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Priest and Eucharist

Fr. Jerome R. Secillano, MPA

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SEPTEMBER 28, 2002 was a memorable date for the Archdiocese of Manila. Twelve deacons were ordained to the priesthood by then Auxiliary Bishop Socrates Villegas. It was exactly twenty one years ago to that day that the archdiocese had the same large number of ordinandi. But it was a big day not only because of the number. It was a big day also because of the quality of those to be ordained. Bishop Soc said, “My dear twelve deacons, yes you are good but you are not good enough. You are not good enough to be priests. Remember that always”.

I was one of those twelve and he started off by introducing each one of us by name. Surprisingly, he described us using very kind and generous words that left all of us humbled, quietly grateful, and calmly proud. But just as quick as the praises, Bishop Soc suddenly dropped the bombshell that we are not good enough to be priests and we should not forget it!

That day marked for me a significant realization of what the priesthood is all about. We priests can be good administrators, excellent homilists, effective recollection or retreat masters, successful builders, efficient school directors, valuable professors or formators, most sought after counselors or spiritual directors, but priesthood remains to be an undeserved gift. We are undeserving of it because of our sinfulness. Bishop Soc continued, “Look into your hearts my dear deacons, and you will see there the mystery of sinfulness. Thanks be to God your confessors are not allowed to talk to the Cardinal (Jaime L. Sin, DD) because if he could hear half of what you have disclosed to your confessors, you will not be here”.

Some call priesthood a “divine scandal”. Meaning, Christ calls and chooses unworthy men but despite this unworthiness He qualifies them to be ministers tasked to lead the faithful to God. This may be confusing for some because only the best and the most perfect are supposed to be entrusted with this considerable and noble mission. But such is priesthood. It is a gratuitous gift that comes from the Lord. This explains why during the ordination the Bishop says, “After consulting the people of God and those concerned with the formation of the candidates, we now rely on the help of God”. Meaning, the ultimate determination of the candidates’ worthiness rests on God. But more importantly, we do not have in our midst the most perfect and the best man for the job, simply because no human being is.

None could better remind me of this unworthiness than the celebration of the Eucharist. Owing to the theology that calls priest “in persona Christi” (in the person of Christ), it becomes our mission to make present once more the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. In the Eucharist, we hold and raise the body of Christ while saying, “This is my body”, and do the same with the chalice saying, “This is my blood”. Those words, at the outset, create a sense of uneasiness, especially since while raising the chalice we see the reflection of our faces and not that of Christ. As a sign of humility, some priests would simply look down or close their eyes as they raise both species. Others in a rare moment of glory and ecstasy would look at them and see Jesus being offered once more at the altar of sacrifice.

Notwithstanding theology, priests do not acquire any superhuman capacity during their ordination. They remain human. Hence, I do not entertain the thought or create an illusion that I am Jesus Christ during that moment of consecration. I remain who I am, but I let the grace of ordination work through me as I speak and act in the very person of Christ. Recognizing that my priesthood is simply a participation in that of Christ the High Priest, I let him draw me into his sacrificial action, begging him to configure my heart and mind more perfectly to his.

According to John Paul II, Priesthood and Eucharist are profoundly interconnected. In Dominicae Cenae (DC) he wrote, “The Eucharist is the raison d’etre of the priesthood” (DC 2). He further said, “there can be no Eucharist without the priesthood, just as there can be no priesthood without the Eucharist.” (JP II, Gift and Mystery, 77-78). So profound is this connection that the same John Paul II also claimed, “The Eucharist could not exist without us priests but, without the Eucharist, our existence as priests would be a lifeless shadow” (The Pope Speaks, 29:198).

Drawing from these rich sources of teachings about priesthood and Eucharist, Bishop Soc’s message continues to reverberate that we are not good enough to be priests. The Eucharist, which reminds me of this unworthiness, is intertwined with my priesthood. As I therefore, celebrate this meal, memorial, thanksgiving, and sacrifice, I can never boast of anything. There can only be gratefulness, humility, and a constant striving for truth and goodness!

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