Sometimes the simplest answers are the right ones. Like Pope Francis’ humble admission in his January 18 meeting with youth at the University of Santo Tomas.
Asked by a 12-year-old girl why God allows little children to suffer, the Holy Father said he had no answer. Only that Jesus suffers with us, and that is perhaps as much comfort as our faith can offer believers in agony and tragedy.
Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle offered much the same solace when this writer asked for prayers for an ailing cousin, Ricardo Lirag Reyes, then in intensive care at a San Diego hospital on January 30. “I pray for your cousin,” His Eminence texted. “God is with him.”
God was indeed with Ric and his family through his three score years of life. With His grace and guidance, the Reyeses kept the faith and their hopes and love for one another through their father’s fatal heart attack at age 39, the kidney ailment that afflicted all but the eldest of the six children, the death of middle sister Ruby during surgery on heart valves damaged by kidney disease, the freeway accident and breast cancer which further burdened youngest daughter Miriam, and Ric’s concussion, hemorrhage and coma in 2012, which led to more ailments and difficulties till his passing 25 days after turning 60 on January 5.
The travails of the late Nemesio Reyes, his widow Ester and their brood recalls Pope Saint John Paul II’s life. Before age 10, Karol Wojtyla lost his mother; three years later, his older and only brother died. At 20, two years into his seminary studies in Krakow, Poland, he found his father slumped lifeless on their apartment floor.
Then came Nazi invasion and hard labor in a stone quarry, while friends died in concentration camps or by the hand of the Gestapo secret police, executed for undertaking priesthood studies. Yet rather than wallowing in pain and bitterness, Karol embraced and served God, even extending His mercy and forgiveness to the Turkish gunman who nearly killed him in 1981.
Sadness and goodness
Goodness amid tragedy could certainly apply to Ric, who was 14 when, as eldest son, he had to deal with the unexpected cardiac arrest that his athletic father, an avid and master golfer like him, suffered. From that immense pain and shock, the La Salle student had to rise as eldest sons must, and help steady the family, along with his grieving mother and the family’s eldest, Melba. Now, his own heart stopped, amid germ-borne disease and the failure after 19 years of his transplanted kidney.
“Such a pity — Sir Ric was a good and kind man,” said a longtime executive assistant in our family company. She met him when he visited Manila for our grandfather’s 100th birthday in 2002, after two decades in Los Angeles.
Good and kind Ric certainly was, as were and are countless other souls, young and old, rich and poor, wise and wayward, of every race, creed, tongue and land. All of humanity go through our own personal episodes of difficulty, disease, disappointment, despondency, discord, deception, depression, and other debilitating, dreadful declines and debacles until the worst and final d of all: death.
No matter that there was much goodness in a person. Growing up with Ric when he lived in the Lirag family compound in Paco, then moved to their home in Urdaneta Village, Makati, and eventually to LA, I always looked up to him for his discipline, dignity, intelligence, and confidence, displayed in get-togethers, at his La Salle studies, at the textile company, and on the Capitol Hills and Wack Wack fairways, where he enjoyed the game I never liked.
In America his knowledge, diligence and exactitude brought him advancement in the financial institutions where he worked. Before his 2012 accident he was in charge of systems handling all investments and trading in his investment company. Even after his brain injury, he sought to recover and signed up for multiple courses in online trading across different markets and assets. No, Ric wasn’t one to throw in the towel.
The call and presence of God
Eventually, however, the Lord calls. My devout mother Noemi visited and prayed for Ric during his coma, and promised to build a chapel for his life, one of the 60-plus places of worship her Bahay ng Diyos Foundation has assisted since its founding in 2006. In Ric’s latest intensive care episode, she asked God to grant what was best for him. And I believe He did and was with him through his illness till its final moments.
In a seminar two years ago Jesuit theologian Fr. Catalino Arevalo recounted how Christ, appearing in the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, gave comfort to the dying. One girl, in pain from cancer, pleaded for relief. The Lord appeared and said
He would take away her agony, then her soul, as she texted to her friends before she died.
Another patient, a wealthy businessman, called his family together for lunch in his recovery room after an operation that his doctors deemed successful. He expired in the afternoon following the get-together. His widow then revealed what her husband told her: Jesus was fetching him the previous day, but he asked to see his family one last time. And our Lord obliged.
Was God with the 44 troopers of Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) as an overwhelming rebel force brutally killed them on the Lord’s Sunday, January 25? Faith and at least one tale of a fallen soldier tell me He was.
The lone survivor of the massacre, a former seminarian, narrated on TV how another fighter told him to escape while the mortally wounded man provided cover fire against advancing insurgents.
Gallantry and sacrifice against hopeless odds. Dignity and calm as death nears. Faith, hope and love in a family that has suffered so much. Surely God is all there. Amen.