As early as 1832, Pope Gregory XVI was already sounding the alarm about the loss of the sense of the sacred which he attributes to liberalism. Looking at this document, we can see a clear description of our present times:
"We speak of the things which you see with your own eyes, which We both bemoan. Depravity exults; science is imprudent; liberty, dissolute. The holiness of the sacred is despised; the majesty of divine worship is not only disapproved by evil men but defiled and held up to ridicule. Hence sound doctrine is perverted and errors of all kinds spread boldly. The laws of the sacred, the rights, institutions and discipline - none are safe from the audacity of those speaking evil. Our Roman See is harassed violently and the bonds of unity are daily loosened and severed. The divine authority of the Church is opposed and her rights shorn off. She is subjected to human reason and with the greatest injustice exposed to the hatred of the people and reduced to vile servitude. The obedience due bishops is denied and their rights trampled underfoot. Furthermore, academies and schools resound with new,monstrous opinions, which openly attack the Catholic Faith; this horrible and nefarious war is openly and even publicly waged. Thus, by institutions and by the example of teachers, the minds of the youth are corruptedand a tremendous blow is dealt to religion and the perversion of morals is spread. So the restraints of religion are thrown off, by which alone kingdoms stand. We see the destruction of public order, the fall of principalities and the overturning of all legitimate power approaching. Indeed this great mass of calamities had its inception in the heretical societies and sects in which all that is sacrilegious, infamous and blasphemous has gathered as bilge water in a ship's hold, a congealed mass of all filth." (Gregory XVI, Mirari Vos, 15 August 1832, 5.)
When the prophet Elijah wanted to anoint Elisha as his successor, there was one thing that held the man from following him immediately: “Let me kiss my mother and father goodbye, and I will follow you.” The same is the case with the one to whom the Lord extended the invitation to follow him: “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” Even the other one said almost the same thing: “I will follow you but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” When we look at vocation stories in Sacred Scripture, it seems that God’s call to service always has with it a sense of urgency: “They immediately left their nets to follow him.” God’s call is never placed on hold. He is not to be made to wait. He always comes first in our lives: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and everything else will be given unto you.”
Contrary to what the world says about being in the Lord’s service, St. Paul looks at Divine service as a means to freedom: “For freedom, Christ set us free; so stand still and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” Elisha slaughtered his oxen and used the plowing equipment to cook their meat which he gave the people to eat – this is a radical way of being free from his attachments and concerns in order to serve the Lord in freedom. When Jesus said that “foxes have lairs and the birds have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head,” he was attesting to his poverty which, ironically did not oppress him. Rather, it gave him freedom to fulfill the mission he was sent to do. He has bidden his mother farewell and left Nazareth in order to proclaim the Kingdom of God. This freedom was not a license for Jesus to do what he wants. Rather, it was the opportunity for him to do his Father’s will. Thus, in admonishing us to imitate our Lord, St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians said: “You were called to freedom. But do not use this freedom as a opportunity for the flesh; rather serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Ironically, what we regard as freedom today is nothing else but a license to pursue what we want. It is a license to do what I want, which in the end is actually enslaving. St. Paul says: “Live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; they are opposed against each other, so that you may not do what you want.” Living in the Spirit, doing God’s will, is the real freedom: “If you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” It is when we insist on what we want that we become slaves of the world and of our selves. Submission to God’s will is real freedom for it makes us available to love and to serve.
Thomas a Kempis wrote this prayer to the Lord: “It is a great honor, a great glory to serve Thee and to despise all things for Thee. For they who willingly subject themselves to Thy most holy service shall have great grace. They shall find the most sweet consolations of the Holy Ghost who, for the love of Thee, have cast away all carnal desires. They shall gain great freedom of mind who, for Thy name, enter upon the narrow way and put aside all worldly care.
O pleasant and delightful service of God, which makes a man truly free and holy! O sacred state of religious bondage, which makes men equal to angels, pleasing to God, terrible to the devils, and commendable to the faithful. O service worthy to be embraced and always wished for, which leads to the supreme good and procures a joy that will never end.” (Imitation of Christ, chp. 10)
It was in the context of prayer in solitude that Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” It was Peter who replied: “The Christ of God.” “The word ‘Christ’ comes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Messiah, which means ‘anointed.’ It became the name proper to Jesus only because he accomplished perfectly the divine mission that ‘Christ’ signifies.” (CCC, 436) Oftentimes, the idea of being the “anointed one” is associated with the idea of privilege and influence. Perhaps this became the reason why the disciples would later on quarrel among themselves for privileged positions in the kingdom of Christ – the honor of being seated at his right and at his left. They misunderstood Jesus’ anointing as something merely political. Our Lord was not about to take this misunderstanding lightly.
“Jesus accepted Peter’s profession of faith, which acknowledged him to be the Messiah, by announcing the imminent Passion of the Son of Man”: “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” Offhand, this is definitely not the way we imagine the anointed One to be. In the language of the world, the anointed one must be busy preparing for his inauguration, must be cloaked with trappings of power and dignity. But such is the anointed of the world, not the anointed of God. The Anointed of God is stripped and humiliated, made to suffer mockery and dishonored in the eyes of men. The Catechism of the Church says, “He unveiled the authentic content of his messianic Kingdom both in the transcendent identity of the Son of Man ‘who came down from heaven,’ and in redemptive mission as the Suffering Servant: ‘The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ Hence, the true meaning of his kingship is revealed only when he is raised high on the Cross. Only after his Resurrection will Peter be able to proclaim Jesus’ messianic kingship to the People of God: ‘Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made his both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.’” (CCC, 440)
It is only when we see Jesus in his suffering and death that we shall understand the fullest implication of his identity as “The Christ of God.” Any way of portraying Christ severed from his Cross is a deception. The real Christ of God is the one whom he sent to suffer and die so as to rise again. The true Christ cannot be separated from his Cross. The Cross is the mark of authentication of the real Jesus who is the Christ.
So is also the Cross the mark of the authentication of the disciple of the Christ: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” Thomas a Kempis said, “The higher a person is advanced in spirit the heavier the crosses shall he often meet.” Also he adds, “Jesus has many lovers of his heavenly kingdom, but few that are willing to bear His cross. He has many that are desirous of comfort, but few of tribulation. He finds many companions of his table, but few of his abstinence. All desire to rejoice with Him, few are willing to suffer with Him…Many reverence His miracles but few follow the ignominy of His Cross.” (Imitation of Christ 11) That is why very few follow him along the authentic road of discipleship. However, we should keep in mind that just as the spirit of grace and petition can be poured upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem only because the anointed One has been pierced, so also it is only by following him along this way of the Cross that one can truly possess the eternal life that He promises. “In the Cross is the height of virtue; in the perfection of sanctity. There is no health of souls nor hope of eternal life but in the Cross,” (Imitation of Christ, 12) The Lord said, “For whosoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
"I myself will look after and tend my sheep" so declares the Lord on account of the neglect of Israel's leaders. "As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend my sheep. I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered." In Jesus, this promise was fulfilled. Having seen the vast crowd coming toward him, Jesus' heart was moved to pity "because they were like sheep without a shepherd." Jesus' heart was moved because he had a shepherd's heart. The Sacred Heart is a Shepherd's Heart.
How did he look after his sheep? His heart moved with pity, Jesus began teaching them. At the end of the day, he took bread, gave thanks, broke the bread and distributed it for the people to eat. He tends his flock by the light of his word. He feeds his flock by giving them his Body to eat and his Blood to drink. His Heart, being a Shepherd's Heart, moves him to seek out the lost, to bring back the strayed, to bind up the injured, to heal the sick...to shepherd them rightly.
His love appoints men to be priests so that through them, Jesus might continue feeding and tending his flock. Whenever we see priests, we are reminded of Jesus' love for us. Thus St. John Vianney says: "The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Christ."
As the year for priests draws to a close, I am thankful to the Lord for the opportunity to meet my first parish priest. Last Monday, I offered Mass at St. Andrew Parish Bel air whose pastor is Msgr. Emmanuel Sunga. After the Mass, he met me at the sacristy and invited me to have dinner with him. That was a moment of grace for me because it was the first time that we had a lengthy conversation. I was his altar boy when I was in the 5th grade. When I got ordained as priest, he called me "my sacristan" during the kiss of peace. He remembered me as his altar server. He told the people around us that whenever we had holy hour for first Fridays, I would be kneeling beside him. Whenever people ask me about the beginnings of my vocation, I would always tell them of how as a little boy, I would see this priest in his cassock walking aroung the church as he prayed the Rosary at four in the afternoon. Msgr. Sunga smiled when I told this to him and he said that even until now, he would walk around the roof deck at that time to pray the Rosary. Towards the end of the evening, Msgr. Sunga confirmed that at about the time I was born, he was the assistant parish priest of San Felipe Neri. Therefore, it is true that this priest who inspired me to be a priest is at the same time the priest who baptized me. He said with great surprise: "Tingnan mo nga naman! Ako pala ang nag-anak sa iyo!"
How thankful to God am I for this wonderful priest! My life was indeed touched by this man. Holy priests leave their mark on people.
In the past, as I was organizing the Blessed Sacrament procession for the Vicariate of San Pedro Bautista, I entered into an argument with a sister of the Pious Disciples of the Divine Master who opposed the idea of having all the priests wear a cope. "It is never done," she said to me. I came across these pictures of the Corpus Christi procession in Toledo, Spain. These pictures were in the New Liturgical Movement blog and the image source is El Digital Imagines. These pictures prove that the sister was wrong.
O Jesus, eternal Hight Priest, divine Sacrificer, Thou who in an unspeakable burst of love for men, Thy brethren, didst cause the Christian priesthood to spring forth from Thy Sacred Heart, vouchsafe to pour forth upon Thy priests continual living streams of infinite love.
Live in them, transform them into Thee; make them, by Thy grace, fit instruments of Thy mercy; do Thou act in them and through them, and grant, that they may become wholly one with Thee by their faitfhul imitation of Thy virtues; and, in Thy Name and by the strength of Thy spirit, may they do the works which Thou didst accomplish for the salvation of the world.
Divine Redeemer of souls, behold how great is the multitude of those who still sleep in the darkenss of error; reckon up the number of those unfaithful sheep who stray to the edge of the precipe; consider the throngs of the poor, the hungry, the ignorant, and the feeble who groan in their abandoned condition.
Return to us in the person of Thy priests; trul;y live again in them; act through them and pass once more through the world, teaching, forgiving, comforting, sacrificing and renewing the sacred bonds of love betwwen the Heart of God and the heart of man. Amen.
We ought to get back the dimension of the sacred in the liturgy. The liturgy is not a festivity; it is not a meeting for the purpose of having a good time. It is of no importance that the parish priest has cudgeled his brains to come up with suggestive ideas or imaginative novelties. The liturgy is what makes the Thrice-Holy God present amongst us; it is the burning bush; it is the Alliance of God with man in Jesus Christ, who has died and risen again. The grandeur of the liturgy does not rest upon the fact that it offers an interesting entertainment, but in rendering tangible the Totally Other, whom we are not capable of summoning. He comes because He wills. In other words, the essential in the liturgy is the mystery, which is realized in the common ritual of the Church; all the rest diminishes it. Men experiment with it in lively fashion, and find themselves deceived, when the mystery is transformed into distraction, when the chief actor in the liturgy is not the Living God but the priest or the liturgical director. - Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Chile, 1988)
Do we still need sacred space, sacred time, mediating symbols? Yes, we do need them, precisely so that, through the "image," through the sign, we learn to see the openness of heaven. We need them to give us the capacity to know the mystery of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified. - Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Spirit of the Liturgy )