November seems to be the spontaneous choice of time for ordination of every man of the cloth in Palawan. This is seen as practical because this is the time of year too that the clergy of Palawan commemorate the foundation anniversary of the only seminary in the province. Seminario de San Jose now marks its 79th year of existence and mission. It seems appropriate that just as farmers who have sowed and cultivated together to reap and enjoy the fruits of their labor, so too do we priests come together to celebrate another harvest in the vineyard of priestly vocation in the Last Frontier. The latest to be admitted in the rank of men serving the church in Palawan is Reverend Philip Jerold Tan of Cuyo. He was ordained last November 9, 2016 in the Cathedral of the Apostolic Vicariate of Taytay.

Every celebration of the rite of ordination evokes inspiration to those who witness the said ceremony. Some discerning young people might suddenly (and finally) decide to enter the seminary. Parents might just wish one of their sons would be a priest. Maybe tired old-hands and veteran priests are transported back to the time when they themselves made their vows. They might feel a rekindling of the excitement for a mission that has long since become routine and lackluster. The “I do’s” again echo from within. The mysteries of priesthood come to forefront once more.

Some of the widely held mysteries of priesthood could be capped as “Kahit na…”, “Suntok sa buwan…” and ” Kapit na mahigpit.”

“Kahit Na”: To become a priest is to go against all the odds. Nobody desires it. In fact, to desire it is utter contradiction to the very nature of the vocation. To want it is a desire that could put into question its authenticity. It is always God who makes the first move even if the one being called is opposed to it. St. Augustine said: “I was grabbed!” It was not his intention to become a priest. Why was he avoiding it? Perhaps he was avoiding priesthood because of his unworthiness. Perhaps, because of a past too dark. Perhaps, because of a future that was too bright to forego. Like St. Augustine, even if one had every reason, still a voice: “Kahit na…” — nagging and insistent, calls. Once a bishop remarked, “Pinili ka ng Diyos na maging pari, kahit na alam Nyang marami kang kasiraan at marami rin ang naninira sa yo…. Pinili ka ng Diyos, kahit na alam Nya na minsan magiging tamad ka rin sa paglilingkod… Pinili ka ng Diyos, kahit na alam Nya rin na magdududa ka sa Kanyang plano at maaring magtataksil…. Pinili ka ng Diyos, kahit na ayaw mo pa.” We could go on with a litany of “kahit na” but one thing could only be so certain –no power could go counter to God’s plan, His beautiful plan.

“Suntok sa Buwan”: In the usual order of things, a lifetime commitment such as marriage, requires an initial natural attraction between a man and a woman. Priesthood, while a Holy Order, proceeds in a different, “disorderly” manner. Instead of a natural attraction, priestly life is drawn from a supernatural course. It begins with faith rather than understanding. It evokes awe and wonder more than just impression and admiration that are human and inherently flawed and biased. It leads to profession rather than mere recognition. In so many words, for an ordinary person to vow to become a priest is unavoidably out-of-the-way in the natural order. It could only stem from pure and undeserved grace.

“Kapit na Mahigpit”: One time, a priest asked a friend to pray for him and his vocation – “na sana lalo pang humigpit ang kapit ko kay Hesus.” Later the same priest also realized and told his friend: “Hindi pala ako ang kumakapit ng mahigpit kay Hesus; habang tumatagal ako sa pagkapari si Hesus pala talaga ang mas lalong humihigpit ang kapit sa akin.” In the end, as it was in the beginning, priesthood should always be regarded as a gift. Jesus takes the initiative. He sustains the project. He holds firm to his promise and to his priest.

Appreciably, it may seem to many that responding to the call of priestly vocation is inexplicable in a manner that satisfies ordinary logic. How priests remain in the priesthood is likely even more unfathomable. To somewhat grasp such mystery, a theologian named Bonaventure Kloppenburg, reflected on the role of the Church in the world. He likened it to moonlight. “Only Christ is the light of the world. He is the Sun, sole source of light…. stands the Church like the moon that receives all its light… We can understand the Church only if we relate it to Christ.” This is the same with priesthood. It could only be understood and lived in the light of Christ.

Here is a popular parable to enlighten us some more about this mystery:

Minsang tinanong ng isang binata ang buwan:
“Napapagod ka rin ba? Nakakaramdam ka rin ba ng lungkot? Panghihina ng loob? Ng kawalan ng pag-asa?”
Sumagot ang buwan: “Oo, napapagod din ako. Pero kaibigan ko ang mga ulap – at sa mga panahong kailangan ko ng masasandalan, sila ay siguradong nandiyan handa akong saluhin mula sa lawak ng kalangitan, at handa akong ipagtanggol kapag ako ay nasasaktan dahil may mga gabi na ang mundo ay sumusuntok din sa buwan.”

“Nalulungkot ba rin ako? Oo naman. Pero kaibigan ko ang mga bituin. At sa mga gabing masyadong madilim ang langit para paliwanagin kong mag-isa. Dinadamayan nila ako sa aking pagkabalisa – paalala na hindi ko kayang tuparin ang mga layunin mag-isa.”

Tulad ng buwan na walang sariling liwanag at kariktan – ang pari ay pari lamang dahil kay Hesus… at para kay Hesus…. truly, a mystery.

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