Funeral of Archibishop Leonardo Legaspi, OP

Archbishop Leonardo Legaspi, OP, DD, died on August 8, Feast day of St. Dominic. The last time I visited him, his physical appearance hardly jibed with the picture that I had of him.

All these years, I had seen him as the majestic, eloquent, and robust pastor, preacher, and educator; the Dominican with the most “firsts” in his curriculum vitae. For me, he was the excellent theologian, the pioneer who led the establishment of a Filipino Dominican Province, the First Filipino rector of the University of Santo Tomas, the beloved archbishop of Caceres whom local priests reverently call “Mamo.”

In the hospital, he hardly resembled that picture. His face was contorted due to the cancer cells that had spread through his bloated body. He could not talk; he just stared at me. The intellectual giant who was respected and emulated by his fellow bishops, just lay there, unable to even recognize me.

Perhaps Archbishop Legaspi chose to die on August 8, the Feast of St. Dominic, because he wanted us to see that his death resembles that of our patron saint.

Dominic died in a very ordinary, even obscure way. He died without seeing the full development of the order that he had founded. He had experienced being doubted, even contradicted by his followers. As he agonized on his deathbed, he told them that he would be more useful to them dead than alive. He must have said this because he felt that he had not done enough. He felt he was not good enough, zealous enough, dedicated enough.

But as early biographers of St. Dominic wrote, while he was dying, his face did not show any hint of despair. It was radiant with understanding.  It was as though he understood that it was by coming face to face with his utter helplessness, his utter destitution and inadequacy, that the power of God is manifest.

It was the same face that I saw in Archbishop Legaspi the last time I visited him. It eloquently exuded the weakness of the Gospel and the powerlessness of the Cross. His face reminded me of all the faces of the other Dominicans whom I saw in their last agony: Scarred by trials and difficulties, filled with unkept promises and broken dreams, but brimming with hope that despite their sense of failure and inadequacy, God will triumph in their failure.

Archbishop Legaspi’s death, like that of St. Dominic, reminds us that as priests, we shall inevitably find ourselves alone and broken, either by our stupid mistakes, by the betrayal of others, or by disease or old age.

But God allows us to experience this because the priesthood is not about being successful and famous.  It is about being broken, as Christ was broken, and God taking up the broken pieces and making from these something supremely precious and redemptive.

At the time of his death, Archbishop Legaspi must have felt like the broken grains of wheat that God gathers to form the Eucharist, which is our source of strength, courage, and hope.

By Br. Rolando V. De La Rosa, OP (Published by the Manila Bulletin)


(09 September 2014)