Friday, October 2, 2009

“What is the Gospel for today?”

“What is the Gospel for today?” The question seems to be very simple and easy to answer. But if I tell you the context, you’d understand my bit of surprise when I was asked this question.

It came from a woman pilgrim, who came from London – with two other Irish women friends – to do the “Camino de Santiago”, the famous pilgrimage by foot to Santiago de Compostela where the tomb of St. James, the Apostle (the Older) lies. Prior to this question, I asked them who was the last person in the queue going to the camarín (an altar that contains the statue of the Apostle which pilgrims embrace upon their arrival at the Cathedral).

Perhaps, the British woman recognized that I am a priest. So she immediately dropped the question that almost caught me off-guard!

* * *

Did it happen to you that sometimes you can’t recall the Gospel of the day that you heard in the early morning mass, especially when you are asked about it at the last hour of the day? That was what almost occurred to me!

I said “almost” because – thanks to my guardian angel – I immediately recalled that the last part of that day’s Gospel (it was a Thursday) was the topic of the priest’s commentary during the Bible sharing we had at midday: Herod wanted to see Jesus out of curiosity.

Remembering the priest’s sharing has saved me from shame! So immediately, I started to narrate to the lady the Gospel passage. I carefully distinguished this Herod from the other one who – during Jesus’ infancy – wanted to see the Child to kill Him. This Herod in the day’s Gospel wanted to see Jesus because he thought Jesus was the same John the Baptist whom he had decapitated.

* * *

“Who is Herod today?” the British lady interrupted my narration. “Excuse me?” I didn’t get, at first, her question, engrossed in my narration. “Who is Herod today?”

I understand, the lady did not only ask for the Gospel reading: she was also asking for a homily! We were already in the middle of the long queue. In a few minutes, we were about to ascend to the Apostle’s camarín. (It has to be short homily, I said to myself!)

“Herod,” I began, “can be everyone of us”. I could immediately perceive how wrinkles began to form in the women’s forehead. “You and I, we also want to see Jesus. That’s why we are here in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.” The wrinkles slowly vanished.

“But our attitude, our motive of wanting to see Jesus must be different from that of Herod’s”, I continued, inspired by the effect my introduction has produced. “He wanted to see Jesus out of curiosity; we want to encounter the Lord because we believe and are convinced that only in Him can we find true happiness that we are searching for.”

Had we not reached the camarín and had not the three women started to go up, I should not have known how to end my “homily”!

* * *

What this experience taught me is this: be always prepared! I mean, we, priests, have to make good use of every opportunity presented to us to talk to people about God, about the Good News. And this requires good preparation.

I couldn’t imagine what could have been the end of that encounter had I answered “I forgot” to the question “What is the Gospel for today?” It could have been very embarrassing especially if the inquirer is someone who looks up to priests whom he or she expects to share some reflections about the Word of God.

In my experience, the Gospel for the day can easily be forgotten if it is not meditated seriously (especially before the celebration of the mass) and proclaimed attentively during the celebration. Giving a short homily helps the priest a lot in internalizing the Gospel’s message.

As a young priest, once again, I admit there are still a lot of things to learn in the priestly ministry. Experiences like this teach me lessons that even the seminary could not impart!

"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.