Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 10 December 2019
Homily for the First Mass of Rev. Fr. Roel Aldwin C. Valmadrid, First Priest from our Parish of St. John Evangelist, Bagbaguin, Santa Maria, Bulacan
In my 21 years of priesthood, I have found so many descriptions and interpretations of being a priest. But there is only one priesthood we all share — the Priesthood of Jesus Christ.
And that is why, every priest has to be a radical like Jesus.
From the Latin word radix which means “roots”, a radical is someone who is always rooted, grounded in being as we say in philosophy.
A priest is a radical because he always has to be rooted in Jesus Christ, our Eternal Priest. He alone is our model and everything in our lives and ministry. Everything and everyone must be seen in relation with Jesus Christ.
I am the true vine… I am the vine, you are the branches.John 15:1, 5
It is the Caller, Not the Call
Since last year when I was invited to be a guest spiritual director of our School of Theology, I have realized how seminarians and eventually priests give more importance to the vocation or call to the priesthood than to Jesus Christ himself, the Caller.
When we priests and seminarians are focused on the call, we get so many excuses in life: we have every justification for everything like in acquiring material goods and gadgets, indulging in so many luxuries and lifestyles for the rich and famous simply because we are priests.
See how some seminarians and priests alike, despite the many immoralities in life, they cling to the vocation but never to Jesus.
Worst, when we are more focused with our call than with Jesus the Caller, that is when we see more of ourselves that soon enough we play gods and we start making our vocation an excuse for everything, even flaunting them in social media.
Call it triumphalism, exaggeration of devotions when in fact it is the start of a cult around the person of the priest. That is when we start having our own interpretations of everything, starting from Jesus Christ, on the liturgy, morality, scriptures and everything!
Sad and tragic. Most of all, a grave scandal of our time.
When we focus more on our Caller Jesus Christ, then we start praying and discerning.
That’s when everything gets clearer because when we examine things in the light of Christ, we become sensitive of others and sensible as well.
When we see Jesus more than our priesthood, that is when we see more of Christ among others, especially the poor and marginalized.
Yes, when we priests look at Jesus more, the better we see him in others that we get inspired to do more, to serve more with love and kindness.
We have learned in our studies of the scriptures that Jesus Christ’s declarations of “I AM” in all gospel accounts mean a lot, especially in the fourth gospel by our beloved Patron, Saint John the Evangelist. It is indicative in itself of Jesus being the Christ, the awaited Messiah.
Keep that in mind, keep that in your heart, Fr. RA: that “I AM” is Jesus Christ, not you.
A priest is always a radical because every day we have to go back to this very root of our being, Jesus. Without him our Caller, there is no call. No Jesus Christ, no priesthood.
Twice did Jesus declare this I AM: at the opening verse where he used the adjective I AM the true vine then at the fifth verse when he said I am the vine, you are the branches.
Most important part here is the I AM to show how Jesus has let himself planted on earth, never to be uprooted like that story of the vine producing sour grapes in the Book of Isaiah.
His I AM here is the very mystery of his incarnation mentioned by our Patron Saint, John the Evangelist at his prologue to his gospel account. Like what St. Paul had written to the Romans we always read in the Evening Prayer I of each week, “God’s gift and call are permanent and irrevocable.”
Jesus called us to the priesthood, he will never recall that. That is why we are celebrating tonight despite your many sins and heavy warnings in the seminary. He called you Fr. RA and he kept that.
Now you are priest, Fr. RA, let Jesus dwell in you as you keep grounded in him too.
Have an altar in your room, Father. Keep the TV set outside your bedroom. Upon waking up even if your bladder is full, kneel before your altar, say the Morning Offering, be with Jesus, hear him tell you every morning “I AM the true vine, you are the branches.”
People always ask me what is the most difficult in being a priest?
It is not really being celibate. In fact later in life, ask your married friends, it is a great blessing to be celibate!
Since my first year in the priesthood, I have always been telling people since then until now that the most difficult in being a priest is we have to pray every day. I mean, real prayer where we strip ourselves naked before Jesus. No ifs, no buts. Just our plain, ugly self before him.
It is difficult to pray every day because it means being true to one’s self that requires a lot of discipline and courage.
Most of all, it is difficult to pray because that is surrendering one’s self to God. It is like being ordained every day when we keep on saying, “yes, Lord…yes Lord.”
Whatever is the fruit of our prayer, that is what we share in our homilies and talks to people.
That is when we come into the most difficult part of our prayer life as priests: when we preach, then people measure us, even judge us. They ask if we “walk our talk”.
When a priest does not preach anymore, when a priest avoids celebrating Mass, pray for that priest. Most likely he is no longer praying. He is already separating himself from the vine, forgetting the Caller.
Remember St. Augustine who told his deacon in De Catechizandis de Rudibus, “the catechist is the lesson himself”. In the same manner, the priest is the homily himself.
It is prayer where we grow deeper in our faith as priests. And people would right away notice this if we believe in God, if we believe in the Mother Church, if we believe in the sacraments we celebrate.
When we experience Jesus our true vine, it is always Jesus whom people would see and feel in us his priests.
“Remain in Me so you will bear fruit”
Our prayer life as priests keeps us one with Jesus our Caller and our true vine. In our gospel today, Jesus repeated the word “remain” about nine times, the most of any word in our gospel this evening.
Remaining in Jesus as a priest is imitating our Patron Saint John the Beloved, the only one who remained and stayed by our Lord’s side at his crucifixion.
To remain in Jesus is stay with him at the Cross.
Notice how Jesus reminded us that as branches, the Father has to prune us always. Pruning means sufferings. Pruning means carrying the cross daily.
Ten years ago I was invited to give a recollection to our students at the Theology Deaprtment with the topic, “The Cross as the Cost of Discipleship”.
I accepted the invitation to correct their topic because it is absolutely wrong: the Cross is not and should never be considered as a cost of discipleship. When you talk about costs, then you think of rewards and profits. Then it becomes a business. No longer a vocation.
The Cross is the life of a priest because that is the life of our Caller, Jesus Christ!
Remain in Jesus, bear all pains and hurts. Kneel always before his Cross and look at him to realize that before our sufferings came, Jesus was there first to suffer and die for you, Father!
Part of that Cross comes from those nearest to us priests, our family and brother priests!
Every day, especially Sunday, you celebrate life and death, health and sickness with people you hardly know, some of them even hurt you and malign you when you can not even be with your parents, sisters and nieces and nephews.
Worst, there are times it is your brother priests are the ones who would hurt you too!
Rejoice when you are being pruned, when you suffer, Father. Remember the beatitudes, “Blessed are you when people persecute you and malign you.”
Be good and kind to your brother priests, Father RA.
Do not fight back if they hurt you.
Love your parish priest. Help him always in his Masses. Volunteer to him especially when you see the slightest of him catching colds!
When a priest is kind to his brother priest, that priest is surely a good priest, a kind priest.
By being good to fellow priests, you keep them remain in Jesus our true vine too.
And you become fruitful.
Being fruitful is different from being successful.
Sometimes, our failures are the very joys of our Lord Jesus Christ because that is when we are nearest to him.
To be fruitful is to rely more in the powers of God. Relying more on our powers is success.
And there is only one fruit Jesus wants from us: love.
See how after Jesus declared himself as the vine and we are his branches, that is when he would speak eloquently about love, his commandment.
“I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete. ?This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay one’s life for one’s friends.”John 15:11-13
Love like Jesus Christ, Father RA.
Be a radical priest, not as a subversive but always go back to our very root, Jesus Christ.
Better, restore Jesus Christ.
Next year, I will be moving to another parish, Father RA.
When you are broken, when somebody maligns you again, you are most welcomed wherever I may be transferred and together, with our aching gouts, we shall kneel to before Jesus our vine, our root, our Caller. Amen.