By N.J. Viehland
POWER PLANT MALL, Makati City, PHILIPPINES – Let me share my transcript of the homily of Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila for the closing Mass for the Oct. 3 First Gathering of the Clergy of the Metropolitan See of Manila. It ended with priests singing “you are the answer to my lonely prayer.” This is what Cardinal Tagle said the priests are to their flock. He asked priests not to disappoint Church members.
Text of homily:
The Levites in the first reading declare to the people today is holy, we must not be saddened. I can only say, “Amen. Today is truly holy, and there is no room for a sad face and a sad heart.” I guess we can spend the whole night, if we ever fall asleep tonight, and even the whole day tomorrow reflecting on the significance of today. It’s only around 3:00 and already I can consider these past hours a real feast: a feast for all the senses – a feast for the mind, the spirit and the heart.
We have been fed not only by deep thoughts and wonderful words, not only by good food, but also the witness of the nobility of the human spirit – even through jokes – even through those two crazy men (see following photo)Somehow I feel the Spirit could work through them. (laughter) And so, I don’t think I need to add to the possible spiritual indigestion that we might get.
But this Mass being offered for us and for all the ordained ministers of the Church and the readings for today give us valuable lessons. Pardon me if I don’t expound on them. I will let the Holy Spirit just speak to us regarding these thoughts.
It is very clear from what we heard from Vatican II, from Bishop Mylo and the reflection on the Gospel presented to us also by Bishop Nes Ongtioco, that from the Bible up to the recent Ecumenical Council, there is a consistency of insight, of doctrine, even, that we the ordained inherited the apostolic mission. As Jesus sent the apostles so we are sent. And if we want to understand better what it means for us to act in persona Christi capitis, [In the person of Christ, the head] I think we have to go to those very clear words of Jesus, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. If I your Lord and Master washed your feet, then you should wash each other’s feet.”
We can only act in the name of Christ in the area of mission and ministry. Yes there is sacred authority, but without mission and ministry, acting in persona Christi could end up being an ideology and not anymore the grace of ordination. We know from the history of the Church how fatal it would be whenever acting in the name of Christ, in the person of Christ is located on sheer power forgetting the sending, the mission, and the call to serve.
And that’s precisely the Gospel for today . They were sent. Aside from the 12, another 72. And let me just indicate another few things for our reflection.
First, he sent them in pairs – sacramental brotherhood. Yes, the calling and the sending are intimately personal, but because they are personal, they open our hearts to other people. And so the calling is also communal. We cannot walk alone. There is no room for lone rangers in Jesus’ view of the ministry. There are only pairs… sent in pairs.
“Kaya kung minsan, ang mga pari who cannot live and work in pairs, ang solution natin pag hiwalayin. Baka hindi tayo sumusunod sa mga turo ni Hesus. Parang gusto ko sabihin, [ That’s why sometimes, with priests who cannot live and work in pairs, our solution is to separate them. We might be violating the teachings of Jesus. I want to tell them…] ‘Work it out! Work it out, you were sent in pairs.'” Who are we to violate Jesus’ way of sending?
The second point is he sent them in pairs as lambs among wolves. He did not send wolves among lambs. The lamb of God sends his ministers and missioners as lambs. In persona Christi . If he is a lamb, then those who act in his person should also be lambs. In the way Jesus describes being a lamb, it is total vulnerability. No body bag, no sandals, not greeting anyone on the way because it is not my purpose to form a fans’ club. I have only my companion and the message of peace of the kingdom. And when you have your brother minister and the message of the Gospel you have all that you need.
Third is part of being lambs and laborers is eating and drinking what is offered to you for the laborer deserves his pay. Normally, we interpret this part, “for the laborer deserves his pay” in terms of we can demand something. But in the teaching of Jesus, “the laborer deserves his pay” means if you are given something to eat and drink, eat it and drink it and do not go to another house that will offer a better meal or a better drink. That is what you deserve – what the house is able to offer. Para bang ano ito? Good news ba ito o ano? [It’s like what’s this? Is this good news or what?] But it’s in the Gospel. I cannot change this.
It is surprising that what is often used to recall a principle of justice – a laborer deserves his payment – is actually, in the mind of Christ as “Whatever the people could give you for payment in terms of food or drink, accept . You do not set it. What they can offer, that is what you deserve.”
And finally, in the first reading, it is not enough to imitate Ezra in proclaiming the word of God to people. I think we should also imitate the people. They open themselves to the word of God and the people upon hearing the word of God were in tears. They were weeping when they heard the words of the Lord. They were mesmerized by the words that they had missed during their exile. And they probably repented for their lack of fidelity to the word.
I ask myself, countless of times I have been opening the book of the law of Moses, proclaiming. But how many times have I wept listening to the word of God. Have I allowed my heart to be vulnerable to this two-edged sword called the word of God? Do I allow myself to be affected by the word of God? Do I allow the word of God to judge me, to disturb me, to cause me discomfort, to lead me to repentance so that I do not only proclaim. I also listen and I am judged by the word of God – another form of vulnerability.
Let us thank God for the gift of this mission and ministry to ordained life. Let us appreciate our companion priests for we were sent in pairs. Let us be like lambs – vulnerable – if you want to embrace the person of the lamb of God who was persecuted by wolves.
Let us be simple, content with what people have to offer. What they can give us is what we probably deserve – a different type of measuring what we deserve.
And finally, we are not just proclaimers of the word, but real servants, hearers of the word, allowing ourselves to be hit, to be touched unto tears by the word of God.
We said this is a holy day. We should not be sad. I can see Jesus really happy and it goes with this: he said to them, to the disciples, “The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few. So ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for the harvest.” We are mysteriously those laborers. But we are not just sent. We are the answer to the prayer directed to the Master. “Send laborers.” And the prayer was answered through us.
When I was much younger, there was the song – You are the Answer to my Lonely Prayer. Yung nakakaalam po paki kanta lang yung tono… [Those who know it, please sing the tune] For the sake of the young ones. (laughter)
We call the priesthood a gift, and for many people a priest or pairs of priests sent to the community is the answer to their lonely prayer. And then they see us, we are like angels sent from above. Let us not fail Jesus. May we be truly answers to the prayer sent by the community to the Lord of the Harvest. May it never be told that we will pray again because God sent the wrong answer. Let us be the answer to people’s prayer to God.