Bishop of Boronga
The great Bishop Fulton J. Sheen was once
invited to deliver a talk at a certain Church. On the day of his talk, he drove to the venue, but somewhere along the way he got lost. He
pulled over to ask a boy for directions. The child obligingly showed him, but curiously inquired what the Bishop was up to in that church. Delightedly, Bishop Sheen told him
he was to deliver a talk. "About what?" was the boy's quick follow-up. The kind Bishop smiled and said, "About how to go to heaven."
The boy wondered, then said, "You can't even find your way to the Church, how much more to heaven."
A bishop's life and ministry is a journey. Along the way he needs the
company of his priests to show him the direction -- his joys -- and at the same time challenge him. A diocesan bishop must learn to
journey with his priests. In this journey, he cultivates meaningful relationships with them, carved through good times and bad, as they
work for the realization of the Kingdom of God in their historical context. The joys are celebrations of God's abiding presence. The
challenges are opportunities to deepen the meaning of the experience of His presence.
I believe that my ministry is one of friendship. And it is with my
brothers in the ministry that I should first of all cultivate meaningful friendship. When I came to this diocese fifteen years ago, I knew I
had an advantage: I share a common culture with the clergy here. We speak the same dialect, I know many of the priests, some are my
former students in Palo, others are my contemporaries in the seminary, and still others familiar acquiantances. Most of all, we
enjoy the taste of the same local booze: tuba. People who do not share this culture may think we are drunkards when we raise not a
glass, but a gallon or two. What they do not know is that these moments together are silent (sometimes boisterous) testimonies of
our longing for one another, one heart seeking another to pour its tribulations as well as its delights into.
These carefree moments have given me a sense of belonging and
security with my brother priests, as well as provided me the opportunity to be known by them. Indeed, it is on such occasions that I feel that I am a poblano
, not only one with them, but one of them. I believe that to work effectively for the kingdom of God, a diocesan
bishop needs to belong with his priests, not only as their Bishop, but as their friend. And I am very glad and grateful for the clergy's open acceptance and friendship.
I came to a diocese that is not so much blessed with material things. But this much I can say with pride: this diocese is rich with priests
who are passionate and zealous in their ministry. Neither the lack of material luxury nor the uncertainty sometimes of thorough medical
assistance during illnesses has deterred them from giving their all as apostles "in season and our of season." Their resilience in the midst
of difficulties in their respective parishes and assignments has inspired me to go out of my way to provide every assistance I could offer in
whatever form, even if I know they arenot enough. How many times has my heart bled because of my helplessness. But over and above
anything else, my heart brims with gladness at my priests' apostolic zeal and willingness to suffer.
Aside from the priests' zeal for the ministry in their respective
assignments, the general atmosphere during presbyteral meetings is something noteworthy. The presbyterium is generally lively. During
meetings, the general attitude is to contribute something to the discussion. Many of the members of the clergy openly speak their
minds and feelings. They argue their points, challenge even the Bishop's perspectives, if they think they have a point to raise. They
can be passionate, fiery, and bombastic, like angry bulls raging into each other. But at the end of the day, when the smoke has cleared,
they can look each other in the eye as they raise a glass or two during socials.
This, for me, is a sign of maturity. And it makes me proud and
privileged to be in the company of a mature clergy who could strike at a seemingly strong principle or argument without hitting the person espousing them.
This is not to say that the clergy here are a perfect and invincible lot. I have seen some of them fall through human weaknesses. But what is
impressive is that there are always brother-priests who try to help them up. I know that in a family the role of a parent to lift up a fallen
child is very crucial. But the role of siblings cannot be overlooked. They have a unique way of uplifting, inspiring, and boosting one
another without direct intervention from parents. Perhaps nothing could be more rewarding for a parent than to know that his children are
taking seriously and practically the dictum: "I am my brother's keeper." I have seen that attitude in my priests. And I am truly happy.
The last fifteen years have also been full of challenges for me. These challenges gradually became apparent as I traveled and visited the parishes and barangays
alike, presiding over the sacramental and liturgical celebrations. While these cultic encounters have given us reciprocal moments of intimacy and closeness, I seem to feel the
need for me to make my prophetic and shepherding functions more glaring. It is in these two functions of my ministry that I feel I need to
improve so that my work with my priests for the kingdom of God will be more realistic and meaninful. i look at these challenges not as
hindrances, but as opportunities for me to grow and to be Godly.
I envy many of my priests who are true prophets in their ministry, able
to take on social and political issues without fear of physical harm or humiliation. I must admit my lack of courage in this department, or at
least my tendency to hid the practical and behavioral manifestations of whatever courage I have as part of my prophetic calling.
Not that this lack of courage was a conscious choice. Somewhere along my priestly ministry I was thrown into conflictual situations
where I had to act either as arbiter or as a major player representing one side in defense of what I believed was the Church's mind. Little
did I know that, without me or the other party intending it, the clashes in principles would degenerate into personal battles, where some
friendships suffered, and potentially deeper brotherhood got clouded. An unconscious desire to avoid any form of conflict stealthily crept
within me, as I began to project a pleasant and friendly image. In the short run, it kept me safe in the sidelines; in the long run, it gobbled up
what was left of my prophetic courage. The prophetic examples of many priests in the Diocese has made me realize once again that to
work for God's kingdom in the Diocese means that I must learn to fight for justice, as a constitutive element of my ministry.
This is no easy task. The work for justice demands a personal
conviction that extends the principle that I am my brother's keeper. If I love my brother, I must deal justly with him. If justice is denied him by
the powers-that-be, I must work on their behalf. Justice strikes at the heart of the Gospel of love. Without justice it would be impossible to
love, or even to talk about it. For love and justice are but two sides of a coin. Easier said than done. But I know, too, that with deep and
shared convictions, I and my priests can make a difference.
Shared convictions, however, do not just happen. They presuppose
shared prayerful reflections. In working, for the kingdom, we do not start from books. We start from experience, from our real, concrete,
historical situation. Individdual experiences are raw data that would amount to nothing unless they are shared and reflected on, and from
which meaninful insights are drawn. From these insights would form the guiding principles that would serve as light along the path of responsible action.
This is an area that I think I and my priests need to look into. So many significant events have occured in my fifteen years in this
Diocese. We are all aware of them. Yet I feel we have not seriously reflected on them -- and maybe partly because I was lacking in
motivation and encouragement. We need to come together and dialogue and discuss about our situation. We need to share not only
our ideas and opinions, but our feelings as well. We need to ask ourselves how our situation is affecting us, and what it means to us as
individuals and as a Christian community. These are crucial questions that beg to be asked if we really are to become relevant ministers of
His Kingdom. I am fully aware though, that as head of the flock, the burden rests on my shoulders, to constantly inspire, encourage, and lead.
While it is of paramount importance to fortify the communal front, the personal formation of priests must not be overlooked. Priests must
have on-going formation. By this I do not solely mean intellectual formation. It is good to have MA's and PhD's, but more than anything
else, we need compassionate priests. We need priests who are in touch with their intellect as well as with their emotions.
I would understand if some of you would smile, as if to downplay, if not outrightly reject this idea about involving emotions. Our training in the
seminary leaned heavily on intellectual development. We were steeped in a philosophy that tended to celebrate the intellect and
considered emotions suspect, untenable, unreliable, and a sign of weakness. We cannot remain in this dungeon. This is no longer the
way things are. Current scientific developments all point to the fact that to be truly human we need to integrate our emotional and
intellectual selves. We need priests who can, not only talk about God and godly things, but who can empathize, who can listen to the Word
of God not only as written in Scriptures, but as revealed in the pains and sufferings as well as in the joys and accomplishments of the flock
they tend. This can only be possible if our priests will be keenly aware of God's revelations in their own pains and sufferings, joys and accomplishments.
I don't think we are lacking in our intellectual formation. But I believe that the formation and on-going formation of priests need a heavy component of the emotional and compassionate kind.
Compassion is the backbone of shepherding. It is basically listening to the other persons, while bracketing our own concerns, thought and
feelings, and putting ourselfs in the situation of the others, as it were. It is looking at and experiencing the workd the way the other person
does. it is dwelling in the person of the other (Talk about the indwelling of the Spirit!). It is, as its etymology suggests (cum = with; pati, ior = to suffer
), the ability to suffer with the other. It is an act of humility -- giving priority to the other's concerns, instead of mine. In
its depth, compassion is the spirituality of Jesus, the spirituality proclaimed in the Gospel, the spirituality of every priest and every Christian.
I must admit my lack in this skill. I did try to listen to my priests, but somehow I felt uncomfortable and did not listen enough. In my
uneasiness, I have often chosen the easier and quicker path, or so I thought: the application of the law. The law has always provided me
the quick-fix, the ever-handy medicine that soothes all forms of maladies -- or so I thought. It indeed, was a quick-fix -- to my
uneasiness, and not to the problem at hand. For in many instances, when priests come to the Bishop in moments of crisis, they do not
seek to be lecture on Canon Law or whatever guidelines. They need, first and foremost, a listening, compassionate, non-judgemental heart
that cares and is willing to go through the length of the journey. I realize that while we need the application of the law, it should not be
the first option, nor should it even the first thing that should come to the shepherd's mind.
Even if we look at the Old Testament, the Law was always understood
in the context of the Covenant. The primary ethical concept was the Covenant, not the Law. The same is true in the New Testament. Love
occupies the central place. In fact, Jesus often had unpleasant brushes with the Jews, especially the Pharisees, because they were
so concerned with the nitty-gritty implications and applications of the law that they could not be as compassionate as Jesus was.
As a bishop, I wield power. Power is the capacity to make things happen. But I can make only good things happen if at the heart of my
power -- my shepherding -- lies compassion. With law as my scepter, I could be a fine administrator. But with compassion as my crown,
more than anything else, I could be a good Shepherd, molded after that One Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
I have completed fifteen years of my journey as a bishop. God knows
how many more years are in store for me. I have not wavered in my belief that God has walked with me, continues to walk with me, and
shall walk with me in the days ahead. It is my prayer that through His Spirit, He will make me always conscious of His presence in me, in you my poblanos
in the ministry, and in the people we serve. It is also my hope and prayer that He continue to give me that resiliency of spirit
to spend more time with my priests, to listen to them, and to discern together with them the discordant manifestations of the Holy Spirit in
their lives, that I may be a true companion in their groping efforts to become better and worthy servants in His vineyard. In this way will I
celebrate my joys as instances if His visitations, and gladly embrace my challenges as opportunites to give more for the greater glory of His
Kingdom, as revealed and experienced in this part of the world, the Diocese of Borongan.