DAGUPAN City, Pangasinan, Jan. 5, 2015—The Imitation of Christ.
This was the central message of an open letter made public by Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) head Abp. Socrates B. Villegas recently in which he reminds his brother priests of the difficult but vital task of imitating the Lord in keeping with their vocation.
“These times call for imitation before proclamation, imitation before teaching, imitation before mission, imitation fund raising. Imitation of Christ before all else!” he stresses.
Sense of privilege, special treatment
“I impose all these challenges on myself first before inviting you to embrace them, too. Let us look at Jesus. Let us look at Him and let us be like Him. That is our only duty—to be Jesus and to give Jesus who alone is our treasure,” Villegas adds.
The Lingayen-Dagupan prelate notes the importance of practicing before preaching, of leading by example, and of showing the faithful, particularly the younger generation, that Jesus is worth-emulating.
“If our youth and children see shepherds who are more concerned about imitation than money we will see them staying with God. If we would be more focused on imitation of Christ before imposing fixed rates for the sacraments, we would see renewal,” he shares.
Villegas blasts clericalism, lamenting how it has become the undoing of many priests.
“Clericalism speaks of privilege, prerogatives, entitlement and special treatment. Clericalism prefers sacristies to the slums. Clericalism is more concerned with embroidered vestments than reconciled souls. When we look back at the history of the Church, Church reform always started with clergy reform. As the shepherds go so the sheep follow,” he says.
“When we lose humility, we lose perspective. When we lose perspective, we also become too reactive. When we become too reactive and possessive and materialistic, we become less effective and less credible as pastors,” the CBCP chief explains.
Excess in kindness
“The loss of humility and the sickness of accumulation in Church ministry can be very costly. With materialistic clericalism laid aside, and Gospel empowered humble shepherding taking its place, we might be able to see the rainbow of hope in the Year of the Poor,” he adds.
According to him, clerical accumulation injures the idealism of seminarians, hurts the sensibilities of the youth, and confuses many who know that Christ and His disciples were poor.
“Always give alms to the poor who come to you. Do not be afraid to be fooled nor turn them away empty. Do not be afraid to pamper the beggars. They have no one to help them. If you have to make a mistake, make a mistake in being too charitable, in being too kind. There is no excess in kindness. We cannot outdo Christ in kindness,” he states.
Villegas declares this Year of the Poor calls for the “simplification of priestly lifestyle,” pointing out that the renewal of the Church begins with the renewal of the priests.
“Let us take the lead in embracing the poverty of Jesus on the Cross,” he says.
“. Let us look at Jesus. Let us look at Him and let us be like Him. That is our only duty—to be Jesus and to give Jesus who alone is our treasure,” Villegas adds. (Raymond A. Sebastián/CBCP News)