Thursday, June 3, 2010

Me, a Priest? Why not?

That’s what people usually say whenever introductions are exchanged, especially if I’ve got nothing on which may actually advertise the fact that I’m one of the 490, 000 or so men who’ve sworn themselves to a special commitment that knows no termination date. Whether I’d be sweating it out in the gym (in proper attire) or hanging out in public places such as Robinson’s Place in Tacloban (in attire which is other than clerical), that’s what people would actually blurt out when they learn that the youngish guy in front of them is a priest: “aw padi ka ngay-an?”(so you’re a priest?).

This was the reaction of a lady whose passing acquaintance I had this morning when I was working out. I wouldn’t blame them, though. In this Year of the Priest our pastors, starting from the Holy Father himself, has taken the blessed occasion to remind us that we actually make ourselves known not only through what we do for souls, but also in the habit that we wear. I would confess that many have been the instances that I haven’t taken this admonition to heart (mea maxima culpa).

But then, with each reaction such as the one above, expressed in different ways, but translatable in the same idea of apparent disbelief and shock (?) that a man, much less a young one full of energy and drive, hopes and dreams, would actually close the door to many profitable and comfortable options in life for just one, the seemingly prominent feature of which is an inexistent love life (I’m not kidding, but it seems to be the most frequent rejoinder concerning the priesthood: “ ‘di ka daw hini makakaasawa”(you can’t get married now with that), added by them whispering among themselves: “ sus kasayang…(what a waste)”, and I’m not referring to myself…), I would always reply, though privately, to myself, “ why not?”

A man may be young, talented, full of vibe and energy and bursting with life and promise; he may be handsome and popular, talented and have a way with people; intelligent and understanding, with the makings of a good leader….people may offer him prospects in life to consider…why not become a doctor, why not an engineer, or a businessman? Why not settle down and have a family after having established oneself in life, and enjoy the fruits of one’s labor?

But then, why not become a priest?

I may not be writing much sense, but then what I’m simply trying to express in this article which has already cost me three quarters of an hour writing and more than forty lines would narrow down to this simple question: why not?

This is something which a Catholic young man should make himself aware of as well, to consider that priesthood is also an option in life which might as well be his. This, however, is something which is not totally dependent on his own will and energy to fulfill. The priesthood is not the fruit of a mere personal decision, but rather, first and foremost, something which springs from the fatherly love of God and His will to save all men. It comes from the personal call of Christ that has been received and has taken fruit in a disciple’s heart. It is something which is confirmed and strengthened by the Holy Spirit, and in the right time, something which becomes a channel of grace and salvation for many.

A priest? Why not? Nowadays we see the Catholic priesthood much reviled, a lot of mud thrown at it, for the crimes committed by a handful of men who had been unfaithful to it in the first place. I know that I’m not immaculate and perfect, nor do I pretend to be; I may be the lowly servant of the Almighty Word, but I don’t pretend to know all things. Our own human weakness and the specter of the evil that we may do once we forsake the goodness and grace of God hangs over our every step. The reality that I am weak, that I am a worm and no man as the Psalmist would say (cf. Ps 22:6), forms part of the reality of the priesthood and as such my weakness and sinfulness ought not to be an obstacle in considering the priesthood as an option, as a real call. People are afraid of commitments nowadays, partly because they are afraid to face the reality of their own weakness, of the fact that they are less than perfect, and that even they themselves can make mistakes. People are afraid of the darkness that always comes, sooner or later, in any relationship and commitment. The priesthood has its own share of these, and each priest has his own story of woe to tell. But for the priest, far from keeping him from answering the call, this ought to galvanize him to cling all the more to this Love which has never failed him and never will.

Why not become a priest? One is just too talented and good-looking, the perfect catch mothers would want for their daughters. One just knows too much, is able to do much in the world and for the world, to be confined to the life of a simple minister of God. But then, one has to consider that when God grants good things in life, he grants them so that they may be truly enriching and fruitful when they get to be shared to others in the most unselfish manner. Answering the call to the priesthood means listening to and understanding what the Apostle Peter had said to the early Christians, words which resound even until today, when he told them to put their gifts in the service of one another. Of course it is precisely important that the aspirant to the Holy Priesthood take stock of what he has received from the Lord who knows how to work through the goodness of man in order to bring all men to salvation, that is why that time of preparation which is the seminary is also a time for human formation, so that all of ones human gifts may be perfected for the glory of the God who calls and for the service of men. Being talented, being a recipient of God-given gifts isn’t exactly a hindrance to answering the priestly call…on the contrary, it’s even a big plus!

Why not the priesthood? Why the priesthood? I was once asked by a group of students to whom I have preached a retreat the reason why I became a priest. I could’ve given them a lot of answers, tons of them, but then I told them that only one has the true reason why I was ever called to the priesthood, which in the first instance isn’t even mine but that of Christ, and that one is God. Yes, only He knows the reason. St. John Mary Vianney once said that if one were to discover the reason for this call, one would die of love. Perhaps the Cure of Ars has said it well for the rest of us. But then, from our side, perhaps this may also serve as reason enough for this crazy calling called the priesthood, and these words are not my own, but those of someone who was really in love with our Lord: John the Beloved Apostle. The reason? Simply this: God is Love (1 Jn 4:16). The priesthood, being a priest today, means entering into God’s project of love, both for the one who answers it, and the community who benefits from it, which is the Church.

And so, to end, once again the question: a priest? Why not?

Why not you?

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