2005/01/08

Visiting the Blessed Sacrament

Our innate desire to relate with God was already evident even we were in our teen years. A case in point was our frequent visit to the seminary chapel. Many of us learned to visit the Blessed Sacrament way back when we were still in first year high school. Maybe because we were uprooted from our biological fathers and mothers at a very early age that we were looking for someone who could fill in the void. But one remarkable thing was that we were able to transform our emotional want into an opportunity to develop a personal and spiritual relationship with God.

I would say it was not a fad, for we were very consistent to the very end that we left the seminary. In fact it became a real habit. It was a practice neither sanctioned nor commonly heard being encouraged by the seminary fathers. The initiative was purely from our own. Usually we would do it after meals, either lunch or supper. Prominent among the devotees was Junior. Because of what he observed, Baloy made a prediction: “Ma pari jud ni si Junior kay sige’g ampo.

We had no background in the Ignatian prayer, lectio divina, or any other acknowledged form of prayer at that time. So our ritual was simple. We would kneel in front of the Blessed Sacrament, say a silent prayer and kiss the tabernacle before leaving. For us Jesus in the tabernacle was very real. We would also do the same to the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We did not mumble sophisticated prayers but conversed casually like talking to a close friend.

Of course we had the structured prayers that we did regularly as part of our daily routine schedule. But our personal visit to the Blessed Sacrament was something different. I am not saying that the structured spiritual exercises were not relevant at all. They had their own important and significant values insofar as spiritual formation was concerned. But the devotional and personal visit was something we considered different because it was done out of our own free will and desire.

Perhaps we did not recognize its full value during that time because it was so normal for us to do it. I’m sure our appreciation of its importance only came out when we left the seminary. For it was then that we had to rely on personal decision to sustain what we have learned in the seminary. For gone are the structures that we could rely on for guidance.

Now that I’m a priest I deeply appreciate that simple practice we learn in the seminary. There are ups and downs in the priestly ministry and renewal in priestly life always points to a return to prayer. Priests who no longer pray regularly are in great danger of losing their vocation, many would say. A friend-priest said to me: “Mahal kaayo ning renewal program para sa mga pari karon, unya ang katapusang isulti raba mao nga kinahanglan gayud mag-ampo kay mao kuno ni hinungdan ngano mag crisis ang pari. Aron dili na ta mo bayad og mahal mag-ampo lang gyud ta kanunay.” And he is right!

I would say we were lucky we learned to love to pray at an early stage of our seminary formation. I am sure that that innocent beginning made a difference in our lives today, whether we become priests or not. Maybe some of us have not sustained it because we have been preoccupied doing something else. But I notice that when we grow older we long again for something else this world cannot provide, that is, to have a personal relationship with the Lord.

One might wonder why Junior did not become a priest if indeed prayer is power. But let us not see prayer as something that which is endowed with magical power. For prayer, as we experienced it, is more of a means by which we can establish a deep and intimate relationship with the Lord. Besides, ordination to the priesthood is not also something that we can solely determine to happen. Priesthood is a divine gift. As such we can only ask for it, but the power and prerogative to graciously grant it belongs to the giver.

For sure it does not make Junior a lesser mortal just because he did not make it to the priesthood. For God has given Junior another gift – married life. In fact he is blessed with five beautiful daughters which I’m sure are the apples of his eyes. But whether we become priests or not it’s the same, we are all called to a life of holiness. And being prayerful is a means to achieving it. Perhaps Baloy can rephrase his observation, “Santoson gyud ni si Junior kay sige’g ampo.” (soc)