Monday, July 27, 2009

A priest’s testimony

“Llegas muy temprano”, (You’re too early!”) was the sacristan’s greeting as I closed the door upon entering the Assumption church here in Carcaixent, Valencia. It was 7:20 PM and the weekly mass is at 8:00 PM. I purposedly came earlier for I intended to make the usual 30-minute afternoon meditation there before the mass.

“José, why is there no electric fan in the chapel?”, I casually asked him, as I was heading towards the Blessed Sacrament chapel, with my backpack full of groceries (I bought some provisions earlier). Outside the church, the temperature reached up to 38 degrees Celcius and I was sweating like a pig.

“Es que tampoco no hay nadie que viene a estar allí” (Because nobody comes and stays there) was José’s less apologizing but poignant reply. What follows was his comment that left me pensive since then until the writing of this reflection:

“Casi no hay nadie ya que entienda lo que hay allí. Piensan que es un cajón, un ‘armario’ donde se guardan las ‘hostiacillas’ para la comunión. La gente reza delante de las imágenes y no delante del Sagrario porque ya no entiende qué es aquello” (Almost nobody understands what is inside there. They think that it is just a box, a kind of “container” of the hosts for communion. People pray before images (of a saint or Jesus) but not before the Tabernacle because they don’t understand anymore what is it).

* * *

It is very sad to think that people do not understand nor believe anymore that inside that “box” we call Tabernacle is Jesus Himself, in His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. It is Jesus Christ in Person, under the especie of bread. Jesus Christ – the same Lord and God that the angels, saints and all heavenly powers adore – is sacramentally present in the Tabernacle. He, Whom no angel would dare to look at directly without absolute reverence, is there inside the Tabernacle, ignored by people.

When we say sacramental presence, it simply means Jesus is really present, but under the mode of presence (appearance) of the bread. The “bread” is not anymore bread in its essence but only in its appearance. Its essence (its “whatness”) is the Body of Christ. But neither it is a symbol of Christ’s presence, like some Protestants claim: it is Christ Himself present, alive. He looks at us; He listens to us.

We may not perceive Him with our physical eyes (like we see the person next to us), but His presence there in the Blessed Sacrament does not depend upon our perceiving Him. “Blessed is he who believes even without seeing.” Our incapacity to perceive His presence physically does not negate such presence. Only he who has the “eyes of faith” can perceive Christ’s Real Presence in the Tabernacle. “For what is essential is invisible to the eye” (The Little Prince).

* * *

We, priests, should be the first to give testimony to this truth – not so much in words as in deeds. To give witness to Christ’s Real and Sacramental Presence in the Tabernacle, no argument is more convincing than the living testimony of the parish priest who visits frequently the Blessed Sacrament Adoration Chapel. Once again, St. John Mary Vianney is exemplar in this respect.

I can’t understand why a parish priest would construct an Adoration Chapel, adorn it marvelously and yet, is seldom seen praying inside it. Frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament during the day is not only a pious practice strongly recommended by the Church, but something that the priest should feel the need to do if he aspires for an efficient and meaningful priestly ministry.

I think, every pastoral activity – seminars, constructions, visitations, social care, etc. – should take its go-signal after various consultations with the Lord in the Adoration Chapel. After all, every parish project or activity does not – if we come to think of it – belong to the parish priest. It is the Lord’s initiative, don’t you think?

* * *

Of course, I am not insinuating that, perhaps, we are not praying for the success of our parish activities. What I am trying to say is that the order we are following is a mistake. Most of the time, we proceed with the activity; then, we pray for it. We should reverse the order: we consult first the Lord in prayer; we even offer sacrifices to ask for the His enlightenment; then, we proceed with the activity or project. (Prayer, sacrifices, action).

I’m sure, for whatever parish project or activity, the Parish Council is consulted. Why not consult the Lord also in the Adoration Chapel a talk to Him personally? An activity or a certain parish project alone already entails frequent visits to the Adoration Chapel. If we want parishioners to believe in Christ’s Real Presence, we, priests, should be the first to give testimony to this truth and show our conviction through our action.

* * *

José’s last comment struck me like a lightning: “Es que tampoco los sacerdotes aquí vienen para estar allí. Nadie da testimonio. Por eso, la gente no sabe con quien pueden identificarse” (Because our priests here neither come to stay there. No one gives testimony; so people can’t find an example to emulate).

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"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.