Fr. Danny Huang, S.J. on the Death of Fr. Thomas H. Green, S.J. (1932-2009)
Remembering Tom Green
(March 19, 1932 – March 13, 2009)
When I woke up this morning, I was shocked to discover—from Facebook updates, of all things—that Fr. Tom Green had passed away. I had known, of course, that he was sick; but the suddenness of his passing away still came as a sad surprise.
Soon after I had texted my condolences, the present Rector of San Jose Seminary, Vic de Jesus, kindly called me up long distance to inform me of the details of Tom’s passing: how Tom had come home from the hospital last night; how one of the seminarians had peeked into his room this morning and found him sitting in his chair, with his pipe on his chest. He went very quickly, which is a real mercy.
I first met Tom Green thirty years ago. In my senior year at the Ateneo, school year 1979-80, I was in Fr. Green’s philosophy of language class. It was a wonderful course, and thirty years later, the fact that I can still remember so much—of the logical positivists, of Wittgenstein, that language is inescapably metaphorical, that some concepts are essentially contested—is surely testimony to the outstanding clarity and excellence of Fr. Green’s teaching.
My second encounter with Fr. Green was through his books. Opening to God, which I read twice—once as a college student, and more seriously, as a novice in the Society—was a deeply influential book in my life. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that it taught me how to pray. I read all his other books too, but my personal favorite, the book which I think is his best and wisest, is When the Wells Run Dry.
Two key insights from that book have remained with me through the decades. The first insight: that darkness happens, not just in prayer, but in life, to move us, in his words, from “loving to truly loving.” I still recall, more or less accurately, a sentence from the book, in which he reflects on a married couple’s promise to love each other “for better or worse”: “The better, the good times are there to teach us the joy of loving; the worse happens to teach us to love truly.”
The second insight: at the end of the book, Fr. Green uses the image of floating (as contrasted with swimming) as a metaphor for the mature life of faith. You give up control over your life (“swimming”); you remain active (otherwise you would sink), but you allow yourself to be led; you let go and entrust yourself to the unpredictable flow of the sea of love that surrounds you, and you let it take you where it wills.
My third and most lasting encounter with Tom Green happened in the eight years, from 1996 to 2004, when we lived together in the same community and worked on the same formation team in San Jose Seminary. At that time, we were also co-faculty members of Loyola School of Theology. From 2000 to 2004, the years I served as Rector of San Jose, Fr. Green was my Vice-Rector. He had the room right above mine in those years.
For eight years, we shared meals and attended many staff meetings together. With the rest of the Jesuit team, we processed hundreds of applications to the Seminary; sat through hours of semestral and yearly evaluations of seminarians; discussed and occasionally argued over Seminary policies. Almost every Monday evening, for eight years, we had common prayer together in the BVM chapel on the third floor of San Jose, and after prayer, shared a special meal in the Jesuit community recreation room.
When you live that long with another Jesuit, you get to know him quite well. I got to know about Tom Green’s legendary regularity of life. He followed the same schedule or cycles almost every day, every week, every year. If it was 130 PM, he could invariably be found in his rocking chair on the fifth floor reading the papers. If it was the third (I forget which, actually) Sunday of the month, he would have Mass in Balara or for the L’Arche community. If it was summer vacation, then he would be giving a retreat somewhere in the United States. And woe to you, if you moved that rocking chair, as one unwitting minister did!
I remember pleasant and witty Jesuit banter from those rec-room meals involving Tom Green. Once, Roque Ferriols was talking about Jesuit Bishop Honesto “Onie” Pacana, but kept on referring to him as “Honey Pacana.” The rest of us—Art Borja was there, I remember—corrected Fr. Roque and told him that the bishop’s nickname was pronounced “Onie” not “Honey.” When Roque said that he had always thought the bishop’s nickname was “Honey,” Tom Green quipped in a deadpan way: “Oh, I thought you were just close.” That brought the house down.
Tom was not perfect, I discovered. (His devoted lay friends, “the Golden Girls,” who took such good care of him, also knew that.) He tended to want things his way. He got cross and cranky when things did not go the way he wanted them to. He could express his opinions a bit too dogmatically. He did not admit his mistakes easily.
And yet, I appreciated his presence in the community and on the Seminary formation team. He was a very generous (he had so many directees!) and wise spiritual director. He was a man of very good and balanced judgment where persons were concerned, and I always valued his perceptions of applicants or seminarians. When I consulted him as Vice-Rector on issues of the Seminary, I usually received very sensible counsel.
By the time I got to San Jose, Tom was a grandfather figure to the seminarians, and his cheerful and easy manner of dealing with them, and the personal witness he gave of a man who had grown old—and happily so—in the priesthood was something, I think, of inestimable value for San Jose. Having been part of San Jose for over three decades, he had become for generations of Josefinos, an icon, a living link between the past and the present, a symbol of their happy years in the Seminary. With Tom’s passing away, an era in the history of San Jose comes to an end, a presence that cannot be replaced has been lost forever…
In all my years as Rector and as Provincial, Tom always told me that he hoped he could die in San Jose. He got his wish. I am glad for him. Now, I trust that he is in the presence of the One whom he wrote about, spoke about and served so faithfully and generously for so many years. Now, I trust the darkness has become light for him, and, with a joy no words can describe, he can let go and, at last, float.
FR. THOMAS H. GREEN, S. J. died on Friday morning, March 13, at San Jose Seminary. Fr. Tom would have been 77 on Thursday. He entered the Society on 7 September 1949 and was ordained a priest on 19 June 1963. Requiescat in pace.
San Jose Seminary Chapel
Ateneo de Manila University
Loyola Heights, Q.C.
Daily wake Masses will be celebrated at 8:00 p.m.
Thursday, 19 March at 8:00 a.m.
University Church of the Gesù, Ateneo de Manila University
Sacred Heart Novitiate Cemetery
Novaliches, Quezon City
immediately after the Funeral Mass
Source: The Philippine Jesuits