By Rev. Fr. Abe P. Arganiosa

  • An article published in Parish Bulletin for the Month of September 2015.

Every 14th of September we celebrate the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross which is important for its historical significance.

After Constantine assumed the imperial throne the persecution of Catholics ended. The Church was recognized as one of the authorized religions and the baptized became free to practice the faith; no longer threatened by imprisonment and tortures, such as being fed to the lions, beheaded or burned alive at the stake. The Pagan Rome was finally defeated by the Blood of the Martyrs and the Miracle of the Cross. This occurred prior to the Battle of Melvian Bridge, wherein Constantine saw the image of a shining Cross on the sky with inscription: ‘In hoc signo vinces’ [By this sign thou shalt conquer]. He ordered that crosses be put on soldiers’ shields and armors and eventually he won over Maxentius and reunified the Empire. As an act of gratitude to the Lord Jesus, his pious mother St. Helena, went to Jerusalem and searched for the true Cross. When it was found, the Emperor himself rushed to pay homage, walking barefooted and kissing it with reverence. By such an act Jesus was hailed the Victorious King over the pagan persecutors. For two millennia since then until the fall of the Berlin Wall in Eastern Europe the Cross shines as beacon of Hope for the Church:Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat! [Christ Jesus Victor, Christ Jesus Ruler, Christ Jesus Lord and Redeemer!]

Moreover, this Feast is important for doctrinal reasons as well. For us Catholics the one who died on the Cross is no ordinary human being but God incarnate: “Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man. He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.” [Phil 2:6-8 DRB]. The Cross then gave us the ultimate Sacrifice of Jesus our God; for that it depicts ‘the greatest love of all’. It measured the love of God for us and it was absolute and total oblation. By His death on the Cross the Lord Jesus gave us the victory in the ultimate War of all: The Triumph over Satan, Sin and Death all at once in single masterstroke [Rev 12:11]. Evil was vanquished by Good, Pride was shattered by Humility and Rebellion was corrected by Obedience of the Paschal Lamb [Rev 5:5-6]. Because the Lord saved us through the Cross [Col 1:20] it has become for us the very emblem of Salvation [Eph 2:16].

Thus, we refer to the Cross as the Tree of Life whose fruit is everlasting life: “for behold, because of the wood of a tree joy has come to the whole world” we declare on Good Friday. Then three times our Priest raises the Crucifix on high while singing: “This is the wood of the Cross on which is hung our Salvation. O come let us adore” and the congregation responses with kneeling, an act of Latria[Adoration] to the God who was crucified for our sins [Heb 12:2]. This solemn and touching Exultation of the Cross every Good Friday and the annual celebration of this Feast of the Triumph of the Cross are actually the fulfillment of the Divine Prophecy given by the Lord Himself: ‘And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself’ [Jn 12:32] and ‘They shall look on him whom they pierced’ [Jn 19:37]. Thus, we behold the Cross of the Lord Jesus day after day on top of our Church and we have placed it prominently in each of our altars. We seal our bodies with it and all prayers begins and ends by its sign. Together with St. Paul we declare: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world” [Gal 6:14].


Christ the Eternal High Priest

Christ the Eternal High Priest


By Rev. Fr. Abe P. Arganiosa

One element that makes the Easter Sunday Liturgy unique is the singing of the Sequence Victimae Paschali Laudes which is a paean to the Risen Christ as the Triumphator over Satan. That ancient hymn has something more besides the Proclamation of the triumph of Good against Evil. It also reminds all the Baptized that as we share in the new life with Christ we must also share in His Passion as St. Paul says ‘But if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him’ (Rom 6:8).  Thus, the members of the Church are called not only to be victors of life but also to be ‘victima’, that is, a lamb of sacrifice. If this is true for every Catholic much more so for every priest who is consecrated to follow the Lamb wherever He goes (cf. Rev 14:4).

What does it mean to be a Victim like Christ? It means total surrender of self to the will of the Father for the good of the Church. It means that priesthood must be viewed not as an exercise of power but as a self-offering of love as Pope Francis frequently reminds us. Although we share in the dignity of Christ as King, Prophet and Priest we are not the King but God, we must not proclaim our own personal teachings but those of His Church for we only have one Teacher, The Christ (cf. Mt 23:8-10). We offer our availability for the sanctification of His People because there is only one High Priest of the New Covenant and that is Jesus (cf. Heb 4:14-15). That is the reason why the first act of the Priest during his Ordination is to respond: “Here I am” which re-echoes in time the eternal sacrifice of Christ to the Father, ‘Here I am O Lord I come to do your will’ (cf. Heb 10:5-7) and crystallized on earth in the Fiat of the Virgin, ‘I am a servant of the Lord be it done unto me…’ (cf. Lk 1:38). The priest then must always be available for his flock which is The Body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 12:12-13,27; Eph 1:22-23). The reason why he is celibate and is living in the rectory is for him to be there always for the need of the faithful. An absentee priest is like a tree without fruit (Mt 3:10), a salt without taste (Mt 5:13) and a lamp without light in time of darkness (Mt 5:16).

In our relationship then the center is the Lord and after Him the flock. Just like the fishermen of Galilee who caught no fish despite their expertise in the Lake Tiberias the priest’s long formation can be futile if the Lord is not with him. Jesus must be the focal point of his every pastoral activity and decision making. The cry of St. John the Beloved to the First Pope that fateful night was also directed to all ordained ministers of the Church: Dominus est (Jn 21:7)! It is the Lord! The priest is neither the king nor the boss – but the Lord – and therefore he is called not to be self-centered but to behold the face of Jesus shining with the splendor of God: “I am the vine; you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing” [Jn 15:5 Douay-Rheims].  But what image of God: The Lion in the form of a Lamb. In the Lamb’s Supper Dr. Scott Hahn narrates his moving perspective as a new convert about the book of Revelation. He narrated that St. John wept for joy because the Lion of the Tribe of Judah was able to open the zeal of the Book of Life (cf. Rev 5:5) then when he looked at the Lion what he saw instead was a Lamb… not only a lamb but a Lamb ‘as if slain’ (cf. Rev 5:6). This is the Crucified Messiah now the Risen Lord. This is the living Icon of the Pantokrator (All-powerful) marked with wounds (cf. Rev 1:17-18). The priests then must not be afraid to suffer and be wounded because by doing so they can share the life of the Lamb and can give life to others as well: ‘It is in dying that we are born to eternal life’ (Prayer of St. Francis). By imitating the Lamb of God the Holy Eucharist shall come alive on the Altar of Sacrifice since the priests’ recitation of the Institution narrative is not a mere repetition of sounds but living words manifested in their being ‘persona Christi’: “This is my Body which is for you… This is the Chalice of my Blood for you.”

In addition, the Paschal Lamb teaches His priests the virtue of humility in the form of sacrifice. St. Paul beautifully expressed it in his Christological hymn wherein he professes the divinity of Jesus embodied in humility: “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:5-8 NAB). The rebellious pride of Lucifer (cf. Is 14:12-15) was reverted by the obedient humility of the Lamb so that as the First Rebel was brought down from Heaven (cf. Rev 12:7-8) the Lord Jesus was exulted to the highest and was the one who truly conquered all: “Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:9-11 NAB).

Together with availability then the priests need humility in order not to fall the way our First Parents did. The priests’ Here I Am and Fiat shall be no different from the offering of Cain unless it is offered to God in humility (cf. Gen 4:4-5). Humility is the advantage of Abel as it was the secret weapon of the Virgin of Nazareth and Joseph the Just. It is no wonder that St. John Paul the Great opened his Post-Synodal Exhortation Letter on Formation of Priests (Pastores Dabo Vobis, #1) with these powerful words from the Father, “I will give you shepherds after my own heart” (Jer. 3:15) because the heart of God is that of a Shepherd, ‘Meek and Humble’: “Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt 11:29 New Jerusalem Bible).

A humble priest shall be a powerful speaker because his few words shall penetrate the heart. We have the example of St. Padre Pio who never left us long discourses in Theology yet the images of him celebrating the Holy Mass with such simplicity and reverence are so moving. In the same manner a humble priest can relate with the children because he is constantly young at heart like St. Jerome Emiliani and St. John Bosco. He knew how to be with minors without losing the dignity of his old age and the nobility of his priesthood. A humble priest shall be a miracle worker to the sick because he knows his own wounds. Henry Nouwen beautifully expressed it as ‘The Wounded Healer’. Like Jesus who heals all illness he is doing so while Himself was wounded for our offenses: ‘…by his wounds we were healed’ (cf. Is 53:5; 1 Pt 2:24). A prideful person does not accept his own faults, is blind to his weaknesses and therefore is prone to delusion. Only a wounded healer can be effective to heal the wounds of the heart, to erase the hurts of the mind and to right the injuries to the soul. St. Jude Thaddeus is known as a saint of the impossible because he gloried in being ‘the forgotten saint’ despite being a blood cousin of the Lord and one of the original Twelve. He wrote the least among the writers of the New Testament yet what is lacking in his pen he abundantly expressed in lowliness. Finally, a humble priest shall truly attract people to be active in the faith because humility diffuses itself while pride repulses. The faithful of Ars narrated that during the early days of The Cure in his parish he spent long hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament. He was not there only to pray or to meditate but to cry and to beg while striking his breast: ‘Lord, convert my parish. Convert my parish. Only you can convert my parish. But if my people will not be converted it only means that I am not worthy of it’ (cf. The Cure d’Ars, St. Jean-Marie-Baptiste Vianney (1786-1859) by Francis; Graf, Ernest (trans.) Trochu (1977). We all know the fruit of those humble words.

Today our priests are confronted by irreverence to God and religion. Day in and day out our faith is being challenged and young people are being lured away from the Church. There is apathy to things that are of God in many, yet they are to teach the truth of Faith whether in season or out of season. St. Paul already warned St. Timothy of the dangers of spiritual sloth and as a solution he courageously admonished him “Ministerium Tuum Imple’ [Fulfill your ministry, cf. 2 Tim 4:1-5]. One Spiritual Master whose name is lost in my memory once said, ‘When people are not listening to the Gospel we must speak to the birds. If the birds are not listening then speak to the plants. If the plants refuse to give their ears then shout to the rocks. Then the people will listen.’ It sounds bizarre. It seems crazy yet St. Francis did exactly that. When people were considering him a fool he talked to the birds and to the flowers and to the sun and the moon then the people listened. The prophet Elijah did the same on Mt. Horeb when all the other priests of God turned to Baal and the crows responded by bringing him bread (cf. 1 Kings 19). St. Athanasius shouted to the rocks when almost the entire empire became Arian. In contemporary time, in the height of atheistic Communism in the East and the growing secularism in the West St. John XXIII wrote to all people of Good Will and they heard. In the same manner when the Church seems to be at her weakest due to the indifference of the young, St. John Paul the Great called out to the Youth of the World and shouted ‘Be Not Afraid’ and they listened by thousands, by hundreds of thousands… by millions. He was a lion roaring in winter yet the wolves were terrified and the faithful responded.

The challenges facing our priests today is no less great than those of the past. In every age the priest is always a sign of blessing for the faithful yet a sign of contradiction. That is the cross of priests because such is the Cross of the Lamb on whose footsteps they follow and whose words they carry. The priesthood is not for the cowards but for those who got the courage to fish from the Lake of Tiberias into the Sea of Mediterranean as Peter journeyed form Galilee to Rome. That is his Duc in Altum. Peter thought that the command of the Risen Lord to go into the deep is to return to Capernaum and fish only to the people of Israel around that small lake instead God prepared him for the Mare Nostrum which opened the door of faith from Rome to the various nations of the world. Thus our priest must continue being a father to the children despite the danger of being maliciously accused. Our priest must dialogue with women to see in them the presence of the Lord and welcome them to be actively involved in the Church. Our priest must visit our sick not only to anoint with sacred oil but also to gain from them spiritual strength for his weaknesses. Our priest must comfort the down-hearted because he believes in the power of the Divine Mercy which is greater than sin. Our priest must not refuse to be assigned in poor parish because poverty can also be an opportunity of encounter with God as the First Family experienced in Nazareth.

Relating with people as Rector, Curé, Chaplain and others is always full of challenges. Challenges are like waters, terrible when rushing like floods but can be controlled to produce energy and can be navigated to reach the distant isles. As ministers of the Lord the priests must never be afraid of these waters; they must learn to control and to navigate as Peter did to that small bark in Capernaum. Together with the ancient Mystic they should instead sing to the Lamb: ‘Deep waters cannot quench love nor floods sweep it away’ (Song 8:7 NAB) and tell the people: ‘Set me as a zeal on your heart, like a zeal on your arm’ (Song 8:6).


The Lord Jesus as the Good Shepherd

The Lord Jesus as the Good Shepherd


By Rev. Fr. Abe P. Arganiosa

* Actually this is not a homily but a written article which is Fr. Abe’s personal reflection on the value and dignity of priesthood in the Life of the Church in relation to the Holy Trinity and the Salvation given by the Lord Jesus.


We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us” [2 Cor 4:7 NABRe]. Here, St. Paul synthesizes the grace of being a priest. Being human a priest is created out of clay [cf. Gen 2:7] and therefore subject to limitations as others yet out of his mortal body flows the blessings of God incomparable with anything else to the point that our Saints speak of the dignity of the priesthood as something of envy even for angels. Through the consecrated hands of our priests heaven opens every day to give us the Body and Blood of the Lord giving us a pure sacrifice that sanctifies the sinful world from the rising of the sun to its setting [cf. Mal 1:11]. The priests are ‘dispensers of the mysteries of God’ [cf. Canon Law #276] and especially chosen by the Lord for the edification of His Body the Church [cf. Canon Law #275].

Some people think that priesthood is invented during the Middle Ages and critics attribute its existence to human origin. That is very far from reality. It was established by the Father from the Old Covenant, perfected by Christ in the New, and is guided by the Holy Spirit throughout the ages. Thus, we proclaim the divine origin of the priesthood. The Father established Priesthood as an Office (Ex 29: 9/ Lev 16: 32) acquired through Consecration by Anointing (Ex 29: 7/ Lev 8: 12/ 16: 32). Let us take a closer look at the grandeur of this sacrament not only from its essential nature but also on its external appearance. The Lord God ordered that holy vestments be made for them “…for glory and for beauty” [Ex 28:2 Douay-Rheims]. These vestments are the tunic, robe, white linen garments, girdle and even mitre. It seems that the ancient book is not referring to Aaron but instead to our Pope in full regalia or the Archbishop during the Chrism Mass [cf. Ex 28:4]. The colors are even specified: “gold, violet, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen… embroidered on cloth of fine linen twined” [cf. Ex 28:4-5]. It is basically the liturgical colors of the Roman chasubles. Imagine, these were not yet the rituals in the temple of Jerusalem rather of the Tent of Meeting during the Exodus Journey, yet the People were already told to glorify God in liturgical manner. So, the beautiful vestments of our priests are not for vain glory, rather they are intended by God to manifest His glory. Of course we must not spend gold for vestments beyond our means to the neglect of the works of charities, but it is also the duty of the believers to beautify the church through the liturgy. The beauty of God is not only manifested in architectural designs and in the obra maestra of the masters but also in the liturgical life of the Church through which we take a glimpse of heaven.

Those chosen to the priesthood must be consecrated by anointing of the holy oil [Ex 30:30] and through this anointing the priests are sanctified by God: “Honor him as sacred who offers up the food of your God; treat him as sacred, because I, the LORD, who have consecrated him, am sacred” [Lev 21:8 NABRe]. This is exactly how our priests are being ordained. The Lord God specified an all-male priesthood [cf. Ex 28:41; 30:30] without discrimination to women who were given different forms of service. Our rite of ordination is very ancient. The Jerusalem Bible beautifully expressed it: “This is what you will do to them, to consecrate them to my priesthood.” Here the priesthood is rooted not in the person of the candidates but in the Person of God who consecrates them by His Spirit. The priests are sharing in the priesthood of God who is the source of all holiness so that in turn they can sanctify the people. Our priests are fountains sharing from the single Well-spring of Salvation that is why the Church sings from generation to generation: “Thou shall draw waters with joy out of the saviour’s fountains” [Is 12:3 Douay-Rheims].

In the New Testament, the office of the priesthood was not abolished by the Lord instead He had it changed and elevated [cf. Heb 7:12]. The prophets of old already announced that the Kingdom of the Messiah shall be characterized by saints and priests: “Let thy priests be clothed with justice: and let thy saints rejoice” [Ps 132:9 Douay-Rheims]. Priesthood is Perpetual [Num 25: 13/ Ex 29: 9/40:15] as solemnly decreed by the Father and therefore the Lord Jesus upheld it. First, by assuming the office of the High Priest forever: “…we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession” [Heb 4:14 NABRe]. Second, by implementing the Priesthood of Melchizedek rather than that of Levi [cf. Heb 6:20]. Lord Jesus perfected the priesthood from being a mere office into being a sacrament. He converted the sacrifice from the holocaust of rams and bullocks into the one Eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood as Melchizedek offered bread and wine for Abraham [cf. Gen 14:18-19]. As the Father chose Moses and Aaron as priests over the people of the first covenant so the Lord Jesus gave us St. Peter and the apostolic college as the priests of the new covenant by ordaining them to the same Sacerdotal Order empowering them: “Do this in remembrance of Me” [cf. Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24].

There is a saying that one can choose his own wife but not his own priest. For that reason we are always called upon by Church to love each and every one of our priest regardless of look, talent, color or nationality. The grace of priesthood though voluntarily taken by the person is always above and beyond him. It depends on the Lord: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you…” [Jn 15:16]. That is why defiance against the authority of the Church through the person or office of the Pope, the Bishop and the priest is always a terrible offense against the unity of the Church and against God. Thus, St. Jude in his very brief yet powerful epistle reminds every baptized to refrain from committing the Rebellion of Korah [Jude v. 11]. What is that? He wanted to make himself equal with the authority of Moses by his insistence to offer incense which is exclusive to the priests. His pride and disobedience caused division in Israel as if the mutiny of Lucifer were being reenacted [cf. Rev 12:7], and as the Deceiver fell from a state of grace Korah with his followers were swallowed by the earth. Today there are many who defy the authority of the Church and we thank God that in His mercy they are not being swallowed by the earth. We pray for their conversion because in their pride they are causing wounds in the Body of Christ [cf. 1 Cor 12:12-13,27; Eph 1:22-23]. It is unfortunate that there are lay people who are acting as if they are priests and worst as if they are higher than them in authority. It is also equally problematic if a priest is acting and thinking as if he is a lay forgetting the distinct character of his ordination.

I once read a book detailing the history of the Church in Korea. The Church suffered severe persecutions therein so that during certain periods no missionaries were being sent. In the absence of priests the Korean Catholics gathered together in a room every Sunday, setting up the Eucharistic altar complete with chalice and the vessels, unleavened bread and wine. Then, in front of that altar they knelt for hours crying to God in supplication to grant them a priest. In their distress they never tried to defile the Sacrament by illicit ordinations; they never dared to violate the authority of the Pope and the Bishop. Instead, they called on the eternal High Priest to have mercy and He did. Today that Church is one of the fastest growing in the world. It is very sad however to know that in some places people reject, disrespect and malign their priest while on the other hand some priests fail to bring Christ to their flock and create scandals instead. That is why to see a holy priest, a fatherly priest, a scholarly priest and a priest who is a loving pastor, is like beholding the face of God. The face of the saintly priests shines like the face of Moses after conversing with the Almighty on Sinai [cf. Ex 34:35].

One of the radiances coming out from God and manifested in the ministry of our priests is Chastity. This virtue is very misunderstood in our world today because we are living in the midst of a sexual revolution where thanks to Freud sex and pleasure are supreme. It is frequently asked ‘Why are priests celibate when in fact St. Peter was married?’ Well, we must not forget the fact that St. Peter is our first Pope but he is not our Lord. Jesus is Lord [Phil 2:11]. This same Lord is also the One and Eternal High Priest. We follow in the footsteps of Jesus [cf. Rev 14:4] and not the footsteps of Peter or any other saint. The saints are models of sanctity because they followed the Lord but our gaze is focused on Jesus. Our Lord chose not to get married to a single woman, but instead offered His Body completely for the sanctification of the Church. For this reason we mystically speak of the Church as the Bride of Christ [cf. Eph 5:22-23; Rev 21:2; Jn 3:29]. The goal of the priest to follow Christ sets him apart from among men, by doing so the priest truly shares in the very life of his Lord: The Priest and Victim. Every adoration we proclaim it: “O saving Victim, open wide The gate of Heaven to man below; Our foes press on from every side; Your aid supply; Your strength bestow” [1st Stanza, O Salutaris Hostia, English trans.]. By His being a Victim the Lord Jesus gave us salvation and by this same sacrifice He vanquished Satan. Our priests being in total union with Christ are also doing the same by the sacrifice of their lives, and by their Eucharistic offering are bringing about the triumph of the Gospel and the downfall of the Devil. The defeat of Satan can only be achieved through the Holy Eucharist ‘the Blood of the Lamb’ and by His Word given as testimony proclaimed in liturgical worship [cf. Rev 12:11].

Celibate life is very important in the life of the Church because it is our following of Christ [Sequela Christi]: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” [1 Cor 11:1 NABRe] says St. Paul and he is a ministerial priest: ‘to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in performing the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering up of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the holy Spirit” [Rom 15:16 NABRe]. He is also celibate: “Indeed, I wish everyone to be as I am, but each has a particular gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. Now to the unmarried and to widows, I say: it is a good thing for them to remain as they are, as I do” [1 Cor 7:7-8NABRe]. Through celibacy the Lord and His priests testify that life is not limited to material things and sexual desires. There are higher values. Man does not live on bread alone [Mt 4:4] and neither for money nor for sex. Celibacy was practiced by Jesus because even here on earth He was living a heavenly life: “When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but they are like the angels in heaven” [Mk 12:25 NABRe, cf. Mt 22:30; Lk 20:34-36]. The Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph lived in chastity because their hearts and minds were attracted by the highest good that is Jesus. Living with Jesus day in and day out made them feel ‘heaven on earth’. If one is completely absorbed by the presence of God the desire for sex disappears, the attraction of power vanishes and the lure of money fades away because the person already possesses the supreme value. That is why later on in life St. Peter spoke in behalf of all apostles: “Behold, we have left all things and have followed thee. Who said to them: Amen, I say to you, there is no man that hath left home or parents or brethren or wife or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, Who shall not receive much more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting” [Lk 18:28-30 Douay-Rheims]. The Apostles left ‘all’ and in that all includes having wives, children and homes of their own. They became the first of those men who followed the Lamb [cf. Rev 14:14]. What others see as a burden is actually a source of joy for those who were called: “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people… O Lord, I am your servant, truly Your servant, Your handmaid’s son” [Ps 116:14,16 Christian Community Bible].

There are arguments that the crisis of priesthood is due to celibacy. There is nothing further from the truth because even though the Catholic Church experiences difficulty finding vocations in certain areas there are also abundances elsewhere. Much more, the Catholic Church is numerous either by the number of her baptized members or priests. There are groups whose ministers are married yet they are shrinking into oblivion while the Catholic Church is growing in spite of the challenges. The Catholic Church is 1.2 billion today not only because of our married lay but also due to our celibate priests who work as missionaries, catechists and educators in difficult lands. These priests are living and dying with the people because they are celibate. Married couples are very difficult to assign from one place to another and much more so for an entire family. By being alone our priests are free to serve and be transferred by the Bishop. This brings tremendous dynamism in the Church that is unequalled anywhere else except in the military. The Catholic Church is the largest non-government provider of education and medical services in the world [cf.  Agnew, John (12 February 2010). “Deus Vult: The Geopolitics of Catholic Church”. Geopolitics 15 (1): 39–61.] In 2010, the Catholic Church’s Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers said that the Church manages more than a quarter of health care facilities in the world, including hospitals, clinics, orphanages, pharmacies and centers for those with leprosy.[cf. Catholic News Agency. 10 February 2010. Retrieved 2012-08-17]. All these Catholic institutions draw water from the Spring of Salvation through their priests who give the sacraments, serving as their spiritual father. Mother Teresa said it best: “The first requirement for me to establish a convent or an institute for the poor is to have a priest and to secure a daily Mass for without the Eucharist we are nothing.”

In order to shine with the Face of Jesus and be a fountain of God’s grace the priest must giveAuthentic Witness. He must be an exemplar of holiness because God is holy [cf. Lev 11:46; Lev 20:26; 1 Pt 1:16]. He must emanate goodness because God is good [cf. Lk 18:9]. Jesus is the Good Shepherd [Jn 10:11] and the priest must mirror this goodness by being a shepherd according to the heart of God [cf. Jer 3:15] who is meek and humble [cf. Mt 11:29]. The Lord Jesus differentiates the good shepherd with the hired one; the latter escapes in times of danger [Jn 10:13] while the former lays down his life for his sheep [Jn 10:15]. In a Deanery meeting one of our elderly priests came to me and touched my hand saying ‘Thank you Father for coming here to serve our people. Actually I should have retired years ago but I don’t want to do so because of the great need for priests.’ I looked at him. Almost all his hair was gone, his face wrinkled and his hand was a little shaky as it held mine. His voice was firm, almost bordering into a whisper, yet this old but noble heart still serves even though his body is already frail. Already weak, still he empowers others. He put me to shame because I am relatively young yet there were occasions when I was doing things halfheartedly. After listening to his words of wisdom I answered back: ‘It is me who should be grateful to you Father, you have shown me the Gentleness of David and the Wisdom of Solomon.’ This elderly servant of God is slowly fading, he is dying with his earthen body yet he is strong in spirit. With the Blessed Virgin he became a Vessel of Devotion. In just few minutes of talking to him, I felt like a deer that found a running stream. What a paradox. When we are weak then we are strong and when we are dying then we enter into everlasting life.

The Sacred Scripture concluded with the Book of Revelation and its final chapter is very interesting. It opens with rich imagery: “Then the angel showed me the river of life-giving water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of its street. On either side of the river grew the tree of life that produces fruit twelve times a year, once each month; the leaves of the trees serve as medicine for the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will look upon his face, and his name will be on their foreheads” [Rev 22:1-4 NABRe]. St. John speaks of a River whose water is life-giving. It is interesting because the opening statement of the first book of the Bible speaks of the Spirit of God hovering over the water [cf. Gen 1:1-2]. Well, I said to myself that is why when there is water there are signs of life and habitation, while the place with less water is deserted. But, lo and behold, it is no ordinary water. The River flows from the Throne of God and of the Lamb. This is the Holy Trinity: The Father is there with His Son – the Lamb – and then the Holy Spirit is the water that flows from the Father and the Son. That is why our Creed says: ‘He proceeds from the Father and the Son’. The water is the graces coming from the Holy Spirit. They are gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit and they are the Sacraments of the Church all coming from the very Throne of God, from the Heart of God and of His Son. This is the way the Triune God gives us life, sanctifying us and making us holy.

What is the relation of that imagery to the Priesthood? Maybe it is not obvious for our lay but for us priests it is pretty clear. These graces are being given to us by God through the Sacrament of Priesthood and of the Holy Eucharist – The Holy Mass. It says that the River of Life waters the Tree of Life that bears fruit. That is the water of Baptism  and the tree is the Church. It is the smallest of all seeds yet it grew to be the biggest of Tree and it bears fruit and gives life in return to countless people through her preaching, teaching, values, works of charities, arts and sciences unmatched in the history of the world [cf. Mt 13:31-32]. The Tree gives fruit each month of year. This is the Liturgical Season through which the Church as a Mother and Teacher feeds us with the Word of God and the Bread of Life throughout the year. The sinful world is not being condemned to destruction because our priests in all Monasteries, Convents, Seminaries, Parishes, Chapels and Oratories are interceding to the Father by the Blood of the Lamb [cf. Gen 18:22-23]. The Water of Life is crystal clear not only because God shines in glory but also because our priests are explaining to us with clarity the Gospel which is the Water that wells into eternal life [cf. Jn 4:13-14].

In our everyday Mass our priest celebrates by sitting before the Altar of the Lamb representing the Fatherhood of God: The Throne and the Lamb, the Authority of the Church and the Eucharistic Sacrifice. That is why we call him ‘Father’ because he makes present for us not only the Once and For All redemption of Jesus but also the God who is the source of all Fatherhood [cf. Eph 3:15] and the God who is Dives in Misericordia [rich in mercy, cf. Eph 2:4]. That is why we see our priests sitting in persona Christi during the Sacrament of Confession wherein the Judgment Seat of God is transformed into a channel of Divine Mercy. Through our priests we are being enfolded into the merciful embrace of God who forgives our sins.

To have a priest is to enjoy a fountain of living water of the Spirit directly from God who is the Well-Spring of Salvation. We experienced this when we were baptized, when we received Holy Communion and when he pardons our sins. St. John added: His name shall be on their forehead. That is exactly what our priests are putting on our head each time he gives blessing: May Almighty God bless you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

When we go to Church and see our priest instead of looking at his weaknesses let us put our mind beyond the earthen vessel because the eyes are deceiving. Instead, we remember this wisdom of old: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, and that preacheth peace: of him that sheweth forth good, that preacheth salvation, that saith to Sion: Thy God shall reign!” [Is 52:7 Douay-Rheims].

[Date: April 17, 2014 Holy Thursday]