LOVE INCARNATE (Homily during the Wake Mass for Fr. Maximo Barbero, SJ)

LOVE INCARNATE (Homily during the Wake Mass for Fr. Maximo Barbero, SJ)

(This homily was delivered by Fr. Peter O. Pojol, SJ on the first wake mass for Fr. Barbero, SJ last August 4, 2019 at the Philippine General Hospital Chapel.)

At Xavier School, we all grew up fondly calling him Fr. Barbi, oblivious to its feminine connotation and its association with a famous fashion doll, both of which are furthest from what we know and remember of Fr. Barbi. The name his parents gave him surely fits him better—Maximo—but Fr. Barbi didn’t mind the name we gave him. In fact, he embraced it. Such was his simplicity and his love for us. Such was his love incarnate.

In reflecting on the life and gift of Fr. Barbi, I keep coming back to “love incarnate”: how his love for us was so palpable; how in his love, it was all about us and hardly about him; how his love became for us God’s love incarnate; and how his love must have issued from his own experience of being loved incarnately by God in Jesus.

I remember his nicotine-stained polo barong. He was a heavy smoker. Somehow that allowed him to connect with the tough guys in school. These days of remembering Fr. Barbi prompted one such tough guy, a high school batchmate, to write unabashedly on Viber: “Let’s try to remember Fr. Barbi as a football coach, who saw us smoking but never told Student Services [the office of the Prefect of Discipline], and as an excellent counselor.” Love incarnate.

Among the many Jesuits I grew up with in Xavier School, Fr. Barbi stood out in his frequent use of Tagalog. While he didn’t exactly master it, he was quite comfortable with it and it allowed him to speak freely and empathetically, especially with the poor. Love incarnate.

The poor had a special place in Fr. Barbi’s heart. I remember frequenting the poor community in Barasoain near Xavier School in San Juan. I went there with members of Christian Life Community (CLC) to teach catechism in their tiny street-side chapel and to serve at the liturgies led by Fr. Barbi. But really, I went because Fr. Barbi’s passion to serve and to be present to the poor was infectious. Love incarnate.

The poor had a special place in Fr. Barbi’s heart, including poor students in Xavier School like me and my brothers. Fr. Barbi was one of 3 Jesuit priests (along with Frs. Papilla and Caycedo) who made a surprise visit to our home one day in June when all 4 of us brothers failed to enroll that school year for lack of finances. They came to convey to our parents that they would put us in the Grant-In-Aid program so we could all finish school in Xavier. My siblings and I were reminiscing precisely about this earlier today as we gathered to celebrate the birthday of our late Mama. My family is forever grateful to the Xavier Jesuits, to Fr. Barbi. Love incarnate.

Fr. Barbi served as a beloved formator of young boys in Xavier School for a total of 24 years (from 1966 to 1984, then from 1985 to 1991), not counting his one year break at EAPI in Ateneo de Manila. After Xavier School, he spent a year in Ateneo de Zamboanga. Then he began what amounts to a second career as a beloved hospital chaplain here in PGH. He was assigned to PGH for a total of 22 years (from 1993 to 2000, 2001 to 2004, then 2007 to the present), not counting his short stint at Mary the Queen Parish in San Juan.

I regret that I know very little of his second career at PGH, especially since we are celebrating this wake mass here. But I do know that at PGH, he continued to maintain strong bonds with the poor he loved. Very naturally, he became a bridge between the boys he used to guide, who were now grown successful men, and the needy patients who are not hard to find at PGH. That Xavier School alumni generously donated and put up a foundation in his name for aiding poor PGH patients is a testament to the impact Fr. Barbi has had on their lives, and through them, on more lives and hearts. I am happy for Fr. Barbi that his life-long dedication was recognized and honored last year when he was selected as the 31st recipient of the Saint Teresa Calcutta Award by the AY Foundation of the Yuchengco Group of Companies. Love incarnate.

Fr. Barbi’s love for us was very palpable. In his love, it was all about us and hardly about him. His love became for us God’s love incarnate. His love must have issued from his own experience of being loved incarnately by God in Jesus.

Thank you, Fr. Barbi. Thank you for being love incarnate for us. Thank you for letting God love us through you. Please pray that, like you and as you so deeply desire, we may be love incarnate for God’s people, especially for those who are poor. Amen.

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