganza and Montemayor in always starting from the very end. In now starting out LSSAJ, we wanted to situate it again at Christ the King: the scene where Christ the King is categorical about essentials, the final test, the last judgment. And President Eli said, “That’s it! That’s our message.”[2]

And that is my certitude about this dearest friend and classmate who never ceased to fortify us in quiet dignity. In many ways and styles of action and advocacy, he fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, visited the imprisoned, cared for the sick, and gave hospitality to strangers.  He was also devotional in  quite profound ways. Witness his going for a perpetual rosary movement. But he understood and lived out the essentials – first and last. His realization of the divine was most transparent. He had to move on.

I will be less than honest if despite all this I continue to deny my grief. May 10th was the day I was born on the Earth plane. Nineteen years earlier, my older sister Carolyn died, on my birthday. May 10th was back a few days ago and, frankly, I had this foreboding. Well, dearest friend Eli made the same decision, taking off to be born again, in the timeless realm, on the same day. What can I say?

I had texted my younger sister Geline about Eli:  “O would that my tongue could utter the thoughts that arise in me…and O, for the touch of a vanished hand and the sound of a voice that is still.” I guess from hereon I will just have to learn even more, learn to be still, and know that we are — living branches of the living vine? Spirit, immortal, going ultimately where Eli goes.

The Message of Our Lay Society whose first President was Eli

Faith Seeking Action

Centuries ago, Christian thinkers talked of “faith seeking understanding”; our Lay Society under Eli’s leadership would now affirm as well “faith seeking action.” In this we were mindful of Jesus’ unequivocal line as to who he thought worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven: “not he who says to me Lord, Lord! But he who does the will of my father who is in heaven…”

Our lay society saw our peculiar task as that of renewing the temporal order in the Light of the Word and the Spirit of grace: yes, the temporal order, the material conditions of existence, the concrete circumstances incarnating the Word – in other words, the messy world of economics, politics, and culture.

The lay society would proclaim that the faith of its members must be one that seeks to transform life or it is no faith at all; it is one that seeks good works, or it is dead at start. Our lay society would be a communion or a society of the Word-become-flesh, dwelling among us.

The major living faiths are all one in identifying the most profound essence of religion and that is the love of God above all and of neighbor as oneself. Either you love God, yourself, your neighbor and all of creation or you love no one, nothing.

But if love is the essence of religion, it is important to ask: What is the test of love?[3] In other words, how do we know that we truly love our neighbor – when we are ecstatic in her or his presence? No, the real test of love is how much we are willing to sacrifice, even to get hurt for the person we love.

A friend of yours can go up to your house one evening and say, “Friend, if you love me, can you pray for me?” I am sure you won’t hesitate to answer, “Of course, friend, how many rosaries do you want?”

Or a friend could go up to your house one evening and say, “Friend, if you love me, could you give me some advice? You see, I have a big problem. My wife left me.” Again, you’ll probably not hesitate to answer: “Surely, please sit down, let me make some coffee and you can benefit from my wisdom the whole night through.”

But if a friend goes up to your house one evening and say: “Friend, if you love me, can you give me one hundred thousand pesos?” The chances are this might be the beginning of the end of love. For your friend is asking for money and money hurts.

The Good Samaritan

Jesus really knew how to test human nature, for when someone asked him “what is the test of love,” he answered, as usual, in the form of a story describing the test in terms of money.

So, there was this lawyer who wanted to be clever and asked Jesus: “What is the test of love? How should I love my neighbor?” In biblical terms, “who is my neighbor?”

We know the story-answer of Jesus but let us look at it again. Robbers attacked a traveler, and as he lay dying on the wayside, a priest passed by. You won’t disagree with me when I say that the priest must have felt pity for the victim. Whose heart though as hard as stone would not break on seeing a man half-dead? And so, out of pity, the priest may have prayed for the victim although the Bible does not clearly so state.

Or he may have even given the victim precious advice, like stooping down and saying, “Be careful next time.” But after that, he just went to the other side of the road and passed on.

Next a Levite came. Like the priest before him, this religious person also passed on – as if he had not seen the victim at all: in modern Pilipino, “dedma.”

Then came the Samaritan – an outcast in the society of Jesus’ time. The Bible does not state whether he prayed for the victim or gave him advice.

What is emphasized is that he attended to the physical and material needs of his neighbor, brought him to the inn, stayed with him for one night, and the next morning gave some money to the innkeeper and said: “Please take care of this man for I have to go; but if there should be more expenses, I shall pay.”

So now, the lawyer had asked, “What is the test of love?” And Jesus’ answer is dramatically clear: “If there should be more expenses, I shall pay.” The answer to a spiritual question is in material terms- in terms of action against hunger, and sick people and misery. He does not say anything against the devotional aspects of religion for these could be a big help in cultivating feelings of love in our heart but he certainly focuses action in terms of our material condition. Look at the life of Jesus, how he got in trouble with the “institutional church” of his time, as he focused on going around doing good to manifest to people the true nature of his heavenly father (“Abba”) and to spread around the kingdom of heaven (“Basileia tou theou”).

Final Test

And just to be sure no one misunderstands this focus on faith needing action or love being tested in the material conditions of existence, Jesus made a cinemascopic presentation of humanity’s final exam – the last judgment day.

On that day, Christ the King will gather all people: some he will place on his right and others on his left. The biblical text is known to all. Addressing the right, he says: “Come, take possession of the Kingdom…”

The interesting part is that Christ the King, like a good judge, will give the reasons for his judgments. He will say why some people are coming to his Kingdom, and why others are not. He will give six reasons and these must be the principal reasons; or why would he mention them and not the others.

He will not say: “Come, because in your lifetime on Earth you prayed so many rosaries a day and you went to Mass twice on Sundays,” although, as already said, it is quite important to pray as Christ prayed. Nor will he say: “Come to heaven, because in your lifetime you became Miss Universe or the President of the Philippines or the Cardinal Archbishop of Manila,” although clearly it may not be bad to become Miss Universe or Philippine President or Cardinal Archbishop of Manila.

Rather, he will say: “Come, because I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me drink, naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, imprisoned and you came to me, a stranger and you took me in.

If feeding the hungry is the principal reason for going to heaven, the principal form of sanctification, we must now ask – how do you feed hungry persons? Your answer can take many forms like fighting for agrarian reforms and food security, working for better credit facilities and production technologies, helping out in marketing arrangements and in proper social welfare dispensations and fighting what they call corruption as this takes away much of what could have gone toward financing the solution of feeding millions of hungry people.

Clothing the naked is a principal reason for going to heaven, a principal form of sanctification. Question: with what do we clothe a naked person? Obviously with textile, and how much does textile cost? So, again we see that this business of sanctification is truly a worldly business, impinging on finance and economics and other disciplines and activities affecting the material conditions of human existence.

Conversely, Christ the King gives six reasons why other people are not coming in to his Kingdom: “Depart from me, for I was hungry and you did not feed me, thirsty and you did not give me drink, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and you did not visit me, imprisoned and you did not come to me, a stranger and you did not take me in.”

Christ the King as judge is very consistent, indeed: if feeding the hungry is in itself a justifying-sanctifying act, conversely, not feeding the hungry when one can, must be unjust, for only the unjust will miss out on his Kingdom. True Christianity is admittedly demanding and positive. We are condemned not so much for what we do but for what we failed to do.

You can imagine, if you wish, a beautiful lady who comes from one of the wealthiest families and has gone to the most exclusive schools – a good, pious lady. She goes to church every morning. She goes back home spending a great part of her time again in prayer, or, perhaps, now and then, laying a thin layer of cutex on her fingernails. At judgment time, will she hear the invitation to his Kingdom? The chances are no, for she might hear from the judge: “In your lifetime, there were so many people right in front of your mansion and you hardly lifted a finger to help them because you were so selfish, too busy in false self-sanctification. You had many tenants who produced the rice for you but whose children got sick and died of undernourishment because you were always opposed to land reform. There was no concern, no love in your heart. Depart from me, because I was hungry and you did not feed me…”

Yes, there just may be a lot of discussion on last judgment day. For a few might dare to say, “Lord, I was a Bishop or a great preacher in my lifetime…” And the Lord will answer, “Amen, I say to you, I know you not! In your lifetime the most urgent problem causing mass hunger was social injustice – feudal landlordism and capitalist usury. This was definitely a moral question. But you the moral leader chose to be silent in cowardice. You were more concerned with the contributions of the exploiters and with maintaining their friendship. I was hungry because of that unjust system, and you did not feed me…”

And there will be a lot of surprises on that final exam day with individuals asking when they did or did not give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty. And Christ the King is quite clear: “What you did or did not do even to the least of my brethren, you did or did not do to me.”

What we do to the people or against them, we also do to Christ or against him.

So, in Eli’s lay society it was made clear to us that: We live in a world where faith in God and the daily conduct of secular life has unfortunately become de-linked. So we take it upon ourselves to promote the full integration of faith with secular behaviorand build a good society where responsible citizenship is the norm, good governance prevails, poverty is eradicated, and the environment is protected.

This is what Eli meant by Faith Transforming Life: it is mere Christianity, as one great author put it, more often anonymous than explicit, but always evidencing the authenticity of love in one’s heart. Love is at the very core of our being. We therefore must freely choose to act it out – like the Good Samaritan, like the people who got it right for last judgment day, like a dear friend who just passed the exam – Eli Segundo.

The Gardener -Charlie Avila, Reggie, Fr. Jovy Sebastian and Sam Yap


[1] The subjects we struggled with included Latin, Spanish and Greek; Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Geology, Astronomy and Cosmology; Math, Algebra and Trigonometry; Philippine and World History, English and American Literature; History of Philosophy, History of Education, Ethnology, and Philosophy of Religion; Ontology, Logic, Epistemology, Rational and Empirical Psychology; New Testament, Apologetics, Plain Chant, Guidance and Counseling; Research Methods, Oratory, Dramatics, Rizal’s Life and Works; Dogmatic Theology, Moral Theology, Exegesis, Patrology, Church History, Canon Law and Pastoral Theology; and a few more, including electives like German, French and Hebrew over a period of eight years.

[2] Read next section.

[3] Very clearly here are the influences on our thinking of the cousins Jose Vicente Braganza, SVD, and Jeremias U. Montemayor. Many of the lines here are lifted from their writings and speeches and exhortations.