Friday, March 8, 2013

Memoir on the ‘Upper Room’

“Do this in remembrance of me” – meaningful words of farewell from a historical man who is about to face the road of uncertainty, fear and confusion. Yet such meaningful command of Jesus has been perpetually followed by the early Christians that eventually contribute to the missionary character of the Church to preach, to teach and to lead. The event that took place in that secluded room initiated a new way of making Christ presence alive through the prophetic, priestly and kingly role of the ministerial priesthood. 
The Ministry of the Word        
Priest is said to be the ambassador of Christ to his people.  As a ‘spokesperson’ of God to his people, the decree on the Ministry and life of Priests emphasizes that priests should be conscious of their responsibility not to teach their own wisdom but of God’s word (PO4). In making homilies, priest are encourage to make relevant the gospel message to the very situation of the people but it should not be self- centered. They should not expound the word of God in merely general and abstract terms, but must apply the perennial truth of the gospel to the concrete circumstances of life. Pope John Paul II, also stress that proclaiming the word, the priest must be conscious that his words, like those of Christ, are not his own but those of the One who has sent him. He proclaims the word in his capacity as a qualified minister - a sharer in the prophetic authority of Christ and the Church. In order to be sure of transmitting the gospel in its fullness, the priest must have a special sensitivity, love, and docility to the living tradition of the Church and to the magisterium as the authoritative interpreter of the word of God.
            I would like to highlight the important shift in the history of the Church since Vatican II on the new emphasis on evangelization. Pope Paul VI reiterated that to make the church ever better fitted in proclaiming the gospel to the people of the twentieth century, it should incline with the program of Vatican II on aggiornamento. Evangelization, the Pope goes on to say, is the grace and vocation proper to the Church. It exists in order to be missionary, to evangelize, which means, to preach and to teach, to proclaim with authority the word of God. This truth is expressed in an explicit manner in the Vatican II decree Ad Gentes: “The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature.
            Another element that I would like to emphasize is on the evangelization of Cultures. Evangelii Nuntiandi pointed out that although the gospel can never be identified with culture, cultures can be more or less compatible with the gospel. The gospel is capable of regenerating and permeating a culture without becoming disrespectful and exploitative to other cultures. The culture is important, because the church, in order to evangelize, must borrow elements from the culture. It is good to note that priest can proclaim the gospel in a manner that people can appreciate the richness of the message of Christ without disregarding ones culture. Here inculturation is seen as an important element to consider in the work of evangelization.
The Ministry of Worship
Every time I attend presbyterial ordination I always find myself spiritually high when I hear this familiar line from the ordaining prelate “buhata sa imong kinabuhi ang misterio nga imong isaulog”. I firmly believe that this is an important aspect in the life of a priest, that is, to live daily the mystery he celebrates. John Paul II in his 1980 Holy Thursday letter, Dominicae Cenae holds that the Eucharist is the principal and central raison d’ etre of the sacrament of the priesthood, which effectively came into being at the moment of the institution of the Eucharist. Furthermore, priest fulfills his principal mission when he celebrates the Eucharist and this would become more meaningful and complete when he himself allows the depth of that mystery to become visible in his life, so that the grace of the Eucharist will shine forth in people’s hearts and minds through his ministry. This is the supreme exercise of the priestly function – to celebrate the Eucharist as the source and summit of all Christian life.
          Another important aspect of priesthood is on liturgical celebration. It is said that all the sacraments are sacraments of the Church. In administering the sacraments, the celebrant exercises a properly sacred ministry of which he participate in the priestly power of Christ, as the sacrament of ordination has made him capable of doing. The priest does it on behalf of the Church and as its authorized agent.  Agent, in this context, does not mean “substitute”. The priest does not perform liturgical actions in place of the Church, but the church acts in and through him as its representative. Therefore, priest should act according to what the Church prescribes. The familiar phrase, which I learn in my early years of theological formation, “you do not own the liturgy”, keeps on lingering into my ears as a constant reminder to be always faithful to what the church prescribes.
            The expression in persona Christi fits well into the context of divine forgiveness.  Priest acts in the sacrament of penance in the person of Christ, in whose name he absolves the sinner. Pope John Paul II calls it the tribunal of mercy rather than of strict and rigorous justice. Moreover, he continued in stressing that, of all priestly ministries this is undoubtedly the most difficult and sensitive; the most exhausting and demanding but also one of the most beautiful and consoling function of the priest in the world.  It is a great task to hear the sins of the world but also a wonderful gift and privilege to be an instrumental means of reconciling the world with God. 
The Pastoral Ministry
          In my early years as a seminarian, I remember the words of my bishop quoting the opening statement of the encyclical Pastores dabo vobis, taken from the book of Jeremiah -“I will give you shepherds after my own heart”. There I began to realize the great mission a priest is carrying, that is, to be a shepherd. What makes it great is not the task of being a shepherd only but the qualifier that goes with it - ‘after my own heart’ which implies configuration to Christ. We can be an efficient pastor but the greater challenge would be to make real the presence of Christ in our priesthood.
          Lumen Gentium (20) describe the office of the bishop as a task of shepherding the flock of Christ. The ministerial priesthood belongs especially to bishops but also to presbyters as associates of bishops under Jesus Christ the Chief Shepherd. It is on this regard that priests should bear in mind that they are extensions and representatives of the bishop within the parish. They did not stand as a single entity, but rather always in communion with the bishop. His role as a shepherd in the community of faithful is always link to the bishop, whom the fullness of the priesthood rest. 
            Shepherding here does not only mean leading the faithful in their spiritual journey. It also includes even to the secular affairs especially in moments of moral issues and social crises that endangers the welfare of all. Here priests function as a community leader. To further illustrate, Walter Kasper briefly pointed out that in the New Testament, the Christian leaders are designated not by sacral terms but rather by secular terms such as episcopos (supervisors), presbyteros (elder) and diakonos (servant). I would like to believe, especially in this present context that being a priest as a community leader does not mean practicing paternalistic method of leadership in which everything comes from him. Effective pastoral leader must be capable of recognizing the various charisms of the faithful so that communion, collaboration and mission within the community of believers may be facilitated.
            Another important aspect on the pastoral ministry is on mission. John Paul II in his encyclical Redemtoris Missio, profoundly declares that priests must be filled with special missionary zeal and commitment especially in those areas where Christians are in a minority so that this small fraction of the members of the Church would not be deprived by the spiritual goods they must enjoy. But in this new era of missionary task, it does not only limit its boundaries to those who belong to the Church but rather be extended to other ecclesial communities and even to non-Christians as we engaging into dialogue for peace, justice and integrity of creation. By that our missionary work would be more enriching and worthwhile especially in our context in Mindanao.   
            "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road?”(Lk.24:32). The experience of recognizing the risen Lord on the road to Emmaus kindled the disciples to go back to Jerusalem and proclaim what they experienced. The encounter was so strong that their frustrated hearts turns-out to be burning with zeal to continue the task entrusted to them.  The same gift is needed in sustaining a life of ministerial priesthood - to encounter the risen Christ in a very personal way and to recognize Him in various pastoral works in the parish. Priest is called to establish enough level of holiness for a lifelong commitment of preaching and teaching, of presiding fruitfully over the worship of the community and of directing the people of God towards its appointed goal. Some would say ‘my work is my prayer’. This has become cliché among priest and I know that there can be no substitute to formal prayer but if this would be real in some sense, then this is a kind of spirituality which can also give meaning to what the priest celebrates. It is a moment wherein a priest may intimately encounter the One who called him and celebrates with him together the banquet of the Eucharist in the altar at the upper room.