Recalling important events in our life bring a kind of special feeling. It is because these events form as part of the wonderful collections of the persons’ journey in this world. In my case, as I celebrate today (April 18) my own sacerdotal anniversary I cannot help but travel back to the time when I was ordained together with my “kababayan and a good friend” Fr. Jesus H. Samaniego. As I recall my own priestly journey for the past twenty-three years let me just put it in three important key words which would guide us as I bring you back from 1994 – up to this year 2017. These words are the following; Priesthood, Formation and Ordinations.
“You did not choose Me but I chose you!,” (John 15:16) was the theme that I and Fr. Jess selected for our ordination twenty three years ago. It was an ordinary day but for me and for Fr Jess it was a day so special it was because it was the day when we expressed our YES to God in public to live a life as ordained ministers. We were both convinced that God called and chose us. It is truly a privilege to be chosen.
Speaking about my twenty three (23) years of priestly ministry all I can say that it is indeed a life of blessing. The priestly ministry enables me to meet so many people. I came to meet them as I exercise my priestly ministry. I can really say that most of them cared for the priests and their vocation. The people have tremendous faith in God and they respect the priests as God’s representatives. Of course, there are very few who have disrespected the church including the priests. But only a handful of them.
Over the years I have seen and felt the deep faith of the people and their faith moved me to minister them well. To minister them means that I should study and reflect well on the Word of God that I will have to preach to them. To minister them is to become available to them. Sometimes, I fall short in giving them best pastoral care that I should give but God knows that I have tried my best.
The people strengthened my faith because as I ministered them I find the meaning of priesthood – the very life that I chose. It was truly a blessing that God chose me – though how unworthy I may be.
In the twenty three years of my priesthood, the two decades and one year are spent in the formation. Up to this moment, I am still happy to be in the seminary. I cannot imagine the many seminarians whom I journeyed with as a formator. They open up themselves – their calling, their worries and anxieties in responding to the call, their frailties and above all their gratitude for the realization of their own vocation to the priesthood. When one trusts and believes in the capabilities of the candidates these young guys gradually developed into a fully blown responsible persons ready to serve God and His people.
Formation is accompaniment. It requires listening ears and an understanding heart. But as time moves on, God will give to the formators the sensitive ears and the hearts that know how to decipher the sincerity of the motivation of the candidates. As a formator, I am only God’s instrument and in the formation it is God who will form the “future shepherds” of His people. However, it should not be discounted that the candidates must have the wholehearted cooperation in their formation. In the book of the Prophet Jeremiah God said, “I will give you shepherds after my own heart” (Jeremiah 3:15). The seminary is the place where we form the candidates and the formators are simply God’s instruments.
I am forever grateful that, in my twenty-three years of priestly ministry I have shared myself to the mission of the church as a formator. There is no point of comparison whether you are a parish priest or a seminary formator. What is important is that we all perform the roles given to us by God in His church. The bottom line is that we all contribute to the building up of God’s kingdom. I thank God for this role that He has given me as a formator.
I cannot count anymore the many ordinations that I have attended since I entered in the seminary (REMASE) as a formator. Attending ordinations enabled me to visit the several lovely places in Mindanao. I came to know about the many local churches and the people who belong to these churches. It is part of the minor consolations of being a formator.
However, the most moving part in the ordination is when the formator (Rector) gives the recommendation to the Bishop about the suitability of the candidate/s. In this particular moment that I personally say my prayer for the candidate/s himself. It is a prayer that the candidate/s may become a holy priest and a good collaborator of the Bishop in the pastoral work of the Diocese. This is the kind of priest that we need in our time.
Meanwhile, the most painful moment in the life of the seminary formators is when they see their own students (now priests) not doing well in the ministry. It makes us wonder why this happens. It is on these moments that we ask ourselves – where have we failed in our accompaniment in the formation? Is there something lacking in what we are doing? In this difficult time, we just console ourselves by saying – “we have done our best and they have made such a decision.”
In these ordinations that I am personally renewed as well. In every ordination the grace is truly there. This newly ordained priest will now become my brother priest. He is not anymore the seminarian whom I accompanied with, but a brother priest in the service of the Lord. I always feel the grace in every ordination. It is also my own renewal and a reminder of my own priestly promises.
The twenty-three years of priestly journey is all but a “grace from God.” There were ups and downs but many of them were truly the high moments in my life. I thank God for this call and for sustaining me (and Fr. Jess) with His grace upon me. All these were years of learning many things and above all years of spending time with God. It is in spending time in prayer that I draw my strength. In my prayer I thank God for the many lay people whom I came to know in my ministry as a priest. They have been so supportive and caring to their priests. I pray to the Lord in a special way those many lay people who have felt the need of the seminary and they become so generous in supporting the seminary either in prayer or in financial manner. These people are so encouraging. Their support to the seminary can be equated as their LOVE for the Church. They love the seminary because they want MORE priests. They will be the priests who will serve the parishes in the Archdioceses/Dioceses!
The Archbishop who ordained me and Fr. Jess, Most Rev. Antonio Ll. Mabutas, DD is specially remembered on this day. He was a good father and a supportive Bishop to us as his young priests. The other two Archbishops (Archbishop Emeritus Fernando R. Capalla, DD and Archbishop Romulo G. Valles, DD) who are ever supportive in my seminary work are worth mentioning. I cannot ask for more except to thank God for giving us shepherds like them. The Archdiocese of Davao is indeed gifted and very blessed to have them as our local shepherds.
The presbyteral family in the Archdiocese of Davao is truly a blessing. This is my bigger family since I became a priest. In the many ups and downs in my ministry as a priest – they are there that form as part of our fraternal bond as priests. The clergy of Davao is worth living and worth loving for!
Finally, my own small biological family. It is where my vocation started and it was there that my vocation was nurtured with their support. Looking back, I can say – thank you Lord for giving me my own family. They have been a source of strength and inspiration. In the end, I thank God for the YES that me and Fr Jess gave twenty years ago. “You did not choose Me but I chose you,” that words of Jesus that serve always as our source of inspiration! (Msgr. Abel Apigo)