We honor today the martyrdom of the two great pillars of the Church in Rome: Saints Peter and Paul. Many of us look at the Roman Church as the center of Christianity because in Rome resides the central government of the Catholic Church. And yet, we all know that Christianity did not originate in Rome. It originated in Jerusalem. Jesus was a Jew and so were Peter and Paul. The Church was born from the opened side of Jesus who was crucified and died in Jerusalem. And before He ascended into heaven, Jesus told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they were clothed by Power from on high. From Jerusalem, the forgiveness of sins will be preached to the ends of the earth.
And so, true to the mandate they received from the Lord, the disciples began preaching in Jerusalem on Pentecost Sunday. From there, they started their apostolic journeys. Peter, on the one hand, went from Jerusalem to Antioch. From Antioch continued preaching until he reached Rome. In fact, the first see of Peter was established in the house of the Roman senator St. Pudens, which is now the center of the Filipino communities in Rome (Santa Pudenciana – daughter of St. Pudens). Paul, on the other hand, after his conversion, embarked on a missionary journey that also ended in Rome. Both saints Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome during the infamous persecution by Emperor Nero.
And so as far as the Roman church is concerned, Christianity is an “imported” religion brought to them by the preaching of foreign missionaries. Christianity was an Asian religion that was transported to Roman soil. I say this on the occasion of the five hundred anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines. The tendency of some historians is to consider Christianity as a foreign religion that was used to colonize the Philippines. Christianity is accused of being “not Filipino.” It is not native to the islands but was brought here by Spanish missionaries. But who can boast of Christianity as being native to them? All countries received the Christian faith through the preaching of missionaries. The mandate which the Church received from the Lord Jesus Himself was to go to all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. The Lord commanded the Church to baptize everyone in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit and to teach them what Christ had taught His disciples. This is the very mystery of Christ’s incarnation. In the incarnation, Christ embraced everything that is human except sin. As Jesus was born as a Jew, he embraced what belonged to the Jewish culture. In like manner, the Church embraces the culture that accepts the Gospel that she preaches. Thus, the Church became Roman for the reason the Romans accepted the Gospel. The Church became Spanish because the Spaniards accepted the Gospel. In a similar way, the Church became Filipino because we accepted the same Gospel that the disciples received from Christ. This reflects the very mystery of the incarnation of the Lord – a “mutual embracing” – of taking up unto oneself- of embracing our humanity so we may embrace His divinity. The Church as “Catholic” is of the one faith professed by as many cultures that accepted the Gospel. The Church then continues to be incarnated in every heart that received the Gospel – so that the human in us may become a reflection of God’s glory. In the words of Pope Benedict, “The aim of the Church’s mission is a humanity that has itself become a living glorification of God, the true worship that God expected” this is the profound meaning of catholicity.” (Benedict XVI, June 29, 2011).
This mystery of the incarnation is also reflected in our priesthood. By our ordination, the Lord embraced our humanity and weaknesses and allowed Himself to be incarnated in our very being. By our ordination, we also embrace Him in whose priesthood we are being configured. “Being configured” because seminary formation has never rendered us as finished products but of an ongoing reality, of an ongoing “incarnation” and in the words of St. Paul, until such that we can say “it is now no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me”. (Gal 2:20).
Once again, my dear brothers and sisters, a “mutual embracing” – of the Lord who embraced who we are so that we may also embrace Him as He is. And perhaps, none could be more powerful a reminder of this reality than the sacerdotal office we fulfill as presbyters – as priests. For the liturgy we preside over as priests, “ is no mere commemoration of what once existed, but is living and real: it is the enduring life of Jesus Christ in us, and that of the believer in Christ, eternally God and Man”. Romano Guardini,: Spirit of the Liturgy 82-82). My brothers in the priesthood, do not be surprised then that even as priests, you experience brokenness, disappointments, frustrations and even loneliness. These are the effects of our being configured to Christ. You have to be torn apart and recreated “until Christ is formed in you” (Gal 4:1 9). This is the mystery of the incarnation which must always continue to challenge (and at times, even shake!) the way we live our priesthood – until Christ is formed in you.
My brother priests, as you renew your ordination promises today, I ask you to be aware of these two great mysteries, that of the incarnation and that of our priesthood. Both are mysteries of Jesus and “the mysteries of Jesus have this characteristic that they are yours as much as they are His… To each His mysteries, He attaches a grace which is to help us reproduce within ourselves His divine features in order to make us like unto Him” (Bl. Columba Marmion, Christ in His Mysteries, 50).
May this be a source of consolation even in these difficult days.
Let us remember in a special way our brother priests who are no longer with us especially our priests in the Diocese of Cubao whom we recently lost, Msgr. Ben, Msgr. Morti, Msgr. Dan and Fr. Rene (a few moments of silence). May Christ, whose mysteries they have been made stewards here on earth welcome them to into His rest.
Dear brothers and sisters, we look to Mary as our model and companion – who in her faith, allowed the mystery of the incarnation to take place in her womb. Roman Guardini, one of the great spiritual writers of the Church tells us that “What happened in Mary does not concern us at a holy distance, but fashions for us the unique, unattainable and yet primal form of what should take place in the life of every Christian: the “taking shape” of the eternal Son of God in the life of the man of faith.” This is what should take place in the life of every priest, that the eternal Son of God may “take shape” in his heart.
And so let us continue to say “yes” to the call of the Lord. And let our “yes” be total and unconditional until we can say like St. Paul, “it is no longer I that live, but Christ who lives in me.” As we honor St. Joseph this year we ask him to pray for us that we may imitate his total “yes” to God’s plan of salvation.