By Bernardo M. Villegas
As I look back on the 40 years during which I knew the late Johnny M. Araneta, who passed away on Jan. 10, I could only think of what Pope Francis said in his Apostolic Exhortation, Rejoice and Be Glad, reminding all baptized Christians about the words of the Second Vatican Council: “Strengthened by so many and such great means of salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord “each in his or her own way” to that perfect holiness by which the Father himself is perfect.
Those who knew him well, especially the immediate members of his family, knew how Johnny tried his best to be perfect as Heavenly Father is perfect, using abundantly the great means of salvation provided by the Catholic Church. Inspired by the teachings of St. Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei, he strove for sanctity in the ordinary circumstances of life, in his family, in his professional work, in his social life, and in his very active participation in various sports.
I was especially edified by the way he also sanctified sickness and pain during the last eight years of his life when he was progressively weakened physically and mentally by Parkinson’s. In his almost 92 years of life on earth, he was and could be a role model for anyone who wants to respond to the following call of Pope Francis in Rejoice and Be Glad: “We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves. […] Do you work for a living? Be holy by laboring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters. Are you a parent or a grandparent? Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus. Are you in a position of authority? Be holy by working for the common good and renouncing personal gain.”
It is obvious that Johnny was not called to the consecrated life. In all other circumstances cited by Pope Francis above, Johnny did his very best to seek sanctity in the ordinary performance of his duty. As a spouse to Pilar Javellana, who left this world before him, he was an ever faithful and loving husband. I am sure their six children (four sons and two daughters) will all attest to the way their parents lived the following words of another Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis entitled The Joy of Love: “After the love that unites us to God, conjugal love is the ‘greatest form of friendship.’ It is a union possessing all the traits of a good friendship: concern for the good of the other, reciprocity, intimacy, warmth, stability, and the resemblance born of a shared life… Children not only want their parents to love one another, but also to be faithful and remain together.”
Indeed, from the way Johnny and Pilar exerted every effort to sanctify their married life, their children were the greatest beneficiaries. I listened to some of them, especially the eldest, Philip, talk about their dad in their eulogies during the Funeral Mass, and I realized how Johnny, despite his very busy professional life, gave the highest priority to the upbringing of his children.
He spent as much time as was necessary with each one as he or she was growing up. He would encourage all of them to develop their respective talents to the fullest. He was both a father and friend to each of them, knowing how to deal with each one differently according to his or her personal strengths and weaknesses. He was never too busy to listen to them.
He was equally, ”if not more caring,” with his 16 grandchildren who in gratitude, lavished him with so much care in his last years when his health started to fail him. I witnessed the love that his children and grandchildren showered on him, as I often visited him to cheer him up. I am sure that Freddie Rodriguez, the lay minister at St. James the Great Parish Church in Ayala Alabang, who perseveringly brought to him daily Communion, could also attest to the admirable way his children, in-laws, and grandchildren reciprocated his love.
I first got to know him in the 1970s when he was occupying a high position in the government in the Department of Trade and Industry. I can truly say that he was using his legal and managerial expertise in the service of his country. He was never satisfied with mediocre work, giving an example to his subordinates that to sanctify oneself in one’s work, one must strive for the highest level of excellence one is capable of. His integrity was unquestionable, especially when he headed a government agency that was privatizing government assets, a very sensitive post. He never stopped learning new things, especially if his new knowledge helped him accomplish his professional responsibilities with greater perfection. I remember him attending a good number of briefings that some of us at the Center for Research and Communication (CRC) would give to government officials and businessmen on the state of the Philippine economy. He was a pioneer in combining expertise in law and economics, a trend that has now been formalized in educational programs of some leading universities both here and abroad.
Lastly, I always remembered him for the deep and lasting friendship he cultivated with the people he worked and associated with. I was witness to the regular lunches he would organize at the former Mandarin Hotel with a group of close friends. I was fortunate to have been one of them. Also a regular attendee was his late brother Valentin. We would talk about everything under the sun, that is, world affairs, the economy, politics, social trends, et cetera. He would always create a cheerful atmosphere with his very positive outlook. Over and above these regular get-togethers, he would also devote individual time to each of his friends, spending time with them, always ready to give a timely advice on both temporal and spiritual matters. He lived very well what the present Prelate of Opus Dei, Msgr. Fernando Ocariz wrote in a letter to the faithful of the Prelature about the value of friendship:
“Friendship is a very rich human reality” a form of reciprocal love between two persons that is built on mutual knowledge and communication. It is a form of love that is directed in two directions and that seeks the true good of the other person, a love that produces union and happiness.”
To sum it up, Johnny was a real friend first and foremost to his wife, his children, and the people with whom he worked, played, and socialized.