Saturday, April 7, 2012

Sister Mamerta: A Religious and Scientist

By Dr. Abe V. Rotor

Sister Mamerta Rocero SPC,
holds a doctoral degree in biology (PhD Biology, meritissimus) from the University of Santo Tomas. Her dissertation, "Ethnobotany of the Itawes." was published by the National Museum. It explored extensively the importance of plants to the ethnic community as food, medicine, among other uses, their significance to rituals and beliefs, notwithstanding.

Author with Sister Mamerta Rocero


“The undulating valley below,
The river serpentine, a moving silver sheen,
Take my breath away in the ecstasy of their beauty,
Because You are in them, Lord.”


- Sister Mamerta Rocero,SPC
Because You are in Them, Lord

Close your eyes and you can see the imagery – that inner mind, in the quaintness of Amorsolo, stillness of Corot, freshness of Renoir, faithfulness of Rembrandt and passion of Van Gogh.

Yet it is the last line that gives meaning to all these attributes – Because You are in them, Lord. It is submission, reverence; it is prayer.

Sister Mamerta, being a religious, takes us to fathom deeper the meaning of a poem. Shakespeare is perhaps the ultimate in classical style and richness of words – she can’t compare with that. The Brownings may be the most romantic in the world of poetry – she may fall short of that, too. Edgar Allan Poe’s abandon (Annabelle), Lord Byron’s melody, Whitman’s vernacular – her poems may only have a shade of these. But she exudes here and there Alexander Pope’s morals (A little learning is a dangerous thing), Robert Frost’s simplicity (And miles to go before I sleep…), Longfellow’s values (The Arrow and the Song), and Shelley’s musical lines (To a Skylark).

She can take you to meditation like in Thomas Gray’s masterpiece, Elegy on a Country Churchyard. Her poetry, like John Keat’s, possesses an urgent cause and awareness that beauty exists in a world “where pain is never done.” Yet unlike this medieval English poet, Sister Mamerta finds hope, radiating hope to any suffering.

"I meet the poor, the suffering,
the abandoned, the unwanted –
And my heart, deeply touched,
Goes out to them –
Because You are in them, Lord."

She may not all agree of grace falling down like manna from heaven. The moral is her poetry is for man to find God, for He is everywhere. But who is this God in her poetry? It is a universal God of goodness, goodness in the true sense of Christian philosophy, Christianity in action. It is the essence of the Messiah, of Matthew 25 (What you have done to the least your brethren, you have done it to me.)

You may find Him hidden in some abandoned hospital ward…
He may be the shrunken little woman, sitting all alone…
Nay, He may be the frustrated man with ambitions thwarted,
Or the humbled rich so suddenly bereft of his great wealth.

And so, you will find the Lord, not amidst glitter and wealth.

- Sis. Mamerta Rocero
Recognize Him

Browsing over her poems, one is lead to think that ours is a fatalistic world. Artists generally are like that. The more they perceive their subject to the core, the more intense their expression becomes. Suffering is dominant ingredient of art, and one can unmistakably perceive its expression, say in Eugene de la Croix’s colors of black and red in Victory Leads the People, or in Pablo Picasso’s plaza mural, Guernica that inflamed a revolution in the Basque territory of Spain, his mother country. One is familiar of course with Vincent van Gogh’s painting of Starry Night, which was transcribed into a song – Vincent - more than a century after his death.

Gleaming on the lighter side, our poetess exudes the touch of naturalism, the healing secret of a doctor who attends kindly to her patient, whose assurance for recovery comes first before the book and technology. She draws imagery from the inner self where tranquility resides – and springs in times of haste and trouble.

“The mountains before me –
majestic, verdant-hued,
their cascading, glistening falls,
envelope me with awe
and sheer wonder…”

Sister Mamerta is a living witness of man’s inhumanity to man during the Second World War. But you can only glimpse like through a keyhole the sufferings of war in her writings. It takes a contrite yet courageous heart to take the road to forgiveness and bury the past. Yet she warns that history has the capability of repeating itself, and shares with Wilfred Owen’s The Pity of War or Ernest Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms, the tragedies of Shakespearean dramas, notwithstanding.

How about the pessimism of Matthew Arnolds who foresaw the dark side of industrialization that molded our modern world? Arnolds laments -

"To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night."

- Matthew Arnold
Dover Beach

How frail is human! But how does Sister Mamerta look at this prophesy-come-true? This is what divides the grains - whole and broken. More people see the broken grains of life. No, not our Paulinian laureate. “I would rather look at John Donne,” she said. Donne wrote, encompassing the heritage he left to the world. When somebody dies, a little in each of us also dies – because humanity is interrelated, it is one.

And from here Sister Mamerta, riding on Donne’s philosophy almost always makes reference to afterlife. She is at the forefront of values formation and reformation, while writers most often talk about here and now, of this earthly life, its realities and fantasies. True to her mission as a Paulinian, she believes that one must prepare his soul’s journey to everlasting life. But earn he must, for neither by a Tower of Babel nor material affluence can one be able to reach that beautiful destiny. The mortal part of our being, is but the springboard to this great, remarkable travel, which all peoples - irrespective of culture and religion – firmly believe in. This is universal faith that binds the human species. The core of our being as Homo sapiens is therefore, our spirituality.

"You’ve need to ask His grace and His spirit of enlightenment,
If you have to pierce through the clouds hiding Him from view -
But the reward is great – He is there waiting to embrace you!"

Indeed, an unsung saint has spoken in the beauty of poetry and in the peace of a cloistered life, candle light streaming through the convent’s window. Out there the wind blows and blows on some mountain tops and down into the valley. And dawn is a child. ~

Author’s Note: This article is dedicated to the memory of Sister Mamerta Rocero, SPC, who died on January 7, 2009 at the age of 93. This is a critique of her poems and verses which I obliged upon her request five years before her death.~

Note: Sister Mamerta wrote eight books: two in poetry, two essays (Talking with God and His Friends, and God Bless the Family), a compilation of her speeches, a biography of her late sister, Sister Mary Nathaniel Rocero, SPC, also a Ph.D. holder, (My Sister Mary Nath), and several scientific papers. Ethnobotany of the Itawes, her doctoral dissertation earned the honor of meritissimus from the University of Santo Tomas. It was published by the National Museum in 1985. I have known Sister Mamerta since I was a child in our hometown, San Vicente, Ilocos Sur. She and my father were cousins on the maternal side, Roberonta. ~