An Open Letter to Fr. Herb
From Annie Salvador, BCBP Baguio
Dear Father Herb,
I must say, it was a grandslam of revelations.
The first was when Joey Avellana declared that you had never before shared in a national anniversary breakfast. I had a sudden image of all the previous NAC chairpersons – my husband Nelson included – lined up in front of me and my question “What?!?” It should have been a given, it seemed, but it is what it is.
As you began your sharing, I got my second. You said you were no businessman nor professional in the sense that we were, but that you had a friend you wanted to speak about. Honestly, for a few moments I truly expected you to present some admirable mogul or taipan as a model for us. But I was quickly enlightened. Within a couple more sentences I understood that you were referring to the Friend above all friends. And at that point, all the other reveals came tumbling toward me, one on top of the other.
It was, I will admit, a little difficult for me to picture you at nine. “Father Herb” was always an adult, senior to me and formidably so. But I have a good imagination and as I put it to work, there you were: a tender and tousle-haired boy (somehow I’m so sure you were never the rowdy, riotous type) in your garden. Your first experience of God’s personal nearness was such an intimate moment that I felt I was intruding on your privacy, but you invited me in, didn’t you, so I lingered.
What a privilege, it seemed to me, to be graced by the Lord in such a way at such an age. And like Mary, you said yes, opening your life to His friendship. That makes you a rarity. I myself have never met anyone who entered into a personal relationship with Jesus at a younger age.
And then, another glimpse of the young Herbert (may I call your throwback self that? You didn’t mention what your nickname was…) at 18 or so, in a chapel pew, promising a promise so much bigger than himself: to be at the Father’s beck and call in whatever way desired. I felt like a mother beholding her son, proud and beaming and unbelieving of how she came to be gifted with such a blessing!
It strengthened my belief that God pursues us when I heard that even as you postpone your entry into the priesthood, the urge, the desire, the hankering would come back to you. It affirmed for me that we need to respond to however we perceive God’s call when you said you looked the Jesuits up in the phonebook and wrote them to seek admission to the Society of Jesus. It made me more sure about how being a follower of Christ does not happen in a vacuum but in the context of us being social creatures when you described your father’s initial response. And as you narrated that despite his overnight silence, your father gave his blessing to your decision, I saw again how the Father loves us through others.
You later said that you had so looked up to the man your father was. God rest his soul. May I say, dear Fr. Herb, that as far as I have come to know you through my years in the Brotherhood, methinks the fruit did not fall far from the tree.
So you see, as your sharing progressed, I found myself saying “now I get it” again and again. I saw the roots of the faith which energized the establishment of community after community of charismatics. I saw fervor and determination and a torpedo-like ability to focus. I saw an honest and objective self-regard coupled with a continuing quest for Magis. I developed a growing admiration for the man of God you grew to be as you studied to become a priest (in my mind’s eye you were diligent and dedicated and most likely an honor student!); as you described the flavor of your prayer-conversations with God; how you would renew and renew your pledge of availability for service; how a simple choir loft crossing was an opportunity to remind Him of your offer; how you even specified that you wanted to serve as a charismatic.
I have always maintained that when we make an offering to God, He takes it, and in His Hands, He does a little God-magic to our gift, and then He gives it back to us so, so many-fold. God sent you – of all places on this vast earth – to the Philippines. He chose to bless you by commissioning you to be among us, and by your love for God we too are blest in turn. Purihin ang Panginoon!
Like a good number of BCBP members, I am not-just-a-little intimidated by you. Let’s face the facts: you’re German – regardless of your Brooklyn years, even your Manila years! – you look it, you sound it. I, in turn and deep inside, am a product of a long national history of colonial mentality. Plus, it’s frankly difficult to get past the combination of your mustache and your professorial stare. Still, you have given me a personal revelation in a one-to-one encounter once before. You probably don’t remember, but to me, the memory is sharp. Many years ago, I picked you up from the LST in Ateneo to take you to LayForce for a BCBP sectoral assembly. We got stuck in Katipunan traffic and I sighed a complaint about it. To my surprise you replied “that’s good, we can talk.” And so, after I recovered from some embarrassment, we did quite happily talk. And I learned you liked to cook, we even shared kitchen tips and recipes. Whenever I saw you after that, and especially if you were looking particularly stern, I would remind myself of the glimpse I had into the person beneath the exterior.
Well, now, I have another experience to reinforce that. At the same time this new encounter goes far beyond. As you revealed yourself through your stories and sentiments in your first national anniversary sharing, dear Fr. Herb, you showed me a tender, vulnerable and really, a sweet side of yourself.
I must, at this point say kudos to your Friend, for keeping you close and sustaining you. You spoke of how He has always been by your side, even – especially – in your moments of sorrow. Imagining you, on your airplane ride home to your dead father, face turned toward the window to hide your grief, made me want to embrace you. And it made me want to raise my hands in praise of our God of comfort and consolation. How he loves us! That was loud and clear in your sharing.
Whenever I closed my eyes to better see the word-pictures you painted, I truly, truly saw a brother, a fellow follower, a man steeped in discipleship. And I inhaled the fragrance of obedience. And I felt the Spirit passing by. When I opened my eyes again, I saw Jesus, quite brightly reflected.
You gave me a gift that fine morning in Gensan. Like my precious memory of a long slow drive through Katipunan Avenue and EDSA, I will always appreciate it, I will hold it forever, and I thank our mutual BFF for it.
In His love,
Like you, Annie, I felt differently while listening to Fr. Herb’s bfast sharing at Gensan.I especially shed tears when he related his feelings about his father’s death.I can relate but our dear Friend was right there to comfort our grieving family thru our bcbp friends and relatives.
Whoever thought of choosing him as one of the NAC’s breakfast sharers really did a good job. Fr. Herb is one of the best things that ever happened to BCBP.