Father Christian Dale, my dear brothers in the priesthood and my dear brothers and sisters in Christ. We can tell from the flowers, we can sense it in the air that today is about Thanksgiving. That is the primary reason why we are all hear. Thanksgiving (Pagpapasalamat). This is not a gathering for penance but for thanksgiving. The reason is clear but it is necessary that we explain further – what is this thanksgiving for?
The priesthood of Father Dale is not like a graduation from studies that deserves being given a medal or a diploma. The ordination and the priesthood is not a “graduation”. The truth is, he did not receive a stamped diploma last Monday because it is impossible to stamp to paper what he received. This is why the stamp of ordination is stamped to one’s soul and not on paper. This is not a graduation. This is not a completion of studies. There is no priest that finishes as “summa cum laude”. The priesthood is also not a championship (sapagkat) because ordination is not reaching the finish line. And although Father Dale is handsome, he did not win in Ms. Universe because the priesthood is not a contest. The priesthood is not a championship. Champions would normally stand on a podium, raise their hands in victory, and bite on their medals. But with Father Dale last Monday, he didn’t have any medals to bite. Nothing was given to him because he was made to lie on the ground and kiss the dust. It was to remind him of what was happening to him at that very moment. We are not giving thanks because he graduated. We are not giving thanks because he won. We are not giving thanks because he spent many years in his studies. It’s not about those things. We are giving thanks because God placed His trust in him.
God’s trustee (Katiwala ng Diyos). And the reason why we are giving utmost thanks is because this trustee of God is not worthy of trust. If we look at Father Dale with our human eyes, you will instantly say that like his father Del – he is well suited to become a priest. A perfect fit to become a priest. For some of us, including myself, may seem to be not suited for the priesthood. But looking at Father Dale, it seems that he is destined for the priesthood. There is no other recourse but to become a priest. But it is not that. For Father Dale is not worthy of trust which is why we are giving our utmost thanks today. Because even if he is not worthy of trust, God trusted him. He is not trustworthy. He is not good enough to be a priest. And yet God trusted him with the mysteries of God. And that is why we are grateful.
A trustee (katiwala) yet someone not worthy of trust. A trustee even if in his innermost self he is not worthy to become a priest. And there is no one here, even in his deepest core, who is worthy of the priesthood.
What was entrusted to him? It was entrusted the discipleship. Like the beloved disciples in the Gospel, his duty is to obey. Like the beloved disciples in the Gospel, his duty is to lay his ears on the chest of the Lord. Listen to His heartbeat and nothing else. But Father Dale, as he lay his ears on Jesus’s chest, is careful not to bury his head on His chest. Because if you do, you will have difficulty breathing. His ears rest on the heart of Hesus. His eyes look upon us just like the beloved disciple because his mission is discipleship. A trustee. A disciple. He entrusted His own mother. He entrusted the Gospel. He is not worthy of trust.
But we must remember that part of the duty of a disciple is to lead. To lead by example. It is by good example that people will obey, will follow. It is not by command. It is not by power. It is not by the threat of punishment that people will obey. The true leader is someone who also knows how to follow and whom we shall follow.
That is the mystery of Father Dale. He is a disciple. He is a follower. And as he follows, we shall follow, as well. The disciple is also a teacher. And the disciple teaches by example. The disciple teaches by the example of love. This why he is given the title “beloved disciple” (minamahal na alagad). The disciple was not given a name in the Gospel because it can be Father Dale or Father Jeff or Father Norman or Father Soc. Anyone. All of us can become a beloved disciple (minamahal na alagad).
Is that all? Not yet. Because the duty of Father Dale is not only to become a disciple, like the beloved disciples in the Gospel, but also to become a good shepherd, like Him who was nailed to the cross. He is now called to be a shepherd. And what is the task of the shepherd? To feed. What is the task of the shepherd? To protect. what is the task of the shepherd? To be ready to die so that the sheep may be protected.
The true good shepherd is not someone who eats kaldereta (lamb stew). The true good shepherd is not someone who enjoys eating lamb chops. The true good shepherd is not someone who eats lamb. The true good shepherd is someone who is willing to sacrifice oneself in order to protect the lamb. In protecting the lamb, this reminds us that the good shepherd must also be a lamb. The good shepherd must also be a lamb.
Who is the shepherd? It’s Jesus. Who is the lamb? It’s Jesus. Who is the shepherd whom we are giving thanks for? It’s Father Dale. And who is the lamb whom we are sacrificing to God? It’s Father Dale, as well. To our dear relatives, the family of Father Dale – be ready. As you give thanks now, ready yourselves for the moment when your son, your family, your friend, your neighbor shall become a lamb sacrificed for the forgiveness of the sins of the world.
The good shepherd is also the lamb. And the good disciple teaches by following. Is that all? There is more.
The third lesson in the Gospel is about the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus. In the early morning of last Sunday, we called him “Dale”. And right before noon, he became “Father Dale”. But how will he become a “Father”? The good father must also be a mother. A father creates. A mother nurtures. A father stands up for us. A mother cradles us on her lap. A father works for a living. A mother feeds us from her own chest. That is the mystery of Father Dale’s priesthood. Grandparents shall call him “Father”. Children, the elderly, and those who are the same age as him, shall call him “Father”. But is not enough to become a father, because the mystery of the priesthood is – with very single priest – he is also mother. Every priest is a mother who nurtures, who shall offer his own body, his own blood for his beloved.
Father Dale, this is the mystery of what happened last Monday. You are a disciple but also a follower whom we shall also follow. You are a shepherd but also a shepherd who is also a lamb. You are a father yet you are also our mother.
Do you understand all these? Do not nod your heads in agreement because I know that you don’t. Because I myself do not understand. Because we shall only understand the mystery of the priesthood in heaven. We will not be able to understand the mystery of the priesthood. The priesthood which is fatherhood and motherhood at the same time. Have you met a person like that? The mystery of the priesthood which is shepherd and lamb at the same time. Have you seen someone like that? The mystery of the priesthood which is discipleship and lordship at the same time. There is no one like that in our world but we have Father (Dale). In heaven, we shall know and understand who are the true priests.
Thank you, Father Dale. When we see you, we see the mystery of God walking by. The mystery of God’s love. The mystery of God’s light. Death is also a mystery. And Father Dale, may you live for the Lord. May you love the Lord. May you die for us and for the Lord. Take courage. Do not be afraid. Thank you, disciple and teacher. Thank you, shepherd and lamb. Thank you, father who is also mother. Thanks to you because you are Jesus for all of us.