Bruce Lee’s Priest
Homily delivered by Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas on the occasion of his silver jubilee as priest held at the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist, Dagupan City last October 6, 2010 at 10:00 o clock in the morning.
God called me to follow Him and He called me through Bruce Lee. Before I heard the words of Jesus “Come follow me”, I first heard the words of Bruce Lee “Be yourself and learn the art of dying.”
Bruce Lee, not Jesus was my teen age idol. I was too sickly to engage in martial arts but I was an avid reader of Bruce Lee’s philosophy. Bruce Lee said:
Be flexible. Be formless. Be fluid. Be shapeless like water. You put water unto a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. Water can flow or it can crash or creep. Be water my friend. Water has the continuity of movement. You must free your ambitious mind and learn the art of dying. The cup realizes itself only by being empty. Be yourself.
These words touched me deeply within. It disturbed my sleep. It distracted by studies. It left me desiring passionately to learn the art of dying. I wanted to be empty like the cup. I wanted to be formless like water. I wanted to find myself. This search brought me to the gates of San Carlos Seminary in Makati because our high school principal said that was where I could learn the art of dying like my idol Bruce Lee.
Called to Die
In San Carlos Seminary, they took me as I was—a Bruce Lee fan. I opened myself to my spiritual director but I kept it from my classmates. I was afraid they would not understand. Seminarians can be tough. They were all there because of Jesus. I was there because of Bruce Lee. Patiently, the spiritual director taught me: Two thousand years before Bruce Lee, another wiser man said in Galilee “If the seed dies, it bears fruit”. I fell in love with this man wiser than my teen age idol. I laid aside my Bruce Lee album and magazine collection and answered the call of Jesus “Come follow me”.
When the Lord says “Come follow me” He really means to say “Come and die with me”. The priesthood is a call to crucifixion. Priesthood and victimhood are two inseparable sides of the same coin. Among all men in society, it is the priest who must be an expert in the art and science of dying. This is the dying that opens more lives. This is the dying that brings bright hope. This is the dying worth celebrating. I celebrate today twenty five years of dying for and with the Lord.
Without this art of dying, there would be no Church; for indeed Church was born from the pierced side of Christ. The Church was born from the dying and rising of our Lord. The most important, the highest, the most sublime expression of our faith is the Eucharist—the memory of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. How can the Eucharist be offered without the memory the dying of Christ? The Eucharist teaches us how to die, how to love, how to live.
Be like water
Bruce Lee taught me to be like water. Be flexible. Be formless. Be fluid. Be shapeless like water. You put water unto a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. Water can flow or it can crash or creep. Be water my friend.
Bruce Lee taught me to be shapeless and flexible like water. Jesus taught us that too. In becoming a man like us, Jesus became a man among men. He did not cling to the honor of being God, he stripped himself of glory and became like us in everything except sin. Like flowing water, Jesus stooped down before his disciples taking the form of a slave and washed their feet and told us to do the same. In the Philippines, Jesus is a Filipino. In Dagupan, Jesus is a Pangasinense. He is like us. He is not different. He has embraced us. He has pitched his tent among us and lives among us. Bruce Lee taught me the mystery of the incarnation and inculturation long before my professors wrote those big words in the blackboard of the seminary classrooms.
It is Bruce Lee and it is Jesus who helped me in the vast and rapid changes in my ministry. From urban EDSA Shrine to rural Bataan, Bruce Lee helped me quietly to be formless like water. You put water into a cup, the water becomes the cup. They sent me to EDSA, I became EDSA. They sent me to Bataan, I became Bataan. They sent me to Pangasinan, I became Pangasinan. Take the form where you are poured. Flow like water. Be like water.
Dedication and Sacrifice
Bruce Lee said: Success flows from dedication and self knowledge. What was success for Bruce Lee was holiness for Jesus. Bruce Lee only saw success and nothing beyond it. Jesus pointed beyond success and opened the door to perfection. Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect, Jesus taught. What is the way to success? What is the way to perfection? Bruce Lee and Jesus shared a common road map—sacrifice.
If the seed dies, it bears fruit. If you want to be my disciple, carry your cross daily and follow me. Bruce Lee echoed this Christian tenet in these words: You must free your ambitious mind and learn the art of dying. The cup realizes itself only by being empty. Be yourself.
There is no holiness without the cross. There is no love without sacrifice. How must the priest live out this call to die? Cardinal Sin taught me two very important lessons in dying. The Eucharist and the confession are sure ways to the art of dying. Free your ambitious mind through confession. Learn the art of dying through the Mass.
My brother priests: Our vocation is such a great blessing but it can also be a great temptation. The priesthood can lead us to heaven as we touch heavenly things here on earth or it can lead to our damnation if we take for granted the holy mysteries we hold. If you want sincerely to take care of your vocation, three things are necessary: celebrate Mass daily, pray the complete Liturgy of the Hours faithfully everyday and go to confession monthly.
I ask for the gift of your commitment to celebrate Mass everyday regardless of the number of parishioners attending or the Mass offerings from the sponsors. Celebrate Mass daily even if it is only the sacristan beside you. Don’t say it is a waste of time. It is such a great blessing to offer just one Mass. Believe that one single Mass has power to change the cosmos. Can you imagine the power of the daily Mass? And you have that power, priest of God! No day without a Mass. A day without Mass is a day without breath. If you feel that way when you are unable to offer a Mass, you have begun your journey to mystery. Celebrate the Mass with utmost reverence, vigilant not only for validity, but for fruitfulness. Keep the fire in your heart each time you offer the Mass; this way, you can set other hearts on fire also.
My brother priests: Relish the sacrament of penance. Relish hearing confessions regularly with much patience and compassion because we are sinners ourselves. We are not angels. If you start to think of yourself as an angel, you will end up acting like a beast. Frequently go to confession yourselves and avail of the grace of the sacrament of mercy often. The barometer to gauge the depth of your spiritual life is the frequency of your confession. You may be a good administrator or a fast builder or an eloquent teacher or a popular pastor, but if you are far from the sacrament of penance, you are only yourself. You are not another Christ.
The breviary must be our daily companion. To pray the entire daily divine office is a grave duty for every priest. Don’t rush the breviary. Our first duty is to be intercessors. Our first duty is to pray. We can change the world on our knees.
My dear brothers and sisters, how can you help us priests? The Archbishop of Cologne had a ready answer. “If you want to help priests, go to your priests for confession.” The greatest pastoral achievement is the chance to penetrate hearts, restore peace to sinners and share the hope of God. Every absolution is an immense pastoral success! An absolution after confession is a greater pastoral success than building cathedrals or universities!
Friends of priests: How can you help priests? Go to Mass daily. Learn from the altar the art of dying. Let Jesus teach you how to follow him and how to die with him. Nobody remains the same after receiving Holy Communion.
Thank you for the grace of your presence today. I have been asked: What is my most memorable moment as a priest of twenty five years? My quick answer: Everyday…Everyday is memorable. Everyday is a grace. You my friends have made everyday of my twenty five years memorable.
Thank you, Bruce Lee, for being an angel for me. Thank you, Cardinal Sin, for teaching me to love my priesthood.
Thank you, Jesus, for calling me to be yours.
I am yours forever.
The Roman Catholic
Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan
(Central Pangasinan, Philippines)