Understanding the Year of the Clergy and Consecrated Persons
THE priority of this coming year, in preparing for the five hundred years of evangelization in the Philippines is given to the clergy and the consecrated persons. This is on the background of the primary purpose which is the new evangelization. The whole church in the country is called to be church together in being an evangelized and evangelizing community with new means, vigor and enthusiasm together with the priests, religious, consecrated persons and the laity. Pope Francis would say, we, both as individuals and as Church, do not need not only a continuous formation but continuous conversion.
If the whole church is called to be “saints together” why is the theme and priority of this year seems to be only for the priests and religious? Is it because some of the priests, the religious, in the light of what has notoriously and shamefully happened, 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 Pope has done in order to repair 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 to its religious leaders. This is true in Europe and this is also true in the Philippines. There is a direct relationship between the development of society with their clergy and hierarchy. When the clergy is corrupt the society becomes corrupt; but when the clergy or its religious leaders are holy the people becomes holy.
So this year would be rightly considered as the timely year for the clergy and the religious for without the reformation of the religious leaders, all the good that has been done on the past and perhaps in the future will go down the drain. In fact, perhaps the success or the failures of the themes given in the previous years depend so much on the leadership, creativity and enthusiasm of these leaders.
But how could our religious succeed in leading the flock? By becoming holy themselves! All of us priests, religious, consecrated persons and laity alike share in 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 all of us belong. The People of God is composed of the baptized and the consecrated persons and the pastors, the ministers and all are called to holiness. Though, the clergy, the ordained and even those religious sisters or brothers and all the consecrated persons who are lay who are not ordained nor part of the hierarchical structure of the Church, are nevertheless part of the life of the church as People of God. All are called the holiness and are called together to be disciples of Christ.
But then, how could 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 action of Christ in washing the feet in indicates to us the way. It is through the humble service of the religious leaders done out of love towards one another and towards their flock that they could become holy together with their flock.
This priority given to the clergy who are ordained and the consecrated persons therefore, does not in any way mean that the laity which comprises the vast majority of the People of God be left behind as if they are “second” class in this year, even though there are consecrated persons who remain as lay persons. In fact, the call to sanctity and holiness is for all and could be done only through this unique relationship of service towards each other in reciprocal love and with the awareness that one could not be 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, as the Marian dimension of the church). Co-essentiality means that one could not exist without the other.
These two dimensions of the Church as People of God, and their co-essentiality is necessary if we wish that this year’s as pastoral priority be fruitful. It is not true that the priests and the religious are the “privileged” class in the Church, while the laity, the non ordained (even though many religious and consecrated persons are not ordained) are the spiritual “proletariat” in the Church. We believe that this has to be avoided.
In other words to enter deeply into this coming year, we are invited to reflect 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, all are called to be recipients and active agents of evangelization.
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 is an invitation for deeper discipleship and communion towards a common journey towards holiness, for neither the clergy, the religious, nor the laity (even as consecrated persons) could do it alone. In fact to love, to serve, and to forgive, we need each other not only as objects but also subjects of this love, service and forgiveness.
In doing so together we could re-juvenate the church as it prepares itself for a more fruitful year next year, and to whom we could fix our loving gaze, i.e., towards the youth—the next pastoral priority—considered not only present but the future of the church in the Philippines. But it depends on how we could live as witnesses and examples for them and with them in this year.