Death of Fr Miguel Jose V Casals SJ

Ateneo de Manila University
OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT




05 September 2007


MEMO TO : THE UNIVERSITY COMMUNITY

FROM : THE PRESIDENT

SUBJECT : DEATH OF FR. MIGUEL JOSE V. CASALS, S.J.


This is to inform the Ateneo community of the death of FR. MIGUEL JOSE V. CASALS, S.J. He passed away Friday, 31 August 2007. He was 86 years old. Fr. Casals taught English and Theology at the Ateneo de Manila and was Chairman of the Department of English in the early 60s before he moved to Sacred Heart Novitiate as English Professor and Master of Novices.

Attached is the Funeral Homily delivered by Fr. Noel D. Vasquez, S.J. who was a student of his at the Ateneo. Fr. Noel’s homily relates to us the story of Fr. Casal’s life and mission in the Society of Jesus. May we ask the prayers of the community for Fr. Mike, for his family and for the so many people whom his ministry has touched.




BIENVENIDO F. NEBRES, S.J.
President






Homily
Funeral Mass for Fr. Miguel Jose V. Casals, S.J.
Loyola House of Studies
04 September 2007


I chose these two readings, from the Book of Wisdom and the Gospel of St. Matthew for this Mass for Fr. Mike because I see Fr. Mike in these.

The first reading assures us how the just are in the hands of God, how chastised a little as gold in a furnace, how as a sacrificial offering the just is greatly blessed, and that finally God takes the just unto himself. And at this final Mass of commendation, we do believe that the Lord has taken unto Himself Fr. Mike, a true Jesuit at heart and in action, one whom He had purified as gold in a furnace.

Yes very truly Fr. Mike was a son of Ignatius, in heart and in action.

The 1550 Formula of the Institute of the Society of Jesus which is the core basis of the Constitution of the Society, describes who the Jesuit is and enumerates many and various possible missions he is to undertake. A Jesuit is one who desires to be a “soldier of God beneath the banner of the cross” in the Society of Jesus, wherein he is to serve the Lord alone.

At the age of 29, in May 1949, Fr. Mike entered the Novitiate. He was the eldest in the family. I heard that that age was already considered then as a “late” vocation. For this reason I was told that he was exempted from doing the usual teaching regency and so he was sent straight to theology after his philosophy course. But part of the reason also was his many years of teaching in several colleges in Cebu, including San Carlos University, run by the SVD Fathers. This was after he graduated summa cum laude with an AB degree in Journalism at the University of Santo Tomas, in 1942. By this time the Japanese already had control of the country.

Fr. Mike’s greater desire was really to be a soldier of the Lord in the Society, rather than with the Dominicans or the SVD. Before entering, he actually was a soldier when WWII was about to end, serving with the 81st Signal Company of the 81st Brigade of the Philippine Army. That explains how he wore his sotana, like a uniform, with military bearing when I first knew him as our teacher in 2nd year Theology, 44 years ago in 1963, here at the Ateneo. His sotana was always newly pressed, with only one crease along the sleeves, always over a white pair of pants and black ROTC-type of black shoes. He was proud to wear the Jesuit sotana, he wore it very smartly, unlike a few Jesuits then whom you would think wore their sotanas in bed. But now, unfortunately for many of us, the lasting physical image of him will be of one in crutches and a wheelchair. But these are all externals.

In heart and in action he was a true Jesuit. The Formula of the Institute further tells us that the Jesuit’s fundamental mission is to “strive for the defense and propagation of the faith and the progress of souls in the Christian life and doctrine” and to achieve these through several ministries like public lectures, preaching of the Word of God, giving the Spiritual Exercises, consoling the faithful through confessions and other sacraments, and education of children and the unlettered. In addition to these, the Jesuit is to be ready to assist the estranged and compassionately assist those in hospitals and prisons, and to do other works of charity. Amazingly, despite his physical disabilities, Fr. Mike did practically all of these foundational works of the Society. Many of us probably do not realize this fact.

After his limited physical recovery from his almost fatal illness in 1965 which prematurely ended his assignment as Novice Master to just a year, he came back to the Ateneo and served both as confessor of students and assistant chaplain at the Bilibid prison in Muntinlupa. Going back and forth to the prison was not so comfortable at that time. When he was at Xavier House, then the Province Curia from 1973-1978, serving as the Province Secretary, he also helped out at the Philippine General Hospital.

He also did administrative work, as Minister of Xavier House, and before that as Treasurer of Loyola House of Studies in 1968 to 1973. Twice, in 1973-1978 and 1997-2002, he was Director of the Mirador Jesuit Retreat House in Baguio.

He was spiritual father and confessor for many years, from 1968-1997, both here at Loyola House and San Jose Seminary. I personally found him as a very accepting spiritual director who elicited trust in his directees. He was also a favorite confessor for many of us scholastics then. He did not make unnecessary scrutiny and he gave light and almost predictable penance. I do not think he could be shocked by what he might hear in the confessional.

He always showed compassion. At the Ateneo, in 1961-1963, many of us college students preferred him as confessor. He was student counselor then and he made sure he saw each of the 2nd year students once a semester. There were less than 200 of us then and he knew most of us personally. Given our age and tendencies then, he asked all of us to read the booklet “Modern Youth and Chastity”. At the same time, given his love for the Society, he did ask many to consider the possibility of a vocation to the Society.

During his assignments here on campus, he managed to teach a few courses in English and Theology, the same courses he taught in the Ateneo in 1961-1963, his first full assignment before being Master of Novices. Teaching English Literature I think was really his love. He thought he would be going back to finish his PhD in English Literature at Fordham after doing his thesis those years. But the superiors had other plans for him. Hesitantly, he went on to do his Licentiate in Ascetical Theology in 1963 at the Gregorian University in Rome, as preparation to being Novice Master.

Through all these years, up to around two years ago when he grew more weak and sickly, he did regular pastoral and spirituality work. He was giving retreats to many groups, including a regular group during the Holy Week. Almost daily, he would leave at 5 in the morning to say the 6 AM Mass in the Binondo Parish where he is well loved. Before this, for quite a long time, he was also saying regular Masses at a subdivision in Marikina. And he helped set up a foundation named after St. Joseph, for the education of poor children.

So Fr. Mike engaged in practically all these ministries listed in the Formula: retreat work, consoling sinners through confessions, public lectures, and teaching the youth, serving the sick and the prisoners, directly serving the Province as administrator of houses and as formator, as spiritual counselor to many, and saying regular Masses in parishes. All these are ministries that can rightly be expected of a Jesuit. But the amazing thing is that Fr. Mike did all these despite of his physical handicap which resulted from that near-fatal and crippling illness way back in May 1965. That is more than 42 years ago, such a long period of physical difficulties. Many of us Jesuits, even in our good state of health, have not done and probably will not be able to do all of these.

I usually greeted him “Kumusta ang Dakilang Lumpo”, to which he would just smile or laugh and say “Bu-ang ka”. That was Fr. Mike. He carried this physical burden very lightly, which I, and I am sure many of us probably will not be able to endure. I cannot think of this as being chastised only a “little”, as the first reading says, to go through this kind of suffering as the furnace that will bring out the gold in us. He never allowed his physical handicap be a hindrance to the many works for which he made himself available, and which he did full-heartedly.

He never complained about his condition. I thought he might express this to me during my privileged personal encounters with him, during manifestation of conscience, when I was Provincial. The only time he complained, and in a kidding manner, was when he said that the Sisters in the hospital kept praying for him, for which he was very thankful, but forgot to exercise his legs and feet, and so led to the partial calcification of his joints and the atrophy of some muscles.

My first encounter with him in his sickbed was when he was still in a critical condition at the Singian Clinic, a small hospital near Malacanang Palace where Jesuits were usually confined. This was sometime around July 1965, soon after I entered the Novitiate. I discovered only then that he was the Master of Novices, but had to be changed by Fr. Charles Wolf. It was a touching meeting for me, and probably for him too, happily surprised to see me, a student and counselee of his two years earlier, now in a Jesuit habit. He tried to reach out to me with great effort, but was unable to. Then I saw tears flowing down his cheeks.

He was bedridden for several months, with bed sores, practically completely paralyzed, able to recognize people but unable to communicate. The doctors for some time could not agree on what illness he had, whether it was meningitis or tuberculosis of the brain stem, and so the delay in giving him the right medication. Even after he was moved to Loyola House in late 1965 or early 1966 for recuperation and therapy, he still had to suffer the pain of the physical therapy itself, and the embarrassment of having someone present when he was on the toilet, and with someone washing him and dressing him up. It is not given to many of us to endure this kind of physical pain and psychological and spiritual suffering, and come out spiritually whole.

I do think Fr. Mike would not have wanted me to dwell, no matter how briefly, on his suffering, because he himself never did so. He moved around and did his work and ministries as if his disability was ordinary and not really a burden. However, with my apologies to you Mike, I still do so now because how he carried himself and maintained a cheerful disposition, quick to laugh at himself and others, revealed to us such a deep faith and trust in the Lord, such a profound spiritual life. For all we know, Fr. Mike suffered darkness of faith and experienced the absence of God. If he did, he kept this to himself. He was not one given to self-pity. And throughout all his life, he centered his daily spiritual life in the Eucharist and nurtured this with his devotion to Our Lady.

All his Jesuit life he expressed his love for the Society, thankful for his vocation and of course for the care given him. In his own way, he promoted vocation to the Society. He did openly tell young men to consider a Jesuit vocation. He really was happy when he was asked to help in any of the Province ministries. He was a true Jesuit, so available as is obvious to us with all the varied ministries he engaged in. Even late in his age, when he was already in his mid-70s, from time to time he would ask me as Provincial then, if there was anything else I might ask him to do. I could not think of any, not until 1996, when I was hard pressed to look for a replacement for Fr. Pascual Adorable, who died while serving as Director of our retreat house in Mirador, Baguio. Fr. Mike asked to be considered for the work, reminding me that he in fact was Director of Mirador for 5 years in 1973-1978.

And so his last major assignment was as Director of Mirador, at age 74, from 1996 to 2002. Late in 2001, things were not going well any more at Mirador, when some people took advantage of his lack of physical mobility and the trust he had for them, which led to financial and operational problems. Then it was time to tell him that it would be better for him and Mirador that he already rest and concentrate his pastoral and retreat work just around Manila.

Again Fr. Mike showed what it meant to be a Jesuit. It fell upon me, both as Province Treasurer to whom he was reporting, and as friend, to communicate to him the decision of superiors. We did not want to hurt him, knowing that his heart was still in that work.

I was afraid it was going to be difficult, aware that Fr. Mike can be stubborn and “masungit”. We all know this. But in the end, he actually made it easy for me. It took me some time, after 2 or 3 visits to him, to kind of prepare him, before finally communicating the mind of the superiors. Of course he disagreed, spoke his mind and protested, and expressed his desire to stay on. But in the same breathe, he accepted the decision. While it was not a matter of formal obedience, Fr. Mike did show the true spirit of Jesuit obedience.

The Gospel reading we just heard is fulfilled in Fr. Mike. Like that of mere children Our Lord speaks of, the faith and spirituality of Fr. Mike grew in simplicity that goes with a maturing spiritual life and an ever deepening relationship with God. It was this simplicity of faith which he possessed when he finally accepted the invitation of the Lord to “Come to me all you who are weary…and I will refresh you…Your souls will find rest.” It was actually a year and a half ago, I believe, that he accepted this invitation of the Lord to finally rest his weary soul, when he was brought to the hospital with serious medical complication. There I visited him and I was reminded of that visit to him at Singian clinic 42 years ago, because while he showed recognition, he could no longer communicate this. He simply smiled when reminded that I was his “Bu-ang” friend. From then on his health deteriorated.

So Mike, dear brother Jesuit and friend, we are happy that now your weary soul rests in the gentle caring of the Lord. This is what you had been seeking all your life. As the Lord promised, having been chastised a little and proved in the furnace, now He takes you to Himself. So please do remember us and pray for us you have left behind still burdened by life, remember us your brother Jesuits and the Society you love so much; remember your own family and relatives, those you ministered to in very many ways, those who took care of you and those now gathered around the altar. Yes, do pray for us, now that you are in the immediate and eternal presence, peace and love of the Lord.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen



Fr. Noel D. Vasquez, S.J.