Our life of leaving and loving

The Lord Is My Chef Recipe, Holy Thursday of the Lord’s Passion, 18 April 2019
Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14///1 Corinthians 11:23-26///John 13:1-15
Altar at the Carmelite Monastery in Israel with a unique Crucifix. Photo by Dra. Mai B. Dela Pena, 2011.

Today I am celebrating my 21st year in the priesthood. This is the first time our ordination anniversary falls on a Holy Thursday when we celebrate the institution of the two Sacraments most closely linked with us priests and the Church, Holy Eucharist and Holy Orders.

When we were ordained by Archbishop Rolando J. Tria-Tirona 21 years ago at the Malolos Cathedral, there were so many things going on in my mind and in my heart. But there was one thing that had remained very clear with me since that day: I am being ordained priest at the age of 33, the very same age Jesus was crucified on the Cross. From then on until now, I have kept in my heart that priesthood is suffering and dying on the Cross in Jesus and with Jesus centered on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.

John 13:1

Of the four evangelists, it is only St. John who repeatedly mentions the expression “hour of Jesus” in his gospel account. For him, the very life of Jesus is a journey and preparation to his “hour” which is his crucifixion and death. The hour of Jesus is his passion. The word passion is from the Latin verb patior that means to undergo, to pass through, evoking some form of suffering and pain.

The hour of Jesus started in his Last Supper. It was a very long hour so to speak. And very dark. However, it was also the finest hour of Jesus when he poured out his immense love and mercy for us. Beginning at his supper when he washed the feet of the Apostles to his agony in the garden when he perspired with blood to his arrest reaching it darkest point in his crucifixion and death, the darkest hour of Jesus is also his finest hour when he was able to bear all sufferings and insults, including death because of love. Jesus showed us that in fact, love is the very process of passing over, of going beyond our means and capacity in order to transform and become better persons. That is why our darkest hour is also our finest hour when we are transformed in Jesus because precisely that is when we truly love. It is also for this reason that the Eucharist is called an agape which is the Greek word for the highest form of love that does not expect anything in return. That is the love of Jesus Christ. And supposed to be the love of us priests.

Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.

Jesus washes feet of Apostles. From Google.

Msgr. Epitacio Castro, one of our retired priests, has a favorite expression with his being a priest: “pinag-uubra lang ako ng Diyos”. True. God is just making do of us as priests because nobody is worthy of being one. We are the worst men around! We are also sinners like you, even more sinful than most of you. In the Eucharist, we priests experience that great love of Jesus Christ when he tries to make us fit as his priests, transforming us into men like him. It happens every time we are one with him in his hour of suffering and death. Priesthood is a life of leaving and loving, of passing over and transformation. The day we were ordained, our Last Supper began, our passion began because that is also our hour in Jesus Christ. Every time we celebrate the Holy Mass, we priests are reminded that our hour had come to pass, challenging us to love more. Pray for priests who no longer love the Eucharist; something is terribly wrong with them.

I am a sinner. But it is a tremendous grace of God through the Eucharist that I continue to leave and pass over, from sin to holiness and grace, from darkness to light, from selfishness to selflessness, from desperation to hope, from grief to joy. And all because of the power of love of God overflowing in the Eucharist. How can I resist to love and to forgive, to let go and move on, to be patient and to persevere when right in the Eucharist I could feel Jesus truly present, entrusting himself to me who is so untidy with sins and weaknesses? How could I not believe in him when Jesus is the first to believe in me despite my many self doubts? Every celebration of the Eucharist is an imitation of Christ when we priests go down to wash and kiss the feet of the people we serve whom we also hurt and hurt us too!

They say the darkest nights are the longest nights. Very true especially for us priests. Be patient with us when we forget so many things, when we change so often in our plans because every time there are celebrations, our hour goes over time too. Bear with us, pray for us when we sometimes become irritable even grouchy because aside from your many problems and burdens we help you carry, we have our own struggles and problems too. That hour of Jesus remains with us even after every Mass when you all go home to your own family while we priests are left alone in our parish thinking about the next celebrations. The hours are long and the nights are so dark and all we have is that flickering light of faith, hope, and love in Jesus in our hearts.

But, though the darkest nights are the longest nights, they also say that only the brave who dare walk the darkness can see the brightness of the stars above. Courage does not mean having no fear but the ability to face our fears. And, oh! We priests have many fears too, including the fears of rejection, of being misunderstood, of being boxed, and most of all, of failing. We are what you call as “warrior is a child” — “They don’t know that I come running home when I fall down. They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around. I drop my sword and cry for just a while, ‘Coz deep inside this armor, The warrior is a child.

In the Eucharist, we priests truly share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ because that is also when we feel transformed in his love, when we pass over with so much pains from the many experiences we have in our very selves and with others. Indeed, without the Eucharist, we are not priests! Every time I raise Christ’s Body and Blood, I pray that Jesus may make me whole in body, mind and heart, that he may wash me of all my sins, doubts and fears. Nobody else in the Mass perhaps, except us priests who truly feel the meaning of praying these words before receiving communion, “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my shall be healed.”

Maybe you have all seen the photos after the fire that razed the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris this Holy Tuesday. Intact were the altar table with the huge cross beaming with light. What a beautiful reminder to us all, especially us priests, that in this life, our darkest hours are also our finest hours when we are one with Jesus Christ. No fire nor anything can ever destroy us because Jesus had overcome every evil even death for us. Every destruction and darkness are a prelude to the light and new creation of Easter Sunday that begins right here in the hour of the Eucharist of Jesus. Let us remain in Christ in love in passing over, in leaving behind the pains and hurts of the past with much love in our hearts to move on in this life. Amen.

Photo from Yahoo.news.

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