AT HOME AND IN EXILE

Dearly beloved brother priests in Lingayen Dagupan:

It is Holy Thursday. It is the anniversary of our priesthood. Our hearts look back to the Upper Room and we thank Him for saying “Do this in memory of Me.”  From those words, our priesthood was born. It is our anniversary today, and we are in exile unable to gather together to celebrate our brotherhood as priests. We want to put on the familiar vestments together; walk up to the altar side and side ahead of me; sit and sing and stand together to renew the promises we made when we are ordained. Tue es sacerdos in aeternum…We cannot hear it this year. We cannot sing it together today. We are in exile because of a life-threatening virus. It is heartbreaking. If this is a nightmare, will someone wake us up? Is the morning still far away? 

In this exile, it is good to remember our own Upper Room day—when the bishop laid his hands on us, ordaining us to be priests. After our Upper Room event, where did we go? After hearing “Do this in memory of Me?” where did we go? What did we do? What have we done? Where are we now?

From the Upper Room, the betrayer walked away to sell Him; the others disappeared into the dark night; there were three who went with Him to the Garden of Olives. The Lord Jesus was longing for consolation and He brought with Him the three—Peter, James, and John. “My soul is sorrowful even to death.* Remain here and keep watch with Me.”

Before this COVID pandemic, we had known fear and sorrow. We knew loneliness and abandonment. We knew frustration and defeat. We knew helplessness and fruitless labor. But now that the quarantine has given us time to reflect on our lives, we have also come to know the wrong remedies we have applied. We know the tasteless substitutes we have explored. We are aware of the intoxicating friendships we have created. We forgot that the only medicine for loneliness and frustration and depression is to do as He did…to pray and be alone with the Father. Do this in memory of Me. Pray like Me. Trust like Me. Obey like Me. Love like Me. All the others are wrong poisonous remedies. We have been lonely and will still be lonely in the future. We are not immune from it but the Lord stays with us. Give Him a chance to remain with you as you grapple with your humbling frustrations and tearful defeats. 

Where did you go after your Upper Room? 

Are you like JAMES who became invisible like a virus after the arrest? Like James hiding his identity, have we chosen the path of being incognito so we can enjoy “both worlds”? Do we hide the Roman collar and put the cross in our pockets so we can be “like the rest”? Like James, have we disappeared into the night choosing anonymity? The Gospels are quiet where James went after the Lord was arrested. But whether he acted from fear, anonymity or self-security, confusion or puzzlement, he found his way back to the room with locked doors on Easter morning. You may have been lost but just be sure you know where to go if you want to start again—in the Church, with your brothers. In the Church, with our brother priests, we have the risen Lord always. 

Where did you go after our Upper Room? 

Are you like PETER who followed from a safe prudent distance? He went social distancing in crisis; watching God’s love story unfold from the bleachers row and not from the ring side or the playing field? After denying that he knew the Lord repeatedly, the cock crowed and the Lord turned and looked at Peter…he went out and began to weep bitterly.

Peter was a brave man to follow even from a distance. He was brave to use the sword to protect the Lord from the arresting soldier. He was brave that he did not hide after the first question of the woman if he knew the Lord. He was brave, but he just reached a moment of weakness beyond human endurance. Peter is us. The Lord knows we are not bad priests but we are weak. We know what we must do, but the thorn of our flesh sometimes takes over us. Even if our own hearts cannot forgive us anymore, know that the Lord is greater than our hearts. Arise. Look up. Just believe that you are loved. Weep but keep trusting in His mercy. 

Where did you go after the Upper Room?

Did you go like JOHN to accompany the Mother of the Lord? John laid his chest on the breast the Lord; he heard the beating of the Lord’s heart and he was changed. The beloved disciple became invisible like a mystic. He saw heavenly visions as Pilate questioned the Lord about the truth. He saw divine greatness in the scourging and the crowning with thorns. He saw glory not disgrace in His crucifixion. He saw the “hour had indeed come.” He saw the invisible and he became invisible, not like a virus but like an invisible vaccine, to us who are just caught up in the drudgery of this valley of dreariness. 

It is mystics who will renew the Church. Pope Francis is right. Without mysticism religion will just be a philosophy. Now we are stripped of pastoral action. We are in exile in our rectories. We are called to be contemplatives in exile. May our pastoral action after coronavirus begin from mysticism and be accompanied by contemplation to make the world a seedbed of saints. 

From this exile, we can still proclaim “Dominus est.” Lord, You know that we love You. This has been a much too early Good Friday. May the sacrifice of this exile lead to us to our long-awaited everlasting Easter!   

Priests of the Church in Lingayen Dagupan, you are the love of my heart. In my heart of hearts, you are the best priests in the world.

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