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4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

I’m sure you want to get your hands on firsthand news of this past week’s Second National Congress of the Clergy in Manila. Here’s some great news! On the opening day, January 25, organizers expected 4,500 priests to attend. But because we are Filipinos, we know how to give surprises at the last minute so, 5,000 priests came to register. On the second day, there was an even bigger surprise when the record showed 5,350 priests present. It was truly the largest ever gathering of Filipino priests in history… until maybe, the next congress. And since there are only about 7,000 priests in the country, the emcee announced that those unable to attend were the sick, retired and dying priests! A priest even died on his way to the congress. Eternal rest…

It must have been a source of mixed emotions for the organizers – joy at the overwhelming response and horror at the logistics involved in providing supplies, food and accommodations. The congress-retreat’s facilitator, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, enthusiastically announced that the happiest person in the congress is the Lord Jesus Christ, surrounded by his priests.

The first reading speaks of Jeremiah’s calling to be a prophet. God appoints Jeremiah and gives him a mission. But he also assures him of divine help and protection. It was not easy to be a prophet because you were never sure if people were willing and ready to listen to your message.

The gospel shows Jesus starting his mission by proclaiming the Kingdom of God. No sooner has he progressed in his goal when people started doubting his credentials. They quickly turn against him. He realizes how difficult it was to serve. But as God protected Jeremiah, we see in the gospel how God shielded Jesus from the threats of his enemies.

It is our conviction as Catholics that Jesus shares his mission to his apostles and their successors. And those who inherit this mission are precisely our bishops and priests. This is the reason why we value the sacrament of holy orders in our Church and why we pray ceaselessly for more young men to answer the invitation of the Lord to be shepherd of His people.

It is not easy to be a priest today. Following the path of the prophets and living in the image of Jesus, the High Priest, each priest realizes how serious are the challenges facing him in the ministry. There are also immense hurdles in their personal lives and relationships. That is why in this Year for Priests, we must assure our priests of our prayers and friendship in Christ.

What does this mean for us? A priest is not his own, wrote the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen. He belongs to God and he also belongs to you. God calls and sends the priest not to save himself but to serve you. There are priests because there are people to form, inspire and lead to Jesus. When we support our priests and encourage them, we strengthen them to do their tasks with joy. All priests are weak and imperfect, but with God’s help and your love and support, they will awaken to the immensity their role in making God present in the lives of their brothers and sisters.