Lessons for Young and Not-so-young Couples

Edited extemporaneous remarks of retired Chief Justice ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN delivered after the online Mass celebrated by Monsignor Gerardo O. Santos to mark the Diamond 60th Wedding Anniversary of the CJ and Professor Leni C. Panganiban held via Zoom on April 8, 2021.

At the outset, let me greet our dear extended family especially those in the US, Canada, Europe, Australia and elsewhere whom we rarely see. Leni and I thank all of you for joining online – via the magic of Zoom – this Eucharistic Celebration presided over by “Monsi Gerry,” our beloved adopted “Anak,” whom we met in the mid-1980s and who catechized, Churched and taught me Catholic theology. Because of him and other priests and lay leaders, I was inspired to read and reread the Bible and to peruse hundreds of commentaries on the Holy Book. We have become so close that he calls me `Tay, and Leni, `Nay, and we fondly call him “Anak.” He is the only son of a wonderful couple whom we have also known and have come to love, though his father left us for the Heavenly Kingdom a few years ago. He officiated the wedding of Len and Alex as well as of Mig and Echel. Yes, Monsi Gerry is a part of our family.

Wedding at the Immaculate Conception Church
To recall, Leni and I exchanged “I do’s” on April 8, 1961 at the Immaculate Concepcion Church (now a Cathedral and the seat of the Diocese of Cubao) in Lantana Street, Cubao, Quezon City. Some of you and/or your parents attended that blessed day.
We wish we could celebrate our Diamond Anniversary together with all of you, in person, hand-shaking, hugging cheek-to-cheek, and demonstrating a more intimate and a more personal greeting. And pursuant to our Filipino custom, sharing a meal or “salu-salo” together. We had wanted to commemorate this occasion at the historic Manila Cathedral, the mother of all churches in the Philippines which was renovated, retrofitted and redecorated recently by the Manila Cathedral Foundation of which I am the President. I would have been happy to show you how lovely and serene the Cathedral is after we renovated it.
Two years ago, we started planning this Diamond Anniversary to be held at the Vatican with Cardinal Chito Tagle celebrating the Mass. We would have been very happy to see you there. But the COVID-19 pandemic has made those preparations and expectations impossible.
Nonetheless, having said that, we thank you most sincerely for attending this online Mass and for sharing with us how you have been during the past years and decades. We are impressed and happy at how all of you have progressed and prospered.

First Lesson: Talk It Over
As for us, during the last 60 years, Leni and I – like other couples – have had our ups and downs, our trials and triumphs. To succeed in those trials, I have ordered and dutifully observed, as Chief Justice, two unbendable Rules. The first Rule is: My wife is always right. The second Rule is: Always follow the first Rule.
Well, happily, that is not the end of the story. Whenever Leni hears how I humbly defer to her, she invariably and modestly replies, “Thank you for agreeing with me. But I think we should do it your way. After all, I know you have studied the matter carefully and judiciously. If you can pass final judgments on persons accused of murder, rape, kidnapping and other serious crimes, and if you can decide cases involving billions of pesos, I think I can trust your judgment in our little disputes.”
Seriously, and this is the first lesson I wish to impart to you today: When major disputes arise, and there are many in the course of your marriage, talk the matter over and come to a mutually-agreed solution. Suppose, after talking the matter over and after consulting the elders in the family as well as your favorite priests, doctors and trusted friends, still no solution comes, what do we do? My answer: Talk it over again and again until a solution is reached.

Second Lesson: Pray Together Every Evening
The second lesson I have for you is this: Aside from the big problems I mentioned in the first lesson, you will meet little household problems in your daily life that sometimes lead to hurt pride, to irritated nerves, to raised voices and to elevated blood pressure. I refer to things like forgotten birthdays and anniversaries, innocent calls or texts from a former girlfriend or boyfriend, or peevishness over burnt barbecues, or irritations due to cold soups. Well, it is okay to feel stressed and depressed, and make “tampo” or sulk once in a while, or to give your spouse a naughty nag, or worse, the “silent treatment.”
My advice to solve these little, daily problems is to make it a habit to hold hands and pray together every night on your knees facing your home altars, or laying at the matrimonial bed before going to sleep. Your prayer need not be the memorized formula prayers taught to us since we were children. Better are extemporaneous prayers in English, Tagalog or Capampangan. You could start by thanking the Lord for what happened during the day and for the chores you plan to do on the following morning. Or, it could simply be to praise God for all the graces and blessings He showered you during that day, like a safe bus ride home, or a meal well-cooked, or high grades in a quiz that a son or daughter had for the day. Prayers could be in the form of praises for the Lord, or thanksgivings for favors received from other people, or petitions for future well-being.
If you, as a couple, make evening prayer a daily habit, you will not let a quarrel last more than a day because in the evening, you would be holding hands and praying together. So, whatever sulking, stress, or silence you must have mustered during the day, will vanish in the evening as you hold hands and pray together. In this way, you will never let a sunset pass without smiling and talking with each other before sleeping and before the sunrise the next day.

Third Lesson: Trust the Lord Always
The third and final lesson is to remember that the Lord will never betray our trust. Sometimes, He may not seem to answer our prayers, or at other times, He may put seemingly insurmountable obstacles in our path which bar us from fulfilling our goals and plans – often to our total frustration and bitterness.
For example, as I said earlier, two years ago, we patiently prepared grand plans for our 60th Wedding Anniversary. We were hoping to celebrate it in the Vatican – a dream that only a few couples are in a real position to realize and fulfill. In fact, Cardinal Chito Tagle had already reserved it in his calendar and our prospective ninong and ninang – Archbishop Soc Villegas, Monsi Gerry, Ambassador Tita de Villa and Mrs. Bai Delos Reyes – have already agreed to fly to Rome. And we reserved already the selected Church, as well as the hotels for our bridal party, immediate family and close friends.
Our alternative, or Plan B, was to commemorate at the Manila Cathedral. As Ambassador Tita texted me, Plan B “will be a meaningful venue… you lavished its restoration with much love… symbolic of the love needed by marriage to be restored to its original beauty… with a small reception … in the new place inside the Cathedral grounds” which the Manila Cathedral Foundation recently built. Indeed, I would have been happy to show you how utterly beautiful and serene Manila Cathedral is now, after it had recently been restored, retrofitted and re-strengthened.
But to our utter disappointment, both our Plan A (Vatican) or Plan B (Manila Cathedral) became impossible to implement because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the severe lockdown or Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) imposed by the government on March 29 to April 11, 2021 restricting or prohibiting not only international travel but also local religious services involving groups of more than 10 persons.
So, Len, our eldest daughter, who is in-charge of the celebration, had to cope with the reality at hand and recommended this online Eucharistic Celebration attended strictly by family members only, excluding the sponsors, friends and guests we had in mind under either Plan A or Plan B. What actually happened is an unplanned Plan X which we are holding now.
But we are unfazed because we believe and trust in the Lord Jesus. For every unexpected turn of events, for every disappointment or for every frustration is always a silver lining, an unbeknownst goodness. And now, as I speak, I realize the Lord’s purpose in barring Plan A and Plan B, and allowing only Plan X, is this: He wanted us – close family relatives who have not met, spoken or greeted one another for a long, long time – to hear Mass together and exchange greetings and “kumustahan.” I hope you all feel as happy and fulfilled in the same way as Leni and me. Let us do this yearly reunion – perhaps every New Year at 10 AM, Manila time. Let us mark that in our calendars and in our memories. Thus, our next online kumustahan will be on January 1, 2022 at 10:00 AM, Manila time. Len will make the necessary arrangements.
To close these short remarks, let me sum up. Leni and I have faced and conquered our trials and challenges with continuing marital dialogues and always with prayers and supplications to our Lord Jesus Christ. And our Lord has been kind, merciful and generous especially to me as the leader of our family. Though unworthy and undeserving, I have nonetheless been saved by our Lord by helping me overcome our most difficult obstacles and challenges sometimes with unforeseen but nonetheless happy results. I hope you will always remember and apply in your families, the three lessons I mentioned earlier. I pray that all of you also reach your 60th Wedding Anniversary with the same freshness, joy and expectation as on your wedding day. Thank you once more. May God be with you always.

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