Homily delivered by Bishop Chito Tagle -Relic of St. Therese
Homily delivered by Bishop Chito Tagle during the closing Eucharistic Celebration for the Visit of the Relic of St. Therese at the Manila Cathedral on March 10, 2008 at 9 a.m.
Our two readings for this Monday within the fifth week of Lent are about two women. Susana who was accused of committing adultery and in the Gospel the woman who was caught in the act of adultery and presented afterwards to Jesus. Two women who were considered anomalies when it comes to the prescriptions of the Jewish Law. And especially the guilty one deserved death. But instead of death both of them got justice from God, the compassion of the God of truth and justice. In this Eucharistic celebration we are giving thanks to God for another woman, St. Therese, who in her own way was an anomaly in the Church. She entered Carmel way below the required age but through some action of God – God’s truth, justice and compassion – she was able to enter Carmel and has become an inspiration to so many people, those who will not be part of the cloister of Carmel. A cloistered nun has been declared not only a doctor of the Church but also the millennium saint from that cell of solitude from the Carmel Lisieux her prayer, her influence, her spirituality has really spread out and reached us today. What an anomaly! But this is how God’s grace works.
The pilgrim saint has proven to be a co-pilgrim of the whole church especially of her beloved priest. And so this Eucharistic celebration is focused on St. Therese and the priesthood. Come to think of it the priesthood is also an anomaly in the Church – a pleasant anomaly. People asked our priest “Bakit ka nagpari? Ang guwapo mo pa naman?” Anomaly! Ssabi ng iba “bakit ka nagpari ang galing galing mo pa naman. Anomaly! The compassion of God makes us anomalous people, bearers of the mission of the Good News. So, allow me to briefly reflect on St. Therese and Priesthood. This theme is quite comprehensive but I would like to dwell on three simple points.
The first point that I want to share with you is the deep sense of vocation that we find in St. Therese. In fact, it was this passion to respond to God that made her courageous to join the pilgrimage to Rome and to face the Holy Father, when it was forbidden to talk to the Holy Father, she dared. She had the deep sense of calling, and she knew she could not betrayed the God who calls her. The God who has captivated her. The God who has claimed her life. She had to be true to her calling. But already in Carmel, her vocation continued to grow. In fact, in her journal she said that she began to sense a vocation to become a priest. A vocation to be a doctor. A vocation to be a missionary. A vocation to be an apostle. But how could she be those things in the cloister? If I were her superior, I would tell her “Therese, please decide. Are you really being called to the solitude of Carmel? Are you being called to be an apostle? In what way? Are you being called to be a doctor? In what way? And how can you be called to be a priest?” But she sensed it. And that led her to deep prayer and scrutiny of the Word of God. Why did she get this attraction to become a priest? You know what she said? If I were a priest, I would so lovingly, utter the words of consecration that will make Jesus present in the altar. If I were a priest, I would so lovingly bring Jesus to people who are looking for Him. Her intention was to bring Jesus with love. And she saw that it was the priest who was primarily called to teach the Word of Jesus, to bring Jesus to people and how she desired to share in that. And she said I will do this with love. I will do this with love. But intelligent as she was, she knew she could not become a priest. She could not become an apostle, a doctor, a missionary. But reflecting on the first letter to the Corinthians of St. Paul, Chapter 12 where the different gifts of the spirit are mentioned, she was struck when the 12 th chapter ended with the words “But I will teach you a more excellent way. Aspire for the greater gift and that gift is love.” And so she discovered, I cannot be a priest, I cannot be a doctor, I cannot be a missionary but I can be love. I can be love in the Church. And if there is love all the other ministries will work. Without love a preacher is just a clanging cymbal. Without love a doctor could just be a specialist. Without love a missionary could just be a tourist. Love is everything. Without love all the other callings don’t make sense. I cannot be these different ministers. But I can be everything in love. And she cried, maybe in an ecstatic moment of prayer, “I have found my vocation. My vocation is to be love in the Church.”
Dear brother priests, St. Augustine already called the priesthood, Amoris Oficium it is an office of love. He mentioned this when he was reflecting on this dialogue between Jesus the risen one and Peter. “Peter, do you love me more than these?” And every time Peter answered “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” And after that triple profession of love, after each moment, Jesus says “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep.” Shepherding, the pastoral life and ministry are all rooted in love. Love of Jesus, love of the Church. So, dear brother priests, with St. Therese we hope we can also exclaim “My vocation is love.” And I will do everything the Ministry of the Word, the Ministry of Sacrament and Prayer, the Ministry of Community, with no other motive but love of Christ and love of the Church. And you our dear religious and lay faithful, pray for our priests that we may be love in the Church. Ipanalangin po ninyo ang mga paring habang tumatagal ay nagiging masungit, para maging mapagmahal. Ipagdasal po ninyo ang mga paring parang hindi na marunong magmahal dahil masyado nang nasaktan ang puso, ipanalangin ninyong maghilom. At sana po maramdaman namin sa inyo ang pagmamamhal na magpapalakas sa aming puso na huwag maghinawang magmahal. So that with you and for you we can explain our vocation is love.
The second point that I want to stress. According to the Carmelite tradition, St. Therese had her spiritual brothers. The Carmelite sisters have their companions, their co-journeyers whom they called their spiritual brothers and most of these are priests. Priests with whom they journey through prayer, through penance and once in a while through correspondence. It is part of the mission of Carmel to pray for priests, to offer sacrifices for priests. And St. Therese tells us vividly of her joy when she received her first spiritual brothers when Mother Superior assigned to her priests who needed prayer and accompaniment in their mission. A certain Fr. Viller, who was accepted to the noviceship of the White Fathers the day before Therese died. And the certain Fr. Alfons, I think he was a missionary in China. I think he joined the Mission Institute of Paris and how she loved them. But it is interesting that she prayed not only for the priest. She prayed also for the faithful under their care. And here her inspiration was John 17, where before he died Jesus prayed not only for the disciples but for all who will receive the Good News through them. So, St. Therese following the example of Jesus prayed for priests and for the Church entrusted to the priests. She did not make a dichotomy between the priests on the one hand and the community that is being served on the other hand. This is only one Church and if you pray for the pastors you have to become concerned also in prayer and fasting for the flock. It was a holistic view arising from a woman who did not have professional, exegetical and theological training but from the wisdom that comes from prayer, she knew love for priests brings within love for the Church. And she died and one of her last words was a quotation from St. Therese of Avila “I will die as a daughter of the Church. I am a daughter of the Church.” So, prayer for the priest is really prayer for the whole community.
Dear brother priests, St. Therese and the Carmelite family and all the religious and I’m sure our lay faithful pray for us. You know at every ordination, the litany of the saints is one of the most moving parts of the ceremony. I always imagine it as a moment when the Church on earth and the Church in heaven stop for a moment and come together to pray for someone who will be raised to the priesthood. It is the joining of the voices and supplication of the pilgrim Church and the triumphant Church so that God in His mercy will pour the spirit on this candidate. But deep in my heart I know the litany that began on our ordination day continues. I know my mother and father are in an endless litany praying for me. I know my relatives and friends are in an endless litany praying for me. I know that every priest is sustained daily by the never ending litany of people who care and that every Eucharist we are mentioned. And we bishops we are even mentioned by name. The litany does not end. Our priesthood is due to the prayer of people answered by God. So, dear brother priests, we will not become priests without the people who pray for us. And so please, let us serve them well. They deserve it. And a reminder dear brother priests, please pray for the people. Do we pray for them?
I don’t know how many still stick for the practice of the Misa Pro Populo. Where you’re not supposed to give any stipend because it is for the people. Alam po ninyo, ako guilty dyan eh. May mga lalapit na mga tao, “Bishop ipagdasal mo naman yung anak ko.” Ako naman, artista rin naman po ako alam nyo naman. “Ah, talaga, bakit po? Ano po ang ipagdadasal?” Naku concerned na concerned. “Ano ang pangalan?” Naku, kukunin ko ang pangalan. Pagkatapos nun, makakalimutan. Tapos makikita mo ulit yung tao sasabihin, “Bishop, thank you very for your prayers.” Ayan na, ano nga ba ang hiningi nitong prayer? Tapos aarte naman ako, “Ano, nakapasa na ba sa board?” “Hndi ho, magaling na ho siya.” “Ay oo nga pala. Oo nga pala, kasi alam mo nalito lang ako e.” Nalito ba o talagang hindi ka nagdasal? Kaya minsan po pabiro sabi ko sa mga tao “hoy wag kayong lalapit sa amin para sa dasal. Hindi kami nagdarasal.” Biro lang ho iyun. Pero it’s a good reminder, so, dear people of God, please no matter what you see in us and because of what you see in us, in our weaknesses, don’t end the litany. Continue praying for us the way Therese prayed for her spiritual brothers.
And finally, Therese discovered her vocation to be love in the Church and to be loved for her spiritual brothers by espousing the Little Way. The Little Way. She said, “I have little wings, I am not an eagle but in my little wings I keep my eyes focused in the sun. I will not become an eagle but I don’t have to be because it is Christ who is the true eagle. And I am just a little bird. This is consistent with her little way in one other portion of her journal, she calls herself the toy of God. The play thing of God. Do with me what you want to do. For as long as it will give you joy. The Little Way. And the priesthood is supposed to be that. That’s why the PCP II calls us Servant Leaders. The Little Way. That we have to be honest. We know that the priesthood is prone to competition, ambition, riches, prestige, social and cultural supremacy. Kapag nakitang pari ka, pauunahin ka. Kapag nakitang pari ka kahit speeding ka hihingi pa ng blessing yung police. The little way. Minsan nga po sa isang kasalan nakalinya ako sabi “dun kayo sa presidential table.” Sabi nung magulang nung kinasal “Father, pari kayo, ang pari hindi lalapit sa pagkain, ang pagkain ang lalapit sa pari.” Nung narinig ko po iyun sabi ko, “Lord, salamat tinawag mo ako.” Oh, we can be tempted and lose the Little Way of Therese! The humility of the Little Flower is a model for priest and for every one. Dear brother priests, let us rediscover the littleness of our vocation. St. Paul in his Letter to the Corinthians said, “Where were you when God called you?” How many of you were geniuses and great people when God chose you. We were all humble when we were chosen and we hope that humility will continue in the ministry. Especially in our times, the prophetic role of the priests is being challenged. Yes, we have to be prophets, but we have to be humble prophets. A proud prophet is a dangerous prophet. After all, we are supposed to be prophets of the Church which is the Sacrament of Salvation and never the Sacrament of Damnation. But who can be a sign of salvation? Only the humble one, the crucified one. The Proud one cannot speak of salvation but only of damnation. The little way is crucial. I better end. I think St. Therese wants to go elsewhere. There are more things that she shared that are valuable to the priests. But let us rest on those three. And as her life was coming to a close, she said, Mon Dieu je vous amie, my God, I love you. And with a smile, she died. This is Peter saying again, O Lord, you know that I love you. It is Therese saying, my God, I love you. And we hope it is you and we priests, saying, my God I love you.