I am writing to you from Puerto Azul. I am attending a seminar on the ongoing renewal of priests. While walking in the garden, my attention was caught by a leaf that I saw falling from a tree.
I caught the falling leaf with my hands. In my mind, I knew that the fallen leaf was a symbol of me. I need some rest. It feels like I am falling out and my backache is bothering me again. That leaf was me.
Looking at the leaf more closely, I saw a hole in it, probably eaten by a caterpillar or a worm. I really felt like the leaf. Fallen, with a hole, eaten up and dry. Don’t you sometimes feel that way too?
After giving my best, I end up being misunderstood for my motives. Sometimes, the ones I want to help reject me outright. There have been so many times when I felt that my efforts were not appreciated when my toils did not yield any fruits.
I know how Peter felt when he tried fishing all night and caught nothing. I have blessed, advised, counseled, and absolved; and they return to me worse than before. If that will not discourage you, then I really admire your optimism.
It is times like these that make me feel and think that all hard work can only lead to pain. If I will work less, and give some for myself, maybe I will be less pained. Less work, less pain, less disappointment. No, I will not give in to this!
Hard work is not the prelude to pain. Hard work is the door that leads to beauty, greatness, and happiness. When I offer, I must not keep on looking at what I had given up. When I give up something, I should also give up looking back at it. Looking back at it will only make me regret, will make me hesitate, and might even make me take back what I had already sacrificed.
After giving up, I should start looking at what I gain. What do I gain? I gain God, I gain love, I gain holiness, I gain life. Doing this will give me the joy of sacrifice. No turning back. No looking back. The best is yet to come.
I have changed my mind. The symbol of my ministry as a priest is not the fallen leaf. It is not even the hole that the caterpillar left in the leaf.
Somewhere in that garden, there is a caterpillar that is crawling, refreshed, and nourished by the fallen leaf. One day, that caterpillar will change into a beautiful butterfly. I have died many times and been consumed many times. I no longer live. I live in the butterflies in the garden and meadows. My symbol is not what I lose but what I gain.
I gain many times. Count your blessings.
Reflection of Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, August 8, 2023.