Ordinations are nothing new to me. Besides being ordained, I have been serving in the rites, which happens every year and sometimes several times in a year, ever since I was invested with the soutana ten years ago. By now I consider serving in them as routine rendering every gesture, almost every word and every part of the rite familiar and almost second nature. Familiarity however has its own disadvantage. It could render the rites empty of meaning, where gesture remain as gestures and words remain mere words - all done in an effort to fulfill what was required flawlessly and rather quickly. Even in my own ordination I found it hard to focus myself and imbibe the significance of the occasion as I got distracted from servers who seemed unfamiliar with what they were doing.
Today however with the preparations for the ordination of Rev. Midyphil Bermejo Billones I got myself the chance to look at the rite from a distance - uninvolved yet fully participating. From it I draw forth the significance of the rites and relate it to my journey in the priesthood affirmed in my ordination two years ago. This article then is a series of reflections on the meaning of the priesthood based on the rites that celebrates the call and actualizes it in the manner one lives the ministry.
For me the priesthood is a way of being in this world, a manner of journeying which immerses us all the more in the life of the people called to holiness. And this is affirmed, actualized celebrated and set forth in and by the rites of ordination.
The rite of ordination is celebrated within the Eucharist because it is “the source and summit of the whole Christian life.” Called to become the servant-leader of the community he is ordained precisely in the Eucharist to remind him that “no Christian community is built up which does not grow and hinge on the celebration of the most holy Eucharist.”
The ordination proper starts after the Gospel, after the Word of God has been proclaimed to the assembly and to him who is to be ordained to make him aware that it is God who calls, it is God who gathers and it is God who initiates. Whatever is done is merely our response to God’s initiative akin to the passage in John which affirms that we love “because God has loved us first.”
The Ordination begins with the calling of the candidate by name. This affirms once more that this is a vocation, a personal call from God “who call us by name.” It reminds us of the words of Jesus to his disciples, “It is not you who chose me, it is I who chose you.” He sets no criteria, no standards, and no qualifications are involved. He is aware of our limitations as He was when He chose Peter. And yet He calls. For me the mystery of the call and its dilemma could only be resolved in this one affirmation - our God chose us because He is humble. And since He chooses in freedom, it is responded to in freedom and in humility, constantly aware that we are unworthy servants.
The candidate could always back out from the burden of responsibility. But if he answers “Present” this fiat will not just be a once in a lifetime utterance. In the short span of my priesthood this particular scene haunts me every time I neglect a responsibility, or flee from the rigors that beset my pastoral ministry. I know that I will be repeating this response time and again - sometimes in gladness, sometimes dragging my feet, sometimes to something unsettling and unfamiliar. But he will continue to call and in freedom we are called to respond. Another mystery of call comes to mind for despite our answers God never repents from his call.
The Call is then followed by the presentation of the candidate to the bishop. The parish priest in the name of the community asks the bishop to ordain the candidate. The bishop inquires whether he is judged worthy. The priest testifies so after inquiry from the community and those concerned with his training. The Bishop as the representative of Christ agrees and the people clap their hands to give their assent to the choice.
For me this is one of the most beautiful dialogue in the liturgy of ordination for it some how reveals the true essence of our priesthood in relation to the community. He is taken from the community and is given back to it. True, as a priest he is in some way set apart, the meaning of consecration. But he and his ministry could never be understood apart from this community setting. He does not stand outside. In fact he remains in the community for he is ordained for the community, to enable God’s priestly people to actualize their common priesthood, so that they may indeed become God’s holy people. (cf. PCP II 510-515) In the same way the community is responsible for him, for his growth, in the way he discharge his ministry for after all he is the fruit of their faith. The call to collaboration between bishop. priest and lay is so clear in this particular rite.
After this the Bishop in his homily explains to the people the function of priests as representatives of Christ in whom they share His role as Teacher, Priest and Shepherd. As representatives of Christ they are servant-leaders of the community and should do so in the manner of Christ, for they are “signs and the instruments of Christ’s presence and activity” in the community.
As such the bishop then instructs the candidate both as a son and as co-worker in the manner he should discharge his duties in forming a genuine Christian community. In his address the preaching of the Word holds prominence for after all the community he is called to serve is a community formed and nourished by the Word. The method, the bishop advises is simple: “believe what you read, teach what you believe and put into practice what you teach” so that by word and by action the priest may build up the community entrusted to his care.
Here the bishop advises the priest to be always conscious that in his ministry he is sharing in the work of Christ. He is the instrument of Christ in this world and so he must struggle everyday to become what Jesus became. “Modeling ourselves to Christ” is not aping him but in a deeper sense demands that we live our vocation in the same faithfulness as He lived His, accepting all its implications. Our spirituality as priests then demands intimacy with Christ through our personal encounter with him in prayer and in the performance of our ministry.
Then the bishop examines the candidate and urge him to declare his intention to undertake these responsibilities before the community.
The first resolution which he is asked to fulfill is to discharge his duty as Pastor and Shepherd of the community, not on his own but together in communion with his fellow priests and as a co-worker of the bishop. As a priest he should not act apart from the community of priests. In the short span of my ministry I realize the wisdom of this pledge and why Jesus “made twelve” to share in his mission - it is a lonely thing to march alone.
Second, he is asked to discharge conscientiously his duty as Priest by celebrating “faithfully and religiously” (two important words which I forgot when I tried to “professionalize” my priesthood) the sacraments which were established for the sanctification of the church.
Third, he resolves to exercise his role as Teacher and Prophet handing down the teachings of Christ and his Church fastidiously, faithfully guarding its purity and preaching it “in season and out of season.”
Fourth, he resolves to live more closely to Christ by living the spirit of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience. Here he reaffirms his vow of celibacy which enables him to give himself “with an undivided heart” to the task entrusted to him (Here it is good to note that the hindrance is not always a woman but can also be a thing!). He resolves to strive to live in poverty as a way of being more configured to the person of Jesus “who became poor for our sake.” (c.f. PCP II 542-549) Indeed it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God and harder still to help establish it while remaining rich, and worst while enriching oneself. It would be very hard to remain faithful and generous like Jesus.
After this the candidate goes to the bishop who clasp his hand as a father, and in the presence of the people promises filial obedience. In promising to obey, he sacrifices his will for the sake of the Gospel, putting his heart and mind at the disposal of those “who have been set above him and who must render an account of this charge to the Lord,” the bishop. In this particular instance the role of priests as helpers of the bishop are made clearer. It is through the person of the bishop that the Lord is in the midst of his people. The priest merely renders assistance.
This particular rite though inseparable from the counsels is given a special rite accompanied with a special gesture. It is only now that I have come to realize its implication, for among the counsels, sublimating one’s will to another is the hardest.