According to Msgr. Gerry Santos who used to give us retreats and recollections while we were seminarians, the “Roman seating position” is a carry-over from the martyrdom of the early Christians who were always seated at the front rows of the Colosseum in Rome who were forcibly pushed to be devoured by hungry lions and beasts below.
Of course it is a joke but it holds so much grain of truth because we often refuse to take the front row seats for fears of being put on the spot, of making a stand. How ironic that in this age when seating positions matter so much for us, we have forgotten that more important than the position and prestige that come with the seats we occupy – literally and figuratively speaking – is the stand we take in every issue we face. Protocols dictate in so many occasions how seats indicate power and authority; the throne is always reserved to the highest in rank like kings and presidents. And the closer one is seated to the one in command, the wider is one’s sphere of power and influence too. Unfortunately, this is not everything because every seat of power and authority is always a call to serve, to make a stand for what is true and what is good.
Jesus Christ showed us the true meaning of our seating positions during the Last Supper on Holy Thursday evening when He rose to remove His outer garments to wash the feet of His apostles (Jn.13:1-15). It was a task left for slaves only but Jesus used it as a gospel parable in action to show us that what matters most in life is not where we are seated with Him but where we stand with Him. It was exactly what He meant when He said that anyone who wishes to be the greatest must be the least and the servant of all.
Recall my dear readers how during that evening of the Holy Thursday when John the beloved disciple sat not only beside Jesus but even rested his head on His chest to signify their intimacy as friends (Jn. 13:23). That touching gesture of friendship and love took its summit the following Good Friday when John the beloved was the only one of the Twelve who remained standing with the Lord at the foot of His Cross with the Blessed Mother Mary. In that scene we see how John literally stood his ground as the beloved disciple by remaining faithful and loving with the Lord from His Last Supper to His Crucifixion. Peter, the prince of the Apostles, was nowhere to be found on Good Friday after denying Jesus thrice during His trial before the Sanhedrin the night of His arrest. Very interesting was Judas Iscariot who committed suicide after realizing his grave sin in betraying the Lord. See how he had left the Lord’s Supper to deal with His enemies for His arrest. What an image of the traitor who could not stay on his seat during the Lord’s Supper was the same one who could not stand to face Him again at the foot of the Cross. See how those people who refuse to sit with us are also the ones who never stand with us, stand for us like Judas, a traitor!
I tell you these things even if Holy Week is still more than six weeks from now but in the light of the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter which is about the Primacy of Rome or the Pope as Vicar of Christ and successor of St. Peter. We celebrate this Feast to remember St. Peter and his successors love and service to the Church as examples we must all emulate. In 110 AD, St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote the Christians in Rome to describe to them the Church of Rome as the “primacy of love” and the “primacy of faith”. Every power and every authority signified by the chair or cathedra in the Church as well as in the world when we speak of “seat of power” must always be seen in the light of Jesus Christ’s example of loving service at His Last Supper. This is especially true for us priests who are united in Christ and with Christ in the Eucharist.
This festering problem of sexual abuse in the Church is largely due to our deviation from this primacy in love for Jesus as priests. We have been so focused with our seats – positions and titles – that we have forgotten to stand with Christ at the foot of His cross, standing for what is good and true, just and right. We have been so focused with the “party” of the Supper of the Lord and have forgotten Jesus Himself. Seminarians have been so focused with the vocation and the call, with ordination, forgetting the more essential, the Caller Jesus Himself! And that explains why some in the clergy and those in the hierarchy come up with so many excuses and alibis for the many things we do in our ministry, in our churches, in our parishes, and in our lives because we are only concerned with our office and position but never the Master.
When we love Jesus or any other person, we do not have to justify our actions. Love that is true and pure does not need justifications. But the moment we start making justifications, something is wrong like when we justify our special relationships, no matter how deep or shallow it may be for clearly, there is no primacy in love for Jesus and the Church.
When we justify our vices, our lifestyles, our business endeavors that Canon Law prohibits, clearly there is no primacy in love for we cannot be poor for Christ.
There is no problem with having advocacies as priests but when we are aligned with ideologies contrary to Christ, or when we play in partisan politics, there is neither primacy of faith nor primacy of love. It is the Lord who changes the world, not us, not our programs, not our ideas.
It is our duty as priests to love like Christ but to adopt children and raise them as our own children using our names, there is no celibacy, only stupidity.
Like Jesus, we need money to get our programs going but when we lack transparency and accountability, that is stealing and banditry.
When all we have is the ministry, the priesthood without prayer periods, without the Eucharist, we only have the call but not the Caller Jesus Christ Himself.
More than ever, today Jesus Christ is asking us all His priests to make a stand for Him, to stand with Him, to suffer with Him and to die with Him by leaving our seats of comfort and seats of power.