Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 05 May 2023 Homily on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of my friend and classmate, Fr. Ed Rodriguez last 18 April 2023
Tatlong ulit tinanong ni Jesus si Pedro sa ating ebanghelyong napakinggan natin, “Simon, anak ni Juan, iniibig mo ba ako?” (Jn. 21:15-17). Hindi ko na po hihimayin ang kahulugan ng mga iyon bagkus ay hayaan ninyong ibahagi ko sa inyo tatlong pagkakataon ng pag-ibig na aking naranasan.
Una, katulad ninyo, ako man po ay nagmahal at nabigo.
That is one story of love that has the most impact on us. In fact, most love songs have this as theme like unrequited love, unfaithful love, of being unloved despite your love. And they are the most loved and popular love songs because we have experienced that when we truly love, there is always pain and hurting like rejection.
Pangalawa ay iyong iniibig ka rin ng iniibig mo. Yung mahal mo, mahal ka rin. Yun ang matamis! This is the love that has made the world go round and brought us into this world. This is the love why men and women get married because you are loved by the one you love. A very lovely kind of love that tells us may forever.
But there is a third occasion of love I just realized lately, shortly before we celebrated our 25th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. It is the kind of love we all experience but many times we are not aware of. Worst, it is the love we always reject.
Ito yung minamahal ka na nga, ayaw mo pa!
I found this while counseling adoptive parents who complain of how their adopted children go wayward in life, wasting their lives and their wealth because what prevails over them is the rejection they have experienced from their biological mother who gave them away for adoption. They could not get over that fact and in the process, fail to appreciate the love lavished upon them by their adoptive parents. It does happen too to many kids these days who reject the love their parents shower them, complaining a lot without realizing how they are so loved. Many times, we are not aware of the many blessings we have in life, of being so loved by God and others without us even knowing it.
This love is most especially true to us priests too. As we neared this date, I have realized in my prayers how much God loves me with the many graces he has been giving me which I am not even aware of! And yes, there were times I have rejected his immense love in my many moments of sin.
This love of God is what we always reject, the love we could not accept because what we see more are our weaknesses and shortcomings, failing to see and realize God’s immense love that covers a multitude of our sins and defects.
This love is the most powerful and most mysterious of all when affirmed especially by us priests, enabling us to do so many things in the name of God like building communities and building up lives, not just building structures and edifices.
This love of God is the reason we are rejoicing today, celebrating 25 years in the priesthood of my classmate and friend Fr. Ed who has embraced and affirmed this love God poured upon us on April 28, 1998 at the Malolos Cathedral.
We can only truly celebrate anniversaries, whether priesthood or wedding, if we continuously affirm the love bestowed upon us by God, shared and nurtured by you our parishioners as well as by your spouse. That is why Jesus had to ask Peter thrice the question “do you love me?” because before we can ever follow Jesus, we must first of all love him. To love Jesus is to first affirm and embrace that love he has for us no matter how imperfect we may be.
Notice that a person who loves is always looking good, always radiant with love. This we see also in priests who are filled with joy in the ministry as seen first in their cleanliness and orderliness. Malinis si Father di lamang sa sarili kungdi pati sa mga damit, gamit at parokya. May amirol ultimo mga purificator, corporal at finger towel. Palaging naka-sapatos sa Misa. Maayos ang buhok. At hindi humaharap kanino man ng marumi o di nakabihis ng maayos. In him we find exemplified that elementary school lesson that “cleanliness is next to godliness”. And it is not just being clean outside but also inside.
When we love, we always go near the one we love. That is the first sign of love, a desire to get closer with the one we love. That is why if we really love God in the same manner we love others, we make every move to get close to him in prayer primarily. A priest who loves God, who loves his flock, who loves his vocation is first of all a man of prayer. Everything in the ministry and person of a priest flows from his prayer life. And you know very well when a priest does not pray.
The more a priest prays and gets nearer to Jesus, the more he is united in Christ’s sufferings. No wonder that when Jesus suffered and died on the Cross, there stood by his side were his Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the “beloved disciple” because they were the ones who truly loved him.
When there is love, there is nearness. That is when sharing and oneness happen. When we love, we share in everything, especially our beloved’s pains and hurts. Before we can share in anyone’s joy and glory, we must first of all share in their pains and sorrow. That is the love of a priest. Being one with Christ, one in Christ at the Cross. That is why a priest is a friend to everyone, the rich and poor alike, the young and old alike, the sick and healthy, yung maganda at pangit, mabango at mabaho. People who love always share, are always one with others in their love and pains, victory and failures, weakness and strength.
All the more with us priests who share our lives with you as you too share your lives with us. Together we grow nearer to Christ on the Cross leading to Easter. However, it is not enough in love that we get near or close to our beloved like Jesus.
If we truly love, we must be obedient to show how far, how deep can we go with our beloved especially in their sufferings. St. Paul described this obedience of Jesus Christ to the Father even to death in a beautiful hymn in his letter to the Philippians as a process of kenosis, of self-emptying. This the Lord showed after their last supper when he washed the apostles’ feet. St. John beautifully introduced the scene by telling us, “”He (Jesus) loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end” (Jn.13:1).
Love cannot be defined. It has no boundaries. Most of all, love is always a packaged deal, all inclusive! Like any man and woman getting married who vowed to love each other “in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer until death do us part”, we your priests also vowed before the Bishop to love Jesus without measure by being celibate, poor, and obedient. Very understandable that priests have to be celibate and poor like Jesus; but, most of all like the Lord, priests take the vow of obedience too to prove the “breadth, length, depth, and height” (Eph. 3:18-19) of our love for Christ, his Church, and to everyone even enemies because it is very difficult to obey even to those we love after all.
How lovely that in Filipino, the word for obedience is pagsunod; an obedient person is masunurin, sumusunod.
It is also the word for following, pagsunod. An obedient person is one who follows because he loves, no matter how difficult it may be.
Now we can see the whole picture of that beautiful conversation of the Lord and Peter at the shore of Lake Tiberias: Jesus asked him thrice, “do you love me?” and after getting Peter’s “yes, I love you Lord”, Jesus described the apostle’s coming suffering and death before telling him, “Follow me” (Jn. 21:18-19).
From loving to suffering and finally, following. Everything begins in love, is sustained by love when there is suffering and following. Sometimes I ask couples if they say “I love you” to each other daily. Most of them would answer me with a question, “kailangan pa po ba yun, Father? Understood na po iyon.” Really?
Many times, we feel afraid, scared to say “I love you” because we know we do not love that much. And most terrified when confronted with the question “do you love me?” because deep inside, we know we have not truly loved. Do not worry. Do not be afraid. Just keep on loving no matter how imperfect you may be because love removes fear.
Most of all, Jesus knows that very well as Peter had said, “you know everything, you know I love you”. Human love is always imperfect. Only God can love us perfectly. But like Peter, in our unworthiness and defects, let us still say in words and in deeds, “you know everything Lord, you know that I LOVE YOU.”
My dear friends, Jesus is asking us every day the same questions he asked Simon Peter. To love Jesus is to love his Church, including his representative, his priest. Love Fr. Ed in Christ with your prayers and support. Give him the time and space to get nearer to Jesus in prayer and loving service to you. Keep Fr. Ed closest to Jesus. Not to you.
God bless you and best wishes, Fr. Ed!