This homily was presented by Archbishop Soc Villegas to priests last Holy Thursday, April 17, 2014 in Dagupan City. This meditation does not only apply to priests who are struggling with loneliness, but in a very special way to people struggling with same-sex attractions as well. May we all find real joy even in the midst of loneliness.
Today is our feast day. It is a happy day for us. Our parishioners are here. Our friends are here to show their appreciation and their love. They echo one common message.Thank you for being a priest. Thank God he called you to be a priest.
Beyond the feasting and the greetings today, I dare to ask. Who among us has never experienced loneliness? Who among us has never experienced deep painful isolation? Who among us has never battled with repeated rejections and tasteless ministry? Who among us has never been hurt by the feeling of being disconnected, suspected and ignored? We all know the feeling of swimming against the current—to be tired, to be bruised and to be alone.
In fact, some of our seminary confreres have abandoned our vocation because of this unbearable feeling of isolation and extreme loneliness.
Today, I say to you my brothers: your archbishop is not alien to these feelings. I get lonely too. I have known isolation and frustration. I have battled with the temptation to give up, to lower down my ideals, to take it more leisurely and to join the flow of mediocrity and convenience. I am aware that sometimes I am reluctant to reach out, to make a phone call or to send a text message for fear of another rejection. I know the feeling of being abruptly uprooted from familiar soil and being forced to bloom in another garden away from home. The tears are shed in secret and that secrecy of those tears makes it more painful.
In the void that loneliness and isolation creates, we can be misled to fill the gaping abyss with new phones and ipads. We can cover the gaping vacuum with another luxury car or designer jeans or more fashionable shoes more than our shoe racks can contain; with a vacation out of the country or another gadget for the bedroom. We can hold on to the whisky bottle and hope that the bottled spirit will exorcise the spirit of boredom in us. It can also be filled up by working like a horse to impress the people, to create a fans’ club and move you up higher to a better assignment. It can also increase our interest in bank savings, the stock market and the accumulation of more properties. Church funds and personal funds are deliberately mixed up. The parish crawls in financial difficulties while we sprint and jump with financial security. The vacuum of loneliness can make us numb to the peril of worldliness. It can make us at ease with ecclesiastical vanities.
As a fellow celibate struggling and battling with loneliness like all priests, I ask the question: How is priestly loneliness to be faced?
Every priest a mystic
You must always remember: the priesthood is a spiritual gift from God. Celibacy is a spiritual supernatural reality. This being so, we cannot live our celibacy happily without an intimate and deep relationship with God. Every priest must allow himself to be touched by the fire of God. Every priest must have had a mystical experience of God in his younger years in the seminary; that mystical experience must be kept at heart at all costs, all the time. If the priest is not a mystic, he will cross over to old age bitter, angry and cynical, materialistic and vain, lukewarm and lifeless. There is no happy celibate without a healthy prayer life. You want to be happy priests, keep your spiritual life intact. We must pray not only during the annual retreat or when we are in difficulty. We must pray daily as we eat daily and bathe daily.
We priests tend to be shy and private about our personal life with God. I hope you can choose to be brave and make a bold step to share with one another your personal conversations with God, not just to prepare a homily or a seminar talk, but to share your faith, share your vulnerabilities, share your encounters with God.
Called to be friends
This brings me to the second leg on which happy celibacy stands—your friendship with your brother priests. An isolated priest is headed for a fall. We only become lonely if we allow ministry to take over us and neglect our need for friendship.
Most of us have many acquaintances but acquaintances are not friends. We see acquaintances every now and then; they might invite us for occasional dinners in Dagupena, but friends are more than that. Friends can share deep joys and dreams, vulnerabilities and frustrations with the assurance of compassionate acceptance, at the same nurturing and supporting one another.
Do you have real friends?
This is the litmus test. Think of a very difficult struggle you are going through right now—a health problem, church difficulties, emotional crisis? Have you shared this with anyone? Whom would you tell? That person is your friend. If you cannot tell anyone, you don’t have any friend.
Celibacy does not forbid friendships. Celibacy needs friendship with God and friendship with brother priests. We have many very good priests in the Church. They serve with vigour. They finish projects and make strategic plans for the next project. Sometimes, these are used to cover up for low self esteem, a gnawing fear of rejection, a long standing feeling of inadequacy and the disturbing feeling of being unwanted. When the applause subsides, loneliness sets in. When trouble strikes, the fall is great and shocking.
Healthy and happy celibacy demands holy and happy friendships.
Life of Integrity
The third and last leg for a happy and meaningful celibate living is living a life of personal integrity. Only honest and truthful celibates can be happy celibates. Hypocrisy among priests dooms the priests to bitterness. What you do when no one sees you is who you really are. How you are in your conscience is who you are. Hypocrisy is stressful.
Our celibacy is a living proclamation in our sex starved society that there is something more important than sex. More important is love and mercy, compassion and kindness, friendship and service. Celibacy is not simply a renunciation of family and children and genital expression. Celibacy lived with a hidden secret life contrary to it leads to stress and tension. Celibacy can only thrive with integrity. If you become dishonest and untruthful, you also become unhappy and bitter. Celibacy must be proven by a life of humility and kindness. A happy celibate cannot frown too long. The joy of his heart will always take over a momentary irritation. The broken hearts club cannot be happy celibates. Celibacy is for the brave and the compassionate, for the humble who serve the Lord with joy. Celibacy tells people: God is with us. He is with us in his priests.
Hope in the Lord
My brother priests: We are called to be happy priests. Beyond the disappointments and frustrations; the discouraging results of our hard work all night catching nothing; the wine running out in our banquet– there is a multi coloured rainbow across our Holy Thursday horizon.
If we dare to be mystics, if we deepen our priestly friendships, if we fight on to be truthful and faithful, we have hope. Our hope is in the Lord. Our joy is to serve him.