Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Priest is Called by God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

A priest once told his confreres over dinner of a childless middle-aged couple in his parish who hired a barrio lass as housekeeper. She turned out to be an excellent cook too. Unfortunately, she had a habit of listening to the couple’s private conversations. She noticed how the wife calls her husband from time to time. “Darling, your newspaper is here”, “Darling, please check our electric bill”, “Darling, your compadre Peter just texted you” etc. One evening, after the table was set for supper, the wife told her: “Call my husband now. It’s time to eat.” The housekeeper dutifully went upstairs and, within the hearing of the wife, called out to the man of the house: “Darling, dinner is ready!” The wife nearly had a heart attack. The lass mistakenly thought ‘Darling’ was the man’s name.

A person calls another person always for a specific purpose. When God calls each prophet in the Old Testament it is specifically to bear and declare his word to them, whether of joy or of judgment. When Isaiah is called, for instance, it is to bear God’s Word declaring his will to call all people to himself, not simply Israel. The barrio lass in our story could not share in the couple’s exclusive relationship. But the same thing is not true to God’s relationship with Israel. The prophet puts it in terms of calling all peoples to his holy mountain. “And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, ministering to him…them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer” (Is 56:6-7). This is clearly a judgment passed on some Israelites’ mistaken sense of having an exclusive right to being God’s People. I remember an OFW friend in Rome who shared how his Jewish “employer” often taunted him: “You Christians stole everything you got from us Jews. But make no mistake. Only Jews are the Chosen People.” One could probably also say: “Oh yes. But also make no mistake. Isaiah says God calls all peoples to his holy mountain, not simply Israel.”

On the other hand, the priest of the NT is an agent of this universal call. Israel according to Isaiah’s vision is precisely God’s People so that through Israel all peoples, all nations of the earth, could be called to share in the blessings of God’s People. In fact, the priest of the Catholic Church mainly comes from every nation other than Israel. He is a living testament of this universal call.

But the point is, it’s God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who extends this call to the person he wants to be a priest. As the Catechism for Filipino Catholics says, the call that every Christian hears, especially the priest, to follow Christ, “is a free gift of God, grounded in the Father’s free loving choice, who blesses us in His Son, Christ Jesus, and seals us with the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13-14)”. But how does this apply to the priestly vocation? Pastores Davo Vobis teaches that it is by virtue of consecration in ordination (PDV 12). Through Sacrament of Orders, “the priest is sent forth by the Father, through the mediatorship of Jesus Christ…in order to live and work by the power of the Holy Spirit in the service of the Church.”

This truth has sobering consequences. First, it tells us, yet again, the true origin of the priestly vocation. I had once a conversation with a mother who was heartbroken that her son left the seminary. I had to tell her, “It’s not we, it’s God who calls anyone to the priesthood. No matter how good our intentions are, it’s still God who makes priests.” Second, it also clarifies to everyone, especially the priest, why his vocation is inextricably tied to ‘community’. At times we priests and lay people alike talk of community building like it’s the latest craze in contemporary Church life. It barely scratches the surface. The truth is, since it is the Divine Community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit who calls certain persons to be priests, that call is understandably both to share in the Trinitarian life and to extend that life to others. The fruit of his response is always a community he builds after the image of the Trinity.