Thursday, July 22, 2010

It’s worth being a priest!

The sight of long, disorderly queues and of the slow flow of people passing through four metal detectors with its corresponding X-ray machines was frustrating. It was almost 8:00 AM and the possibility of entering quickly and finding a seat near the altar was practically null. We thought that arriving two hours before the Mass would begin was more than enough to get our objective. Obviously, hundreds thought that arriving three hours earlier was better.

Being smaller in stature (of course, with respect to towering Europeans) provided us a considerable edge. Quickly we were able to get near one of those detectors without being reprimanded for overtaking. The queues could not be defined and, in the midst of disarray, everybody would get nearer the entrance as one could muster. And successfully, we did it in just 30 minutes.

After passing through the metal detectors, there was another long line approaching a couple of security personnel. This time the flow was faster. Making good use of the time, we hurriedly put on our albs and stoles as we got nearer two guards inspecting our ID’s.

The security was quite tight. But they had more than enough reason to be so. They’re simply protecting their country, its head and its less than a thousand population from possible aggressors. Besides, that day was quite significant. An estimated 15,000 visitors were set to fill the 0.17 square mile area of the world’s smallest city-state. The host country wanted to treat its visitors with utmost hospitality.

At last, we were able to enter the main plaza. The sight of thousands of men gleaming in their white albs and stoles under the scorching early summer morning sun reminds one of John’s spectacular vision in the Book of Revelation. But there was little time to contemplate the scene as we headed immediately to find available seats near the altar. With gratitude we grabbed the first bottles of mineral water offered by some personnel along the way.

“Russell!” echoed a distinctly recognizable voice in the midst of a “babelic” noise. As I turned around, I caught sight of familiar faces: a total of 13 priests from the Diocese of Digos and one from my own Archdiocese of Davao, Fr. Bong Dublan. With Fr. John Paul Pedrera, my companion from Spain, I joined the group as they had the ideal location in the first block right in front the grand altar of St. Peter’s Square.

“How did you get to this place?” I asked. “We arrived here at seven o’clock!”.

When the choir intoned the Litany of Saints, their voice was drowned by a thunderous applause as the Head of the State approached the altar, preceded by a group of altar servers, deacons and cardinals. Since 1929, through a Lateran Treaty, Vatican is recognized as an Independent City State and the Pope as its Head.

Clad in his white cassock and magnificently embroidered chasuble and miter, and mounted on his usual papal jeep, Pope Benedict XVI waved and blessed the thousands of priests gathered around the Successor of St. Peter for the Eucharistic celebration that culminates the Year for Priests. Although the estimated number of 15,000 is just a fraction of the 409,000 priests who serve around the world, it sets a historical record. By all accounts, the event was heartwarming as many priests would testify.

As a 43-year-old priest from Lenzburg, Switzerland said: “We wanted to feel part of the community of all the priests. In Switzerland there are not many of us, so it is good to know we are not alone”. Definitely, the experience left an indelible mark in my priesthood.

* * *

“God makes use of us poor men in order to be, through us, present to all men and women, and to act on their behalf. This audacity of God who entrusts himself to human beings – who, conscious of our weaknesses, nonetheless considers men capable of acting and being present in his stead – this audacity of God is the true grandeur concealed in the word ‘priesthood’”.

These words with which the Pope Benedict XVI begun his homily set the hearts the priests on fire. Reflecting on what he calls the “audacity of God”, any priest would shiver at the thought that God has called him despite who and what he is. The Pope adds:

“That God thinks that we are capable of this; that in this way he calls men to his service and thus from within binds himself to them: this is what we wanted to reflect upon and appreciate anew over the course of the past year”.

True enough, the Year for Priests had also been an occasion maliciously exploited by those who wanted to destroy the Church and the gift of priesthood. While the Church, by declaring the Year for Priests, pays tribute to the grandeur of priesthood, there are those who wanted to dishonor the priests.

“It was to be expected” – the Pope continued – “that this new radiance of the priesthood would not be pleasing to the ‘enemy’; he would have rather preferred to see it disappear, so that God would ultimately be driven out of the world. And so it happened that, in this very year of joy for the sacrament of the priesthood, the sins of priests came to light – particularly the abuse of the little ones, in which the priesthood, whose task is to manifest God’s concern for our good, turns into its very opposite”.

But as one can notice rightly, the central element during the Year for Priests was not the individual priests themselves. Those who magnified the weaknesses and sins of a very small number of particular priests wanted to distort the significance of this event. The Year for Priests was not to give tribute to the majority of well-performing priests and to discredit the problematic few. The central element was priesthood itself, the epitome of which is Jesus Christ, the High Priest, the Only Priest.

The Pope emphasized it clearly: “Had the Year for Priests been a glorification of our individual human performance, it would have been ruined by these events. But for us what happened was precisely the opposite: we grew in gratitude for God’s gift, a gift concealed in ‘earthen vessels’ which ever anew, even amid human weakness, makes his love concretely present in this world”.

If the Year for Priests had left an indelible mark in my priesthood, it is because it taught me how to appreciate more my being a priest, an appreciation that grew intensely thanks to that experience in St. Peter’s Square together with my more or less 15,000 brother-priests. Such intense appreciation and profound gratitude to God for this gift of priesthood grow distinctly every day in God’s grace and especially amid the awareness of my human weaknesses.

At the outset, I said that the sight of long, disorderly queues is frustrating. But upon thinking that within these long rowdy lines are men dressed in black clergyman, the impression takes a 360-degree turn: it is worth being counted among these “earthen vessels” that contain God’s precious gift to man – PRIESTHOOD, the love of the heart of Jesus!

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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.