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Joy in Holiness: Meditation for Priests

Meditation for Priests on Holy Thursday, April 17, 2014 Saint John the Evangelist Cathedral, Dagupan City By Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan

Today is our feast day. It is a happy day for us. Our parishioners are here. Our friends are here to show their appreciation and their love. They echo one common message. Thank you for being a priest. Thank God he called you to be a priest.


Beyond the feasting and the greetings today, I dare to ask. Who among us has never experienced loneliness? Who among us has never experienced deep painful isolation? Who among us has never battled with repeated rejections and tasteless ministry? Who among us has never been hurt by the feeling of being disconnected, suspected and ignored? We all know the feeling of swimming against the current—to be tired, to be bruised and to be alone.

In fact, some of our seminary confreres have abandoned our vocation because of this unbearable feeling of isolation and extreme loneliness.

Today, I say to you my brothers: your archbishop is not alien to these feelings. I get lonely too. I have known isolation and frustration. I have battled with the temptation to give up, to lower down my ideals, to take it more leisurely and to join the flow of mediocrity and convenience. I am aware that sometimes I am reluctant to reach out, to make a phone call or to send a text message for fear of another rejection. I know the feeling of being abruptly uprooted from familiar soil and being forced to bloom in another garden away from home. The tears are shed in secret and that secrecy of those tears makes it more painful.

In the void that loneliness and isolation creates, we can be misled to fill the gaping abyss with new phones and ipads. We can cover the gaping vacuum with another luxury car or designer jeans or more fashionable shoes more than our shoe racks can contain; with a vacation out of the country or another gadget for the bedroom. We can hold on to the whisky bottle and hope that the bottled spirit will exorcise the spirit of boredom in us. It can also be filled up by working like a horse to impress the people, to create a fans’ club and move you up higher to a better assignment. It can also increase our interest in bank savings, the stock market and the accumulation of more properties. Church funds and personal funds are deliberately mixed up. The parish crawls in financial difficulties while we sprint and jump with financial security. The vacuum of loneliness can make us numb to the peril of worldliness. It can make us at ease with ecclesiastical vanities.

As a fellow celibate struggling and battling with loneliness like all priests, I ask the question: How is priestly loneliness to be faced?

Every priest a mystic

You must always remember: the priesthood is a spiritual gift from God. Celibacy is a spiritual supernatural reality. This being so, we cannot live our celibacy happily without an intimate and deep relationship with God. Every priest must allow himself to be touched by the fire of God. Every priest must have had a mystical experience of God in his younger years in the seminary; that mystical experience must be kept at heart at all costs, all the time. If the priest is not a mystic, he will cross over to old age bitter, angry and cynical, materialistic and vain, lukewarm and lifeless. There is no happy celibate without a healthy prayer life. You want to be happy priests, keep your spiritual life intact. We must pray not only during the annual retreat or when we are in difficulty. We must pray daily as we eat daily and bathe daily.

We priests tend to be shy and private about our personal life with God. I hope you can choose to be brave and make a bold step to share with one another your personal conversations with God, not just to prepare a homily or a seminar talk, but to share your faith, share your vulnerabilities, share your encounters with God.

Called to be friends

This brings me to the second leg on which happy celibacy stands—your friendship with your brother priests. An isolated priest is headed for a fall. We only become lonely if we allow ministry to take over us and neglect our need for friendship.

Most of us have many acquaintances but acquaintances are not friends. We see acquaintances every now and then; they might invite us for occasional dinners in Dagupena, but friends are more than that. Friends can share deep joys and dreams, vulnerabilities and frustrations with the assurance of compassionate acceptance, at the same nurturing and supporting one another.

Do you have real friends?

This is the litmus test. Think of a very difficult struggle you are going through right now—a health problem, church difficulties, emotional crisis? Have you shared this with anyone? Whom would you tell? That person is your friend. If you cannot tell anyone, you don’t have any friend.

Celibacy does not forbid friendships. Celibacy needs friendship with God and friendship with brother priests. We have many very good priests in the Church. They serve with vigour. They finish projects and make strategic plans for the next project. Sometimes, these are used to cover up for low self esteem, a gnawing fear of rejection, a long standing feeling of inadequacy and the disturbing feeling of being unwanted. When the applause subsides, loneliness sets in. When trouble strikes, the fall is great and shocking.

Healthy and happy celibacy demands holy and happy friendships.

Life of Integrity

The third and last leg for a happy and meaningful celibate living is living a life of personal integrity. Only honest and truthful celibates can be happy celibates. Hypocrisy among priests dooms the priests to bitterness. What you do when no one sees you is who you really are. How you are in your conscience is who you are. Hypocrisy is stressful.

Our celibacy is a living proclamation in our sex starved society that there is something more important than sex. More important is love and mercy, compassion and kindness, friendship and service. Celibacy is not simply a renunciation of family and children and genital expression. Celibacy lived with a hidden secret life contrary to it leads to stress and tension. Celibacy can only thrive with integrity. If you become dishonest and untruthful, you also become unhappy and bitter. Celibacy must be proven by a life of humility and kindness. A happy celibate cannot frown too long. The joy of his heart will always take over a momentary irritation. The broken hearts club cannot be happy celibates. Celibacy is for the brave and the compassionate, for the humble who serve the Lord with joy. Celibacy tells people: God is with us. He is with us in his priests.

Hope in the Lord

My brother priests: We are called to be happy priests. Beyond the disappointments and frustrations; the discouraging results of our hard work all night catching nothing; the wine running out in our banquet– there is a multi coloured rainbow across our Holy Thursday horizon.

If we dare to be mystics, if we deepen our priestly friendships, if we fight on to be truthful and faithful, we have hope. Our hope is in the Lord. Our joy is to serve him.



His Excellency Archbishop Socrates B Villegas in consultation with the Permanent Council has issued the enclosed pastoral exhortation on the occasion of Easter entitled WHERE O DEATH IS YOUR VICTORY? WHERE O DEATH IS YOUR STING?”

The pastoral exhortation which aims to teach the people of God about Christian understanding of health has various sub-themes which may be used as catechetical or homiletic materials during the Easter season. The proper Christian understanding of health which this pastoral exhortation proclaims will also help to correct the misconceptions about health underlying the RH Law. It is also advisable to use the various sub-themes about health for our seminars for the youth and for those preparing for marriage.

The CBCP President reiterates the Church’s position that we do have a positive message to impart to our flock on the issue of health.



Easter Pastoral Instruction on Stewardship of Health

Today the Church returns to the tomb and sees it empty. The tomb without the body inside leads us to an act of faith “He is risen!” The resurrected Jesus had a body but quite different from the way the disciples experienced Jesus before the Passover. The body of Jesus was both resurrected and changed.

As we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, let us also renew our faith in the resurrection of the body. This body as we have it is a gift from God. This body as we have it will be resurrected and will be changed. Taking care of this body is not always an exercise of vanity. Taking care of the body is a spiritual duty as good stewards of health.

Saint John Paul II tirelessly reminded us during his papal ministry that we are created in the likeness of God. The human body is sacred because the human body is a gift from God. We must act and live like God because we were created like Him.

The passage of the Reproductive Health Law also prompts us to lay down these teachings about the Christian understanding of health. While we respect and recognize the duty and right of the State to pass laws, we deem it our duty as pastors to teach you about the Christian understanding of health which the present RH law seems to misunderstand.


“As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” (1 Peter 4.10)

God has bestowed on us the great gift of life. As Christians we promote and defend a consistent life ethic symbolized by the “seamless garment”. Human life ought to be promoted and defended from the moment of conception to natural death. Our life is in our hands as stewards of the gift of life. And our stewardship of life calls us to be responsible stewards of health. While health may not be the greatest value and good of the person, health is a gift and a task for all of us.

The American bishops define a steward in the following way: a steward is one who receives God’s gifts gratefully, tends them in a responsible and accountable manner, shares them in justice and love for others and returns them with increase to the Lord. (USCCB. Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, 1993)

What is health? The World Health Organization in 1948 defines health as follows: “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Later, the WHO added a significant reality to health that includes the spiritual aspect of human life. At its best, health is drawing our capacity to “fullness of life”. Health entails the harmony of the person with himself or herself, with others in the community of people and the whole created order.

The Church teaches us that our bodies are not simply material vessels for our souls. They are integral and essential aspects of who we are as persons created in the image and likeness of God. Vatican II reminds us that we are obliged to regard the human body “as good and honourable since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.” (Gaudium et Spes 14, par. 1). The human person is a unity of body and soul. Just as we are called to care for the spiritual health of our souls, we are also called to be responsible stewards of the health of our bodies (CCC 364). Life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them, taking into account the needs of others and the common good.” (CCC 2288) Taking care of one’s health is not a selfish activity but rather it is a necessary and important task related to the building of God’s Kingdom. A person with good health will have more time and energy to participate in the life of the Spirit and the saving mission of Christ.

Our contemporary times present various challenges to living a healthy life. Drawing from the richness of the Christian tradition, particularly the practice of Christian virtues, this pastoral letter seeks to offer guidance to those who strive to be responsible stewards of bodily health.


Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life (CCC 1804). Virtues can be learned by education, developed by habitual and deliberate practice, and sustained by God’s grace. Through God’s help, our efforts at living out Christian virtues will enable us to grow more perfectly in our following of Christ

There are four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. Prudence enables us to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means to achieve it (CCC 1806). Justice moves us to give what is due to God and to our neighbour (CCC1807). Temperance moderates our attraction to pleasures and provides a balance in the use of created goods (CCC1809). Fortitude enables us to be firm in the face of challenges and to persevere in our pursuit of good (CCC 1808). Each of these virtues comes into play as we strive to care for our bodies and our health.

Food and Drink: Called to live in Moderation

Some of the leading causes of mortality for Filipinos, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, are either caused or aggravated by inordinate consumption of food and drink. Being responsible with one’s diet is one way of being a good steward of one’s health. The virtue of temperance can help us deal with our appetites for certain types of food and drink that can cause harm to our health. Temperance teaches us self-control and discipline with regard to our appetites in pursuit of the goal of good health. The virtue of prudence guides our practice of temperance by reminding us not to consume too much or too little; one needs to discern the right type and quantity of food and drink that is appropriate to maintain one’s health.

Exercise: “Mens sana in corpora sano” (a healthy mind in a healthy body)

Along with a correct diet, exercise is also an important element in maintaining good health. Exercise enables us to control our weight and reduce our risk of developing chronic diseases. While many persons have a positive attitude toward regular exercise, some persons need more encouragement and motivation to start a habit of exercise. The virtue of fortitude can help a person to persevere in physical exercise and not be discouraged when progress is slow or difficult. Fortitude enables a person to work toward the goal of good health while bearing with the challenge of being faithful to regular exercise. Prudence accompanies fortitude in this case when careful discernment is needed in choosing the appropriate type and amount of exercise for the person’s condition. Prudence will tell a person not to exercise too much in a manner that would cause injury and not to exercise too little in a way that has negligible effect. All experts agree: no exercise is bad, too much exercise is bad, some exercise is good.


Maintaining proper health also requires sufficient rest to allow the body to renew its energy and repair itself. Catholic social teaching remind us that rest from work is a right (Laborem Exercens #19). Human life has a rhythm of work and rest (CCC 2184). Everyone should take care to set aside sufficient time for leisure (CCC 2187). The virtue of justice requires that employers, despite economic constraints, should make sure that employees have adequate time for rest (CCC 2187).  Prudence will remind us that too much rest can lead to slothfulness while too little rest can cause grave harm to the body and spirit.

Harmful Substances and Activities

The natural law urges every person to do good and avoid evil. While we should pursue what is good for our health (e.g., proper nutrition, adequate exercise, and sufficient rest) we should also avoid what is harmful to our wellbeing.

The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine. Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others’ safety on the road, at sea, or in the air (CCC2290). The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense. (CCC2291). Prudence would remind us that there are substances and activities that should be avoided if we desire to maintain our physical well-being for the present and the future.

Unhealthy Perspectives on the Human Body

While it is quite clear that doing little to take care of our health is wrong, doing too much to achieve physical perfection can also be unhealthy and harmful.  Morality rejects a neo-pagan notion that tends to promote the cult of the body, to sacrifice everything for its sake, to idolize physical perfection and success at sports (CCC 2289). Vanity, idealized body images, and excessive competitiveness can lead people to manipulate their bodies in ways that do not respect the human body’s health, integrity, dignity, and intrinsic value. Examples of such harmful manipulation of bodies include excessive use of cosmetic surgery, unhealthy forms of dieting, and the use of banned substances in sports.


Love and life! As Christians, we believe in the priority of these values over health. We live healthy lives because we are willing to nurture and to care for the gift of life. And we are willing to care for others in love and concern for them. We are reminded of this: there may not always be cure in the many illnesses that people face every day, but there must always be care and love for those who are ill among us. And it is love that enables life to grow and even to improve.

We live in a stressful world. So many demands and many deadlines keep us on our toes. There are two kinds of stress: eu – stress (good stress) and dis – stress (bad stress). Work is stressful and thus good when it brings out the best in us – when it challenges us to excel and be the best for people around us, especially the poor and marginalized. Work is distressful when it diminishes our humanity – when it manipulates and exploits others and the whole created order.


The Family

The sanctuary of life, and thus of health is the family. Healthy living is exemplified in the dynamics of a family life that nurtures the values of love and temperance, respect and responsibility.  A healthy balanced lifestyle promotes family “bonding” of parents and children. One must take into serious consideration the responsibility of the family to instil a healthy sense of self in relation to others. On the one hand, the commandment’s “to honour” means showing proper gratitude, affection, respect, obedience and care to parents. (CCC 2214f) On the other hand, the church teaches that parents have the duty to provide so far as they can for their children’s needs, guiding them in faith and morals and creating for them an environment for personal growth (CCC 2221 – 31). We must admit, however, that the continuous migration of our people, especially parents have created “unhealthy family situations”. There is still no substitute to a parent’s love and concern, supervision and guidance. We therefore exhort the extraordinary work performed by guardians. You have an obligation to help in the strengthening of character building among the children and the young. Treat these children and young people as if they were your own. Love them as best as you can.

The School

Healthy living is exemplified and strengthened in the school. The whole school curriculum is directed to the integral formation of the person. A specific school discipline is Music, Arts, Physical Education and Health known as MAPEH. Educators point to the “multiple intelligences” that must be developed in each child and young person. Learning after all is not simply an intellectual pursuit. It is the wholesome and holistic program to bring out the best in the person. In Catholic Education, the formation in the school has one objective – “to make saints of our students!”

Catholic Hospitals and Community – based Health Care Workers

The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines points to institutions of health care as agents of renewal. Physicians, nurses, midwives, physical therapists, medical technologists have been gifted by God with the graces to heal and make people whole again. They should be reminded that there may not always be cure but there must always be care. In the end, it is the compassionate love of Jesus expressed by health care workers that makes a difference in the lives of the sick among us.


St. Paul tells us that our body is temple of the Holy Spirit which we have received from God. You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6: 19-20). Taking good care of our health is a fitting response of gratitude for God’s graciousness in creating us in his image and likeness.  Like the good steward in Scripture, may we also be responsible stewards of the gift of health that God has granted us as we make our earthly pilgrimage to our heavenly home, where the fullness of life awaits us.

The healthiest person on earth is the saint. Through self-denial and asceticism, mortification and prayer, the saint is one who seeks God in all his/her endeavours. Our health, after all, should be at the service of our primary vocation – to seek the Kingdom of God.

Let us renew our faith in the resurrection of the body, an important part of what we believe in as Christians. We beg our Lady who gave her body to Jesus as His dwelling place for nine months to make us ready and willing to give our bodies to Jesus too so that we receive the promised fullness of life.

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, April 20, 2014, Easter Sunday


Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan

CBCP President


Stewardship Homily March 16, 2014 Second Sunday of Lent

We are all afraid to die. We are also afraid to see our loved ones die. There is uncertainty in dying. There is pain in dying. Death is a mystery. We fear death because we fear the unknown.

When God told Abraham to leave his familiar land, he was surely asked to make a decision to “die”. He was being asked to leave country, father’s house and kinship and go to an unknown land. It was a call to “die”. How did Abraham overcome the fear of the unknown? ABRAHAM BELIEVED the promise of the Lord “YOU WILL BE A BLESSING.” With faith in the promise, Abraham went forth and faced the “death” of leaving his own land.

The apostles knew that the passion and death of Jesus was near and clear. They had fears. They were considering avoiding it. They wanted to flee. “Death would be the end of all they had planted and preached”, it seemed to them. Death was confusing and disturbing. The transfiguration was made to happen in order to CORRECT the apostles’ view of the inevitable passion and death of Jesus. JESUS WAS SHOWN TO THEM IN HIS GLORY so that when the cross loomed in the horizon, they would know that death cannot end everything. THE CROSS LEADS TO GLORY.

If Abraham did not trust, the blessing promised would have been restricted to him and his little possessions. Because Abraham trusted, his blessing became as numerous as the stars and as infinite as the sands in the sea.

In the case of the apostles, the Apostle John who saw the glory of Jesus bravely reached Calvary without fear or doubt. He had seen the glory of Tabor and he knew that there was a glory waiting for them after Calvary. The experience of Tabor carried him beyond Calvary.

Stewardship is NOT about money. It is about FAITH. The faithful steward is not afraid of dying because he knows that dying is the sure path to glory.

When the steward is invited to give, the call given to Abraham is echoed again. The steward is asked like Abraham to leave his attachments, to share his blessings, to share his talents, to share his time, to share himself. If the steward clings to himself for fear of the unknown, he restricts the blessings to himself and his little treasures. Stewardship multiplies blessings. Stewardship turns a single blessing into a hundredfold harvest.

Bravery is the hallmark of a good steward. Only the brave can give and share. The selfish is a sister of the unhappy. The coward is a brother of the stingy.

Look at the brave faith of Abraham. Look at the brave faith of Saint John. They were promised; they gave everything; the promise is fulfilled!

Their blessings are numerous as the stars. Will you just protect your treasures?

What you clutch, you lose. What you give up, you gain. You want to be great? GIVE UP AND GIVE WITHOUT FEAR!




Homily on Stewardship

First Sunday of Lent

March 9, 2013

God created man. His name was Adam. God created Adam so that he can be in a relationship of love and friendship with his Creator. In addition to that love and friendship, God also gave Adam the most sublime gift of all—the chance to choose freely. These two gifts from God to us are so especial that others creatures do not have them—to be a FRIEND of no less than God himself and to be FREE to choose.

However, Adam gave in to the devil’s temptation. ADAM TRIED TO SEIZE FOR HIMSELF WHAT GOD ALREADY PROMISED HIM. He allowed sin to enter the door of his heart by doubting that God will indeed keep his promise that he will have dominion over all creation. He wanted to grab and cling and control and possess. He was already promised by God that he has been crowned with glory; he was given dominion over the world and the protection of His angels. He did not believe. He seized for himself.

This is the tragic story of the first Adam.

The second Adam is Jesus Christ. The pervasiveness of sin and the intensification of the effects of the disobedience of the first Adam are reversed by the COURAGEOUS AND GENEROUS OBEDIENCE OF JESUS CHRIST. Because Jesus did not cling to his dignity and honour, we have been saved. By emptying himself like a slave, Jesus has given us new life.

This is the saving power story of Jesus.

Adam seized and grabbed; but Jesus let go and gave up. Adam grabbed and wanted control; but Jesus offered and obeyed until death.

Adam doubted that God will keep his promise about dominion over creation; but Jesus believed and emptied himself.

Adam was entrusted with stewardship over God’s creation but he chose to possess and sought his own security. Jesus was entrusted with all powers in heaven and earth. Jesus continues to reign.

Stewardship means saying NO to a grabbing culture. Stewardship is saying NO to the pursuit of false security and illusory comfort. Stewardship is saying NO to the drive to have more. Stewardship is saying NO to the temptation to be like God.  Stewardship is saying NO to the first Adam.

Stewardship is saying YES to the new Adam Jesus Christ. Stewardship is saying YES to generosity without fear of lacking anything I need. Stewardship is saying YES to obedience without doubting that God will always provide. Stewardship is saying YES to sharing without repay or reward.

Stewardship is not about money. It is not about church offerings. Stewardship is not about special collections or offerings for church services.

Stewardship is about faith. It is obedience. It is courageous trust that God has promised me everything I need. I will not hoard. I will not covet. I will not hide my talents. I know God will take care of me as he has promised.

The season of Lent is the best time to live like the new Adam.










Journey of Prayer, Fasting and Charity

What is Lent?

Ash Wednesday opens the season of Lent. It ends on Holy Thursday with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

Easter is our mountain peak. If Christ did not rise from the dead, our faith is useless and meaningless.

The Lenten Season is a pilgrimage ascent to the peak of the mountain. Being an upward journey, it is expectedly and inevitably difficult. But our upward journey can become lighter if our focus will be not on the journey but on the destination. The goal of Lent is Christ crucified and risen from the dead.

The Three Paths

The ascent to the mountain of Easter has three mountain paths. The first path is prayer. The second path is sacrifice. The third path is almsgiving or charity.

“Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.” But when we pray, do we speak from the height of our pride and will, or “out of the depths” of a humble and contrite heart? Humility is the foundation of prayer. Only when we humbly acknowledge that “we do not know how to pray as we ought,” are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer. “Man is a beggar before God.” (CCC, 2559)

Fasting represents a radical dependence on God. When we fast, we are saying that God – not food, water, clothing or shelter – is our most basic need. Apart from Him we can do nothing. Richard Foster says, “No other discipline will reveal what controls us better than fasting.” When we subdue our flesh, whatever is accustomed to being in control will begin to cry out.

Almsgiving is the fruit of fasting. Pope Francis himself teaches us “Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance.”

Lent is Pananabangan Season

Pananabangan is also a jouney of prayer, fasting and charity. The season of Lent is the best season to understand Pananabangan.

Pananabangan is not about PRAYER to receive something. It is about praying humbly with joy because we have been blessed immensely. Pride and Pananabangan are enemies. Humility and stewardship are sisters. Pananabangan cannot grow in a covetous heart.

Pananabangan like Lent is NOT about money; it is about LOVE. There is not earthly reality that has more power to make us lose all perspective than the love of money. In fact, we can lose the spirit of Lent if we only talk about money donations.Pananabangan like Lent is not about DONATIONS; it is about LIVING for others. Pananabangan like Lent is not about OFFERING ENVELOPES. It is about SELF DENIAL so that others can be enriched by our sharing.

Pananabanagan like Lent is a sacrifice. It is a call to dying to our old mindset “the more we get the better we are”. Only the brave can live stewardship pananabangan. The cowards want to live in the old comfort zones of serving mammon not God.

Pananabangan is not about GIVING and expecting something in return; it is about GIVING because we want to return with gratitude what we have received.

Pananabangan like Lent is NOT A GOAL. It is a means to reach the peak of the mountain where we shall meet the risen Christ.

Stewardship Pananabangan is a sure way to holiness.

It is a sure path to God. Pananabangan always leads to new life.

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