On Thursday, 20 June, wherein some parts of the Catholic world it was being celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, officially known as Corpus Christ, me, together with ten other priests, in Malta and abroad, were celebrating our sixteenth anniversary from our presbyteral ordination.
Being called to be a priest is a great grace indeed. In fact, it is a grace which also bears huge responsibility. So, bearing in mind this reality, I let the Holy Spirit catechize me through the liturgical readings of that day. To begin with, I spend much of that special day working at Mater Dei Hospital, assisting the sick, their relatives as well as the hospital staff. As I started my day by celebrating the 6.30 am Mass, which was heavily attended by many hospital workers, the Lord Jesus lovingly sent me a very powerful text message.
All truth be said, the reader, on that day, mistakenly read the first reading that was read the day before, namely that of Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time. The reading of that day was taken from the Second Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians. Its very first line read: Brothers and sisters, consider this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9: 6-7).
As a Capuchin priest, these two verses said a lot to me. First of all, when the Apostle of the Gentiles asserts that whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully (2 Cor 9:6), it reminded me of the fact that, as a priest, I am called to serve God’s people by being close to them. The Capuchin Constitutions make this point crystal-clear to me when they tell me: “All ministries undertaken for the people must be founded upon a life shaped by the Gospel. Remembering that the world listens more readily to witnesses than to teachers, let us live close to the people, conducting ourselves as true lesser brothers in our lifestyle and manner of speaking (Const. 149,7).
Hence, this being close to the people is the fruitful terrain wherein God’s Kingdom can be spread through the priesthood. In many instances, Pope Francis highly asserted the importance of priests to be close to their flock. Let me simply refer to that very famous homily he delivered on his first Chrism Mass of March 28, 2013:
“A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed: this is a clear proof. When our people are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious: for example, when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news. Our people like to hear the Gospel preached with ‘unction’, they like it when the Gospel we preach touches their daily lives, when it runs down like the oil of Aaron to the edges of reality, when it brings light to moments of extreme darkness, to the ‘outskirts’ where people of faith are most exposed to the onslaught of those who want to tear down their faith. People thank us because they feel that we have prayed over the realities of their everyday lives, their troubles, their joys, their burdens and their hopes. And when they feel that the fragrance of the Anointed One, of Christ, has come to them through us, they feel encouraged to entrust to us everything they want to bring before the Lord: ‘Pray for me, Father, because I have this problem’, ‘Bless me Father’, ‘Pray for me’ – these words are the sign that the anointing has flowed down to the edges of the robe, for it has turned into a prayer of supplication, the supplication of the People of God. When we have this relationship with God and with his people, and grace passes through us, then we are priests, mediators between God and men… We need to ‘go out’, then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the ‘outskirts’ where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters. … Be shepherds, with the ‘odour of the sheep’, make it real, as shepherds among your flock, fishers of men”.
The second part of God’s text message to me on that special day for me spoke about working joyfully. The liturgical text said: Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7). Even here, the Capuchin tradition has much to enlighten my conscience on this point. The eight Plenary Council of the Capuchin Order, titled On the Grace of Working, in its third proposal says: “God bestows the gift of work on humankind. Coming from His hands, work is grace and is to be considered something good, by which we participate actively in the creative action of God. Understood as an opportunity full of grace in which we become sharers in the sanctification and redemption of humankind, the gift of work done with love makes interior joy and enthusiasm shine forth from within us”.
And, Pope Francis, in numerous occasions, urges us priests to be joyful givers. In his homily for the ordination of ten men to the sacred priesthood, on 7 May 2017, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, the Holy Father told them and every priest, me the first one on the list:
“Remember that you are chosen from among God’s people and appointed to act for them in relation to God. Do your part in the work of Christ the Priest with genuine joy and love. Be joyful, never sad. Joyful, with the joy of Christ’s service, even amid suffering, misunderstandings, and your own sins. Keep your gaze ever fixed on the example of the Good Shepherd who did not come to be served but to serve. Please, do not be ‘lords’. Do not be ‘state clerics’, but rather shepherds of the people of God”.
Even if the reader mistakenly read the first reading of Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time, yet, for me, it was a real blessing! Yes! 2 Corinthians 9: 6-7 was surely Christ’s gift not only for my sixteenth presbyteral ordination anniversary but for my entire presbyteral life as a priest! O happy and blessed mistake turned for me into an outstanding grace!