Wednesday, November 10, 2010

‘Visible sign of the invisible God’

     “The joy which I feel at presiding this ceremony became all the greater when I learned that this shrine, since its beginnings, has had a special relationship with Saint Joseph. I have been moved above all by Gaudí's confidence when, in the face of many difficulties, filled with trust in divine Providence, he would exclaim, ‘Saint Joseph will finish this church’. So it is significant that it is also being dedicated by a Pope whose baptismal name is Joseph”.

     These words of Pope Benedict XVI, pronounced at the beginning of his homily last Sunday, November 7, 2010, before some 250,000 people, more than 7,000 of which filled every corner of the newly-consecrated Basilica of the Holy Family – a splendid work by Architect Antonio Gaudí (whose process of beatification is going on) – had moved hearts. And for many – me, among them – it was another happy “coincidence” in such a historical event of the local church of Barcelona, Spain. “Coincidence,” someone said, “is the name God uses when He wants to remain anonymous.”

     Coming from Tarragona with some 112 overseas Filipino workers in two buses, and with two brother-priests, Fr. Allan Rodriguez and Fr. Elizar Cielo, I had the grace to concelebrate with the Pope, together with hundreds of concelebrating priests. I had witnessed the warm welcome accorded to the Supreme Pontiff by the catalan people and those coming from other Spanish cities. The day before, the Holy Father went to a pilgrimage at Santiago de Compostela and presided there the Holy Eucharist in the afternoon on the occasion of its Jubilee Year.

     The Pope’s message in his homily, as usual, has stirred not only the hearts of the Catholic faithful, jubilant with the presence of their spiritual father, but also the consciences of Church critics, rabid even at the thought of getting near the defender of the family, of women’s rights, and of human life from womb to tomb. Though a great part of his homily is dedicated to a reflection on “beauty (which) calls us to freedom and draws us away from selfishness,” what called the attention especially of the media are the Pope’s words on these questions:

     “Life has changed greatly and with it enormous progress has been made in the technical, social and cultural spheres. We cannot simply remain content with these advances. Alongside them, there also need to be moral advances, such as in care, protection and assistance to families, inasmuch as the generous and indissoluble love of a man and a woman is the effective context and foundation of human life in its gestation, birth, growth and natural end. Only where love and faithfulness are present can true freedom come to birth and endure.

     For this reason the Church advocates adequate economic and social means so that women may find in the home and at work their full development, that men and women who contract marriage and form a family receive decisive support from the state, that life of children may be defended as sacred and inviolable from the moment of their conception, that the reality of birth be given due respect and receive juridical, social and legislative support. For this reason the Church resists every form of denial of human life and gives its support to everything that would promote the natural order in the sphere of the institution of the family.”

     The Pope has spoken right through the heart of Spain – a modern Spain whose heart has somehow forgotten that true human family must be anchored on the “indissoluble love of a man and a woman”, that the authentic promotion of women is their holistic and integral development, and that the genuine protect of life is from birth to death. In this sense, the Pope’s message also strikes through the heart of every human being of good will and of every person who values family and life more than any political ideology.

     Reflecting on the significance of consecrating the church, which was later declared a Minor Basilica, the Pope said: “What do we do when we dedicate this church? In the heart of the world, placed before God and mankind, with a humble and joyful act of faith, we raise up this massive material structure, fruit of nature and an immense achievement of human intelligence which gave birth to this work of art. It stands as a visible sign of the invisible God, to whose glory these spires rise like arrows pointing towards absolute light and to the One who is Light, Height and Beauty itself.”

     At the heart of a metropolis, a great city like Barcelona, stands majestic “the visible sign of the invisible God”. Every Catholic is also called to stand in the midst of the world to be a living sign of the God of life. “As I contemplate with admiration this sacred space of marvelous beauty, of so much faith-filled history, I ask God that in the land of Catalonia new witnesses of holiness may rise up and flourish, and present to the world the great service that the Church can and must offer to humanity: to be an icon of divine beauty, a burning flame of charity, a path so that the world may believe in the One whom God has sent (cf. Jn 6:29),” the Pope ended.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Priests still have a future

Pope Benedict XVI, in his Letter to the Seminarians, recounts his experience in December 1941 when he was “drafted for military service, the company commander asked each of us what we planned to do in the future. I answered that I wanted to become a Catholic priest. The lieutenant replied: ‘Then you ought to look for something else. In the new Germany priests are no longer needed’. I knew that this ‘new Germany’ was already coming to an end, and that, after the enormous devastation which that madness had brought upon the country, priests would be needed more than ever.”

The Pope notes that today, the situation is different. “Many people nowadays also think that the Catholic priesthood is not a ‘job’ for the future, but one that belongs more to the past.” One could often hear even parents – after being confided by their son that he wanted to become a priest – would say: “What can you get from that?”

But I think the Pope’s diagnosis fits more appropriately in the first world countries like USA, Spain, Germany, etc. Though there are particular similar cases in the Philippines, they are not yet so common. Stories like parents putting obstacle on their son’s vocation often end up in the Primetime Drama special of a national TV.

Here in Spain, for instance, a young lad’s decision to enter the seminary would raise more than one eyebrow. “What has happened to that boy?” “Isn’t he doing well with his career?” Encouraging the seminarians, the Pope says: “You, dear friends, have decided to enter the seminary and to prepare for priestly ministry in the Catholic Church in spite of such opinions and objections. You have done a good thing because people will always have need of God.”

Priests still have a future. In a sense, this is what the Pope wants to convey especially to the young people in a highly industrialized world. Oftentimes the vision of a dark future for priests is what prevents young candidates from discovering their priestly vocation. One’s personal concept of success as defined in terms of good and stable job, big salaries and a comfortable life makes the possibility of serving God through His Church something like a nightmare for some.

But the future of priests is not determined by these parameters. Authentically successful life is more than just having big salaries, a stable job and material comfort. Real success is when you find authentic meaning to your existence: why are you here and where are you going. There is real joy in giving one’s life for the good of others. I think, in this sense, the priests still and will always have a future.

The Pope’s reason for affirming that priests still have a future is decisive. He says, “People will always have need of God, even in an age marked by technical mastery of the world and globalization: they will always need the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, the God who gathers us together in the Universal Church in order to learn with him and through him life’s true meaning and in order to uphold and apply the standards of true humanity.”

A priest’s life still has a future because people will always need God to give meaning to their existence. People will still priests because they will always need God. “Where people no longer perceive God, life grows empty; nothing is ever enough. People then seek escape in euphoria and violence; these are the very things that increasingly threaten young people.”

Lastly, priests still have a future because, as the Pope rightly observes, “God is alive, and he needs people to serve him and bring him to others.” Perhaps, this is something that seminarians must reflect every day. God needs you to bring Him to others. Psychologists say that one of man’s deepest needs is the need to be needed. Well, here it is: “It does make sense to become a priest: the world needs priests, pastors, today, tomorrow and always, until the end of time.”

"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.