The news came in eight words—one brief sentence: “Father Obet passed away yesterday due to COVID.”
That news stopped me in my tracks. I was speechless. Father Obet is gone. My mind was in literal shock, struggling to grasp the information.
There is nothing as unsettling as receiving news about the death of someone you know. And Father Obet was not just someone I knew the way one would get to know a random stranger’s name. As the priest in charge of our small church community, he became more than just the man I used to listen to from the pulpit every Sunday. He became, for me, a mentor and friend.
His sudden death brought me back to the time when I was still a young, naïve teenager, with a budding aspiration for the priesthood. It was Father Obet who first learned about the desire I had at that time. I remember how he listened patiently as I confided to him and generously answered each question I posed, in the process gradually clearing the cloud of doubt that troubled my mind. I took to heart his words of advice, which proved to be helpful when I eventually entered the seminary.
Father Obet was a simple priest who lived a simple life. He had a temper that was often misunderstood by some. But our correspondence at the time of my initial discernment allowed me to know the kindness in his heart. I saw that kindness not through extraordinary acts, but through his simplest gestures, like lending a listening ear to the young man that I was, allowing me to borrow some of his books, or even inviting me to a meal whenever I made a casual visit to the convent.
He was a simple priest who tried to love his parishioners the way he knew how. Every day, he administered Masses and other sacraments for the people and regularly visited far-flung barangays that were within the jurisdiction of his mission center. He did that every single day of his priestly life.
There is no sugarcoating it: Everything about Father Obet’s life was simple and ordinary. It was not the life that we usually find in books and memoirs about “significant” people. He did not write any books or do anything special that made him a cut above the rest.
Today, to hear of someone who succumbed to COVID-19 is not unusual. Father Obet’s death counts as just one among many. It was not featured in news articles, and neither did it generate buzz in the city where the parish he was recently assigned to is located. His death was an additional statistic in the mortality rate of the pandemic.
Both in his life and in his death, everything about Father Obet was ordinary.
But one thing is for sure: His death has brought me profound grief. I am grieving for him, not because he lived an extraordinary life, but because he was a friend who, in his simplicity, had shown me kindness when I needed it.
The tears I shed for him are proof that his life, though ordinary in every way, mattered.
Just like Father Obet, most of us are not going to be superstars or personalities that the world will deem important. Whatever vocation we are called to or have chosen for ourselves, all that we are ever going to do is to take care of whatever it is that we are in charge of, in complete ordinariness and obscurity — though this fact may not be easy to acknowledge in a world that puts so much premium on individuals who make great and permanent marks.
The novelist Nicholas Sparks has some words that, for me, succinctly describe Father Obet’s life: “I am nothing special, of this I am sure. I am a common man with common thoughts and I’ve led a common life. There are no monuments dedicated to me and my name will soon be forgotten, but I’ve loved another with all my heart and soul, and to me, this has always been enough.”
Father Obet’s death had such a great effect on me that it trimmed my life down to its essence. In a few years’ time, God willing, I will also be ordained to the same vocation. And after everything is said and done, all I want now is to become like Father Obet, a simple priest who was not afraid to embrace the ordinary.
Like him, I will also be kind—perhaps to another young man who is curious about the priesthood, or that random parishioner who attends the daily Mass, or that poor community in the outskirts of the city that is in dire need of spiritual assistance.
And if, in the end, that is the only impact I leave in this world, that would be enough. God would know it is enough.