Jesus departed from there and came to his native place, accompanied by his disciples. When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished. They said, "Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him. Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house."

– The Gospel of Saint Mark, 6:1-4

Call it coincidence or Providence. Who would have thought that last Sunday's column headline - "God formed man to be imperishable? Really?" - and its topic of life and death would become painfully prescient two days later?

Last Tuesday, my dear friend and colleague, former activist, writer and finance man Gary Olivar died of a heart attack in his sleep, half a day after presiding with his usual vigor over an online meeting of the Center for Strategy, Enterprise and Intelligence (CenSEI), the executive consulting and education firm we co-founded in 2010.

Gary had multiple-bypass heart surgery one and a half decades ago, weeks before we met at the Presidential Management Staff building in Malacañang. With decades of international finance since his 1980 Harvard MBA, including stints in New York, Hong Kong, Jakarta and Manila, Gary was named presidential economics spokesman by then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Before our Palace meeting, I never knew that side of Gary, who gained national renown as an activist leader in the late 1960s, while taking up economics at the University of the Philippines. He went underground when martial law was declared in 1972 and was detained for a time.

After his release, Gary did journalism for several publications, including the popular TV Weekly magazine. Then Harvard opened the door to global finance, starting with Sumitomo Investment Bank in New York and eventually leading to Bayantel in the 1990s, BDO after Malacañang, and most recently, the Apollo offshore mining venture.

As in the Arroyo government, Gary provided economics advice in the Duterte administration, crafting economic provisions in the proposed federal constitution drafted by the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) and most recently, speaking on economic amendments in nationwide forums convened by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). Like many other people Gary collaborated with, DILG Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya expressed immense admiration for his advice and advocacy.

The God-serving Gary

With his finance-filled resume, most people may think that Gary was a man occupied with mammon. In fact, he was most of all a man of God, though his career colleagues and acquaintances would be forgiven for being surprised about his faith knowledge like our Lord's townmates in Nazareth, recounted in today's Sunday Mass Gospel reading.

One can imagine Gary's business associates and fellow members of the Foundation for Economic Freedom hearing him preach and wondering, "Where did he get this faith wisdom? Is he not the finance whiz, the management professor, the Malacañang economics spokesman?"

In fact, Gary had long been concerned about matters religious. Raised as a Protestant and briefly drawn into the communist insurgency, he converted to Catholicism and devoted time to learn about the faith. In our Palace years, we attended seminars conducted by Jesuit Fr. Catalino Arevalo, most revered of Filipino theologians.

Gary and I were also Eucharistic ministers and lector-commentators at Santuario de San Jose Church in Greenhills, as well as Bible animators with the Archdiocese of Manila parish. And he and his wife Sesenia were involved in Bahay ng Diyos Foundation, which has assisted more than 70 poor parishes in church repair and construction nationwide since its founding in 2006.

Of late, Gary had been doing much Scripture preaching under a different kind of MBA - the Ministry of Bible Apostolate of the Manila Archdiocese. Gary hardly missed MBA meetings and seminars, which continued online during the pandemic.

And he conducted weekly online Scripture sharing with his former high school classmates, many of them in the United States. Right after, he would join the Thursday evening online Bible sharing with parish youth scholars and our parish priest, Fr. Gerbert Cabaylo of the Oblates of St. Joseph.

More than just preaching

At our first parish Bible sharing without Gary last Thursday, one side of his faith work loomed large in the reminiscences and reflections of our young participants, all scholars of the Santuario de San Jose Parish. Along with his faith insights and exhortations, Gary touched our student participants with his personal caring for each of them, especially those who recounted their personal pains and problems in our two-hour sharings.

Indeed, in the prayers we said in the third and last part of the session, after the first two portions selecting verses from the coming Sunday Mass reading and explaining what they meant for our lives today, Gary almost always asked God's grace and aid for those who recounted heartfelt difficulties with some personal or family concern, including moral and spiritual issues one would not normally expect of today's young people.

There's more. Gary also made sure to follow up how those young people he prayed for resolved their problems, directly asking them or Fr. Gerbert, who supervised the youth group, continuing his work even after becoming parish priest earlier this year. He also offered financial aid to Fr. Gerbert so scholars could continue studying even when parish scholarships funds ran low.

Now, Gary is helping out even more from his heavenly place near our Lord. Among his kind in this life, he might not have been known as a prophet speaking for God, and sometimes had to downplay his spiritual leanings. But now, he is not without honor. May his life inspire us to serve God and country with diligence and devotion. So help us God.