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SIGNS OF CHRIST THE HEAD

Meditation for Priests on Holy Thursday 2013

Chrism Mass at Saint John the Evangelist Cathedral

March 28, 2013

 

 

Our Chrism Mass this year is celebrated under the glow of the newly elected Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis. Many people from within the Church and outside the Church refer to the Pope as head of one billion two hundred million Catholics all over the world. Head of the Church!

 

But wait. Let us review our catechism for a moment. The Pope is not really the head of the Church. Christ is the head of the Church. The Church is the body of Christ. The Pope is the visible symbol of Christ on earth; he is the symbol of Christ the head of the Church. For the universal Church, the Pope presides in charity in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. When the Pope speaks to us, it is Christ the head who speaks. When he blesses, it is Christ the head who blesses. When he serves, it is the service of Christ the head that he continues to do.

 

Like the Pope, you my brother priests share in the ministry of Christ the head of the Church. In the Chrism Mass of 2007, Pope Benedict XVI reminded us priests that when we preside at the sacraments and offer the Mass, we act in the person of Christ. Through the years, we priests have invoked those words “in persona Christi” to refer to our priestly actions, priestly witnessing and priestly preaching—speaking and acting in persona Christi capitis, in the person of Christ the head of the Church.

 

What kind of head does the Church need? What kind of priests who act in the person of Christ the head must we be? Are we really signs of Christ the head for his body the Church? What kind of a head are we, my brother priests?

 

Some heads have thick hair; some heads have no hair. Some heads have grey hair; some heads have hair as black as midnight. Bald or hairy, grey or black, all heads need a body. A head that has no body is dead. A body that has no head is dead. In other words, the first duty of a good head is to remember that it is only part of a body; that cut off from the body, the head loses life. The head cannot go right while the body goes the other way. Where the body goes, so goes the head!

 

A leader is someone who is strong and can command a following but this strength as a leader is best shown by listening to those under our care. The ears have been put on both sides of our head. The eyes have been put in front of our heads. The eyes and ears are on the same level on our head. The duty of the head is to watch with love and care. The duty of the head is to listen with respect and obedience. The lips have been put below all these because talking is the least of all our duties. Go and teach. Use words if necessary. The most important role of headship is watching with care and listening with love. That is the headship of Christ.

 

When the eye is impatient, love is lacking. When the ear wants to speak rather than listen, love has been lost. Can we still watch by with patience and joy without complaining about time lost and wasted? Have we become so used to talking and being listened to that we cannot sit down anymore without chatting? Can we still listen to litanies of worries without interrupting and without getting annoyed? The head may still be connected to the body through the neck, but if we have lost the capacity to watch lovingly and listen tenderly, to keep quiet respectfully, to stop senseless murmurings trying to sound funny, and to resist useless chatter, we have in fact beheaded the body.

 

How are we as heads of schools and shepherds of parishes?

 

Can the head be without the heart? Should logic always prevail over emotions? Can intellectual understanding be enough without fervour? The head needs the heart and the heart needs the head. Intelligence needs to feel and feelings need logic.

 

Chinese wisdom says “The mind resides in the heart”. At the sunset of life, we will be judged according to love, not according to intelligence. Brilliant minds can be admirable but only love can save peoples from sin. It is only with heart that we can see rightly. Love is blind indeed. See the sinner in the confessional not with the mind of canon law but with the mercy of the heart of Jesus. See the beggar at the church door not with the eyes of first impression but with love and first intuition. Listen to your heart my brother priests.

 

If we keep on repeating too often that we are signs of Christ the head we can grow in self importance and exaggerate our ego. A regular pilgrimage into our hearts through prayer and frequent confession can shrink our ego to normal size and remind us that we are only signs of the real head; that we are not the head ourselves.

 

My brother priests, can we still think with our hearts? Can we still be tender like the Good Shepherd? Are we afraid to receive compassion because it reveals us as vulnerable priests? Are we afraid to admit our thorns in the flesh because it will shatter our myth that we are super heroes? We are only earthen vessels. We cannot let Christ glow unless we let our glamour go.

 

How are we as signs of Christ the head? What kind of head should we be?

 

On the day of our ordination, the bishop laid his hands over us. Our heads were put under the hands of another man. Although those hands were lifted only after a few seconds, the laying of hands over our heads continues to this day. In other words, the good priest must always remember that his head is under the hands of the Church, under the hands of the Lord. The head must learn how to kneel. The head must know how to bow. The head must learn humility. Humility is the only crown that the head must wear. Humility is the crown of all virtues. When the bishop wears a miter, he does not wear it as a crown to extend the head and make him taller. He wears the miter as cover over his head. It cuts the head to a smaller size. The miter is the roof of God’s power. We are all under it. We are not bosses. We are servants.

 

The head is on top of the body; but on top of our heads, the hands of the Church will always be there. The head must submit to a power higher than it. We are disciples not Masters. We are stewards of the mysteries of God, not owners.

 

The Church has been hurt a lot by our arrogance and conceit. We would be better signs of Christ the head with greater humility, deeper piety and lifestyles of simplicity.

 

My brother priests, tonight when we remember the institution of the Eucharist, let us thank God for trusting us to be signs of his headship in the Church. In a minute when you renew your priestly promises, promise also to be humble signs of Christ the head—always one with the body, always one with the heart, always under the power of the Lord. The sign cannot be the head itself. We must decrease so that Christ the head may increase.

 

Let us bow our heads and enter the heart of the Lord….

Going to Dagupan?

The Roman Catholic

Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan

(Central Pangasinan, Philippines)

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