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Good Shepherd Sunday
4th Sunday of Easter, Year A
There was an old priest who got sick of all the people in his parish who kept confessing CHEATING as a sin. One Sunday, from the pulpit, he said, "If I hear one more person confess to cheating, I'll quit!"
Well, everyone liked him, so they came up with a code word. Someone who had committed cheating would say they had "fallen."
This seemed to satisfy the old priest and things went well, until the priest died at a ripe old age. About a week after the new priest arrived, he visited the Mayor of the town and seemed very concerned.
The priest said, "You have to do something about the sidewalks in town. When people come to the confessional, they keep talking about having 'fallen.'"
The Mayor started to laugh, realizing that no one had told the new priest about the code word. Before the mayor could explain, the priest shook an accusing finger at the mayor and said, "I don't know what you're laughing about! But, your wife fell three times this week."
Today, the 4th Sunday of Easter, is “Good Shepherd Sunday” and so the entire Catholic Church designated this day as “World Day of Prayer for Vocations.” We pray most especially for priests all over the world that they may persevere in their chosen vocation and that more men and women would respond to the call to priestly and religious life.
In the not so distant past, I came across this book by Msgr. Stephen Rosetti entitled, “Why Priests are Happy.” The title itself intrigued me in a lot of ways, as this could also be a question even of lay people, who are at least, curious about the life of their priests. Driven by the theme about the Good Shepherd, I decided to share my thoughts about the book to all of you. The author points out several factors. But the first three stands out:
1. Priests are happy because of their Sense of Inner Peace. Msgr. Rosetti contends, “The strongest predictor of priestly happiness was the priest’s own sense of inner peace. Thus, priestly happiness is first and foremost affected by what the man himself brings to the priesthood. A man who is happy inside is likely to be a happy priest (pg. 11).” I do believe this applies not only for the priests, but to all of us as well. When we have inner peace, we have a better disposition to overcome whatever obstacles that come our way. In that sense, we need to establish such a peaceful environment not only in our homes but in our communities as well in order that everyone could have a better disposition in their particular endeavors or “vocations” to say the least.
In a little church in a small village in Yugoslavia, an altar boy serving the priest at Sunday Mass accidentally dropped the cruet of wine. The village priest struck the altar boy sharply on the cheek and in a gruff voice shouted, "Leave the sanctuary and don't come back!" That boy became Marshall Tito, the antichristian communist president of Yugoslavia in 1953 till his death in 1980. In the cathedral of Peoria, Illinois another altar boy serving the bishop at Sunday Mass also accidentally dropped the cruet of wine. With a warm twinkle in his eyes, the bishop gently whispered, "Someday you will be a priest." Do you know who that boy was? Archbishop Fulton Sheen.
At times we wonder why there are very few men who respond to the call to the priesthood. Well, “Many are called but few are chosen,” as the Bible puts it. But to those who were chosen, I am so much confident that around them they find a very encouraging community that uplifts their spirit. Around them they find supportive mentors/supervisors who guide and never point out their mistake so as to lose one’s inner peace. If we want to have more priests, let us start by building a home where peace reigns and that each member is able to experience it in its fullest potential.
2. Priests are happy because of a well-established Spiritual Life. Rosetti highlights the fact that “Priesthood is a spiritual life. To be a happy priest necessarily includes having a strong relationship to God and daily nurturing that relationship with typical priestly spiritual practices (pg. 11).” In the seminary, we are advised to have our own spiritual director to guide us spiritually. How is that important? Well, spiritual life keeps us to our center and focus. Our focus and primary path, which is to be at the center of the love between the Father and the Son. A well-established spiritual life grounds us to that center and keeps us strong in times of desolation and despair.
Let me point out another Bishop, my former Bishop in the Philippines. In one Sunday Pontifical Mass while my fellow seminarian and myself were fixing the bishop’s vestments back in his briefcase, the pastor of the parish handed me a sealed envelope, which according to the pastor has one thousand pesos in it. When we get back to the Bishop’s House, we were called by the bishop and hand us two different envelopes. Quickly, we went to my room to compare notes, who has the biggest stipend. To our surprise we found 400 hundred pesos in each of our envelopes which leave my former bishop with only 200 pesos! What made my Bishop give up money just like that as if money is of lesser importance? One thing is for sure, he has a strong and well-established spiritual life. A person who has centered his/her life to the love of God could easily detach himself/herself from things of this world including money.
3. Priests are happy because of their Sense of Communion. Rosetti affirms what John Paul II said, “’the priest is a man of communion.’” Then he continues, “Thus, priesthood is necessarily a relational life. It requires certain important psychological strengths, including the ability to build and sustain solid relationships with others … Relationships are essential to building a happy and effective priesthood.” This is so true, however, I would say, that relationships must be built by the community itself. Priests, left on their own, can’t make it happen. Let us, therefore, support our priests to build the community together to keep them strong and happy in their ministry.
Let me relate another Bishop as an example. He is fondly called, Bishop Tudtud. On one occasion, a group of nuns arrived at the Bishop’s House from the airport, who were picked up by a man (unknown to them was Bishop Tudtud) who was dressed simply like an ordinary layperson in his white camisa-tsino or undershirt. From the airport, they commanded him to carry their luggages to the guest room. The Bishop, in all humility, carried the heavy luggage on his shoulder to the second floor guest room. When they reached the second floor, the other sister whom the nun was visiting saw the Bishop in such a humbling state and exclaimed, “Bishop what are doing carrying those luggage?” The visiting nun upon knowing that it was Bishop Tudtud blushed in shame. That nun changed the way she looked at Bishops after that experience.
Each time I remember this story, I am always drawn at the humility of this Bishop, a “true shepherd” indeed. He would go the extra mile in humility in order to help someone in need not minding his position of power as Bishop of the diocese. He taught me the true essence of communion, that is, to lay down one’s life for one’s sheep no matter what. More importantly, it is to be ready to give and to serve by setting an example of communion in order to build communion.
It is not easy to be a priest or a shepherd and to many it is not ALWAYS a happy ministry. Priests do not receive as much but they carry on based inner factors of happiness as to INNER PEACE, SPIRITUAL LIFE and COMMUNION. Never let your priests lose sight of their center and focus. It is my prayer that you keep them grounded on the love of God. Support them in the best ways you could and make them the happiest priests alive. Like you, they fall short on a lot of things not keeping with your expectations but with your encouragement, prayer and support, they will be able to make it through. Jesus remains to be the ONLY GOOD SHEPHERD there is. Let your priests become worthy symbols of the SHEPHERD in their ministries. Let us pray for all our priests and ask for God’s loving guidance.