Saturday, September 26, 2009


N.B. What follows is a talk I gave to clergy and catechists on the occasion of the Annual Catechetical Conference of Archdiocese of Guam on September 26, 2009

First and foremost, I would like to thank Reverend Larry Claros for the gracious invitation for me to give a talk in this catechetical conference. Back home in Manila, this is my bread and butter. I teach, preach, talk, write, and do a whole lot with anything that involves words, that is, educate, and otherwise, move, push, cajole, inspire, enable, empower, and energize - and, disturb – people with the power inherent in something we all take for granted – the power of words – and, let me add very quickly, the power of the Word with a capital W.

I have been teaching for the past 32 years – and counting!

At the very outset, let me be honest with you. I do not mean to take potshots at the organizers, but let me tell you that I do not like the title of my talk. I was asked to talk about “the role” of the pastor on the faith formation of the parish.

Before you bowl me out of this hall as persona non grata, let me explain.

Role denotes and connotes function. It refers, as we all know, to something we need to fulfill, a slot that needs filling in, a space that needs to be occupied. It refers also to something that needs to be done, a responsibility that, in the event the one originally deputed to do it cannot or is unable to fulfill it, can be substituted for, by someone else, by anyone, for that matter, who has the qualifications and all the titles necessary for him to do it.

The secular world is all too familiar with this. One goes through a certain number of years of studies to qualify oneself; one goes through a series of qualifying or board exams, and after all the efforts expended and the appropriate degrees or academic titles are earned, one goes through a ritual that puts one in the same league as those who have previously earned their laurels.

The title, degree, or academic achievement puts you in the same level of the literati, the periti – if if you will – or resident experts on just about any topic under the sun, including the sun itself. The three or more letters after your name, qualifies you then to stand in for another who holds an equivalent or similar degree, and automatically makes you qualified to substitute for, to stand in place of, and to represent somebody of the same caliber as you are.

Such is the way of the secular world.

But such is not the way the ordained pastor, priest, preacher, and presider in the Roman Catholic tradition follows.

If we are to speak of the former, then all one needs to do to be qualified on something is to measure up to standards and submit oneself to a formal ritual, say the commencement ceremonies, or graduation rites.

If we are to speak of the latter, however, the ordination rites go far beyond what civil rituals in the secular world can offer. We speak of something that only those who understand sacramental theology can fully fathom. We speak of something that has no parallels in secular culture, for sacramental culture, in the Catholic tradition, as we catechists know only too well, refers to signs that effect what they signify, not just on the superficial plane of diplomas and certificates that are good only for hanging on walls, but they are signs that point to a very deep change in the person who receives that sign. There is a 64 dollar word for it … we refer to such a deep inner change as ontological, not merely existential, change. I don’t mean to bore you, but it only means something that changes from deep, deep down the person, not just external, superficial, and cosmetic change that the postmodern world, unfortunately, is so well-versed in.

But I sound like I don’t address the topic at hand. I was asked to speak about the role of the pastor on the faith formation of the parish. So far, I have only succeeded in registering my dislike for the word “role.”

Let me tell you now what I like with regards to the title, before I speak more of what I don’t like.

I like the fact that “pastor” and “faith formation” are placed side by side, almost like as if to say the two are intricately related. I like this, not just owing to a mere personal preference, but because the Church that I love likes it that way. Yes … priest – and you may call him any which way you like, like ordained minister, pastor, father, etc – and faith formation are inseparable concepts. If they are inseparable, when we say priest, we just don’t refer to a role, a function, or an office. The priest is no bit player in the drama called life. The priest is not one who “struts and frets his hour upon the stage.” Whilst I submit there is an element of drama in the Roman Catholic liturgy, the liturgy itself is never just drama. The priest is not part of the “dramatis personae,” with a role to play in a mere performance that we refer to as liturgy. He does not fill-in for anyone. He does not substitute for anyone. He does not take the place of anyone. He is no mere stand-in, like a proxy at a board meeting. Yes … despite the fact that some priests behave like Messiahs, I am sorry, but the world happens to already have one … only one, and that is Jesus Christ the one Lord and Savior!

What then am I talking about?

Simply this … priest and proclamation go hand in hand. Martin Luther, who did some right things, but didn’t do them rightly, hit the nail right on the head when he insisted on preaching as the main task of the priest. But this is where his teachings get really really off the mark when he insisted that a priest who never preaches the Word of God has stopped functioning and thereby ceases to be a priest.

So let’s get things straight from here onwards.

And this for good reason ... If we claim, as indeed, we have claimed just now, that priest and proclamation go hand in hand, that pastor and evangelization are inseparable entities, then in order for us to talk about faith formation, we can neither prescind from, nor can we ignore talking about the identity of this priest-proclaimer, this priest-prophet, this priest who also acts as pastor in your respective parishes.

And I said I didn’t like the word “role.”

It’s been several years since I did a careful reading of Fr. Donald Cozzen’s book “The Changing Face of the Priesthood.” If I remember well, part of what he is saying is that the priesthood has been steadily evolving from a mere “cultic model” of priesthood that is more at home to being in the sacristy and engaging in sacred rituals, to an image of “servant-leader” who is engaged in service to the world and to society.

I don’t know about you, and what sort of theology was drummed into you, but I just don’t like the word “role.” From where I come, playing a mere “role” in the liturgy, no matter how solemn, is not my theological cup of tea. But neither does playing the role of a social worker fit my understanding of a priest exactly to a T.

The priest maybe that at times. As pastor, he may be engaged day-in and day-out in presiding over the liturgy. The priest may be servant-leader, too. He may be manning soup kitchens even on a regular basis, and doing community-organizing week-in and week-out, but the priest is more than just a cultic leader and definitely more than a community-organizer.

And although this may not be too much to people’s liking, I need to do theology with you, here and now. And mind you, theology is meant to be, and has always been, at the service of the Magisterium. I would sincerely hope that as catechists and evangelizers yourselves, I would not have a repeat of what in at least one theological center in Manila, certain students do every time a document from the Vatican is read in class … hoot, howl, heckle , and – pardon the pun – raise hell, against anything that comes from anywhere near Rome, the Vatican, the Holy Office, and the Pope!

You see, when we speak of priest, we need to speak of proclamation. For I have it on the authority of long-standing Church teaching and tradition that as ordained ministers, all priests – and, a fortiori – all Pastors, are changed men from deep inside. Yes, you guessed it right. Like all of you who received Baptism and Confirmation, priests received an indelible sacramental character that changed them – here comes again that 64 dollar word – ontologically. And if they are changed men, from deep within their person, the soul receiving a seal – a sphragys in Greek – then we cannot speak of mere roles. We cannot speak of mere function, like being a servant-leader, a coordinator, or part of a team of rah-rah boys to goad us on, and give superficial encouragement to the weak of heart.

When we speak of priest-proclaimers, priest-preachers, and priest-celebrants of the Liturgy, we speak not of someone who fits a social-functional model of leadership and whose essence of priesthood is thus reduced to service. We need no rites of ordination for social workers, house-builders, and community organizers. But in the Roman Catholic tradition, priests are ordained for ministry, and ministry, for the less Latin-challenged amongst us, as you well know, comes from the word “munus” which means task or office. From a sacramental-ontological point of view, therefore, we speak – nay, the Holy Father, following Church tradition, speaks of the TRIA MUNERA given as gifts, to men ordained as priests.

This tria munera, more properly understood not in terms of three distinct tasks, but in terms of three aspects of the same priestly office, thus points to someone who is configured unto Christ, priest, prophet, and king. Apropos this, John Paul II, of happy memory, wrote:

“If we analyze carefully the conciliar texts, it is obvious that one should speak of a triple dimension of Christ’s service and mission, rather than of three different functions. In fact, these functions are closely linked to one another, explain one another, condition one another, and clarify one another. Consequently, it is from this threefold unity that our sharing in Christ’s mission and office takes its origin.”

I understand that today’s postmodern sensibilities are loathe to accepting the concept of “power.” Whilst preconciliar theology often tended to emphasize the powers of the priesthood, in its attempt to explain the tria munera, it will be worth our while to get to the bottom of what those “powers” really were meant to convey. Maybe the word is not too pleasant to our postmodern ears, but, on the basis of our sacramental-ontological model of priesthood, the tria munera, is first understood as gift, and only then, as an office. It is also first understood as participation, before it is seen as potestas or power.

And this is where, again, we need to dig a little deeper theologically. Presbyterorum Ordinis says that “priests are signed with a special character and so are configured to Christ the priest in such a way that they are able to act in the person of Christ the Head.”

In persona Christi capitis Writing in connection with this, Jean Galot says: “the priestly character is not added to the other two (Baptism and Confirmation). It deepens the mark already there by imprinting upon the self the project of a priestly life that is to come to fruition with the help of graces conferred during the exercise of ministry.” And this is the important point: “What distinguishes the priestly character from the character impressed by baptism and confirmation is that of a man’s being is conformed to Christ the Shepherd. The image of the good shepherd is impressed on the soul of the ordained person as a principle and basic blueprint of the ministry to be carried out … The priestly character is character in the highest degree, in its most complete realization, the most intense participation in the priesthood of Christ.” Participation comes first, as gift, not as merited, earned, and claimed. This participation stands at the basis of the priest’s power. That power is not for oneself, but for the community, for others, for the people of God. The priest acts in persona Christi, and in persona ecclesiae – a man for others.

Where, then, does all this deep theologizing lead to? Where do we go from here, then? This is the juicy part, but the juice does not come from the skin. It comes from the pulp, the center, from deep down. Getting to the core, then, lends us the luxury to go into the details with serenity, surety, and certainty. Understanding the deep theology of the priesthood allows us sufficient latitude to go into far-ranging consequences that would not hold water if they did not get down to, and spring from, the core. These consequences might sound simple but never simplistic.

Let me go to some of them …

1. A priest is a pastor and proclaimer. He cannot just be a pastor and sit idly by watching evangelization happen – or not happen, as is often the case. He has to make it happen, for, apart from the Bishop, he is the one who participates most (essentially, not just in degree) in the tria munera of Christ the Supreme High Priest. Benedict XVI speaks of the primacy of proclamation thus:

“Jesus speaks of the proclamation of the Kingdom of God as the true purpose of his coming into the world and his proclamation is not only a discourse. At the same time, it includes his action: the signs and miracles that he works show that the Kingdom comes into the world as a present reality which ultimately coincides with Jesus Himself … Word and sign are indivisible. Christian preaching does not proclaim “words,” but the Word, and the proclamation coincides with the very person of Christ, ontologically open to the relationship with the Father and obedient to His will … For the priest then, being the “voice” of the Word is not merely a functional aspect. On the contrary it implies a substantial “losing of himself” in Christ, participating with his whole being in the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection: his understanding, his freedom, his will and the offering of His body as a living sacrifice.” (Address to the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation of the Clergy).

2. Evangelization is not an adjunct, not a value-added feature to the work of education that we do. Evangelization cannot be relegated to a department or subject-area that needs to be entrusted only to a department head or subject area coordinator. We are called to be evangelizers, and not just to give quality education. We educate by evangelizing, and we evangelize by educating.

3. The third flows from this second statement. Religion ought not to be considered a mere subject to teach but a way of life to share. For this to happen, an appropriate culture needs to be established in school and that culture needs to be a patently Christian, Catholic culture. If it is a way of life that needs to be inculcated, part of our responsibility as evangelizers is to see to it that that culture becomes the dominant culture, and not as a mere sub-culture as happens in many so-called catholic universities in the mainland. Evangelii Nuntiandi, number 20 speaks of the need to evangelize culture or cultures. But it insists that it should go beyond putting on a thin veneer on the surface. For this to happen, we perhaps may need to put a cap on the number (relative to the total number of students, of course), of non-christians admitted to our schools, especially if their aim is only to get a good education. Our goal is to guarantee that our students get to breathe and live daily an experience of Church, of getting to know first hand that it is possible to live an experience of Church even in an educational setting, where integration of faith and life happens on a day-to-day basis.

If you notice, I have been a little biased in my talk. I have to be. The topic given to me was the role of the pastor on the faith formation of the parish. This I did, by first dismantling and doing away with the word “role.” We spoke of munus, of participation that translates into potestas, and not the other way around. We spoke of integration, of faith and life, of the fact that being gifted, one is sent. We spoke of the fact, too, that being consecrated (ordained) we as priests are also by that very fact, commissioned. Our consecration leads us to mission. This simply put is what that means … We cannot just be cultic, without being catechetic in outlook and action. We are priests, pastors, preachers, managers, administrators, social workers, community organizers. But we cannot be all this alone and still think we do justice to our priesthood. We ought to be all this and evangelizers all at once.

A tall order, you say? You bet!

And this is why I would like, at this juncture, to quote Vicki Thorn, the founder of Project Rachel:

“A priest is a man clothed in tenderness, who speaks God’s mercy, who prophetically pronounces the truth, unpleasant though it might be, and who reflects God’s love to a hurting world. Sometimes he is shoring up souls and sometimes he is breaking up concrete. He’s comforting the grieving and challenging the young. He’s soothing the dying and blessing the newborn.”

And this leads me to something that up till now, you may be thinking I might have forgotten. Where does all this talk about priest, prophet, and king lead all the lay people here in this hall to? Where does all this leave you, my dear lay friends? If the priest is proclaimer par excellence, what are we to make you? What are you to make of yourselves?

Before you consider yourselves off the hook, hold your peace. Before you decide that the first speaker this morning is guilty not only of male chauvinism but also of clericalism, lend me your ears a short while more.

Your pastor needs you. The Church needs you. And you are not just needed in a selfish and manipulative way by your pastors, for want of work horses to do the dirty work for them, or battering rams to forge their way toward hostile territory (read: non catholic grounds). No … evangelization is as much your mission as ours. By virtue of the royal priesthood of the laity, to which we as baptized and confirmed individuals, prior even to our ordination, were also called to, consecrated for, and sent. We are all in it together. This is the basic and common Christian mission – the great commission, as sometimes it is referred to.

Pope Paul VI already made that clear long ago … “the primary and immediate task of the laity is to bring the gospel to bear on the affairs of the world.” Lumen Gentium teaches us that lay faithful participate in Christ’s prophetic mission when “the power of the gospel … shines out in daily family and social life” (LG 35). The laity also share in Christ’s priestly mission when they unite themselves to him and to his sacrifice in the offering they make of themselves and their daily activities (34). And they participate in Christ’s royal mission when by serving others in Jesus’ name, they spread his kingdom.

Although it sounds like a truism and a triviality, I would like to say, that it does not do much good to have a leader in the parish if there is not many willing to be led. It does not make us get too far if we have a shepherd’s voice booming out and no sheep to hear his voice. It takes two to tango. One of the big problems of postmodernity is the so-called crisis of leadership. But I would like to venture out and add, that it is as much a crisis of leadership, as a crisis of the led. We priests and laity are all called to the same goal and mission. It is no accident that the word “parish” in English, really came from a Greek word paroikos which tells us everything about the relationship between pastor and laity. Paroikos means a house beside mine. It means “dwelling beside.” I don’t know about Chamorro culture, but back home, neighbors do not just dwell beside one another. In Hebrew mentality, neighbors just don’t give a “hello and good-bye” greeting day-in and day-out. They were experts on hospitality, on walking together, on doing things together, living as they were in the midst of so much natural and man-made hostile elements, as nomads.

Vicki Thorn understood it. Mother Teresa understood it too. And so did great women luminaries and saints of the stature of St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena and many others. They took priests to task. They even pointed a menacing scolding finger at the Holy Father and the anti-Pope, as Catherine did. But their prophecy of denunciation eventually led them to annunciation. They did not just tear down walls. They built a Church. Together, they chose to gather and build community. They took to their roles as priest, prophet and king themselves like unto Christ the Supreme Shepherd. But without in any way insisting to become what the Lord did not call them to be, they did what they were called to, like all priests are called to prior to their being ordained for ministry – be evangelizers and disciples of the Lord. Like Mary, his mother, the first disciple, the first among the redeemed, blessed among all women, who conceived and brought forth the Word become flesh.

And if we insist on speaking about roles, this is it … all of us, whether ordained or lay, are called to conceive and nurture the word, until we reach the fullness of stature of Christ, the Word eternal!