“You did not choose Me, it was I who chose you…” (Jn.15:16)
Brothers and Sisters in the Lord, today we are gathered this morning in this sacred place to witness the sacerdotal ordination of Rev. Eric Terrel, the 21st to be ordained priest since the inception of the diocese in 2002. “You did not choose Me, I chose you…” This is the motto you, Rev Eric, have chosen for your ordination day. It will serve as a continual reminder of the mystery of your vocation. What did Jesus mean by that: “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” What Jesus is probably saying may be: “Your presence here is of my own doing and so I take full responsibility. I know you agreed to work with me in this venture, but deep in your heart you know it was I who laid claim on you and so my honor, not yours, is at stake in this work.” If that is so, then the reason He said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you”, was to encourage you Eric that Jesus would be with you to help you; that He will exert all His power to make you fruitful.
For this reason, my dear People of God, when I lay my hands on Rev Eric, I am confirming not Eric’s choice of the ministry, but God’s choice of Eric. “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” Therefore, take courage, Eric, have confidence in your ministry, for Christ is for you and with you, and His very honor is at stake in your success.”
Dear Friends in the Lord, we are about to enter the year 2017 with its theme the Year of the Parish: Communion of Communities. In line with this, allow me to focus my reflection on the Identity of the Priest as a Man of Communion. I am guided here by the catechesis that Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB of Vancouver presented, speaking about the “Priest as a Man of Communion” at the International Eucharistic Congress held in Dublin on June 13, 2012. Allow me to share some of his perceptive reflection.
Communion with Christ.
At the foundation of the Priest’s Ministry is his Communion with Christ, nourished daily by the Eucharist. This Eucharistic intimacy with the Lord is the critical factor which enables his ministry to bear fruit for the Kingdom. That’s why prayer and adoration are not wasted time or a shirking of pastoral duties. On the contrary, they enable him to be really in touch with the Lord, and thus to speak of the Lord to others from experience.
Leading others to Communion with God (A Bridge between God and people).
From this personal communion with the Eucharistic Christ flows his energy to lead others to that same communion. The ordained priests lead by example. They don’t just preach about Christ; they are to model the Christian life for everyone they meet, wherever their ministry takes them. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI: ‘They are “walking billboards” that say, “this is how a Christian lives.”’
At the end of the day, what do people really want from their priests? Again and again we hear that, above all, they want them to be “specialists” in the search for God; they want priests to bring them to know the person of Jesus Christ, who “gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Pope Benedict often points out that the faithful neither ask nor expect a priest to be an expert in finances, construction, social services, or politics. Rather, they want him to be an expert in the spiritual life, a master of prayer. They come to him with questions about the meaning of life. They want to get closer to God, to pray better, to feel God’s presence and know his forgiveness in their daily lives. They want their faith to be relevant to their families and their work – and they often don’t know how. People want their priests to point out to them the path to Jesus Christ, who is the way that leads to the Father, the truth that sets them free, and the life that fills them with gladness (cf. Jn 14:6).
Leading others to Communion with one another
A priest is called to lead the people entrusted to his care to God, to be the instrument through which “by partaking in the Body and Blood of Christ,” they “may be gathered into one by the Holy Spirit.” His role as a man of communion is to be open to all, capable of gathering into one the pilgrim flock which the goodness of the Lord has entrusted to him, helping to overcome divisions, to heal rifts, to settle conflicts and misunderstandings, and to forgive offences.
Insofar as he unites the family of God through his ministry, the priest is a bridge between his people and God, serving them as a brother and shepherd. He builds up the Church by fostering harmony in the wonderful diversity of vocations, charisms and services among his people, some of which might well be far outside his “comfort zone.” Ever the reconciler, the priest calls the faithful to unity around the Eucharist that the community celebrates together and over which he presides.
Men of Reconciliation
As men formed by communion with Christ and leading others to share in that communion, priests are also acutely aware of instances where they have failed, thereby causing untold suffering and disorientation, and betraying the fundamental obligation of the priestly ministry itself.
The Church of our own day is everywhere urgently appealing to her priests and bishops to work towards healing “the wounds inflicted on Christ’s body,” by fostering “unity, charity and mutual support in the long-term process of restoration and ecclesial renewal.” We are being admonished to be “spiritual physicians” who mend not only the souls of others but also their minds and hearts. In a word, the present moment in the Church’s life calls for priests to be men of reconciliation. Moreover, I believe that we can effectively accomplish this ministry of healing because we know ourselves to be “wounded healers,” burdened by our own failures and sins, but buoyed up by confidence in the forgiveness offered by the Lord who is “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4).
The healing of broken relationships of trust is a lengthy process of re-establishing communion. Reconciliation always remains a work in progress: a mission to be carried out in order to strengthen communion where it is weakened and surmount the divisions that impair it. The strength to accomplish this will only come from women and men who are profoundly rooted in friendship with Christ and find their nourishment in the Eucharist.
Voila – the Priest as a Man of Communion!
Dear Rev. Eric, in a little while, you will be ordained Priest: In God’s Providence, you have been called by God and by the Church to serve as priest in, of, and for the Diocese of Paranaque, as part of this year’s diocesan thrust towards communio. What advice, what exhortation can I give you in the few minutes that remain before you are sacramentally transformed in the image of Christ our Great High Priest? My fatherly advice – though really inadequate – is simple yet time-tested.
1) Strive in God’s grace to be holy. In the power of the Holy Spirit, learn to know and love the Lord Jesus Christ in an intimate and personal way – and love the Church as a communion of life and love modeled on and rooted in the Blessed Trinity. Concretely, make prayer, both public and private, your first priority. Prepare for every celebration of the Mass and the Sacraments by quiet prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, by a meditative reading of the Scriptures and of spiritual writers who lead you to the Lord and to the heart and soul of the Church’s Tradition. Be faithful to the Liturgy of the Hours around which your day will be structured. Always maintain a good spiritual director who will challenge and even inspire you; and make the Sacrament of Penance a frequent and regular part of your life. Pray with your brother priests – and this I highly recommend: priests who gather together to pray with one another and to support one another in ministry. In all these ways, you will be well-prepared to lead your people in public prayer, and to preach the living Word of God as it comes to us through the Church.
2) Remember that priestly formation is not over with ordination – it is only beginning! We human beings are not maintenance-free. The Church exists not because we and our people are perfectly formed as saints of God – but because all of us are imperfect, all of us flawed, all of us in need of redemption. We priests are not an exception to that rule. When problems arise in our lives, we need to take care of them – sooner rather than later – with all the means that God’s grace in His mercy has provided us.
Ongoing formation means ongoing study, a readiness to listen and learn, a readiness to develop God-given talents, a readiness to struggle with those aspects of life and ministry which we find difficult. It includes learning from good priest mentors – and from laity and religious who embrace the Church’s mission with fidelity and love.
3) In God’s grace, make celibacy not a life of isolation but a life of love. After all, it is the Lord’s own style of life to which you have been called and for which you have been formed. Celibacy is a wholehearted form of love that enables you to embrace God’s family just as spouses and parents embrace one another and the family God has entrusted to their care and formation. Celibacy is a life-long commitment of love that can enable you to serve your people with deep pastoral charity – in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, in poverty and in plenty, in joy and in sadness, in life and in death.
4) Finally, stay close to your family – to your parents so long as you have them – to your sisters and brothers – to all those who have a way of helping you keep your feet on the ground! Maintain healthy friendships – among your brother priests and priests-in-process, and among the laity and religious – friendships that will help you to be a good priest, friendships that will help dispel anger, frustration, isolation, and self-deception.
In summing everything up, I am reminded of a song imprinted on a T-shirt of another priest while we were having dinner. It says:
Amare et Servire…Domino; In omnibus Amare et Servire! It is a song in Latin; do you know what it means? I have my own version. Do you know what “et” stands for? It means ERIC TERREL! Thus, the song means: Fr. Eric, from now own, let your one desire, your mission in life be: TO LOVE AND SERVE THE LORD…IN ALL THINGS!
As for you, my dear People of God, as we await the birth of our Lord in a few weeks time, on this day of his priestly ordination, I entrust Rev Eric Terrel to your prayers. Pray in company with the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose Solemnity of her Immaculate Conception we will soon celebrate, that he may be a good priest who day by day serves the Lord and the Church with fidelity, love, and zeal – in season and out of season.
May the good Lord bless and keep you all in His love!
+Bp. Jesse E. Mercado, DD
03 December 2016
Feast of St. Francis Xavier