I'm off to Manila again tomorrow, this time to attend the National Board Meeting of Worldwide Marriage Encounter (WWME). I'll be visiting different parts of Luzon after that with my editorial staff. The following week I'll be in Ozamiz City, Mindanao, giving a directed retreat to four deacons from the Diocese of Dipolog.
An aside: very few Filipinos live on 'cartoon islands', the ones you see with a shipwrecked individual standing under the solitary coconut tree helplessly waving his tattered shirt at a ship on the horizon. Luzon, the main island in the north, is nearly as big as Britain and Mindanao, the main island in the south is bigger than Ireland, around the same size as Iceland. The Visayas, the group of islands in the centre of the country, are all large. Bacolod City, where I live, is on the island of Negros and it would probably take me two days to drive around the island if I were so inclined, which I'm not. I guess that people from the mainland of Britain and the mainland of Ireland have a different perception of what an island is from a mainland Canadian or American, for example, or a mainland European.
I made my WWME Weekend in Toronto in October 1982 while on a sabbatical year there and have been a team priest since then, with some inactive periods. You can find some testimonies by priest on an emagazine of WWME in the USA in the Priest's Corner. (The editor in me is thinking, 'Shouldn't that be Priests' Corner, with the apostrophe after the "s"?')
I have found my involvement over the years with WWME very helpful in living my life as a priest. The weekend emphasises the importance of the two sacraments: Matrimony and Holy Orders and how those called to live each support one another in being faithful to God's call. One thing I have become convinced of is that the most intimate and the most important of all human relationships is that between husband and wife. I sometimes think that the Church in speaking about the importance of the family doesn't stress enough the foundation of the family that is marriage.
In other words, it is more important to be a husband or wife than a father or mother. If a couple put their spousal relationship before everything else as God's will for them they cannot be but good parents if God grants them children. The Church honours St Joseph on his solemnity on 19 March (this year 15 March in most countries because of such an early Holy Week) as the Husband of Mary.
For the priest it means putting his relationship with Jesus the Risen Lord before everything else: When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." A second time he said to him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep (Jn 21:15-17).