To Be a Priest

I — like many other parish priests — often receive emails, messages, voicemails, and other means of communication telling me how to run the parish(es). When there is an election coming up, the number of emails gets intensified. Some were very agitating and abusive. Many think that we need to speak out on this or that particular issue, labeling us as lacking courage and being cowardly if we do not do as they like. The left thinks we are not speaking out enough on equality, tolerance, and social justice matters while the right thinks we are not speaking enough on the sanctity of life and other politically conservative issues. It seems to be that whatever we say is never enough because we can never satisfy what people want to hear to pet their egos, agendas, expectations, and demands.

As a priest, sometimes I become wearisome and tired of these ridiculous baseless, ad hominem, and politically driven attacks. At times, I even asked myself and the Lord if what they are accusing me of is real or not! I began to doubt my effectiveness, attentiveness, and whether I somehow failed to truly be a parish priest to my people or not. Numerous times, I had come to prayer asking the good Lord about my own priestly ministry’s effectiveness and focus. Sometimes, I got an answer; many times, I received silence from Him.

This egocentric, vindictive, implosive, and angry ethos is very destructive, discouraging, and disheartening. Ultimately, I just have to be honest and humble with my own personal examination of conscience and try my best to be present, encourage, teach, and lead as I am able. One day in the past, one brother priest told me to reflect on the exhortation that the Church has for those who are to be ordained to the priesthood of Christ

At a Priestly Ordination Mass, the Bishop often quotes the homily section of the Rite of Ordination. There are certain passages in the prepared text that really personally moves me, and I would like to share some of them with you:

Now, dear son(s), you are to be raised to the Order of the Priesthood. For your part you will exercise the sacred duty of teaching in the name of Christ the Teacher. Impart to everyone the Word Of God which you have received with you. Meditating on the Law of the Lord, see that you believe what you read, that you teach what you believe, and that you practice what you teach.

Likewise, you will exercise in Christ the office of sanctifying. For by your ministry the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful will be made perfect, being united to the Sacrifice of Christ, which will be offered through your hands in an unbloody way on the Altar, in union with the faithful, in celebration of the sacraments. Understand, therefore, what you do and imitate what you celebrate.

…remember that you are taken from among men and appointed on their behalf for those things that pertain to God. Therefore, carry out the ministry of Christ the Priest with constant joy and genuine love, attending not to your own concerns but to those of Jesus Christ. Keep always before your eyes the example of the Good Shepherd who came not to be served but to serve, and came to seek out and save what was lost.

As you can see for yourself, the Church asks me and my brother priests to speak, preach, and guide you on matters of the faith. We are not experts in other fields, and should not give vocal opinions on certain politicized matters because our opinions should remain personal and ours alone. It is dangerous when priests begin to become involved in political matters, especially to use the pulpit and their congregation (or through other means) to voice their individual desires and dislikings.

History has repeatedly reminded us that when leaders and members of the Church begin to mix politics with religion, to use religious venues for political matters, they lose sight of what is truly important and begin to lose their weight on matters that truly give eternal life. Even in our lifetime, we have seen priests who left the priesthood to run for political offices, joined revolutions, took arms with rebel groups, and did many worldly things. Even though they were praised by many as being courageous and heroic, their impact was just but a moment, temporary, and short-lived; nevertheless, the saddest part was that they were willing to abandon their priestly ministry and spiritual fatherhood for worldly matters and political concerns.

It is so easy to become worldly and occupied with the matters of this world. At times, these issues seem very important and tempting, but we have to remember that priests are consecrated and set apart from the world to teach, sanctify, and guide their flock on things that pertain to God. Priests are to be spiritual leaders and guiding posts for people who are seeking things that are of heaven, eternal, and transcendental, not matters of this world and its numerous opinions, thoughts, ideologies, and differences. We can differ a lot in our opinions and hopes, aspirations and agendas, but we are all reminded of our true goal and final destination, which is heaven and not just what is going on here on earth.

If we worry about our salvation and eternal life, the things of this world should make us be very careful in discernment, reflection, and prayer so as to seek the matters of heaven and the will of God instead of our personal, political, or social advantages and benefits alone. We should not worry about the social or political candidate, party, platform, organization, or ideology we belong to. We should not worry about whether we are popular or accepted by the common mass or general public but the Almighty who sees and judges us justly and fairly. If we truly believe in God, we should be more afraid of how we stand in front of Him than how others perceived us to be according to their ever-changing, politically correct, and worldly standards.

Furthermore, if we truly yearn for heaven, we should desire, conform, and live our lives according to the divine commandments and teachings that Christ has given and entrusted to the Church. If we truly yearn for heavenly matters, we would then know that our words and actions, life and deeds, are no longer just for our immediate, personal, or political benefits, gains, and wants but serve a higher purpose. We are called to a higher duty and responsibility because we have been given higher freedom as children of God.

The Lord Jesus Christ did not come to simply be a revolutionary leader or political messiah, He came to set us free from the enslavement of this world and its sinfulness. Because of our ignorance and arrogance, we condemned Him to death in order to silence Him, but He chose to give His life as the expiation of our sins, to reconcile us with God our Father, and as the real example of what it means to truly love! Therefore, just as the Lord gave Himself up for us, we are to lay down our lives for Him and to live as His disciples in all things. We should be more proud to be identified as Christians than whatever the world, others, or politics want us to be! If we truly understand that our lives are not ours alone, we will choose to live for Christ, to nurture, serve, and sacrifice our personal goods for the greater good of all. Why? Because our destiny is heaven and our occupation is of heavenly things.

True discipleship begins when we are able to humbly die to ourselves and live wholeheartedly for the Lord! We are able to live the divine commandments and love the teachings of the Church when we are able to no longer worried about the lesser, ever-changing, and temporary matters of this world but act, desire, and yearn for heaven. If we make decisions no longer for ourselves but according to what the Church teaches and what Christ has taught us, we would begin to value life from the moment of conception until natural death, as well as to care, serve, and advocate for those who are voiceless, abandoned, forgotten, ignored, and living on the fringes of our very own society.

If we live according to true love for God and our neighbor, we would not count the costs, worry about the politics, and be divided by vocal news as to be good, faithful, and prudent stewards of His gifts to us. If we truly understand what we receive at each and every Mass, our hearts will be set on heavenly matters and eternal values. If we truly love the self-giving and intimate gift of Christ Jesus, and receive it with humility and obedience to His will, we will not be easily agitated, shaken, moved, and distracted by useless noises, opinions, trends, and ideologies. When we choose to live for Christ, we find that we speak louder with our actions than our words, we testify with our lives and deeds more than what the world wants from us. When we are able to love God genuinely and wholeheartedly, we will stop trying to do things and simply be everything that we are able as a response to His love for us.

Therefore, what I hope from you is to keep us, your priests, in your prayers. Please help us be focused on the eternal values and heavenly matters, so our life and actions, words and deeds, point you to desire and yearning for heaven! Even though we will fall short at times to be everything that you want us to be, please help us to focus on offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass well, care for you as loving shepherds and spiritual fathers, and forgive us of our shortcomings. Please take a moment to re-read the exhortation and pray that we, your priests, are called to remember in persona Christi capitis. We have been set apart and appointed to live, treasure, and give examples through our teachings, works of sanctification, and daily sacrifices to remind you of your own desire for heaven. May each and every one of us truly believe what we received from the Lord, teach what we believe, and practice what we teach by how we take the time to reflect, understand, and love what we do, embrace the faith we received, and treasure the sacraments we celebrate together as the Church.

Please pray for us, your priests, as we pray for you. Please support and help us to become the priests that Christ wants us to be so that our lives, words, actions, deeds, and examples point you to the things of heaven. Please help us to live for the Church and the flock entrusted to us, especially to talk, teach, and love the things that truly matter so we can truly act in persona Christi capitis for you.