January 1, 2016
Mary Mother of God Solemnity
Priests in the Jubilee Year of Mercy
Dearly beloved brothers in the priesthood:
We are priests of the mercy of God. We “endured” the rigors and demands of seminary formation but we are not priests because we survived the seminary. We are priests because Christ endured all to make us priests. The priesthood is neither a reward for seminary endurance nor a trophy for seminarian survivors. The priesthood is a gift from God who endured all sufferings that we may be worthy to be called “other Christs”. It is Christ not us who makes us worthy of this holy calling. There is nothing that we have done and nothing that we can still do to make us worthy of this gift. Not all men can be priests. We are.
Not all priests can be good speakers. Not all priests can be good administrators. Not all priests can be parish priests. Not all priests can be missionaries. Not all priests can be church builders. All these inadequacies are understandable. But if a priest is rude and merciless, unforgiving and revengeful, arrogant and vain, materialistic and cold, how can we blame our flock for leaving the Church?
There is only one tribute that I pray our Catholic faithful will say of us when we die. I hope when we leave this world and face the judgment seat of God, our parishioners will only describe us in these words “Mabait si Father!”
PRAYER IS A GIFT OF MERCY
Mabait si Father, malapit sa Diyos! Our first duty of mercy is prayer. The prayer of a shepherd for his sheep is always music to the ears of God. Prayer is an act of love. Every prayer whether of praise or contrition or petition is always a plea for mercy. Prayer is our anchor. Prayer is our cornerstone. For us in the parish or school ministry, the breviary is mostly a private prayer. Let us make this Year of Mercy a year of renewed appreciation for the psalms and prayers of the breviary. Our daily fidelity to the Liturgy of the Hours prayed periodically during the day is an act of mercy. Our first duty is to be alone with God. Do not allow your day to pass without the breviary. Begin the day with it. End the night with it. Your life will be changed believe me.
My secret for my inner peace during stormy days and my unswerving joy as a priest for thirty years now is the daily Mass. I have not allowed a day of this life to pass since my ordination day without offering my Mass. We cannot be closer to God than in every Mass that we celebrate. That is the most intimate encounter with God that can ever happen more intimate than a husband to his wife. We have the privilege to stay in that intimacy. What a grace!
Over the rice paddies in Bataan, mango groves in San Carlos, factories in Manila, offices in Makati, by the fishponds of Dagupan and schools of Filipinos struggling to sustain and improve life, over the joys and achievements of the people, God has given me the joy of offering His Body to His beloved ones.
Over the flooded fields in Bayambang and inundated barangays in Villanueva, over the destruction from typhoons in Leyte, fires, landslides, and earthquakes, over the suffering and catastrophes of human making, over the lost lives and shattered dreams, what a privilege it is to offer again and again the immortal self-giving of Christ. The Eucharist is the mercy of God.
Brother priests cherish every Eucharist. Relish every word at Mass. Let the bread and wine speak to you, change you and make you like what we offer. Don’t mind the stipend. Don’t cheat with the arancel. Set your sight on the miracle that you make happen when you pronounce His holy words at the Upper Room.
AVAILABILITY IS MERCY
Mabait si Father madaling lapitan. Availability is an act of mercy. Mercy has no protocol. Mercy should have no business hours. Mercy does not even wait. Mercy runs forth eagerly to welcome with an embrace of forgiveness the returning prodigal son.
Due to the load of administrative tasks, we priests can unknowingly reduce our vocation to a swivel chair ministry with pre-arranged appointments. We can become distant and detached. We priests lose touch and we just become self-entitled functionaries not shepherds. Our original fire becomes dying embers. Our ordination excitement turns to boredom.
What can we do to recover that fire? We cannot just wait in the security of our desks. We need to go out. Mercy cannot wait. Mercy must be peddled without a price. Let us bring ourselves to the youth and the children, to the poor and the hurting, to the confused and to the alienated. Malapit si Father. How can we make the sheep believe that God is near if we the shepherds are hard to reach?
SIMPLICITY IS MERCY
Mabait si Father madaling kausap. Simplicity in homilies is an act of mercy. Sincerity in speech is a gift of mercy. The loss of simplicity in homilies has a costly price of Catholics seeking spiritual nourishment from other sects and religions.
Pope Francis said “At times we lose people because they don’t understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity and import an intellectualism foreign to our people. Without the grammar of simplicity, the Church loses the very conditions which make it possible to fish for God in the deep waters of His mystery.”
Simplicity of language is a gift of mercy. Sincerity in words is a demand of mercy. When we appear too timid to speak for fear of being bashed on social media; when we appear too caught up in the rigidity of doctrinal formulas, mercy is concealed by our veil of myopia. When we just approach the pulpit unprepared, we cause sufferings to our sheep. When we talk without thought, when we gossip without relent, when we promise without any commitment, we become hirelings of misery rather than priests of mercy.
SILENCE IS MERCY
Mabait si Father tahimik lang siya. There is a silence of indifference. There is silence of antipathy. There is a silence to escape and hide. There is also the silence of mercy, a silence of reverence, a silence of awe, a silence before a mystery to deep to contain in words.
The things of God are revealed in silence, in hiddenness, in simplicity, in poverty, in prayer. The crisis of the Church is really a crisis of noise, from our unease with silence. The Church will be renewed by priests who are simple and hidden, silent and simple. Christ after His glorious crucifixion always acted in great silence and great hiddenness. Silence is an act of mercy.
If tears must accompany our silence let the tears flow. Let silent tears from our priestly eyes flow for the neglected and the scorned so that we can better understand the crosses of our age. When our lives become too comfortable and we lose the gift of tears, we lose the gift of mercy too. Pope Francis said “If you don’t learn how to weep, you are not a good Christian. Do not be afraid to cry! If a good Christian must be able to cry, how can we be shepherds who mock those who cry? How can we stay stoic teachers unfeeling and uncaring?
Lord of mercy, you have shown us the face of the Father, the Father of mercies and all consolations. May we your priests become merciful like the Father! May our fidelity to prayer be our gift of mercy! May our persistent availability help to spread the fragrance of mercy! May our talk be simple and our promises be sincere, offerings of mercy! May our silence coming from love be a gift of silent tears for those who are scorned! Give us priests who are merciful like the Father.
+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan
The Roman Catholic
Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan
(Central Pangasinan, Philippines)