September 25, 2023

I had these unforgettable challenging experiences in my 17 years as a priest. Reaching a BEC with only four people and dogs to attend the Sunday service was frustrating. Insults and mockery from people can be depressing too. I experienced offering a prayer service for a wake when I heard the family angrily said, “Apay nga inmay dayta nga padi sumasali ditoy!” Unhealthy criticisms from parishioners who never even dip a finger to help is worse than falling from the rice field. Rejection from fellow priests is real. I am wondering, we were simple and poor seminarians then, but when ordained we felt omniscient. We don’t even feel sorry for our mistakes and not a single sorry was heard but long defenses. This is another painful reality of the priesthood. A sincere brother is felt and likewise, insincerity and distrust are felt too.
I felt deeply down. I questioned my priesthood. I sensed distrust among staff, among brother priests, and distrust to authority. I am in crisis.
This is a public confession with hope that when the younger generation of priests may find themselves in the same situation they may learn from this challenging experience and may learn to gain the strength to move on.
Here is a simple, doable, and yet effective lifestyle to overcome the challenges of priesthood. Have a prayer partner. Maintain good communication with the spiritual director. Maintain praying of the holy rosary and breviary. Celebrate the holy mass every day even when at times feeling dry and empty with two or three people and without stipends. Surround yourself with good friends and seek help from your family. They will always be there to embrace you. Write songs and articles, sing and dance, crack jokes, smile, and laugh always.
My self-examination tells me, that I hurt people with my words and actions. People shun away my rudeness and unnecessary strictness. I humbly seek for forgiveness. I am willing to restore friendships that were broken due to human weakness but above all for the sake of justice and peace. Just in case you un-friended me on Facebook for a “dislike,” please add me as a friend again.
In the final analysis, it is between me and my God. In the final analysis, the source of strength and inspiration is no less than the God who chose, called, anointed me, and sent me. I must always be reminded that I was not ordained to run a business but to be immersed and walk with the people. I could have been an architect or an engineer receiving a good salary but God did not call me to that but to serve him in his people as a priest. I was walking one time to Saclit (Sadanga, Mountain Province) and alone, the temptation came, “You could have been a good artist with a good salary why do you sacrifice walking under the sun and rain to reach people?”
On the other side of the challenges are beautiful surprises. My priestly anniversary on Dec. 3 was indeed loaded with happy surprises and inspirations.
First, on the early morning of Dec. 2, Fr. Ronilo Pagao joyfully offered his car and his service to drive us to Angat, Bulacan for an important meeting with the Notre Dame de Vie (NDV) priests and their superior who came all the way from France.
Second, I felt the warm and homey welcome of the priests at NDV Institute and their lay associates at Mother of Life (MOL). I had a quality time with Fr. Superior Benoit. Listening to him was a spiritual overload.
There was joy to be with the NDV priests, NDV Bishop Ben and to be with Superior Benoit on the birthday of their founder, Blessed Marie-Eugene of the Child Jesus, O.C.D.
To look at the other side of missionary life with new friends and a new outlook of evangelizing with new strategies and new bonding is something to appreciate for a wider perspective.
Third, my personal conversation with the NDV Superior, Fr. Benoit was inspirational and uplifting. Fr. Superior Benoit summarized priesthood as a service with two important elements; contemplation and mission. There is a need to have more time in contemplation to be effective in the mission. Our life as missionaries and as priests must be propelled by these elements of life, contemplation, and mission. We need to be in constant communication with Jesus to be constant in our mission.
Fourth, listening to the wisdom of retired Bishop Ben was inspirational too. He emphasized the strength of the priesthood, “Many priests are losing their love to the priesthood because they are losing Jesus in their life, in their prayers, and in their priority. Many priests are getting buried in their materialistic lifestyle. Unnecessary preoccupations as businessmen and managers are robbing Jesus from their priesthood. They prefer their cellular phones over their prayer books. They are motivated by money and properties. Priests must be detached from these so that they will be in touch with Jesus. If the attraction to material things will not be corrected, it will lead to spiritual dryness and eventually frustrated priesthood.
Fifth, Bro. Hernan and his wife Haydee Sauza persistently invited us for a visit at their house. The family made us feel at home and even gave each one an advance Christmas gift. Fr. Totz Pagao, Fr. Joel Dumansi and I travelled back to Baguio City spiritually energized.
Sixth, beating my time for the wedding at Kilong, Sagada, Mountain Province I arrived safely. It was the evening of Dec. 3 when I officiated the wedding of Benjamin Muting and Rita Dicaleng, both 66 years old. The couple was married by parental engagement in 1970. They were minors then but they eventually decided to bring their love to Jesus on the occasion of my priestly anniversary.
Seventh, many people young and old from Kiltepan came at the rectory together with the couple to celebrate married life and priesthood. Friends and families came. They brought along food for everybody. We enjoyed the food as a big family and yet the food was still abundant after supper. Indeed, God is great and he works in mysterious ways.
Pope Francis in his letter to priests, “Vocation, more than our own choice, is a response to the Lord’s unmerited call. We do well to return constantly to those passages of the Gospel where we see Jesus praying, choosing and calling others ‘to be him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message.’ (Mark 3:14).
Celebrating my 17 years is celebrating it with gratitude. I thank the Lord for his merciful love to me. I thank my family, mama Carol, my 12 siblings, my relatives. I thank my brother priests and the bishops who molded me to become a priest of the here and now. I thank the schools, seminaries, teachers, and formators. I thank the mission stations I was assigned, Bauko Catholic Mission, Sadanga Catholic Mission, Bontoc Catholic Mission, and Kilong Catholic Mission. I thank God for the many blessings in the event of life and the many people whom I encountered and who, until today are journeying with me. May the celebration of my anniversary be a celebration of mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and peace. I must live and enjoy priesthood. But, pray for me as I discern for a major decision.
I end with Pope Francis’ message, “Gratitude is always a powerful weapon. Only if we are able to contemplate and feel genuine gratitude for all those ways we have experienced God’s love, generosity, solidarity, and trust, as well as his forgiveness, patience, forbearance, and compassion, will we allow the Spirit to grant us the freshness that can renew our life and mission.”
Reach me at [email protected] or at 0905-165-3669.