"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

The Priesthood Of Christ

180 degree double rainbow over the sea at Siquijor, Philippines by JM Manzano SJ

here are three points to consider in my theme of the priesthood of Christ. During my application interview with one Jesuit examiner, I straightforwardly said I only wanted to become a Jesuit brother, and do any type of ministerial job as a non-ordained religious. My interviewer asked me why not become a priest? Why be a brother? I simply answered that I could not imagine or picture myself standing before the people as a priest. I was only sure of one calling at that time, that was the call to the consecrated life as a religious brother. This was a humble beginning indeed but I consider it as the bedrock and foundation of everything that came up until this point of my priestly life. I will always consider as my first humble calling the brotherhood that in turn became the ground of my second calling, the priesthood.

The priesthood calling came up during my 30-day silent retreat when I realized God was calling me again and that was to consider the priesthood. The words of the risen Christ to Peter, "Tend my sheep, feed my sheep" has opened my eyes to see the great need of God’s people for ministers, in particular, ordained ministers. All I wanted was to live a quiet and simple life as a religious brother and become a follower of Christ. But Christ wanted me to share too his priesthood to me and the great joy of shepherding and feeding the flock. Right after my 30-day retreat I rushed to my novice master to inform him about this new call to the priesthood. I said, finally, I could imagine myself standing before the people of God as his ordained minister. But what about the call to the brotherhood? I faced a dilemma. In the months before the profession of perpetual vows, my understanding of the vocation of both brotherhood and priesthood was more and more clarified. Indeed they are two separate vocations. I deeply understood what brotherhood truly entails and that it is too noble and too humble a path for me to take. I realized I was not humble enough. Did I jump ship because the priesthood, all of a sudden, became a more self-fulfilling path and the brotherhood was not?

This brings me to my second point. Allow me to ask "What is the meaning of priesthood?" "Is it something that I can call my-own-priesthood?" St Thomas Aquinas once said “only Christ is the true priest, the others being only his ministers.” There is so much truth to that. I would like to add though by looking back at the past ten years of my experience as a Jesuit priest where the first six years were spent in the rural Parish of Nuestra Sra De Guadalupe in Bukidnon. When I first received this second calling to the ministerial/ordained priesthood, two images were dominant: first, the image of a concrete need for ministers to serve God’s people like a shepherd that guards his flock. The second image was that of Christ, the Good Shepherd, serving and loving his flock with joy. He cares for them and would go out of his way to look for them. He rejoices when he finds them. That is the essence of the priesthood of Christ which has left its imprint in my heart and soul. Priesthood when it was given to me as a call were these two images like the two sides of the same coin. One side is the concrete act of ministering and feeding those who are hungry for God's Word and the other side is Christ Jesus, the true priest. It is the priesthood of Christ that calls not the call for self-fulfillment. If it were only a call for self-fulfillment, I would have left the priesthood. Fr Serge Su SJ, of happy memory, once told me when I was still a novice doing hospital exposure., I quote, “Many successful Jesuits eventually leave the Society because they do not find self-fulfillment in what they do. Being in the Society is not self-fulfilling enough. Instead of finding fulfillment in God, they leave in search for their own.” Reflecting on those words through the years, I notice now how those words were full of great wisdom. When a Jesuit takes the final vows there is a simple vow never to strive or ambition for any high office which illustrates how St Ignatius of Loyola was very keen on removing all worldly ambitions from his men. I do not claim that I am now freed from ambitions but I strive everyday to rid myself of inordinate attachments. What has been working effectively everytime is to go back always to the same context when I was called: It is the priesthood of Christ that calls not the call for self-fulfillment. Whenever somebody approaches me and asks to receive the sacraments, as a minister I cannot say no. Jesus would not say no. My priesthood is by nature joined with Christ's priesthood. Where is Christ's priesthood directed, it is directed towards the common priesthood of the laity. I stop becoming Christ’s minister when I do not feed and tend the sheep anymore, whom Christ loves, serves and cares for. When that happens my priesthood is only after self-fulfillment, a scandal. My-priesthood mentality was present in Peter. That is why Jesus had to berate him, "You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do" (Mt 16:23).

Finally, if I were to choose an image to describe to you the priestly ministry that is not my-priesthood understanding, I choose the image of ants and trees. I am always amazed by the symbiotic relationship of these two. The ants need the tree for food, shelter and security which are the three basic necessities for survival. On the other hand the tree which is the host organism cannot survive without the help of the ants to defend its leaves from being eaten by other insects or herbivores. Ants, being omnivores, have soil-enriching wastes when they process their food or when they make their nests. These are just a few of the many other mutual benefits that are privided in a lifelong process.

My experience as a priest of ten years is a testament to a similar mutualistic relationship between the priest and the parishioners or between the ordained priesthood and the common priesthood of the laity. There is only one tree as there is only one God in Jesus Christ. Each one in the ecosystem cannot exist or survive without the other. Each is incomplete without the other. St Thomas Aquinas similarly held that "The whole universe together participates in the divine goodness more perfectly and represents it better than any single creature could by itself" (Summa Theologica, I, 47, 1). Both the ministerial and common priesthood mirror completely the priesthood of Christ present among his people. Amen Fr JM Manzano SJ