It was still dark. The place was silent, except for small shifting movements of blissfully sleeping children. Little Romy was still in dreamland. It was 5:29 in the morning.
The clock ticked 5:30 and the alarm bell seemed to echo a scream, “Wake Up!”. All in a span of just 15 minutes, Little Romy, along with the rest of the seminarians, had to hurdle the greatest feats of tidying up the beds, tucking away neatly the “kulambo,” washing their faces, brushing their teeth, and dressing up. At exactly 5:45 a.m., Little Romy and the rest, had to be in the chapel for the morning praise. At 6 a.m., came the meditation. There was no room for tardiness.
Little Romy learned that discipline is key to survival.
Decades after, Little Romy and the rest of the boys, travelled into the path of ordained priesthood. No longer were they called Little Romy, Cutie Tony, Darling Brosh or any other names attached to innocent children. Leaving their childhood behind, their names were now preceded with reverence. This time, they were called “Fathers.”
And as these Reverend Fathers plough through the years of priesthood, they put on clothes necessary for a shepherd. Learning to survive the temptations, evils, issues, obstacles and crisis surrounding priesthood is a life-long journey, which must be accompanied with the constant reminder of who and what priesthood is all about. Behind closed doors, lies the naked truth of who they were, who they are, and who they should continually be: Shepherds of God’s people.
A SYNTHESIS OF A NAKED PRIEST
Stripped of all the layers of priestly monotony, neglected missions, division among parishioners, and crisis among Shepherds, what exactly is in the heart of a naked priest?
Msgr. Jesus-Romulo Rañada reminded the Clergy of the Diocese of Novaliches of the salient points taken from the Symposium On The Priesthood And The Gospel Of Mercy, “Ang Pari At Ang Awa’t Habag ng Diyos.” The Symposium was held last June 13, 2016 at Santuario De San Paolo, Casa Milan, on the occasion of the 50th Sacerdotal Anniversary and of the 75th Birthday of the Most Rev. Antonio Tobias, D.D., Bishop of Novaliches.
In his talk “An Attempt At A Synthesis: Salient Points, Vital Opportunities And Crucial Challenges To Our Life And Ministry As Priests,” Msgr. Rañada spoke about the priest and the mercy of God as one.
This was discussed in the different talks held during the day: (1) “Jesus’ Message Of God’s Mercy And Compassion: Towards A Joyful Living Out Of Our Priesthood” by Rev. Fr. Danilo Pilario, CM, SThD; (2) “The Priest In Pope Francis’ Vision Of A Church That Goes Forth To The Peripheries: Rekindling Our Sense And Love Of Mission” by Rev. Fr. James Kroeger, MM, SThD; (3) “Nurtured And Nurturing: The Priest And The Sacrament Of The Holy Eucharist He Celebrates” by Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Cruz, SThD; (4) “The Pastoral Ministry Of Mercy And Compassion To Priests And Among Priests: The Grace Of Shepherding The Shepherds” by Most Rev. Mylo Hubert Vergara, DD, SThD.
Msgr. Rañada stressed the need for reflection on these points, not only on the part of the Clergy, but also with the Faithful, in order to, “better understand our situation and to help us in our effort to be faithful priests.”
A SYNTHESIS ON GOD’S MERCY AND COMPASSION
Msgr. Rañada unmasked four theological elements in Fr. Dani’s talk as follows: (1) Mercy is a relevant but forgotten concept, (2) Mercy is God’s main attribute, (3) Miserando atque eligendo, which means “because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him,” (4) We are called to me merciful just as the Father is merciful.
He reminded the priests that, “one of the most powerful homilies that we could ever hear is when we preach about God’s mercy.” He added that Mercy, being Biblical, is “something that we really need to preach.”
A priest is then reminded that behind closed doors, he was already molded for a revolution of tenderness. He added, “Medyo tayo, parang ma-mahigpit, masungit and so the call for a revolution for tenderness–to be merciful.”
A SYNTHESIS ON THE PRIESTS OF THE PERIPHERY
So, what is a naked priest actually like? Summarizing the ten points of Fr. Kroeger’s talk, Msgr. Rañada simply asked, “How can you not be friendly, tender and loving to people to whom Jesus is close to?”
“Are we capable of receiving and giving affection?” He added as a reminder of who they were back the and who they should be right now. Msgr. Rañada firmly warned against the “terrorism of gossip,” while reminding the priests about the importance of popular piety or devotion and that a naked priest loves his mission with great passion.
A SYNTHESIS ON THE NURTURED AND NURTURING PRIESTS
And what have these priests behind closed doors have forgotten when they left their seminaries?
Msgr. Rañada affirmed the two salient points of priesthood: nurtured by the Word of God and by the Body and Blood of Christ and “nurtured listener to a nurturing preacher.” A priest therefore, must never forget a Eucharistic celebration to be both authentic and meaningful.
Citing this as difficult, Msgr. Rañada, ended the synthesis by saying that without nurturing the communion of each other, priests can be a cause of division and an obstacle to the building up of the community.
VITAL OPPORTUNITIES AND CRUCIAL CHALLENGES
Now, that the priests have been reminded of the ideals of priesthood, what exactly can they do, given the present challenges of the time? Msgr. Rañada hoped that every priest would rediscover the core of the Gospel.
“What is the core, the essence of the Gospel, if not mercy?” he pointed out. He, however, added that rediscovering the Gospel at its core is not enough. The challenge, he said, is to become merciful priests, to renew love of the Eucharist, and of revitalizing the communion of the Church.
He emphasized the importance of understanding and being merciful to the Bishop. He asked the Clergy to see the “humanity ng bawat isa, especially our Bishop.”
THE PARTIAL CONCLUSION OF THE STORY OF LITTLE ROMY
It was now 4:42 in the afternoon. Little Romy, now known as Msgr. Romulo Rañada, stood up before the Symposium and ended his talk with a personal note of how he experienced God’s mercy through the hands of the Bishop of Novaliches.
Addressing directly, Most Rev. Tobias, he said, “I was a minor seminarian when Msgr. Antonio Tobias was rector of Our Lady of Guadalupe. And when I looked back, Bishop, I experienced God’s mercy with you. Because I remember, when I was a young seminarian, you could have kicked me out. I remember every year po, meron kaming dialogue with the bishop bago kami umuwi sa Summer. Yun na yung pinakanakakatakot na sandali nung kami’y mga young seminarians. Nandito pa kaya ako next year?…Everytime is an experience of God’s mercy. Bishop, natandaan ko, sabi mo sa akin noon, “Malakas yung bokasyon ko. Malakas daw yung bokasyon ko kaya siguro’y kahit na andami kong mga foolishness when I was a young seminarian, the Bishop has shown mercy to me.”
In Miserando Atque Eligendo, priests stripped of everything reveal a nakedness in the Joy, Love, Mercy, and Compassion of God. (~Jyn E. Aragon, M.D.)