Vacation and vocation are two important realities for us priests. In fact, the two are closely related because both are rooted in God. Problems happen when we priests totally forget God both in our vacation and in our vocation. And this has always been our problem because we have refused to go back, get closer and enter God Himself.
Both vacation and vocation came from Latin: the former is from the word “vacare” that means to be emptied or vacant while the latter has its roots in “vocare” which is to be called. Every vacation is a sabbath, a resting in God who calls us to this priestly vocation. This concept is beautifully expressed in our Filipino word “magpahinga” that literally means to be breathed on by God. When we priests go on vacation, the more we are able to serve people better with joy because that is when we are filled with God. Every vacation is a path leading us closer to God that is why priests are encouraged to go on sabbatical leaves, whether the usual weekly breaks or the yearly longer vacations. This past week we have heard from the gospels in our daily Masses how the enemies of Jesus missed this important aspect of sabbath when they would always question His healings on days of rest, prompting Him to ask them, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than destroy it?” (Mk.3:4). God is always bigger than Sabbath because “Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (Mk.2:27-28). Even laypeople have fallen into this trap of emphasizing sabbath more than God Himself that we make many excuses of not going to Sunday Masses because bonding with family and friends is more important. Every year, less and less people are going to Church celebrations of the Holy Week and Easter because they would rather take the opportunity to go on vacation as they try hard to convince themselves that God would perfectly understand them anyway.
This problem with vacation takes on its most unfortunate turn when we priests deal with our vocation. In my 20 years in the priesthood with the last seven years spent in direct interactions with seminarians as teacher and spiritual director, I have found something so wrong now becoming a trend that is probably one of the reasons why we are plagued with all kinds of problematic priests in the Church. It is a new kind of idolatry when we have come to worship and adore more our vocation and priesthood than God Himself. We have forgotten the great distinction between the call and the Caller. When the one being called, whether a priest or a seminarian, gets so focused with the call forgetting the Caller, problems arise and not too far from the scene are evil and sin.
“Brothers and sisters: Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was. In the same way, it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest, but rather the one who said to him: You are my son; this day I have begotten you” (Heb.5:1,4-5).
Priestly vocation is always a gift and a call from God to be closer and be one in Him and with Him in Christ. Vocation is the call of God but not God. The Caller is always above and distinct from the call. The one being called is meant to end with the Caller and not with the call. It is a terrible problem when a seminarian insists on being ordained as if it is a right simply because he is called even if the seminary fathers do not see him responding properly to his priestly calling. It becomes a tragedy when priests insist with their own beliefs and perceptions of things as part of their responding to their vocation, forgetting or even totally disregarding Christ as well as the norms and teachings of the Church, His visible presence (sacrament) on earth. The sex scandals that continue to rock and deeply hurt the Church stem from this erroneous perception by some priests who cling to their vocation, unmindful of the Caller we all need to imitate in holiness so we can also embrace children and uplift women like Him in love and respect. See how some of our churches have become like birthday cakes, malls and even dance halls when pastors pretend to be bringing the people closer to God with all their pomp and pageantry when in fact are just massaging unconsciously their bloated egos. When priests get busy more with church constructions, fund raising and other social events without any time for prayer to be with God and His flock, they worship the call, not the Caller. The height of this idolatrous worship of the vocation by priests is when we make up so many alibis and excuses to justify our various preoccupations like luxurious living, vanities that include too much sports and body-building, vices in all forms like addiction with telenovelas, engaging in businesses, frequent travels that Pope Francis had branded as “scandal of the airports”and yes, even adopting children!
I wrote this not to put down my brother priests and students in the seminary but to contribute in whatever way that we can grow closer with Jesus Christ who calls us to be one in Him. I am also a sinner, “a worthless servant of the Lord who tries to do my duty” as His priest (Lk.17:10). Lately in our daily Masses as well as this coming Sunday we shall hear in the gospel of how Jesus would enter their synagogue in Capernaum on a sabbath. It is a very simple scene but filled with meanings, asking me whether I simply enter the church or do I enter God? How sad that until now there are people like the Magi from the East asking “where is the newborn king of Israel?” while inside our churches that have merely become a building but never the Body of Christ because what we only have is the call, or maybe just the echo of that call without the Caller.
*Photo by the author, chapel of Holy Family, Sacred Heart Novitiate and Retreat House, Novaliches, Quezon City, June 2015.