Homily delivered by Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas during the Second Metropolitan Clergy Congress held in Dagupan City last February 4, 2013
The Archdiocese of Lingayen Dagupan celebrates her golden jubilee on February 16, 2013. Can you imagine how it was fifty years ago? Before the creation of the new dioceses, priests from the most western part of Pangasinan had to go to Dagupan; priests from the easternmost part of Nueva Ecija came to Dagupan; priests from the northernmost part of Tarlac came to Dagupan. Fifty years later, this journey to Dagupan is now an opportunity for us to thank the Lord for the gift of our being priests, the gift of our being Church. The journey to Dagupan today for our Second Metropolitan Clergy Congress is not only a ride through memory lane. It is not just a return for nostalgia. Returning to Dagupan is returning to our roots. Returning to Dagupan is returning to our priesthood. Returning to Dagupan is embracing again the call of new evangelization. Dagupan is the Galilee of our priesthood.
What does returning to Dagupan mean for us?
The journey to Dagupan should be a return to MERCY. The sacrament of the new evangelization is the sacrament of penance. The Servant of God, Fulton J. Sheen, said that the work of a disciple may be summarized in two words: “Come” and “Go”. But later on, Fulton Sheen himself added—before the Lord told them, “Come, follow me”, He first proclaimed to them, “Turn away from sin, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” In other words, there is a prelude to an invitation by the Lord to come and follow him. It is the invitation to penance. It is penance, first and foremost, of those who will be entrusted with the power to absolve sins. It is a return to the mercy of God. I repeat what I have often stated in La Union and in Pangasinan: the mark of a healthy spiritual life of a priest is the frequency of confession. There is no healthy spiritual life for a priest, if he is not comfortable with confession. Comfortable with confession does not mean making the confessional comfortable and air conditioned for us. Our first duty in the confessional is not to sit but to kneel. Our first duty as priests in relation to the confessional is not to sit in absolution but to kneel down in penance. Fifty years ago, the priests came to Dagupan, called by Archbishop Madriaga, for mercy, for compassion. The priests went to Dagupan because they needed to return to mercy.
Returning to Dagupan is not only a return to mercy.
Returning to Dagupan is also returning to MINISTRY.
Priests come to the city to get from their archbishop the faculties for confession. People come to the city in order to get dispensations from the chancery. Returning to Dagupan is returning to ministry. We, priests, have been entrusted with the power to change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. But my dear brother priests, please, please, please, remember this: there can be no authentic renewal in the church if our focus is always on the power of the priest to change the bread and wine. Renewal can only begin in the Church when the priest recognizes the power of the Eucharist to change the baptized, to change every priest, to change everyone. Let us teach one another not the power of the priest but the power of the Lord to change us! Every Mass should change us. In every Mass the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. But in every Mass does the priest change more and more to become like Jesus? Every baptism that we do should change us. Every confession, every absolution that we give should change us. Every anointing of the sick should change us. If we can change simple babies to become children of God, why do we allow grace to pass through us without changing us? The Church of the new evangelization cannot afford to continue to talk about the power of the priests. The church of the new evangelization speaks about the power of the Eucharist to change the cosmos; the power of Eucharist to change the baptized; the power of Eucharist to change the minister. Earlier Msgr. Vengco quoted Cardinal Tagle saying that the signs of the times demand that we become really a humbler church. Let us not wait for those times to humiliate us. Before we get humiliated let us start humbling ourselves, because when the era of humiliating priests becomes the fashion in the Philippines, it would be too late to be humble. It would be too late to be humble, because then we would have inflicted the humiliation on ourselves. Humbling ourselves is a duty that comes with ordination. If we forget holiness, the Lord will teach it to us the harder way. Others will humiliate us. It will no longer be inspiring. It will just be a punishment we deserve for our clerical arrogance.
Returning to Dagupan is not only a return to mercy; it is not just a return to ministry and faculties. Returning to Dagupan is also, lastly, a return to MYSTERY. From western Pangasinan to eastern Nueva Ecija, to northern Tarlac, the priests come to Dagupan for Chrism Mass with a deep sense of mystery. We passed the entrance exams in the seminary with our intelligence quotient (IQ) checked. Through the years psychology has evolved and recommended—even required—that the emotional quotient (EQ) be checked too. But for us priests, high IQ and high EQ are still insufficient because we still need a third quotient. We need to possess the wonder quotient—the capacity to be awed; the capacity to enter into mystery and not get bored; the openness to a sense of mystery and not laugh about it; the openness to be awed; to be in childlike wonder; and not to be apologetic that we are mysterious priests because that is what we really are. Brother priests when you lose the sense of mystery in the attempt to be just like the rest, you steal from the people an opportunity to encounter God. If I have to kneel before you, I plead with you on bended knees: Do not give up your sense of mystery. What is sacred must be sacred; what is mundane remains mundane. What is God’s must always belong to God; and you, my dear brother priests, you belong to Him! You do not belong to money; you don’t belong to women; you don’t belong to pleasure. You belong to God in a deep, deep sense of mystery.
We have come together to return to Dagupan our Galilee. I pray that these short hours that we will be together will give you an opportunity to return to mercy. Over lunch, it is not too late to ask a brother priest aside, and tell him your sins and return to the mercy of God. Let the return to Dagupan be a return to ministry, a return to a humbler church. Let’s not wait for the humiliation. Let us start the humility ourselves. Let the return to Dagupan be a return to mystery, that sense of awe, that sense of wonder, that sense of the sacred. Preserve it and safeguard it at all times. We heard it said when we were seminarians that we are in the world, but we do not belong to this world. We need to be reminded of that. We were told when we were seminarians that to fall in love with a woman is bad; but we were also told that to fall in love with money is worse. We have come to return to Dagupan. We have come to our city of mercy, humility and mystery.
Let this be a pilgrimage of mercy; a pilgrimage of ministry, a pilgrimage into mystery. Let us bow down our heads and in the silence our hearts, thank the Lord that we are priests of His mercy, of His mystery, for His ministry.