Meditation for Priests on the occasion of the 5ooth anniversary of the First Mass in our Islands
Brother priests in Christ:
Five hundred years ago, the thirty first of March was Easter Sunday. On Easter Sunday in 1521, the first Mass was celebrated in Limasawa even before our archipelago was named Filipinas. Today, we thank God for Father Pedro Valderrama, the only priest in the Magellan fleet. That grace filled event that happened five hundred years ago today is the reason why we now celebrate Chrism Mass on Holy Wednesday, March thirty first.
There is something priceless about the first things. There is also something romantic about first things. The first is always worth remembering.
The first cry of a baby born; the first smile of a baby cradled in your arms; the first feeble baby stand and first wobbly steps; the first day in school; the first confession and first Communion; the first crush and the first kiss. The first is beautiful to remember.
The first thought of wanting to be a priest; the first time to see a seminary; the first time to eat with a priest; the first picture with a bishop; the first sotana as altar server; the first surplice and first alb; the first time to be a lector; the first time to teach catechism; the first homily; the first Mass.
When I am hurting and bored and lost, remembering my first Mass and looking at old faded pictures of the event thirty five years ago, always lights a spark and creates a glow in me. Praise the Lord for our first things. Bless the Lord for the gift of remembering!
The first things are followed by seconds and thirds and fourths, and hundredths and thousandths and millionths. Engrossed in ministry and engulfed by adulation, we continue to do the work of God, teach His teachings and give His blessings but the first love grows stale, buried in the dust of time, forgotten, then, lost. The priesthood becomes tasteless or bland if not bitter. Routine becomes the master and boredom becomes our companion. Obedience to the superior is negotiated and conditional. Mission becomes a career. Seniority replaces ministry. The simplicity becomes a trait of the past and sophistication takes over. The apostolic fire is extinguished by shallow excuses of health, pending projects and many more. We are celibates because we are unmarried but we have tied the marriage knot with money and comfort and convenience. The servant is now a bureaucrat; the steward is now a technocrat. We hide from the Lord like Adam not because we are naked; but because we are shamefully overdressed as we behold the naked wounded body of the Man on the cross whom we promised to follow and imitate.
Then like a lightning bolt, we hear a faint voice saying to us: Priest of God, you are successful, you are eloquent, you are admired, you are now rich, you have built, you are followed; but I have something against you! The Lord has something against us! It is scary to have the Lord Himself as our accuser. It cannot be calumny. It cannot be gossip. It should be true if the Lord Himself says it. He knows it all. It is not a suspicion.
We have forgotten our first love!
Yes we can be passionate, we can be doctrinally orthodox and morally strict, we can pray; but we are cold! Cold for the Lord; like the Church of Ephesus in the Book of Revelation!
Your parish is not your first love, it is the Lord! Your graduate school diploma is not your first love, it is the Lord. Your new rectory and beautified church is not your first love, it is the Lord. Your huge parish savings and successful parish projects are not your first love, it is the Lord. Your popularity, your success, your medals are not your first love, it is the Lord. The Lord is our first love and we have grown cold. We have forgotten our first love!
The Lord’s rebuke for the Church in Ephesus “You have forgotten your first love” is now echoed to us. We have forgotten our first love! We have been engrossed and engulfed, swallowed by duties while wallowing in entitlements, reveling in success, jogging in place without getting anywhere.
We have no more time for the Lord, our first love. The Lord seems to complain, “We have time for everything and everybody. We have no time for Him. We have time for business meetings but we do not meet Him anymore in prayer. The bank book is opened more often than the prayer book. We have time for the internet and we know when the internet is weak but we hardly notice that our soul is weak and sick. We have time to talk to our quarantine plantitos but we have not given Him time to speak to us.” The first love has been forgotten and forsaken.
Goodness of all goodness; mercy of all mercies, the very same One we have forgotten and forsaken is the same One who tells us what to do.
To the Church in Ephesus that has forgotten its first love, the Lord said this is what they must do—remember, repent and return.
We must remember our first love and never again forget Him. The Lord wants us to repent and abandon all the other unimportant false loves. We need to be sorry for putting the Lord on equal standing with others, with persons, with things, with places, with work. We need to repent for the poor substitutes for our first love. There is a threat from our first love Himself “I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Rev 2:5b) Ephesus is now in ruins, the lampstand has indeed been removed. It is tragic. It is puzzling. But it is true. He has done with Ephesus as He threatened.
There is a costly price to pay when we forget our first love but there is also a unique fire and glow when we keep our first love always first in our priestly heart. Our first love must be our only love.
Today as we renew the promises we made when we were ordained, please carry the piercing question with you in prayer.
Have you lost your first love? Honestly.
Are you still in love with the whole Church or just your parish? Are you still happy? What makes you really happy?
Lord, change me even if I am not ready. Do not wait for me to be ready that might never happen. Lord us bring me back to you. You are my first love! My only love! Restore to me the joy of loving you alone.