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The Wisdom of RPZ

RPZ stands for Romualdo P. Zantua: Parokyalista, Atenista, Bikolano, Josefino, author, inventor, and a priest. He died last December 30 in Phoenix, Arizona. He was 78. Zantua was credited for inventing a computerized confession device for deaf Catholics.

I first met Zantua, known as Romy to many in the Jesuit-run San Jose Seminary, in the mid-‘60s. However, I lost track of Romy after his ordination. I never bothered to ask from common friends where he was assigned or what he was doing.

Fast forward to 2020. During a casual phone conversation with Manny Aureus, a high school classmate living in New York, I happened to mention fortuitously Romy’s name. To my surprise, Manny knew the Zantua family quite well. A few days later, I got a phone call from Manny with Romy’s contact information. What followed was a regular communication via email between Romy and me until he died.

Romy was not only a prolific writer; he was prayerfully reflective. His emails were replete with insights about life that I decided to save them in a folder. Without telling him, I occasionally re-read his emails for inspiration in my low moments.

When I heard from Manny Aureus that Romy had passed on, I felt that the best way I could honor him was to share with as many people as possible his wonderful gifts of insight into how he lived his life. So, here it is, in Romy’s own words (unedited), the wisdom of RPZ.

On Love: “Every time I play with my dog, Mr. Buddy, I use a gripper device to pick up a toy from the floor and throw it at him and he lunges at it with his teeth, until I throw another one but in the opposite direction…Today, I could not reach with my gripper one toy which went deep under a table. I tried to pick it up from the floor and lost my balance and fell down, hurting my left forearm which is already suffering from shoulder impingement for months now. While I was trying to raise myself up, Mr. Buddy was comforting me by profusely licking my ears and arms. I noticed that that was his way of showing his love for me. Each one of us has his or her own way of loving others. Some love in words and in deeds, others in silent deeds alone, but it’s love nonetheless.”

On Dying: “I have asked God to give me a preview of how I will personally meet my end. I thought it was through cardiac arrest, or pulmonary embolism. I dreaded fatal accidents and violence from others. I also, like perhaps most people, have wished for a peaceful exit while asleep. But yesterday, to my initial disbelief, the results of a series of seven blood tests have indicated polycythemia, a rare cancer of the blood. Further tests, I was told, would be done in a hospital setting, under mild anesthesia…I am just happy that now I have a glimpse of the possible case scenario which I consider a gift to be thankful for. It is like a smoke alarm gadget to alert me of fire. This initial diagnosis has really come to me as a gift to be waked when that which comes “like a thief in the night” finally comes. I am grateful for the courage to face the truth that my end is not too far, or perhaps even near, that I will be united with people I love.”

On the Ephemeral Nature of Things: “I am consoled by memories of the past, one of which is the time I joined the New York City Marathon -- my first and only one. Memories like this make me happy, knowing that whatever physical immobility is coming my way is but a passing event, like all the events in my past. For me now, everything is puny, paltry, and passing. These three “P”s describe another set of “P”s – Pleasure, Possessions, and Power. I’ve realized that everything indeed passes, including empires, and all the values the world holds dear. I believe I am meant to transcend all of these, because, like all of my fellow human beings, I am also made for something beyond pleasure, beyond possessions, and beyond power.”

On Praying the Rosary: “But why precisely the Rosary? No matter what the Christian world today thinks or believes, for me the Rosary is still the perfect prayer. It daily reminds me of the life of Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, in the great events of His life. Just thinking of those joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious mysteries of His life has the power to calm me down in my natural restlessness. It also refocuses my ever-distracted mind in today’s media-bombarded environment. It even works up for me to an ardent desire for God, like a slow-heating of water that eventually reaches the boiling point. I need all these physical helps because while the spirit is willing the flesh is weak. And I need all the help I can get. That’s what the Rosary has become for me now – a cane and walker, a slow-cooker! My constant inner protest against an increasingly God-less world.”

On Pain: “For a group of people like the infirm elderly, besides social isolation due in part to the pandemic, who often suffer intolerable pain, the temptation to use painkillers to induce immediate death just to end suffering has become paramount. Pain is part of human life, from the beginning till the end. It’s man’s constant companion. The acceptance of pain willingly and lovingly has been the response of martyrs in the past as well as in the present. And will also be the same in the future.”

On Life as a Race: “Life has often been rightly described as a journey, a pilgrimage, a race. At the beginning of life we often receive so much attention. Parents document their baby’s first words, first haircut, first steps, first birthday, etc. As the child gets older his novelty naturally wears off. Formal as well as informal education is then given to the schools. Guidance becomes institutionalized in on-going programs of formation. The older the person becomes the less help and assistance he gets. Often at death a person is left alone, like a tired runner reaching the final lap only to find his friends and loved ones gone. In life’s race, the final lap is the most decisive. One needs a lot of moral support and lots of prayers at the end.”

On Counting One’s Blessings: “You know, reaching the age 60 is already a great blessing in itself. Even if we feel pains and aches in many parts, we should count our blessings every day. Having a cellphone for many years now, I have received so many text messages in the form of blessings. I am reminded to count my blessings, even the suffering-filled moments, because they too are blessings in disguise. I once read somewhere that gratitude is the “memory of the heart”. The life of thanksgiving should really have started at a very early age when as children we were constantly reminded to say “Thank you” every time we received something. Gratitude is a virtue that gradually develops from childhood to old age when it should more visibly blossom for the simple reason that one has already survived many crises and ‘seasons of the heart.’”

On Forgiving and Forgetting: “I think we should be thankful that there is such a thing as a loss of memory, at least a partial or a selective one because to recall every event of our life would be a terrible ordeal. Imagine remembering all the unpleasant things like past wrongs committed against us, or done by ourselves to others. The inability to recall them becomes a blessing. Some people say that they can forgive, but not forget. What a terrible self-punishment it would be! If you forgave, I might as well forget, because by not forgetting you are only masochistically torturing yourself.”

On the Test of Time: “Time also serves as a test of the soundness of the heart, literally and metaphorically. Twenty-one years ago, through my inability to last two minutes on a treadmill, I found out that I needed a quadruple bypass. The physical soundness of that pumping organ called the “heart” can be tested by the time spent under pressure. Its vigor and capacity are measured by the length of time and effort in physical activity before one gives up. Likewise, the wholeness and integrity of the inner self can also be measured by the test of time.”

On the Importance of Being an Agricultural Society: “Is there hope for our local talents who stay put in the country? Is there really a need for global competitiveness to be able to grow as human beings? The answer to the first is yes, and to the second, no. We are still an agricultural society, thank God. We should not overemphasize the benefits of industrialization at the expense of exposing our labor force to the dangers of sweat-shops reminiscent of the early stages of the West’s industrial revolution. Japan is a highly industrial society but largely dependent on other countries for their lumber, vegetables, fruits, fish, meat and entertainment. Industrialization is excellent provided the agricultural sector is first developed and maintained. In peacetime as well as wartime food is essential. Computers and high-tech hardware cannot feed the hungry citizens and the military population. In the present major conflicts in the Middle East, the budget for food and water is almost equal to that of the military hardware. Where will people get food if everybody is rushing to be globally competitive at the expense of agriculture?”

On Death as Equalizer: “Is there something that makes all of us equal? The answer of course is a big Yes, there is one common equalizing event that makes all peoples and nations equal: Death – the path of every man – is the greatest equalizer of all. Death is not just a biological event – or merely observable fact when all bodily functions cease. No, death is more than a physical phenomenon. It is the personal culmination of one’s life involving the entire person’s consciousness, freedom, and love. That is why those whose freedom had been largely constrained by the weight of emotional burden, fear, anxiety, and helplessness, cannot genuinely be said to have denied life completely.”

May you rest in eternal peace, RPZ.

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