Last month, we began the fifth year in the nine-year preparation program initiated by the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines five years ago, towards the 500th anniversary of evangelization of the Philippines. Fr. Emmanuel Mijares explains to us the significance of this Year of the Diocesan Clergy and Consecrated Persons.

We, as the Catholic Church in the Philippines, in preparing for the year 2021 to thank God and celebrate the five hundred years of evangelization in the Philippines, continue the nine year journey of preparation as a church. The theme of this fifth year (2018) invites us
to give a pastoral priority to the clergy and the Religious, i.e., to consecrated persons.

Year of the Diocesan Clergy and consecrated persons 2
It is through the humble service of the religious leaders done out of love for one another and for their flock that they can become holy with their flock.

This theme however, does not do away with the previous themes but is considered to be in continuity with it. In fact, it invites the church in the Philippines, to more intensely live what has been prioritized in previous years with gratitude, and to live this year’s priority with passion, viewing the future with hope and giving the preference in turn to other themes, like the year of the youth (2019), the year on Ecumenism and Inter-Religious Dialogue (2020), and the year of Missio ad Gentes (2021).

Continuous Conversion

At the outset, it is obvious that the priority of this year given to the clergy and the Religious has as its primary purpose: the new evangelization. The whole church in the country is called to be church together in being an evangelized and evangelizing community together with the priests, the Religious, consecrated lay persons and the laity.

The underlying reason behind the CBCP’s nine year program of the church in the Philippines is precisely to continue the evangelization started by the missionaries from Europe 500 years ago, but with new vigor, means and enthusiasm, or to carry out a new-evangelization.

All of us, the laity, the poor, families, parishes and in this year, the clergy and the Religious are called to actively participate in it. To do so, Pope Francis would say, we, both as individuals and as Church, do not only need a continuous formation but also a continuous conversion.

If the whole church is called to be “saints together” why is the theme or priority this year apparently only for priests and Religious? Is it because some priests, and Religious, in the light of notorious and shameful events evolving the clergy, have betrayed the church? Well, maybe so, but this is not the main reason though perhaps, this year, could
be the propitious time to say “mea culpa” as the previous and present Popes have done in order to make reparations for and prevent the same sins of our religious leaders.

It is known that the amelioration or the worsening of any society depends to a greater degree on its religious leaders. This is true in Europe but also true in the Philippines. There
is a direct relationship between the development of society and their clergy and hierarchy. When the clergy is corrupt, society becomes corrupt; but when the clergy or its religious leaders are holy, people become holy.

So this year can rightly be considered as a timely year for the clergy and Religious, since, without the reformation of the religious leaders, all the good that has been done in the past and perhaps in the future, will go down the drain. In fact, probably the success or failure of the themes from previous years depends so much on the leadership, creativity and enthusiasm of these leaders.

“Not a privileged class”

But how can our clergy and Religious succeed in leading the flock? By becoming holy! All of us priests, Religious, lay consecrated persons and all laity alike share the same vocation: there is for all a “universal call to holiness”! The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church (Lumen Gentium 43-47), gives us a vision of what the church is: A People of God, to which we all belong. The People of God is composed of the baptized and consecrated persons and their pastors, and ministers and are all called to holiness. Though, the clergy, the ordained and even those Religious sisters or brothers and all lay consecrated persons who are not ordained nor part of the hierarchical structure of the Church, are nonetheless part of the life of the church as People of God. All are called to holiness and called together to be disciples of Christ.

All the members of the church are called to be saints together.
All the members of the church are called to be saints together.

But then, how can we be become holy? By washing each other’s feet. The clergy and the laity as disciples of Christ are called to serve, and even forgive, one another. The example of Christ in washing the feet shows us the way. It is through the humble service of the religious leaders done out of love for one another and for their flock that they can become holy with their flock.

This year then may not be considered only for clergy and the Religious who are called to the “state of perfection” but also for persons who have received, together with everybody, the call to “perfection” itself. In fact, the clergy and the laity, though distinct vocations, are  ordained towards each other. The clergy cannot do without the laity and vice versa. This service they can concretely perform by “washing each other’s feet” out of love for one another.

This priority given to the clergy who are ordained and the Religious persons therefore, does not in any way mean that the laity who comprise the vast majority of the People of God are left behind as if they were “second” class in this year.

In fact, as mentioned before, the call to sanctity and holiness is for all and can be fulfilled only through this unique relationship of service for each other in reciprocal love, with the awareness that one cannot do without the other. In fact, the hierarchy (or the Petrine dimension of the church) is co-essential with the charismatic dimension of the church (also called by St. John Paul II, the Marian dimension of the church). Co-essentiality means that one cannot exist without the other.

These two dimensions of the Church as the People of God, with their co-essentiality, is necessary if we wish this year’s pastoral priority to be fruitful. It is not true that priests and the Religious are the “privileged” class in the Church, while the laity, those not ordained (even though many Religious and consecrated persons are not ordained) are the spiritual “proletariat” in the Church. We believe that this distortion must be avoided.
In other words, to enter deeply into this coming year, we are invited to reflect and consider that all of us, ordained or non-ordained, according to the Second Vatican council are called to holiness. All the members of the church are called to be saints together. In other words, in this new evangelization, we are all called to be recipients and active agents of evangelization.

Moreover in the recent document “Iuvenescit Ecclesia”, both the ordained (the Petrine dimension) and lay people (the Charismatic dimension) should more and more establish together a relationship of love, in order to help one another through a spirituality of communion (NMII, 43) in order to give new life to the church as authentic disciples of Christ.

All are called to be disciples of our Lord. (Sequela Christi) and they are called to do this through a witness of charity not only among themselves, i.e., the clergy and religious, but also together with the whole People of God.

Washing each other’s feet

This year could also consider the formation of the clergy and the religious under the light of the new evangelization which is a radical discipleship to Christ – of service done together and towards each other. This could bear witness to, and render visible the ecclesiality of the Church as the Body of Christ concretized in mutual love and service. As has been noted, the primary vocation is not to be a priest, a nun, or a Religious, nor is to be consecrated but it is to be a disciple of Christ.

This could give a new impetus and vigour not only for priests, the Religious and the laity, but also show everyone the beauty of following Christ together and attract vocations, so that the clergy are not separated from the laity but journey together with them.

Is it not perhaps due to this loneliness of priests and religious that we have increasingly less vocations? Or perhaps, through the seeming absence of a true communion of love and service between the clergy and the laity, there is a vacuum among the clergy which expresses itself in deviated forms of lifestyle to the point of giving scandal to the People of God?

In this year of the clergy and Religious, we all need to live ecclesiality and sanctity together. Moreover, due to the past sins of the clergy and Religious, we could at the very start of this year, implore God’s immense mercy and ask for mutual forgiveness in order to start a new with a new synergy and vitality together, as the People of God.

Yes, we need to “wash each other’s feet” from the sins of the past and together ask for God’s mercy. We have all been recipients of mercy so we can show mercy to one another, priests towards the laity, and the laity towards priests and pastors.

As we open this year therefore, you and I need to be faithful to our calling to be “saints together” as the one Body of Christ. The year of the clergy and the Religious invites us to deeper discipleship and communion towards a common journey, towards holiness, for neither the clergy and Religious, nor the laity (even as consecrated persons) can make it alone. In fact to love, serve, and forgive, we need each other not only as objects, but also as subjects of this love, service and forgiveness.

In doing so together we can re-juvenate the church as it prepares itself for a more fruitful year ahead, and we can turn our loving gaze to the youth – the next pastoral priority – considered not only as the present, but also as the future of the church in the Philippines. But all depends on how we can bear witness and be an example for them and with them, especially in this year of the clergy and the Religious, as well as of consecrated persons to the Lord.

Fr. Emmanuel Mijares, Ph.D.

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