THE WOMB OF OUR PRIESTHOOD

Chrism Mass 2012

Saint John the Evangelist Cathedral, Dagupan City

Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas

 

My brother bishops and priests:

 

While Jesus was saying these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, "Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed."

 

Those words for Jesus I address to you my dear brothers in the priesthood. Priests are mystery men born from many wombs of many mothers. The first womb we knew was the womb of the woman we call our mother. In that womb, she fed us with her flesh and nursed us with her own blood. Indeed babies in the womb do not drink milk or eat food. The flesh and blood of the mother is the food and drink of the baby in her womb.

 

Saint Augustine called the baptismal font the womb of the Church. From the font of the baptismal waters we were born as sons of God. There is no dignity that can equal the dignity of being called a child of God. The baptismal font is the womb of our Christianity.

 

And as if being called a child of God was not enough, the Father called us to be priests of Jesus Christ. Awesome is the love of God! That love cannot be understood on earth; only in heaven can we fully comprehend that love.

 

In our mother’s womb, we received our humanity. In the womb of the baptismal font, we received our childhood in God. The seminary is the womb of our priesthood. We were born from three wombs not one.

 

For twelve, ten or six years, we stayed secure in that womb that we all fondly call the seminary. The seminary was our nest. The seminary was our home. The seminary was our security blanket. The seminary was our little tiny world. Food was lacking in the seminary. We always wanted to eat more than what was available. The corridors breathed stern discipline. The classrooms were austere. The dormitories were frugal. And yet in spite of all these, we stayed on, lived the seminary life happily because we wanted to be priests of Jesus Christ. Everything was bearable. Only the brave can be priests.

 

We have left behind our seminary teachers; said goodbye to our seminary formators; and faced the challenge to plunge into deeper waters after the bishop laid hands on us at our ordination. How time flies. And yet with the passage of time, Miss Jovita Gonzalo continues to teach English in the seminary. The best preachers among us cannot compete with the sterling preaching of Miss Gonzalo’s life example. Mister Marcelo Vistro, good and loyal teacher of algebra, trigonometry and statistics in the seminary, continues to inspire and edify. Perhaps we have held more money in our hands than what Kuya Mar has ever touched in his life, but Mister Vistro’s life teaches us that the most important things in life are beyond mathematics and numbers. When you listen to Mister Vistro, you remember the infinite goodness of God beyond money, beyond price, beyond this world. Ma Pedring, our electrician, carpenter and security guard in the minor seminary for thirty eight years, taught us--not in the classroom but in the garden and the corridors, in the broken windows and leaking faucets, in the leaking roofs and tattered desks-- that there is dignity in labor. We should not be ashamed to work because work can make us saints. I am sure that Ma Pedring has entered heaven carrying the laurels of his honest work and gentle inspiring presence that every alumnus of the minor seminary must never ever forget.

 

Who is the arrogant and proud priest who will say that he is eloquently more convincing than Miss Gonzalo, that he is more dignified than Mister Vistro or greater than Ma Pedring? This is arrogance. This is pride. The greatest in the Kingdom of God is not the priest or bishop but the one who serves and loves the most. These seminary teachers inspire us. They will be saints ahead of us.

 

The seminary is the womb of our priesthood and it will never go barren. It will remain rich and lovely producing priestly sons for the Church and for the world. We need the seminary to nurture and give birth to priestly sons. We need priests because priests give us Jesus. The seminary gives birth to priests.

 

Why do we need wombs? Why do we need seminaries? Why not ordain men after a few months of instruction? Why wait when we all know that time is gold?

 

We need the seminary because we need to grow. All growth is silent. All growth is also painful. The seminary is a painful distance from home and family, from comforts and quick satisfactions. The seminary is silent distance from our disordered affections, from our un-Christ-like values. The seminary teaches us the power of being hidden, the beauty of being unrecognized. The seminary gives us the courage not to fear being forgotten and ignored and see through it the love and tenderness of God who is hidden but not hiding.

 

We need the seminary because we need to grow. There is no growth without God. There is no growth in God without prayer. The seminary is a school of solitude and prayer. We cannot grow in prayer unless we are at ease with solitude. When we can no longer live in our hearts, then we start to live with our mouths. Silent waters run deep. As the womb is silent, so must the seminary be a school of silence, silence which is golden; silence like the silence of the lambs brought forth for sacrifice. The seminary must be a womb of uncomplaining silence; patient silence. It is silence that awaits the Beloved One, obedient silence.

 

We need the seminary because we need to grow. We need to grow into the heart of Jesus. We need to grow more deeply in understanding that our mission is not to make this world a better place. We are not called to be nation builders. We are called to restore all things in Christ that His kingdom may truly come. Our only task is to give Jesus, only Jesus, always Jesus. The world is saved not only by the public action of Jesus in Galilee and Capernaum but also by the silence of Jesus hidden in Nazareth. The world cannot be saved by social activism but by hidden, silent and humble transformation. The Nazareth years of Jesus were his seminary years. Every priest must have his Nazareth. Our Nazareth is our seminary.

 

Nobody enters this world without passing through a womb. Nobody is born into the priesthood without the seminary, our womb. Brother priests: Do not forget the seminary that bore you. Do not forget the seminary teachers who nursed you. Do not forget the power of being hidden, the power of working silently and unnoticed. Humility is the crown of all virtues. Do not forget the silence and pain of your Nazareth. Silence and pain are good teachers. Do not forget the power of simplicity and humility. Do not forget the timeless lessons of the seminary. Always remember your mother. Always remember your mother seminary proudly yet humbly, lovingly and courageously.

 

Finally, let the words of Scripture console you my dear brothers who have been unfaithful and ungrateful to the womb that nursed our priesthood. "Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.” (Is.49:15) Your seminary, your mother, will never forget or forsake.

 

Have you forgotten her values, betrayed her vision, stained her honor or soiled the seminary’s good name? Are you languishing alone in the darkness of your heart, lonely, afraid and ashamed, guilt laden and disturbed? Come forth and return to the womb that bore you!

 

Brother priests out there in the spiritual fringes, ashamed and afraid because in your judgment, you have brought stain to the holiness of the priesthood; you who have been ignored and rebuked by our church superiors; forgotten and ridiculed by our parishioners; suspected and convicted by a hostile media, despised and hated innocently or rightfully---come forth and let your seminary embrace you in welcome and hear again the words of consolation “Come back to me with all your heart. Don't let fear keep us apart. Long have I waited for your coming home to me and deeply our new life.”

 

Priests of God: "Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed.  "Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.”   Amen.

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