Thursday, August 28, 2008

“Are you a Catholic priest?”

“Perdone, ¿Usted es un sacerdote católico, verdad? ¿Habla español?” (Excuse me, you are a Catholic priest, right?” “Do you speak Spanish?)

I was on my knees before the Blessed Sacrament inside the Adoration Chapel of the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral when a Spanish-speaking fellow approached me with these questions.
Taken aback, I answered positively to both querries as I noticed that the one asking was also wearing a black clergyman like me.

“¿Usted me puede confesar?” (Will you hear my confession?) he went on, leaving me no time to respond. In one of the benches of the cathedral, on the left side of the tomb of St. James, the Apostle, I absolved a brother-priest whose name I never had time to ask.

After the absolution, he thanked me gratefully and went to the chapel of the Blessed Virgin while I went back to the Adoration Chapel.

* * *

Perhaps, the experience is so common in such a place of pilgrimage like Santiago de Compostela – one of the three great pilgrimage sites in the whole Christendom, the others are Rome and Holy Land – but to me, it was a very significant one as it struck me profoundly.

Certainly, it was not the first time that I was approached by a brother priest for confession. During monthly and annual retreats of the clergy, we hear each other’s confession. And we normally choose the priest whom we are familiar with.

But being asked by an unknown brother priest for confession after being identified by the clergyman that I wear is quite significant. At that moment, I could appreciate better my vocation.

The experience has filled my heart with so much gratitude to our Lord for letting me participate in His priestly ministry. It has made me reflect more on my identity as a priest.

* * *

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus made His disciples reflect more on His identity when He asked them: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter, almost without reflecting on the answer, replied: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”

A priest could understand more his identity when he could find a definitive answer to the perennial question that Christ poses him: “Who do you say that I am?”

“Who is Jesus Christ for me?” Is he just another wise man in history that has touched a million lives? A national hero whose cause is worth dying for? An ideal thinker whose revolutionary doctrines, I believe, could change the world?

* * *

Wise man He definitely is! And He has touched not just a million lives, but millions of lives in the course of human history. But He is not just another historical figure added to thousands that we can find in history books.

St. Josemaria Escriva, in The Way, once wrote: “Christ is not just a figure in the past. He is not just a memory lost in history. He is alive! ‘Iesus Christus heri et hodie: ipse et in saecula’ – St. Paul said. Jesus Christ is yesterday, today and forever!” (n. 584).

Today, there is a need to be more conscious of this truth: that Jesus Christ is a person who is alive and always present in our midst and that we can – and should – approach Him anytime we want in the same way we approach a father, a brother or a friend, with whom we confide our worries and concerns.

Jesus is not just another Mahatma Gandhi or another Ninoy Aquino whose ideals are ‘worth dying for’ but whose persons we can never experience anymore.

* * *

In the Holy Eucharist, we experience the living presence of Christ: first, the Liturgy of the Word; second, in the Bread and Wine that later become His Body and Blood; third, in the presence of the priest, who presides in the celebration “in nomine Christi capitis” (in the name of Christ, the Head).

And here is where the challenge for all priests lies: in identifying himself with Christ, in trying to maintain the presence of Christ in him, in the Eucharistic celebration and outside of it. And the challenge is great!

In the Adoration Chapel of Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, I was identified as a priest by the clergyman that I wear. How I wish and pray that all priests would be identified with Christ, not only by outside manifestations, but also by their (our) interior life.

“So that whenever people see you, they will say ‘This man has read the life of Christ’.” (St. Josemaria). “And they will see your good works and give praise to your heavenly Father.” (Jesus Christ) (Cfr. Mt 5:13-16)

"Sacerdotes, 'consagrados en la Verdad'"

Estar inmersos en la Verdad, en Cristo, de este proceso forma parte
la oración, en la que nos ejercitamos en la amistad con Él y aprendemos a
conocerle: su forma de ser, de pensar, de actuar. Rezar es un caminar en
comunión personal con Cristo, exponiendo ante Él nuestra vida cotidiana,
nuestros logros y nuestros fracasos, nuestras fatigas y nuestras alegrías -es un
simple presentarnos a nosotros mismos ante Él. Pero para que esto no se
convierta en un autocontemplarse, es importante que aprendamos continuamente a
rezar rezando con la Iglesia.