For Fr. Geoffrey

There’s an e-mail that’s circulating that begins with the sentence, “People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.

It continues to state that when someone is in your life for a REASON, it is usually to meet a need you have expressed. When that need is fulfilled, they leave your life. Their purpose is extinguished.

People come into your life for a SEASON because your turn has come to share, grow or learn from them, or from each other. You will enjoy their company, but only temporarily, for a fixed period of time.

LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons, things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation. I reckon this refers to friendships that stand the test of time. I have been blessed to have these kinds of friendships, and today I want to write about one very special person who has helped me to grow spiritually, emotionally, and even physically (by encouraging me to go the gym regularly in order to release stress and feel better about myself).

We often do not honor the people in our lives enough. Or at least we do it after they’ve gone. I’d like to honor someone who to me is a friend for a reason, a season, and a lifetime. He’s leaving the Philippines by the end of this month after a six-year missionary duty. He’s going back home to Australia. Even though we’ll keep in touch, I know that it won’t be the same. I have to thank him now. I have to recognize how good he has been to me now.

I met him four years ago, in October 2004, at the Lingkod National Leaders’ Training Conference in Iloilo. I was told by my confessor, Fr. Steve, that their order of religious priests was tasked by the bishop to take care of our sub-parish (how blessed I felt, how specifically loved by God, for it was an answered prayer to find a home in my own parish). He brought along with him to Iloilo a priest who was to become our assistant parish priest. I was shy to approach him, for he was six feet tall, and spoke English with an intimidating (to a Filipino) Australian accent, but I needed someone to talk to, for Fr. Steve left that conference early, and that week I heard the Lord inviting me to give up my career as a lawyer to become a full-time missionary. I needed someone who could understand and give me wise advice.

I looked for him, introduced myself, and thus was prayed over for the first time by Fr. Geoffrey Coombe, mgl. It was a day of retreat but I could not sit in silence. I needed to speak out, to ask and express how I could be called to serve God in that capacity, when all I could see were the obstacles before me.

Thus began four years of pastoral care under him. Fr. Geoff guided me through a six-month period of discernment, through five-minute chats after the 6 p.m. mass, which I could attend regularly then as I worked a few minutes away from home. He checked up on me, prayed over me, shared his experiences with me, and discerned with me. I knew he was God’s gift, for I really felt God’s love through him. I looked forward to sharing my reflections and realizations with him, for he directed me gently but firmly towards focusing on the Lord and not on myself.

While I was a Lingkod staffer and was having difficulty reconciling that with being a lawyer, Fr. Geoffrey continued to be my spiritual director. I sought him out to sort me out, for it was good to have someone outside of my ministry who was objective enough to point out what I was being blind to. He taught me to discover my gifts and to share them at the appropriate time. He taught me to deal with the burnout I felt after giving to the point of exhaustion. He showed me how I could serve without losing myself.

Fr. Geoffrey also encouraged me to serve at the parish. He invited me to give my first Life in the Spirit Seminar talk in Tagalog, gave me a pamphlet about being a Lector at mass and then gave me a regular assignment, and sat down with me to discuss his dreams for the youth of our parish. This was before Bro. Daniel Strickland and Fr. Brian Steele came to take care of the Youth Ministry for our new parish.

Being an architect and an artist, Fr. Geoff had a wealth of knowledge and experience to draw from, and that was exactly what I needed to discern my career. In deciding to leave Lingkod, he prayed with me. In looking for my next job, he prayed for me. He gave me books to read and asked me to submit reflections, just like a patient teacher to a wayward student.

He is a quiet man with a deep prayer life, and it is a blessing to be one of his directees. Yesterday, the first of October, about four weeks before his flight back to Canberra, I told him I felt like I graduated from a course from the Fr. Geoffrey Coombe School of Pastoral Care. I wanted to make him proud of me but I was nowhere near sainthood and still unsure about many things.

He told me that what was important was that I grew to be more honest in my relationship with God, and that I knew how to love even if it was painful and complicated. He felt his time here, in my life, was up too, and he was happy to endorse me to my new spiritual directress, a Cenacle sister. He believed in planting seeds and leaving them to grow.

I will miss having Fr. Geoffrey a text away to pray over my concerns, from the mundane to the melodramatic. I will miss seeking his advice and hearing his voice that did not ever judge me, no matter how disobedient I had been to God. I will miss his creative homilies. I will miss his Powerpoint presentations that illustrated deep Catholic teachings in a way that young people and young souls would understand.

He is moving to a new ministry and is very excited about it. He is excited at how God’s plans would unfold for me, he said. I sit here today wondering what my next step would be, but grateful, very grateful, that for the past four years I have had someone to guide me, listen to me, and pray with me. I will continue to consult, or maybe inform, him over major decisions of my life. But even if this friendship is for a lifetime, I recognize the reason he was here, and the season we shared, as one of God’s greatest blessings.

I dedicate one month of saying goodbye to him, made up of despedidas from all the groups that would organize it for him, highlighted by my family’s first piano recital, with him and a few friends as audience.

Fr. Geoffrey, thank you for being a part of my life, in the context of the Parish of St. Benedict, Ang Lingkod ng Panginoon, Youth Alive, the Disciples of Jesus, and the Posh. I will never forget everything that you taught me. God bless you on your new ministry. And… see you in Canberra! 🙂


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