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.

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