17 June 2014

NOT THE BEST

On The 19th Anniversary of My Sacerdotal Ordination


Every priest goes through some kind of a crisis.  Perhaps the absence of crisis in a priest’s life should cause more alarm than the presence of it.  It is in going through a crisis that we see what stuff a priest is made of.  It is by going through a crisis that the priest is stuffed with what he becomes.  Some say that a crisis makes or breaks a person, but that depends on the person really.  For as the German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, said, “The hand of God is at times the hand of grace and at other times the hand of suffering, but it is always the hand of love.”  God’s hand is always the hand of Abba who lovingly disciplines us and affirms us each day.  Mysteriously, crises in the life of every disciple of Jesus – priest or lay – are God’s tenderly affirming us even as they are His firmly regulating us.  Small and big ones, I had my own share of priestly crises.  Nineteen years is quite a long period not to have even one or two.

More than a decade ago, I had my toughest crisis.  At the peak of my agony, leaving the priesthood was a temptation so easy to fall into.  I had many questions; I questioned many.  I had sleepless nights; my nights were wet with tears.  I almost gave in; but God did not give up on me.  I could have turned my back on my first love, the priesthood, if only to end my pain right away.  But the words of Archbishop Soc to me kept ringing in my heart more than in my ears: “Is that how shallow your love for the priesthood?”  And so, with a few but real good friends – some were elder brothers in the priesthood – I mustered all the courage and prayed for greater generosity to fight the real attraction of quitting.

I realized that while the priesthood understandably demands my faithfulness to God, it is, in fact and always, about God’s fidelity more than mine.  It is not about my conquering all my battles as it is my surrendering my self totally to the Father’s encompassing love.  I am a priest not because I deserve to be one but because God wants it so.  Period.

“Miserando atque eligendo” – this is Pope Francis’ episcopal motto.  “Lowly but chosen” – this is what the motto means.  Every priest knows this about himself and should never forget this truth.  And that is why I am proud of the nineteen years of my priesthood because it is not my achievement at all.  It is God’s accomplishment in me whom He has chosen despite my lowliness in many things.

One evening, at the height of my crisis eleven years ago, I was on my way home when I felt the urge for a coffee drink after gassing up the car.  I was not only alone then; I was severely lonely.  But I was craving not for anyone else’s presence, I realized, but my own.  I needed to find my self again, the “self” that, ironically, I seemed to have lost in what appeared to many as the “trappings” of the priesthood, or the “self” that, in truth, was the one that lost me.  I felt filled up but empty.  I felt fed up but still not wanting to let go.  It was then that I texted a good friend, Msgr. Clem Ignacio, who was also my first parish priest after my ordination.  I was his parochial vicar at the St. Anthony de Padua Parish and assistant director at the St. Anthony School, both in Singalong, Manila.

“Monsi,” I dared texted him, “how was I as your assistant parish priest and vice director in school?”

The reply, that came rather quick, was short, straightforward, and sincere: “Well, Bob, you were not the best, but you were certainly the most loved.”

I was shocked by the response I got.  At first, I was looking blankly at the text on the screen of my mobile phone.  Then I heard my self murmuring, “Grabe naman.  He could have said that I was not the best but, at least, one of the best.”  With a smile now I recall wanting to reply with, “Walang basagan ng trip!  But back then, I really didn’t know what I should feel even before how I should respond.

I was used to being counted among the best, if not the very cream of the crop – in school, in the seminary, in the parish I grew up serving as an altar boy and a young lector.  But in my first assignment after ordination, my best wasn’t good enough?  I wasn’t even counted one among the many other best.  I was really rather hurt by Msgr. Clem’s honest response.  Why?  Because, back then, I considered being the best was better than being the most loved. But it was truly on that same lonely evening that I found what I was missing: “Well, Bob,” Msgr. Clem said, “you were not the best, but you were certainly the most loved.”  And going through my memory of my first priestly assignment in Singalong, I saw that indeed I may not be the best but I was certainly the most loved.  Without him knowing it, Msgr. Clem taught me the very important lesson that it is not the best that counts most but it is love that counts best.  Then, I started to rediscover my self – my beloved self.

When it is time for me to go home to the Father’s house, and if you were to write me an epitaph, please let it be this: “Here lies a priest who was not the best, but was certainly the most loved.”

Being regarded as the best may be a reward for a work well done.  But being the most loved is a gift for a work not so well done, even before a work is done at all.  The best earns his title.  The most loved is blest beyond his expectation, beyond what he deserves.  And that is grace! Indeed, the best knows the psalm, but the most loved knows the Shepherd.

Thank you very, very, very, very much for loving me even when I am not at my best, even when I am not the best at all.  It is God’s mercy and your love, not my own efforts – no matter how sincere they are – that ultimately make me the “best”.  Maraming, maraming, maraming salamat po.

Please pray for me and for all priests that we may never forget how much we are loved, first by God, then by you – our families, our friends, our flock, our co-workers in the Lord’s vineyard.  Aware of how lavishly we are loved, may we never get tired loving you, never give up loving you, but even be ready to die for love of God and you.

I found this prayer and made it my own forever:

I beg to fall in love with Thee, my Lord
With every breath of life I take
I beg to fall in love with Thee, my Lord
Its every beat, I to Thee forsake

For even if my thoughts fall short of knowing Thee
And even if my will runs terrified
Thy passion thins the darkness of my soul
Sheds it light, breathes it life, stills the murmur of the night

For even if my heart falls short of loving Thee
And even if my spirit hides away
Thy love for me surpasses all my fear
All I do, all I am, all that I can ever be

Amen



7 Comments:

At 7:03 PM , Anonymous DANG said...

TRULY BEING THE BEST IS A THING ORDINARY TO PEOPLE WHO EXCEL BUT TO BE LOVED IS BY FAR BETTER AND HARDER TO ACHIEVE...

I WILL REMEMBER THE EPITAPH PADRE LOVE IT!!!

 
At 8:24 AM , Blogger farah said...

we really love you Father, Hope you will continue being one of the best and be loved......God Bless You Father Bob

 
At 10:32 AM , Blogger victoria said...

father, i was a former parishioner of st. anthony in singalong when you were a newly ordained priestwitj Fr. Jay Jay. i am now in connecticut. usa. i don't know about being best or what not but what i did know and saw was the number of people who flocked during your mass( standing room only) to listen to your sermon. they were so good and when you sing what more can people ask!!! and today it just suddenly occurred to me as i was searching for friends in Facebook to search for your name. incredibly amazing to run across your blog. after 15 years Padre wala ka pa rin kupas, your sermon for last sunday (altho' read ko na lang)is still as challenging to any Christian struggling to live the life. and sharing your experience is very ministering and inspiring. how more real can it get! Bless Fr. Clem! i greatly thank God for this blessing. Take care Padre. may the strength of our lord Jesus Christ flourish in you. from "FAR FROM HOME"

 
At 9:21 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Fr.Bobby,

Life indeed is never a bed of roses. People in all walks of life get the experience of being happy and the solitude of being sad.

Your life in the priesthood is no exception. However, the applause and appreciation of the people around you is very outstanding.

Being one of the best, if not the best is easy, but maintaining to be the best is hard.it requires a lot of brains,hardwork, perseverance and determination.

On the other hand,when we admire and love someone we do not simply rest our case, we go out of our way, we think of something how we could be of help, we see how they could benefit, we think of their well being, we do keep in touch and moreso, we are willing to go an extra mile for them.

Being loved by your people is a sense of belongingness,an embrace of acceptance for who and what you are,it is a feeling of gentle gratitude and the sense of being alive.

and that you have achieved all the way.!!! kudos Fr. Bobby !!

your address is an inspiring piece for the readers to ponder about - a strong willed priest, who does not just fall into a trap.

May our dear Lord send more priests like you, whose whole heart belongs to Jesus.

-rory

 
At 3:40 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blessed Easter Fr. Bob,

This will take a little long, first and foremost thank you for this wonderful blog. I want to tell you how I manage to read this article.
Two weeks ago I happen to meet a friend over coffee. As the best and achiever as she is, I wanted to talk to her on everything she had done to be on top. I was astounded by her reply when I asked the answer, she said: "My arrogance, pride and hard work drive me to the top". After that she smiled, a very sad smile I've seen. Then she said furthermore: "I feel empty and lonely. I have a loving and supportive family but I choose to live independently. I have lots of friends but I choose to live with some few. I'm on top of my career but I forgot to live in the process of reaching it. I envy you". The night on that same day we meet, she forwarded me this blog. She wrote a message saying "I was scanning and found this article 2months ago. My philosophy clashes with Fr. Titco but I found myself slowly taking his preaches”.

For the holy week, I tasked myself to read your blogs and find time to reflect on it. It’s very refreshing and educational. I am learning the lessons in life and faith from you and Jesus like knowing my ABCs all over again. I can say I am on the stage of a reforming individual after the holy week. Still in the process but I know where I’m heading and what I want to do. Abby, my friend at her young age of 23 or 24 (quite not sure) is a very hard headed one, though I’m sure just like me is redeeming herself. Kindly continue writing inspirational and life transforming articles in faith and life. Kudos!!

I’m really grateful to you and my friend. I will discreetly follow your blog and share it to someone who needs it too. Continue reaching out…


Karen

 
At 4:34 PM , Blogger Fr. Bobby said...

Praised be God, Karen!

Thank you very much for your sharing. I will pray for Abby and you. Please pray for me, too. +

 
At 12:38 PM , Blogger Leo Villa said...

father bob...we are nurtured by the same love every time you faithfully shared to us the word of life, the love of our life...thank you so much. congratulations on your 19th sacerdotal anniversary.

 

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home