“When you desire something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it,” writes Paulo Coelho. But we need not go to Latin America to learn this. In our Province, I have encountered a friar who has experienced this age old wisdom in his own life.
Fray Oscar Manlapas, OP is a fondly familiar face in the corridors of Sto. Domingo Church. A native of Masbate, Fray Oscar is the 12th child of 15 siblings (speaking of the command to go and multiply). He was raised in the idyllic simplicity of a farm life. To help his family, he ventured to earn a living in Manila. He worked in a Carmelite monastery where his life revolved around vegetables, fluttering chickens, and veiled, virginal nuns.
Recognizing his industry and dedication, a certain Sr. Lorenza persuaded him to try the life of a hermano, and this he did. Fray Oscar never imagined himself in a habit, so he applied more out of youthful exploration than pious motives. The first congregation he applied to, took along while before they gave their response (to their own loss). By the time they sent him a letter of acceptance, Fray Oscar was already embraced by the Order of Preachers. A new phase of his life had begun.
His early formation involved a lot of adjustments: brothers from different regions; Spaniards with their own peculiarities; and a life totally foreign to him. Fray Oscar shared how a special girl way back in high school visited him in Sto. Domingo. “Talaganghinabolkahanggangsakumbento?” I teased him. That meeting was like a crossroad between his puppy love and what would later be his true Love. We all know Who he chose.
Fray Oscar deeply fell in love with the religious life. His new love life might be uneventful- none of the cheesy sweetness of his former one- but it bespeaks of a love too deep, too subjective for words or actions to express. “Prayers and the Holy Mass,” are his special moments with his Divine Beloved. He dedicated himself to a life of selfgiving that concretized itself in a loving surrender to the promptings of his Beloved.
There were many events that challenged his surrender: a difficult brother, an absurd assignment, or an insufferable superior.But through them all, Fray Oscar learned to bend his will to the will of his Beloved,
which he discerned in the events of his life. He admitted that as a young man, he had his share of impetuosity and rashness, but through them all, he discovered many of his realizations in life.
Whenever he was given difficult assignments, he would accept them trusting in God’s providence. He always gave his best, and tried to be contented with every result: good or bad. He chose to spare himself of unnecessary stress by focusing on the positive things in life. He learned not to impose his will, but to flow with life as it unfolds before him; and what a relief, what freedom he felt! He is a friar with a simple heart so attuned to accept God’s will as it unveils itself. And for those who know how to cooperate with God’s will, they cannot but discover how meaningful and happy life is: “Walangdahilan kung bakithindisiyamagtagumpay at makaranas ng masaya at masaganangbuhaynapuspos ng kapayapaan.” I guess this is his secret: letting go of useless struggles, and enjoying life as it is.
As he looks back at his journey, he admits that he is still amazed how simple, unforeseen events have led him to the life he now cherishes. “Parang mayhindinakikitangLakas o Isipannanagtutugma-tugmasamgatao, bagay at mgapangyayariupongmaganapangpinakamabuti para sabawattao.”
Life is like a long, winding river with countless flotsams of driftwood, leaves, or a lost slipper gushing downstream. They seem insignificant in themselves, but they are propelled towards an eternal and boundless sea. Once you embark upon life, it is difficult to escape that force that moves each unit in the human swarm towards a harmony that is eternally destined. This is the image formed in my mind as I listened to the reflections of Fray Oscar.
I would describe Fray Oscar as a simple friar. But it is not an adjective to be taken lightly; it is one of the attributes of God. As he shared his stories, I saw a Dominican without pretense, and this honesty has helped him pierce into the deepest secrets of a happy life.
While listening to him, I felt a gentle admiration, not excited by achievements and honors, but evoked by a life lived in contented surrender to God. Now, that is a life I dream of living myself.
By Bro. Siddharta B. Chiong, OP