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.

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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.