MANILA— Here’s the message of Fr. Elias Ayuban, JCD, the Provincial Superior of the Claretian Missionaries of the Philippine Province, for the upcoming presbyteral ordination of Rev. Mon Edbani, CMF, and Rev. Dante Boringgot, CMF on July 16, Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the 171st Foundation Anniversary of the Congregation of Missionaries Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Dear Reverend Deacons Mon and Dante,
Greetings of peace and well-being in these trying times!
I am writing you not so much as your provincial superior as your (older) brother. A few days from now, you will be ordained priests. By then, people will start calling you ‘Father’ – even those who barely know you. However, you will not cease to be deacons if by the Greek word ‘diáconos’ we mean ‘servant’. Please remain forever ‘deacons’ (i.e. servants), even more so as priests, for we are called to serve and not to be served (cf. Mt. 20:28).
They will address you as ‘Father’ not because of who you are, but of who you represent. You signify Christ and, thus, you become an alter Christus (another Christ), unworthy you may be. Always remember that you are called not because you are worthy, but you become worthy because you are called. You will now be a bridge builder, a pontifex, for you will be tasked to bring people closer to God and God closer to His people.
To be able to do that, you must be a close friend of the Triune God because as the Latin saying goes, “Nemo dat quod non habet” or “No one gives what one does not have.” Possess God in your heart, radiate His saving grace when you celebrate the sacraments and communicate His abiding love when you proclaim the Word. You do not only have the obligation to carry out these offices; the Christian faithful have also the right to receive them in their fullness (c. 213).
Be mindful that you are not the owner of the sacraments; you are only a humble dispenser and steward, so you should not behave as if you are the boss and proprietor who can decide who will receive the divine grace that the sacraments bring forth and who will not. Never confuse “pastoral reason” with the “reason of the pastor”. The former has to do with “salus animarum” (i.e. salvation of souls); the latter is a form of clericalism which is the root of many evils, according to Pope Francis.
When you preach, do not simply rely on the spur-of-the-moment inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Also allow the same Spirit to speak to you through the saints and the learned who have studied the Scriptures. Sound exegesis tempered with your faith-experiences make a good sermon. Lead the people to God through your preaching and not to yourself. You must decrease so that Christ may increase in you (Jn. 3:30).
Never get tired of listening to the Spirit, to your brothers in the community and to the people entrusted to your care, even if the latter think differently. Audire (to listen) and obbedire (to obey) are mutually inclusive and require each other. We cannot obey if we do not listen and listening serves no purpose if it does not lead us to obedience. Both happen in the context of prayer, but do not only “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17). Above all, be a man of prayer in your actions, words and silence! Take heed of the words of St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words!”
To bring people to God, you should be passionate for them. Our vows of poverty and chastity become more meaningful and life-giving when understood and lived from the optic of love and solidarity with humanity and creation. The vertical dimension of the cross represents your intimacy with the Divine, but it is not complete. Your priesthood also requires the horizontal dimension which is your communion with the people. Journey with them, even if at times you stumble with them. Visit them in their houses in times of joys, but more so in times of misfortunes. Be a friend to both the rich and the poor, but if you have to choose between the two because your schedule can only allow one, choose the poor. The rich may have other friend-priests. The poor may only have you as their friend and since they cannot repay you, “you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Lk. 14:14).
Do not give up prophecy! (Pope Francis, Letter to consecrated men and women, 2014). The alarming unfolding of events in our country should impel you to make a stand in the light of the teachings of our Mother Church. Do not be a bystander for that is not our vocation. While we listen to everyone, our bias should be in favor of the afflicted because the Lord hears their cry (Ps. 34). To be neutral and silent amidst oppression “favors the tormentor, never the tormented” (Elie Wiesel). But the Gospel should always be our compass and not any ideology, however appealing. Think and act with the Church: “sentire cum ecclesia” for you are Her priest. Walk with her, not ahead, not behind.
Finally, keep the white linen towel (maniturgium) that you will use to clean your hands after the ordaining Bishop anoints them and give that to your mother as a gift. When the Lord will ask her in heaven what merit does she have to enter the Kingdom, then she can say with the white piece of cloth in her hands, “I offered my son to be Your priest”.
Devotedly your brother in the heart of our Mother Mary,
Fr. Eli, CMF