“¿Nunca te pasó esto en Filipinas?” (Never did it happen to you in the Philippines?) There was a tone of surprise in my Peruvian priest-friend’s voice. “No, nunca. Gracias a Dios,” I said. (No, never, thanks be to God.)
He was referring to what happened just a few minutes before he made such query. The two of us were walking towards the Polideportivo (gym) of the University of Navarre, to greet some friends who attended the Eucharistic celebration on the Solemnity of Saint Josemaria Escriva, the founder of the said university, last June 26.
As we approached the underpass, we heard a loud scream coming from the approaching car opposite to our direction. Four young men howling at us with foul words like “Hola, curicas, hijos de p…” (Hey, priests, sons of a b…!).
At first, we did not pay them attention. But not yet contented with the first, they made a U-turn and came near to us uttering more four-letter words. We could only sigh in pain at the thought that here in Spain, some young people have reached the point of even insulting priests that they see on the streets. On what grounds? We never know!
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But what we know is that something seriously wrong is going on in this country. And as I was sharing to this companion of mine, in the Philippines, I’ve never heard (yet) of similar case. (Although, of course, I’ve heard of a politician insulting a priest on TV. But of a priest being insulted without apparent motive on the streets is, to me, something new and very unfortunate.)
Yet to us priests, insults and experiences like this should never catch us in surprise. Why not? If Jesus Himself was not even spared, why would we, His priests suppose that we’d be exempted from such affront?
I remember one priest-professor of mine in the university who was about to deliver a speech during an academic gathering. After an impressive introduction, he immediately commented: “I don’t know what I have done to deserve this ‘mistreatment’ (he was referring to the excellent compliment) because if our Lord and Master had been criticized and condemned, why would I – His unworthy disciple – deserve such a brilliant presentation?”
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Little by little, modern society loses the admiration of the grandeur of Christ’s priesthood. It is a logical consequence, parallel to the “loss of the sense of sin” that years ago, Pope Pius XII denounced as “the greatest sin of this generation”. Once the society loses the sense of sin, it loses the sense of God. It does not need Christ and His salvation anymore. It does not need priests. That explains the devilish delight of those who like to insult priests, whether on the streets, on TV or any other arena.
I think, the loss of the sense of sin is a consequence of the loss of the sense of love – true love. Sin is nothing else but failure to love. Not just any kind of love, but the love that we – creatures – should have towards God – our Creator.
When God created us, He has willed that we live in eternal communion with Him. But such communion requires that we “know and love” Him freely. To know and love God means to do what pleases Him and to avoid what keeps us apart from His will. If we really love someone, we are more than willing to do whatever pleases that person and avoid whatever causes him or her pain, or whatever separates us from him or her. It is the same thing with God.
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Pope Benedict XVI, in his Letter to the Priests, emphasized that "the priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus". Pointing out the relationship between priesthood and love, the Pope – I believe – suggests that at the core of our priestly ministry we find love as the motor and the guiding principle of every activity.
In his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores dabo vobis, the Church’s document on the formation of priests, Pope John Paul II says: “By virtue of this consecration brought about by the outpouring of the Spirit in the sacrament of holy orders, the spiritual life of the priest is marked, molded and characterized by the way of thinking and acting proper to Jesus Christ, head and shepherd of the Church, and which are summed up in his pastoral charity” (PDV, 21).
I think, this Year for Priests is an opportunity for all of us to renew our “love for priesthood” – that is nothing else but our love for the Heart of Jesus. It is an opportunity for us, priests, to rekindle once more our pastoral charity, and for all members of the Church to revive once again that love for the grandeur of priesthood – that love for priests – that our society today is found wanting.