Monday, September 21, 2009

Elegant service

“Encomiéndeme, Padre, por favor, que estoy pasando mal” (Father, please pray for me; I am having a hard time).

With her accent, I was almost sure she is from Equator, South America. Besides, she was well-dressed, so no one could suppose that she’s one of these modern beggars, who would deliberately appear grimy so as to move generous philanthropists into pity.

But she was smiling while she shamelessly presented to me her simple petition: to pray for her. We almost bumped into each other on the street. As I was coming out from the Police Headquarters, renewing my residence ID, she made her sudden presence out of nowhere.

It called my attention for I seldom see people who are having a hard time wear such a patient smile on their face. Besides, I seldom get petitions for prayer on the street from total strangers.

* * *

How did she know I am a priest? By the black clerical suit that I was wearing. Indeed, people nowadays need to see concrete and visible symbols of Christ’s presence on the streets, especially in times when they feel the world is going upside down.

We understand well why when there is a high level of insecurity in the city – after, perhaps, a terrorist attack or a bomb explosion – police officers would immediately make their presence felt. We see military and policemen around. And we feel safe (or agitated, depending on the person’s interpretation of the scene).

In the same analogical manner, why can’t we, priests, make our presence felt in a society where there is an increasing level of spiritual uncertainty and confusion? Perhaps, through visible signs like the simple wearing of clerical shirt, people may be reminded of the presence of God in their worst moments.

* * *

“Why would a priest not wear clerical shirt as strongly recommended by the Church?”

It came to my mind a very lively discussion I had with my Peruvian priest-friend last year regarding this topic. He said, priests who refuse to wear priestly garb lose this great opportunity of evangelizing people through these visible signs. But I argued that there are also instances when not wearing clerical is preferrable.

There are persons who are too anti-clerical (especially here in Spain) that, by simply perceiving a coming clergyman, would immediately begin to bawl using foul language. Effectively, the visible symbol of God’s presence – the priest – turns out to be something that provokes their antipathy. My friend was speaking in general terms; I was focused on a particular case. But like him, I too believe that even in this smallest detail, we, priests, need to give testimony to who we are. Yet I refuse to mean to be too rigid in this aspect. Prudence still remains a better option.

* * *

“No se puede parar de trabajar cuando uno anda por la calle en ‘clergyman’” (A priest could not cease to fulfill his ministry whenever he walks on the street in priestly garb), commented one priest here in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. (I’m here for a week of priestly formation). He referred to his experience one morning, when he and another priest were trying to reach the entrance of the Cathedral. Some groups of pilgrims approached them for various motives: to ask for a blessing of religious articles, for some information, or even to ask for confession.

Indeed, our priesthood does not end at the door of our parish church nor does it cease as the parish office closes. We still remain priests even if we put on T-shirt and basketball shorts. Yet we seem to enjoy stories of convent boys, extra-ordinary ministers of communion or even a simple parishioner of another parish mistaking us for a priest’s driver simply because they see us wearing sleeveless shirts even during office hours.

I think we owe it to our parishioners and to the lay faithful in general to maintain an elegant look that is asked for by justice and by the dignity of our vocation. To them, we represent Christ. For them, we are “alter Christus” (even “ipse Christus” especially in the celebration of the sacraments). As Vatican II affirmed, our ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. I think, it is our duty to serve the lay faithful as elegantly as possible.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A life well-lived

Reading a very thought-provoking book of our professor, a Spanish philosopher Alejandro Llano, entitled “La vida lograda” (A life well-lived), I could not help but dedicate a few moments digesting his ideas. I thought I might as well provoke you, my dear readers, to think, so I decided to share these thoughts with you.

* * *

“Examinar qué es lo que me hace crecer en cuanto persona y qué es aquello con lo que yo mismo me puedo dañar y malograr mi vida” (Examine what makes me grow as a person and what is that which harms me and turns my life into a waste.)

It’s another way of expressing what Socrates declared long time ago: “An unexamined life is not worthliving”. It is part of our human nature to keep ourselves away from harm and to cling to what keeps us whole and fulfilled. Yet, the difficulty nowadays is that most harmful things present themselves under the guise of what is pleasurable and comfortable.

* * *

“Es joven toda aquella, todo aquél, para quien el futuro presenta mayor interés que el pasado” (Young is he or she to whom the future is more interesting than the past.)

The old ones say: “The problem with the youth is that they always talk about their future – their dreams, plans, ambitions, fantasies, etc”. Then, the youth replied: “The problem with old people is that they keep on remembering their past – adventures, achievements, etc.

If you think the past (especially your past) is better than the future (especially your future) and if you keep on saying that the days past are better-off than today and that tomorrow will be worse (especially when you say it with the certainty of the sun shining every morning), then, I’m sure you are already old.

* * *

“Para saber lo que debemos hacer, hemos de hacer lo que queremos saber” (In order to know what we should do, we should do what we want to know.)

It may appear like a word game. But its message is very simple: let’s put into practice what we know (or want to know). “By nature, man desires to know”, says Aristotle. And man wants to know only the good (at least, what is good for him) for, as the same philosopher says, “no man willingly does wrong.”

However, it’s useless to know anything if our knowledge does not lead us to action, if our knowledge does not tell us what to do. “In order to know what we should do, we should do what we want to know”.

* * *

“Lo decisivo no es sentir; lo decisivo es pensar” (What is decisive is not to feel but to think.)

If only the majority would base their life’s decisions on what they have thought of rather than what they felt, a lot of problems (especially emotional and relational ones) would be avoided or solved. But most people today make decisions based on feelings, not so much on rational deliberations.

Worst, the movements of one’s emotions (which are fluctuating) are interpreted as a sign of the right thing to do, the guide of one’s decision-making. “What’s important is I feel good,” said one friend of mine over the net. And I responded: “To feel good is the least; what’s important is to be good.”

* * *
“Hay que discutir las ideas y no criticar a las personas” (We should discuss and criticize ideas not persons).

People will not be motivated to correct their errors if criticisms are directed against their person (we call it “argumentum ad hominem”) rather than towards their errors or mistakes. A student is better motivated to study more if you tell him: “Your answer to this mathematical problem is wrong because the formula you used lacks one element”, rather than “Bobo ka kasi!” (You’re stupid!).

In our politics, in our movie industry, even in our neighborhood, in our workplace, we can observe a lot of “argumentum ad hominem” in our comments on one another. What is worst, we get used to it to the point that we could not distinguish anymore an argument (or a criticism) against an idea from that which is against a person. When our friend tells us that we are wrong in saying that Noynoy Aquino is running for president, at times we immediately react saying: “Ibig mong sabihin sinungaling ako?” (So you think I’m a liar?)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Take care of the Mass!

“Pambansang Buwan ng Katekesis” is September, says Word and Life’s “Patnubay sa Misa”, a mass guide in Tagalog that we are using in Tarragona Filipino Catholic Community (TFCC) for the past seven months. And taking advantage of this theme, I started giving short catechesis to the mass-goers, using Powerpoint presentations, before the Final Blessing of the Eucharistic celebrations.

(I hope liturgists – and other liturgy “experts” – would not react against this method, for I deem it opportune the time before the final blessing to give a little catechesis – in lieu of announcements – because, for the moment, it’s hard to gather an audience after the mass. As soon as I give the final blessing, everyone would disperse.)

There’s an urgent need to impart catechesis – not only the opportunity to celebrate masses in Tagalog – to OFW’s here, because without it, it would be hard for them to appreciate the liturgical celebrations. Without due appreciation and reverence towards the Holy Eucharist, the Mass would just be – in the words of Bishop Rimando (Auxilliary Bishop of Davao) – like “ordering food in a restaurant”.

* * *

“We will dedicate at least five minutes in silence before starting the mass”, I said, as I took the microphone and interrupted the growing uproar among children running to and fro in the Church alley, among mothers exchanging beso-beso and the latest craze in town, friends sharing experiences, etc.

“Whenever we have visitors at home, we always make sure that the house is orderly and we make some basic preparations. It’s the same with the Holy Eucharist: we have to prepare ourselves to receive Jesus in our heart,” I explained. Immediately, a deafening silence ensued. The same silence took place right after communion when over the microphone, I invited everyone to spend a moment of silence, thanking God for the Holy Communion that we received.

It’s amazing how we, Filipinos, still conserve a great deal of docility even in other countries! I can’t find any reason why this can’t be observed in our parishes there in the Philippines.

* * *
“Had Vilma Santos been here in front, I’m sure all of you would be vying for the nearest bench, to be seated near the actress,” I noted. They all laughed, thinking it was a joke. “But Jesus is here in front of us! Is He less important than Vilma Santos?” I saw some of those who understood transferred to the front pews.

Before the Mass started, I noticed that most mass-goers preferred the seats near the door, so that the front pews are left vacant. Perhaps, we only wanted to feel more comfortable, that’s why we prefer seats located near the door and far from the altar. But is there a place more comfortable than that which is near Jesus?

* * *

“For if a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "Have a seat here, please," while you say to the poor man, "Stand there," or, "Sit at my feet," have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2: 2-4)

As these words of the Second Reading were proclaimed, suddenly a man, wearing shorts and with no shirt, entered through the door and walked right in front of the altar, kneeled at the first pew and started to weep. “How well he understood my analogy about Vilma Santos,” I thought to myself. I made a gesture to others to take him out. They persuaded him but he refused.

After the proclamation of the Gospel and before giving the homily, I personally asked the man, who – I immediately perceived – is drunk, to leave the church out of respect to the on-going mass celebration. He resisted at first, but when he noticed that various Filipinos are surrounding him, he gave in. Reaching the door, two local police officers accompanied him to we don’t know where.

I don’t think it’s depriving him to pray in the church or making distinctions, like the Apostle James has warned us against. It’s simply a question of showing respect to the Holy Eucharist that we should wear, at least, presentable clothing during the Eucharistic celebration. In the same way that we wear our best attire when we meet an important person, why can’t we do the same in meeting Jesus in the Holy Eucharist? And of course, it’s totally disrespectful for someone drunk to meet Jesus in the Eucharist!

* * *

If we really want to celebrate September as “Pambansang Buwan ng Katekesis”, I think, we, priests, need to place more emphasis on some aspects of our faith that are already given less importance, neglected or taken for granted, like some important details in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Negligence, ignorance or simply our lack of sensitivity in these things could affect so much the solemnity of the celebration.

And who else than the priest himself could well remind the people of the importance of these things?

"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.