This exhortation was given on the traditional prayer vigil for those who are to be invested with the cassock and surplice – a vigil dedicated to Mary. This is printed not just for our newly invested seminarian-parishioners, Virgilio Tolentino and Mark Hormigoso, but for the readers that we too may help these young men better appreciate their formation to the priesthood.
What does it mean to wear, to be invested with cassock and surplice? I would like to base my reflection with you from that perspective of the liturgy hoping that what you could not show in physical size you would demonstrate in your bigness of heart and strength of their character.
In the liturgy the sautana and the roquete or their ancient version, the alb symbolizes three things.
First it symbolizes baptism – in fact it is the baptismal garb, the white garb donned by the baptized to signify that he has become a new creation. It is a sign of being clothed in Christ. I repeat, the sautana is a baptismal garb, the only difference is the size, the cost and the style – but as it is, it is a baptismal garb. So to think that now you are different from the rest, to think that now you are over and above the rest, to think that now you are not just special but super special, to think that now you have on you a new found dignity, are all preposterous thinking. In other words wearing the sautana does not make you different from an altar boy here or from Arle there – all of whom are baptized.
Where does this bring us then? The sautana reminds us of something very, very important. The sautana since it is a symbol of our baptism reminds us of our first vocation. The first vocation is not the priesthood nor parenthood nor married life. The first vocation is the vocation of every baptized: the first vocation is the vocation to love. To love means to be ready to lose one’s life for Jesus. To love means to be ready to sacrifice oneself, one’s time, one’s effort, even one’s treasure and talent for the church, for the community and for God. It is not a different call from the rest of us, but with your sautana you will be constantly reminded of who you are and what you ought to manifest to others. Remember you cannot proceed answering the second vocation – the priesthood, if you have not responded well to the first vocation. Your sautana will remind you of that first vocation and the imperative that one could not proceed to the second without fulfilling the first vocation.
The second symbol of the sautana is that it signifies withdrawal from the bustle of life and from utilitarian tasks. For practicality’s sake it means that your sautana must cover your street clothes or anything that would suggest ordinariness. In other words don’t wear colored or printed shirt under your sautana – you would not just look buki, you would also be liturgically ill-trained. The sautana is necessarily long, so even in hot weather you cannot have a short sleeved sautana or have it mini-skirted. It is necessarily long because of its significance, that is, it should cover ordinariness, it should conceal the mundane, it withdraws you from the hustle and routine of ordinary life and make you rise above and beyond them. Thus, the third symbol – white, follows the second.
White is an eschatological color. It is the color of Jesus’ garb when he was transfigured on Mt. Tabor and appeared as the Lord of glory, it will be the same garb of the angels and the elect in the liturgy of heaven as the book of Revelation portrays. What do these say to us then? The simplicity of white means, that there is a life beyond this life. And one can only gain it if one forfeits this life for the life that is to come. The impracticality of your sautana in a world prone to comfort and pleasure will remind us always that unless we lose our life in the Lord, we will end up to nothing in the life to come.
After some time, I’ll give you four months you will begin feeling its inconvenience not only as you wear it but as you wash it, as you look for a place to hang it and as you always do by taking it off as you enter the refectory. Now it is still pride, now it is still excitement that makes you want to wear it but one day and the day will come soon when wearing it becomes an inconvenience you want to do away with. Some of you would not wear it at mass anymore. And to think that some of you were fighting tooth and nail to have it. But isn’t this inconvenience part of dying to ourselves? Isn’t this the mark of the priesthood which we could seldom see now? Isn’t this a sign priests wear to remind people to work for and to look beyond this life? Isn’t this a sign that it is only through dying that one can be reborn to eternal life?
Symbols will remain mere empty symbols if the symbol has no foundation in reality – if my life is not a constant denial and a constant dying to the world for Christ.
And so I would like to complement these thoughts by making you aware also of the “dangers” of the sautana. Let me start with former President Erap – an Erap joke I got from “Eraptions”. At the presidential inauguration in a reception in Malacanang, Erap spent more time with his whiskey bottle than with his guests. Emboldened by the intake of spirits he decided to ask what appeared to him his most important lady guest to dance a tango. The guest, to Erap’s surprise, turned down the request. Erap asked again and this time the guest said: “Erap there are three reasons why I will not dance with you. The first is that you obviously had too much to drink. The second is that the orchestra is not playing a tango but the National Anthem. And third, I am Cardinal Sin.”
First danger of wearing the sautana, you will look differently when you are in your sautana. Back in Malaybalay I have classmates who were nuns. They were angelic, like angels in flowing robes and their faces seem to glow – living with them was dangerous for a celibate. But one time we went to the beach and they took off their habits and of course they change them for beachwear. When I first saw them, I was more than surprised. They looked totally different in their natural selves so much so that I immediately thanked God without any hesitation for the gift of celibacy.
Looking different is not synonymous to being different. Appearing godly is different from being godly. Appearances deceive. Appearances are not real. It is dangerous precisely because Jesus said: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men's bones and every kind of filth. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.” A sautana is a symbol but indeed what is a symbol if there is no reality to symbolize? What will a sign point to when that which it points to is not there? Beware of the law of compensation! You may prefer to appear what you are not and be contented with mere appearances.
Second danger, you will be treated differently. Have you heard of a man in priestly robes who was arrested for swindling? He used the sautana to fool people! When you are in your sautana you will be treated differently by people, you will get the best seat, not mentioning the choice parts of the poor chicken during a fiesta. You will be the “center of attention”, the electric fan will be turned to your direction and the heads of young ladies too, despite and in spite of your looks. What a privilege! And not only that, you will be raised on a pedestal. From now on you will run after the expectations of people, you will be hounded by what you ought to do and not do, your mother and father, your sisters and brothers, your benefactors and neighbors and friends and the friends of your friends will all think you will become a priest. Then you will realize that with all these privileges and attention heaped upon you, you have also lost your freedom. This is the danger when people think we are different, but what is worse is when we ourselves think that we are different from the rest. No wonder Fr. Alex Menez once said to us, “the less you proclaim your being seminarians and the less you expect the privilege and attention given by our society to seminarians, the better for your growth as persons and as Christians.”
Am I discouraging you from wearing the sautana? No. I love my sautana, I still cherish the day I was invested with one. I still hang them carefully. Don’t ever misunderstand me on this. If I’m telling you this it’s as if I am saying to you, “Boy, I do hope you know what you are getting yourself into!” My only role here is to point out to you the dangers of having one, and my hope is that your awareness of the dangers may keep you vigilant. That is why we have this prayer vigil. We are here to pray for you and with you, because you are going into something quite dangerous for authentic Christian and human growth should you not use them well. What will happen tomorrow is not just a celebration of thanksgiving and praise, it is first and foremost a supplication, a praying on bended knees, a prayer, which we start even now. Let Mary serve as our model – she who was humble; she who never sought the privileges a mother of a miracle worker could have had; she who remained in obscurity in the glory of her Son; and she who was always there when something goes wrong. Mary is a wonderful model for those who are privileged and those who are accorded honors of distinction. She may never have been accorded with any dress of distinction in her life, but what she failed to show in her dress, she showed in her actions, in her faithfulness, in her concern. And before people would place on her a crown of gold, she was given long, long before the distinction of being called “Mother and Model.”