Monday, February 17, 2014

The laity and Christ’s priestly office

IN the Pinoy culture the priest is a privileged person. Although in urban settings the generally media-hyped anti-clericalism of supposedly more educated Filipinos is more flaunted than not, in rural areas the priest usually occupies a special place and receives a similarly special treatment in family or group gatherings. It seems to me that there are two sources that could explain this behavior. One, Pinoy Catholics have been brought up by their families (parents and grandparents mostly) to regard their priests with an attitude of reverence by reason of the priest’s perceived close association through ordination with Jesus Christ (if you were brought up by someone like my mother or grandmother the priest was another Christ). Two, the practice is simply a reflection of the Filipino’s deep religiosity which may or may not reflect an equally deep Christian spirituality (but this is frankly an altogether different matter).
But I also notice that the special treatment we give to priests in our culture is also extended, to a greater or lesser degree, to whoever is with him. Most priests are amused, for example, when even their sacristans receive a similar treatment especially when they are mistaken for priests (admittedly some dress and look more priestly than the real ones). At least I know a priest (newly appointed to a parish) who was long ignored by his hosts in a barangay he was visiting because they were busy chatting with the elderly sacristan who they thought was the priest. The real tragicomedy, however, is when lay persons forget that they are actually sharers in the priesthood of Jesus Christ because of their baptism, not because of any ordained minister they are related to or associated with.
In our faith culture this more exalted reality of sharing by all the baptized in the priestly office of Jesus is seldom appreciated even by the laity. But in truth, even the so-called official Church calls theirs (the laity’s) the ‘royal’ or the ‘kingly’ priesthood. The ordained priest has received the ministerial priesthood, so-called because, as taught by Vatican II and reinforced by PCP II, his priesthood is servant to the realization of the royal or common priesthood of all the baptized. Unlike a sacristan’s sharing in the special treatment of the priest, this sharing in Christ’s priestly office by the laity and all the baptized is a real and not an imagined experience.
Jesus himself shares with us a most important mission and identity, his priestly identity. (In the presbyter through ordination that becomes ministerial priesthood; in all the baptized, it is the royal or common priesthood). The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church asserts that to “those whom he [Christ] joins to his life and mission he also gives a share in his priestly office, to offer spiritual worship for the glory of the Father and the salvation of man” (LG 34). Here I sometimes marvel at the difference between a male and female lay person. A male lay person typically focuses on functions in the Church that have to do with leadership or with ministries that stress camaraderie and doing things. A female lay person, on the other hand, typically focuses on prayer and spiritual activities. Isn’t this highlighted by their more numerous attendance in the liturgy, prayer meetings, novenas, parish retreats and recollections. It is not by itself indicative of our women lay persons having a higher spirituality than their male counterparts but it certainly tells us how much male lay persons need to catch up on the cultivation of Christ’s priesthood that they share. Still, let us not miss the teaching of the Church: there is no distinction between male or female; both are called to share in Christ’s priestly office.
It goes without saying, then, that the laity’s sharing in the priestly office of Jesus Christ connects them most to the highest Power; hence, it should logically be their highest priority. But is this reflected in real life? Personally I experience  qualms out of what seems to me more lay immersions in secularism-relativism than in spirituality (prayer and worship) and, at the same time, positive indications of our laity’s spiritual coming-of-age as they receive more solid formation from the Church. But even that cannot substitute for the role of the Holy Spirit himself in the laity’s exercise of their priestly identity. In fact, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church says: “Hence, the laity, dedicated as they are to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and prepared so that even richer fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them” (ibid.).
I was struck one day by a blind girl named Fatima in a televised radio program I stumbled into. She had been made famous through her encounter with Fr. Jerry Orbos and is slowly becoming a well-loved persona because of her prayers for people who are complete strangers and who often report being positively helped by these same prayers and petitions she brings to God on their behalf.  Fatima, I believe, illustrates somewhat what it is to exercise the laity’s sharing in Jesus Christ’s priestly office. In this instance, though, she is not unique; all lay faithful can certainly do what she does, no matter that not all have the gift of powerful intercession. Still, she will even be happier if there were more and more people who pray like her for others, both in the liturgy and outside of it, especially for their benighted country that seemingly scuttles from one calamity to another (both natural and man-made ones), thus making truer their sharing in Christ’s priesthood than is generally felt. Lumen Gentium further explains: “For all their works, prayers and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxations of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit—indeed even the hardships of life if patiently borne—all these become spiritual sacrifices  acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (LG 34)

            Considering where we are, our lay faithful have more than enough reasons to take their sharing in the Christ’s priestly mission very seriously. Or the conditions where we are will keep getting serious.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Laity’s peculiarity

TO get to know someone it pays to be able to set him or her apart from others. I relearned this truth from two identical twins, named Gino and Geo, both altar boys in Brgy Locsoon. Believe me, even their own mother tells me to this day that she can’t distinguish one from the other because they look and behave so much alike. But I found a way one day when, before Mass, I noticed a tiny scar on the left temple of one of the boys and then, out of the blue, I let out a guess: “You must be Gino, right?” He nodded his head like I caught him with his hand inside an utap jar. From then on I have been ninety-nine percent able to distinguish the one from the other. Gino’s peculiarity was, for me, the key.
So how do you distinguish the laity from the other members of the Church? The key is the laity’s peculiarity. I was reading the book of Genesis and it struck me that Judah’s peculiarity among his brothers earns him the greatest blessing from their father Jacob or Israel. “Judah,” says Jacob in a prophetic state, “your brothers will praise you…Your father’s sons shall bow before you. Judah, a young lion! You return from the prey, my son! Like a lion he stoops and crouches, and like a lioness, who dares to rouse him?” (Gen 49:8-10). His peculiarity is his leadership among his brothers; it is also out of him that a royal figure will soon emerge to lead God’s people to greatness. Without Judah’s knowledge of his peculiarity the history of Israel would have turned out different. Because so many of our lay people—pardon my saying so—are out of sync with their peculiarity, need we wonder why the Church and the country are where they are today?
In the words of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: “Their secular character is proper and peculiar to the laity…[But] by reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will” (LG 31).
Now doesn’t this feel like a strong punch, somewhat akin to a Pacman jab? If secularity distinguishes the laity as ‘their’ peculiarity, what constitutes secularity? ‘Saeculum’ which means ‘world’ offers a window to an answer and the document confirms our suspicions when it refers to the lay faithful as those who are “engaging in temporal affairs”. As a rule (which is not to say there are no exceptions), it is they, and not the clergy or the religious, who become politicians, business people, scientists, lawyers, doctors, nurses, farmers, soldiers, accountants, engineers, etc. That is to say, activities and states that more directly tie people to the things of this world are the lay faithful’s field of competence, and not the clergy’s nor the religious’. I would leave it to the reader to draw his or her conclusions (not simply the likes of ”Oh, so that’s why it feels something is not right when Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion dress themselves like priests and when priests call themselves ‘Engineer’ or ‘Attorney’”).
But, and here’s the catch, secularity does not exhaust the laity’s peculiarity. The Vatican II fathers hastened to add to the laity’s act of “engaging in temporal affairs” the complementary phrase “and directing them according to God’s will”. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if some would react to this with, “And how do I know God’s will or whether or not I’m directing my own affairs according to God’s will?” Naturally to that it wouldn’t be difficult to say, “That is exactly why the Scriptures and the Catechism of the Catholic Church are there, why the Church’s teaching authority, as exercised by popes, bishops and to a degree by priests, exists.” The point is, the document strongly instructs all lay faithful to allow the light of faith to guide them in the way they conduct their responsibilities in the world. In a word, it is not enough for the laity to know they “are in the world” and that the world is their field of expertise; they must likewise never stifle the voice of the Savior who reminds them: “But you are not of the world since I have chosen you from the world” (Jn 15:19).
To me what follows staggers the imagination. When true to their identity, the lay persons engage directly in something unspiritual but do so under the guidance of the Spirit who speaks through the Church and, therefore, in that sense they bring spirituality into the unspiritual. For instance, when a lawyer puts his law practice in the service of a true search for justice, and not just for money or profit, he becomes faithful to his vocation. A doctor who cares for his patients not only out of professionalism but especially because he wants to concretely express love towards those who suffer as persons in whom Jesus Christ is present similarly carries out his Christian discipleship. A politician who listens not simply to the voices of his own party or ideology but, most of all, to the highest demands of morality, when crafting decisions and putting them into action, completes his peculiarity.
Remember the first chapter of the gospel of Matthew that deals with the genealogy of Jesus? Remember how he takes pains to mention names of women among those of men, i.e., “Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and the wife of Uriah (Bathsheba with whom David committed adultery)” (Mt 1:3-6)? While a case could be made for the holiness of Ruth, Tamar, Rahab and the wife of Uriah are known to be women who engaged in illicit unions. As Scripture experts tell us, the point of Matthew is to make us, first of all, realize that Jesus truly became a human being because he became a member of a human family, with members that were both heroic and cowardly, saintly and sinful. The evangelist makes it clear what he means by saying that Jesus is truly the “Emmanuel” or the “God-with-us” because he is with both saints and sinners in his own family, so as to save all.
And how is this relevant to our reflection of the laity’s peculiarity?
Again the answer should not be too difficult to see. It is Jesus who brings to the world of real human beings and real human families the kingdom of God and of heaven. This action by the Savior goes to the heart of the laity’s peculiarity. They are to bring the world of politics, economics, culture, sports, business, entertainment—worldly or temporal affairs—to God’s rule so as to put them within the sphere of God’s saving action.

The president used to say to Filipinos: “Kayo ang Boss ko (You are my Boss).” Pardon me but I think that is not exactly expressive of the real definition of the true lay person according to Vatican II. Filipino Catholic Laity are such because they are answerable not only to human bosses or employers but especially and, above all, to the Supreme Master of all, God who reveals himself through Jesus Christ in the Spirit. If any politician were to be a true Catholic lay person, he or she should rather address his constituents: “Kayo ang Boss ko, pangalawa sa Dios na Boss nating lahat (You are my Boss after God who is the Boss of us all).