Monday, August 29, 2011

Bishop's Homily on Transfer of Assignments

When we first decided on this day, August 29, 2011, as the day for the public announcement of the new assignment, we were all amused when one of the priests said that this day is the memorial of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist. The amusement seemed to be over the fact that a new assignment was sort of like an execution: “parang pupugutan ng ulo.” Despite the jokes, I think that this feast is a very appropriate time to talk about new assignments.

A few months ago, we had Bishop Ambo David, auxiliary bishop of San Fernando, as our guest in our monthly clergy formation. He gave a commentary on the story of the execution of St. John the Baptist. He said that this was not just the story of the Baptist’s martyrdom. It was not just about John the Baptist being decapitated. It was also about the Johannine community losing John the Baptist as the head of their community. “When (John’s) disciples heard about (the execution of John), they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.” Afterwards, they went to Jesus. Here the words of the Baptist came to be fulfilled: “He must increase; I must decrease.” By his martyrdom, St. John the Baptist delivers his community to Jesus. From this day forth, Jesus will be the head of the community. “He is the head of his body, the Church,” St. Paul would later on teach in his rich theology on the Mystical Body.

In this light we look at the new assignment of our parish priests in the diocese. For many of you, the past six years have been the occasion to forge friendships with your respective parish priests. You benefited from their preaching and guidance. You were blessed by the sacraments they celebrated. But now, your parish priests have to move on to new assignments. You yourselves will have to welcome new pastors. The attachment to the persons of our parish priests might hinder us from recognizing the fact that the Lord Jesus is the head of the Church. The parish is not the parish priest’s flock. Rather, it is part of the flock of Christ. We priests care for our respective parishes without owning them. “God’s flock is in your midst. Give it a shepherd’s care. Watch over it as God would have you do,” said St. Peter.

John the Baptist did not lose his head. He willingly gave it up for the Lord. I find it significant that this is what the promise of obedience really is. When you, my dear priests, were ordained, you made a promise of obedience to your ordinary. You willingly surrendered your individual plans, your dreams, your independence. You are submitting everything that should transform you into self-made men to the will of your bishop. You have so opted to find your self-fulfillment not in your own will but in the will of Christ as expressed in your bishop’s will. Like John the Baptist, you are not losing your head. You, in a sense, gave it up so that you might have the mind of Christ. The promise of obedience might sound good in theology but it is in moments like a transfer of assignments that the promise is put to the test. Understanding our human inclination to hold on to what we have been accustomed to, the exercise of obedience to your bishop is a real experience of self-denial. It is a true martyrdom, an authentic witness to Christ whose food is to do the will of the One who sent him.

And on this second transfer, I am humbled as your bishop by your heroic obedience, my dear priests. I was truly edified by the assurance of your obedience: “I want to glorify God,” so you said. A bishop could not ask for more. Thank you, dear priests. Thank you for your availability. Thank you so much. I am honored by the fact that I am bishop to priests who truly have the mind of Christ.

John the Baptist glorified Christ with his martyrdom. Let us glorify him with the witness of our obedience. In this way, we live out the true identity of the priest as alter Christus – the Christ who glorified the Father by saying: “Not my will but your will be done!”

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