This homily was delivered on 04 July 2015 on the occasion of the wedding of Freddie Austria and Rachel Consunji (now Austria). This is the unedited (and lengthier) version.
You can tell a lot about a wedding as much from the couple who’s getting married as from the reactions of the people around them.
And let me tell you, this wedding of Freddie and Rachel has elicited a whole repertoire of responses—from the expected mixture of surprise and gladness to—I kid you not!—hysterical screaming, the likes of which you probably last saw on the now-defunct Oprah Winfrey Show.When Quito, her brother-in-law, first heard the news, his immediate reaction was: “Ang suwerte naman ng mapapangasawa ni Rachel!” But I’m told that there was also some foot-stomping in certain quarters—and not exactly out of jubilation—but that’s okay: I have promised Rachel’s mom that I would not disclose that person’s identity.
I also have to mention all the heartbroken students of Rachel in both the Ateneo Graduate School of Business and the Medical School, Atenistas who have all these years nursed their not-so-private crushes on their professor.
And let’s also not forget her many Jesuit friends—all card-bearing members of the Rachel Consunji Fans Club (Jesuit chapter)—of which I am, of course, the founding President. Today we have already given ourselves a general absolution in advance for committing the sin of jealousy.
Last but not the least, we have Rachel’s battalion of nephews. When they heard the news that their favorite Tita Rachel had a boyfriend, they were shocked to find out that it was the guy they had met at the ICU lounge of Medical City in June of last year, when their Lola Mina was hospitalized. Freddie had been so properly polite and soft-spoken that they mistook him for one of Rachel’s priest friends. ‘When they later learned that she was actually getting married, all hell broke loose: “Now we’re really going to lose her to that guy! It’s bad enough that he looks like a priest!”
Which I found really hilarious until someone reminded me that I’m a priest.
But you know, all these diverse reactions are perfectly understandable. After all, let’s face it: Freddie and Rachel are not exactly your typical wedding couple. So we may as well get one thing out of the way and name the elephant in the room. I’m going to go right out and say what’s on everyone’s mind about this wedding: Especially for those who know Rachel well, it’s simply unthinkable that she will actually marry someone who’s a vegetarian! I mean, she’s a dedicated meat-lover, but out of love for Freddie, she will now embrace a lifetime of veggie tapas and veggie Peking duck!
I guess we could really say that love conquers all!
But not to worry: Despite this major difference between them, thankfully, Rachel and Freddie have so much more in common: For example, they both share very fond childhood memories of enjoying ice cream sundaes and banana split in the iconic Magnolia Ice Cream House, never mind that she went to Aurora Boulevard and he to Echague. Another example: The year 1974 was a special milestone year for them both, never mind that he was in first year college and she Grade One.
When Freddie and his 22-year old son, Ron, had their barong tagalog measurements taken, the tailor could barely hide his surprise when he learned that the groom was not the younger man.
Ever the introvert, Freddie doesn’t usually volunteer information about himself–not even to his children. It was the same case when he began going out with Rachel. It was only when his daughter Ka-ka bumped into them hearing Mass here in Mary the Queen that the children found out, prompting Amy, his other daughter, to interrogate him. Not satisfied with the characteristically meager information she obtained from her father, Amy resourcefully googled Rachel’s name and when she saw her picture, she immediately congratulated her father for—and I quote—“pushing 60 and still able to snag a chick!”
But marrying an older man is not without its perks. As her siblings would tease her, Rachel may be the last to get married among them, but first to become a lola!
I guess we could really say that when it comes to love, age doesn’t matter.
For their pre-Cana seminar, Rachel and Freddie wisely requested for a one-on-one session because they did not want to risk being mistaken as some couple’s ninong and ninang. The facilitator took one look at them and quickly assured them, “Ah don’t worry! I also did the one for Boots Anson Roa!”
When they applied for their marriage license at the Municipio, the person at the desk looked at the list of requirements and took it upon himself to cross out “Family Planning Seminar.” He said to them, “Siguro naman, hindi na kayo a-attend!”
To that I say: It’s never too late for love.
The first time Freddie met Rachel was back in 1993. She had joined DMCI for a part-time job, and he was already one of the company’s fast-rising executives then. First impressions were limited but mutually positive: Freddie found her bright and attractive; Rachel thought Freddie stood out from the usual mold—certainly intelligent, but modest and very even-tempered. It was just a passing acquaintance as Freddie soon temporarily left the company, and by the time he returned two years later, Rachel had decided to go free-lance.
Their paths crossed again almost two decades later, when for her MBA research, Rachel interviewed Freddie, who subsequently recruited her services for a series of consultancy projects at DMCI. Their interaction was consistently professional. But in the course of their working together, the relationship began to shift—and as they say, the rest is history.
When they started going out, Rachel, ever the professional, was concerned about talk in the office. She asked Freddie if people at work suspected. Freddie quickly assured her that as far as he knew, there was absolutely no such talk about them. And of course he was absolutely right. No one at DMCI talked about them—that is, never in front of them.
Actually, because both of them were the epitome of professionalism and prudence, no one at work knew for sure about their relationship until they had decided to get married.
But when Rachel facilitated a session at the company’s annual business planning, Rachel found herself before the most attentive audience in her entire professional career. All eyes and all ears were on her. Every word she said, every move she made was met with 100% wide-eyed attention–and analyzed thoroughly during the breaks. The only thing that distracted the audience was Freddie himself—ARA to them—sitting among them, watching and listening to Rachel as intently and attentively, but grinning from ear to ear.
Actually, his staff have gradually begun to notice a subtle change in their boss: They speak of an inexplicable but unmistakable glow around him, an uncharacteristic lightheartedness and cheerfulness, of their boss looking especially interested and keen whenever he’s talking about a meeting with Rachel, and a special smile rarely displayed in the office and exclusively reserved for Rachel. The dead giveaway was when Freddie one day paid an unexpected visit to Accolade, one of DMCI’s condo developments, not to conduct a surprise routine inspection, but, according to reliable DMCI intelligence, to take Rachel out for dinner.
If Rachel was a true professional at work, it was a totally different story at home. Her sister Irene shared that they had never seen her as giddy and even giggly as when she’s talking about Freddie. One proof of true love is how it changes us. All her friends know that Rachel isn’t your typical homemaker. But in recent months, there have been unexpected and disturbingly frequent sightings of Rachel in an apron in the kitchen, her long-dormant culinary prowess suddenly surfacing out of nowhere. Her sister Gretchen, the real chef in the family, smiled supportively and with nary a trace of judgment as she watched her little sister scamper in the kitchen and miraculously dish out vegetable stir fries, mushroom pasta sauce, and kesong puti turnovers–all conspicuously meatless!
But seriously, when I asked Freddie, what he likes most about Rachel, he said that aside from the obvious fact that she’s breathtakingly beautiful, Rachel is a naturally happy person who has a deep sense of self-contentment, which probably explains her very positive aura. Always grateful for every grace that comes her way, she always manages to see God’s presence even in the toughest situations. She struck Freddie as quite happy about remaining single and unattached. Most of all, she was a very caring person, most evident in the way she cares for her family.
When I asked Rachel, why Freddie, she told me that being with Freddie makes her feel God’s love, a constantly unconditional acceptance that provides her a safe, secure, and consoling space.
In an email to me, Freddie recounts how in February of last year, he carefully assessed the possibility of Rachel agreeing to a date, and in his characteristically modest way, decided that his chances were quite low. Despite the prospects of rejection, however, he thought it was very much worth the try. It didn’t help that for a while, for different reasons, they somehow couldn’t find the time of day. But by then, Freddie had already made up his mind: Even if, as he said, each rejection felt like a knock-out punch from Pacquiao, and even if he only had a 1% chance, he thought, he would go for it. He was simply convinced that he and Rache would be very good for each other and that they would be happy together. His relentlessness paid off, and Freddie finally landed his first date although according to him, they ended up talking shop 90% of the time. What do you expect? Freddie was, after all, by nature shy, and Rachel, to use Freddie’s description, “mailap.”
Unbeknownst to Rache, on that very first date, Freddie made a secret promise to himself. He was so taken by Rachel’s goodness that he promised that if ever they would end up together, he would love her unconditionally and would always go for what is best for her. And Freddie says keeping that promise would be completely effortless because what makes Rachel happy makes him happy.
Freddie, you know, there is a refrain constantly repeated by your family, friends, and colleagues: that you–of all people–so deserve to be happy, and that they are so glad and grateful that you have found Rachel. We, who love Rachel dearly, took one look at you, and in virtually the same breath, thanked God and heaved a collective sigh of relief. Rachel too–of all people–deserves so much to be happy, and we too are so glad and grateful that she has found you. As her nephew Paolo puts it: “Tita Rachel has always been eager to welcome new members into our family. We are so happy that she will now be able to explore and experience the life she will now enjoy with Tito Freddie.”
Dear friends, I think nothing better illustrates the message of our Gospel reading today than this wedding of Freddie and Rachel: Just when we think we’ve seen the best–or worst–that life has to offer, God surprises us all by saving–and serving–His best wine for last.
And so, Freddie and Rachel, in just a little while, you will make your promise to God and to each other to build your new life together. In that moment, as you stand between lives, I hope you both feel it–what we, all of us, feel: All the people in your life here present—and in lives previous—our faces are beaming, our eyes glistening: Joy, pure joy.