Meditation on the occasion of the twenty fifth priestly anniversary of Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas, Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan
How fast time flies! It has been twenty five years since the late Jaime Cardinal Sin laid his hands on me and ordained me a priest. What a blessing it was! What a blessing it continues to be! My vocation has been shaken by crises and subjected to endurance trials. All those trials and difficulties were blessings from God. I thank God for them. The pains that come from God are not meant for our stumbling. The trials that come from God can only make us better.
How shall I describe the past twenty five years of my life? It is grace. It is a gift by a generous God to an undeserving man. So much has been given to me—more than I need, more than I deserve, more than I can use, more than me. The blessings of God for me are larger than me. Everyday of my life since October 5, 1985, I have never missed a single day without offering the holy sacrifice of the Mass thanking God ceaselessly for calling me to be His priest. Whether on international travels or on vacation, in the thick dark forests or by a calm sea, on solitude retreats or on busy days, I have never missed a day without offering the Mass. In offering the Mass, I am most priestly. Being able to stand in the presence of God on behalf of men and being able to face men and offer them the love of God even if they are thousands of miles away, what an awesome grace! That grace is mine as a priest. I must never take this grace for granted. I must never get too familiar with this grace because this power is not even given to the highest of angels. It is mine. I am His priest.
My thanksgiving for my silver jubilee as a priest is not just a personal song of Magnificat. I thank God not alone but as a son of my Mother Church, a brother of my people, a disciple among disciples. I admit that the temptation was strong to celebrate my silver anniversary in quiet solitude as my heart has always longed for. Although I wanted to be a monk earlier in life, God called me to be a pastor in the world. I cannot and I must not celebrate like a monk. That is clearly not the will of God for me. I must celebrate as a bishop among his people—disciple among disciples, a brother of my people and a son of my Mother Church. My silver jubilee is not just a story of grace between God and me. There are thousands of people who became channels of grace for me through the years. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would live at Villa San Miguel under the shadow of a great man of the Church and eventually be allowed to witness the awesome unfolding of the history of God’s love for the Philippines. I was there as the story of EDSA was happening. I was there! I did not know why God put me there. It is grace.
I never thought that my appointment as the first rector of the EDSA Shrine would last me fifteen years. When my Archbishop gave me the assignment, he only told me to set the structures in place; that I was only to be a transitional rector and my duty was just to pave the way for the real rector. In fact, he did not install me as EDSA Shrine rector because he always considered me only as temporary rector. The EDSA Shrine was my first born, my first love with whom I shared my priestly dreams and passion. How did it happen that the temporary rector stayed on for fifteen years? It is grace. The EDSA Shrine community is a grace for my vocation as I am sure the Shrine has been a blessing to so many tired and weary souls. When the Holy Father sent me to Bataan to shepherd the people of God there, I went with love and obedience but with excitement and joy also because I have heard of the valor and rich heritage of that peninsula bloodied during the last war. EDSA Shrine was my first love but Bataan was love at first sight. I fell in love right away with her seas and mountains, her brilliant sunrise and fiery sunsets. But most of all, I fell in love right away with the tenderness of her people. After my brief and quick five year ministry in Bataan, I was asked “What was my most memorable moment in Bataan?” right away I answered: Everyday!
God willed it that I celebrate my silver year as a priest in Pangasinan as the pastor of this metropolitan See. I never thought this would happen when Cardinal Sin ordained me in 1985. Strange indeed are the ways of the Lord! God is a God of surprises. God loves to play jokes on people who plan their lives. Although Bataan was my love at first sight, Dagupan has quickly become the apple of my eye. Pangasinan excites me. Its people make my heart beat faster like seeing your crush. The priests of Lingayen Dagupan give me fire in my heart and blow strong winds beneath my wings. I don’t know why. The heart has reasons reason does not know. It is grace. I cannot explain it. It is a mysterious gift from God.
I have so much to be grateful for. I have been blessed more than I can ever imagine or ask for. Even then, let me dare bare my soul and ask for your gifts as I celebrate my silver year.
My brother priests, I ask for the gift of your commitment to celebrate Mass everyday regardless of the number of parishioners attending or the Mass offerings from the sponsors. Celebrate Mass daily even if you it is only the sacristan beside you. Don’t say it is a waste of time. It is such a great blessing to offer just one Mass. Believe that one single Mass has power to change the cosmos. Can you imagine the power of the daily Mass? And you have that power priest of God! No day without a Mass. A day without Mass is a day without breath. If you feel that way when you are unable to offer a Mass, you have begun your journey to mystery. Celebrate the Mass with utmost reverence vigilant not only for validity but for fruitfulness. Keep the fire in your heart each time you offer the Mass; this way, you can set other hearts on fire also.
My brother priests: relish the sacrament of penance. Relish hearing confessions regularly with much patience and compassion because we are sinners ourselves. We are not angels. If you start to think and act like angels, you will end up acting like beasts. Frequently go to confession yourselves and avail of the grace of the sacrament of mercy often. The barometer to gauge the depth of your spiritual life is the frequency of your confession. You may be a good administrator or a fast builder or an eloquent teacher or a popular pastor, but if you are far from the sacrament of penance, you are only yourself. You are not another Christ.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, make me happy and complete my joy for this silver jubilee by promising me that you will pray for the sanctification of priests everyday. Pray the rosary everyday and offer one decade for the sanctification of priests. Pray to keep us pure and humble and chaste of heart. Pray to keep us courageous and faithful and honest. Pray for us to discover again the power of being poor, the elegance of simplicity, the eloquence of working hidden. Every reform in the history of the Church started with the reform of priests. The crisis of the Church is really a crisis of saints. We lack saints but we have too many celebrities. The luster of celebrities is temporary. The saints will shine like the stars for eternity. May all priests be saints and may I be a saint with them.
What a great mystery, what a great gift the priesthood is! The decreasing number of young men ready to answer the call can be a symptom of a deeper crisis in society—the loss of the sense of mystery and the loss of the meaning of gifts.
In a society that is only focused on the palpable and verifiable, on the logical and scientific, mystery is absurd. Mystery has no place.
In a society where everything seems to be available in the classified ads and the media offers everything for sale, all gifts have price tags and no one needs to thank.
If we regain the sense of mystery and awe, the capacity to dream and wonder, we will regain the meaning of living. If we can say “thank you” and “please” more often, we shall realize that so much in life is a gift and we have so much to thank for. And we can be happy again!
Priests are mystery men. Priests are gifts of God to the world. Priests are gifts of the world to God. I am His priest and I am grateful, forever grateful. Amen.
September 28, 2010
+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan