My answers to those questions involve three “C’s”. The first “C” is competence. Every priest must be a man of competence. Competence does not necessarily mean being good at handling finances, nor is it merely connected to one’s facility in writing and public speaking. Knowing you, you will understand it if a priest is not good at fundraising or public speaking, provided you see the face of God in the face of the priest.
So the competence that the Church expects from priests is that the priest must be a man well-versed with God. We might not know how to count; we might not know interior designing. We might not know architecture and engineering. I know you will excuse our lack of knowledge about these things. But I know you will be confused if you ask a priest about God and he is not able to give you an answer.
The priest of competence must know God, not only from the books of Theology and catechism, but the competent priest must also know God by experience. That is the first requirement of a priest’s competence.
The second thing that is asked of us as men of God and men of the Church–the second “C”, so to speak—is that we be men of commitment. There are different ways of defining commitment. But I have my own. I believe that the synonym of commitment is generosity. Somebody who is committed must give. And somebody who is not good does not give; even if he says he is faithful to his promise, he is actually a liar. Somebody who is committed must give all the time because it was by an act of generosity that God saved all of us.
I have told you time and again that I do not feel guilty giving away the gifts that you give me. And if you discover that the gift that you have given me has been given to another person, that is how it should be. I can only promise you one thing—I will make sure that your gifts do not return to you.
It is part of our life to give what we have received. And if we start to keep what we ourselves have received from you, that would be a mark of a problem in our priestly lives. A few months ago, I was bothered by an experience that I had visiting a couple at whose marriage I assisted some years back, when I was just newly ordained, that was around 13 years ago. I was talking to the wife and what she related to me struck me. She excitedly recounted to me how she and her husband celebrated their last wedding anniversary. She said, “Father, do you believe this? Elmer treated me to Jollibee.” And I asked her, “When was that?” And she said, “Two weeks ago.” And I was struck that two weeks after she was treated to Jollibee she was still bubbling with joy, excitement, and pride.
I went home with a prick in my conscience, and I thought to myself, “Blessed are the simple, indeed. Blessed are those with simple joy because they will be happy all the time.” I said I was carrying a prick in my conscience because here I am, a priest, who is supposed to sacrifice and should not even be entitled to Jollibee. But my friends, my family, and my loved ones treat me out to restaurants, give me the choicest food. In fact, they have run out of giving me food because they have given me the best. And they could not use their imagination any longer to give me more. I felt guilty and I said to myself, “Lord, let me discover, not only the joy of a Jollibee meal but also the joy of a simple life.” That is commitment.
The third “C” that is expected from us as priests is that we be men of consecration. I also have my own definition of consecration. Consecration has two words: “con” and “sacred.” “Con” is Spanish for with. So the word means “with the sacred.” And how can we become sacred? How can we become holy? The bread becomes holy, the wine becomes holy so that sins may be forgiven. In other words, we cannot be holy unless we forgive.
Some people say that we cannot be holy unless we serve. But don’t you notice that there are servants among us who carry so much grudge, resentment, and bitterness in their hearts, even if they are serving. You cannot go to heaven unless you forgive. That was the first mission of Jesus. He came so that our sins may be forgiven. Consecration, commitment, and competence—these are the marks of true priesthood, according to our readings for today.
But why am I telling you this? I am the only priest here. Why am I telling you this when all of you are laypeople and I am the only one concerned? There are two reasons. First, I will not be able to remain committed, competent, and consecrated unless you help me. I have told you this, time and again. Give us a chance to sacrifice for you. I know you love me and I know you love my brother priests, but do not spoil us, do not pamper us. Give us a chance to carry your crosses for you because that is why we were called.
The second reason I am telling you this is that competence, commitment, and consecration are not the duties only of the priest. You also must be competent in the things of God, committed and generous without counting the costs, consecrated for a purpose: to forgive one another.
And I want to assure you that if I see you competent in God, generous and forgiving, I, too, will be inspired to be a good priest for you because you have been a good flock to me.
Let us pray for the holiness of priests. Let us pray that all priests may be blessed with holy parishioners so that in the end, we may glorify God together as a Church.