I always wanted to be a priest since I was in my grade school years. As far as I can remember I was on my third grade that this desire to be a priest became so strong in me. But, I didn’t tell this to anyone, including my parents, my siblings and my classmates at school. I didn’t express this to anyone because at the time, I felt ashamed or embarrassed, or perhaps scared that people would just mock me saying: I am not fit to become a priest, or we don’t have money to pay for my studies, it costs a lot I tell you. Later on though, (in fact when I was already in the seminary) my mother told me that she had noticed me exhibiting some priestly gestures and mimics when I was still a kid. I can’t remember it either.
The other thing that held me back then was this general social expectation in the Philippines that the eldest son would have to be another father figure in the family once the father passed away especially if the family is big. This was really true to me. My father died when I was 18 years old. Though I am not the eldest in the family, because I have 5 sisters before me, but since I am the eldest son, reluctantly I had to stand up to assist my mother raised my 5 younger siblings. Yes, we are 11 in the family.
Being the eldest son, I had to stop my studies when my father got sick and died only a year later. I had to stop my schooling and assist my mother in the farm. I also found work as errand boy in the city just to help my family. But my desire to be a priest was still there. It didn’t go away. In fact, the farther I was to fulfilling it, the stronger it became. But God calls me to be a priest. I know this through all the amazing and unreal opportunities he had laid out before me. So I listened to him. Some of my elder sisters were trying to discourage me not to leave my mother alone. Some of them said: I was being selfish because I just wanted to fulfil my own dream and ambition without considering the rest of my family whom I am also responsible with. But I said to them: ‘If God calls me to be a priest, He’ll help me through and He will help all of us too. If God really called me to be a priest, he will let us all survive no matter how hard life and living may be.’ I left them with that. I entered the seminary. Eleven years later I was ordained a priest. My family got over with all the difficulties and challenges they had to face over those years.
Friends, dear brothers and sisters, I am sharing this with you all because this is for me the cost of my discipleship. I had to sacrifice many things that I could do to my family just to listen to the voice of God calling me to follow him as his priest. I had to go on following my dream despite the discouragement, the criticisms, and the financial difficulty I had to face when I entered the seminary. With the help of God and by the power of his grace, I got over all those worries and now I am here as a priest of God in your parish. And I am happy and have no regrets.
Jesus in our gospel today also tells us of the cost discipleship if we are serious in our following of him. He noted that discipleship demands big from us. It entails total dedication and commitment to him even to the extent of making him our first priority over our families and loved ones. It also means detachment from any material possession- that is to be free from the enslaving power of worldly possessions, so as to be able to enter the kingdom of God. We, in Australia might find this cost of discipleship less challenging because we can express our faith quite freely if we want it to be, without people threatening to persecute us. We are living in a relative peace and in a certain degree indifference by some to religion or to faith. However, this time, we have sisters and brothers in many parts of the world who are facing the huge cost of their Christian discipleship. I am talking about what has been happening in Syria and in many parts of the world. Many of our Christian counterparts, and those innocent civilians of other faith are facing threats, persecutions and even death right before their very eyes. They had to stand up for their faith. They had to face and pay the cost of their discipleship. There is a real challenge to their Christian discipleship.
In our gospel today, Jesus is also urging us to challenge our following of him. He is challenging us to ask ourselves how willing are we to pay the cost if we are serious in following him. Are we serious enough to prefer him even to our family and loved ones? Are we willing to carry our cross and follow him? Are we willing to detach ourselves from the enslaving power of material possessions so as to focus more God and for our salvation?
How can we challenge ourselves if we are really a disciple of Christ?
One: Fidelity to Christ, even in adversity. The Christians in Syria became easy target for the attackers or ‘the enemies’ because they wouldn’t take arms against them. They didn’t take vengeance to their oppressors. They were faithful to the word of Jesus: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”(Mt 5:44). They stood up for the faith in the Christ even if it means losing their own lives. Today we celebrate the Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is a great example, a beautiful model of Christian discipleship. In fact she is upheld as the ‘first disciple.’ She listened to the Word of God. Believed in it and welcomed it. She took it in her heart. She generously and trustingly offered her womb for the Word of God to be made flesh and to dwell among us. As a disciple, she was faithful to following Christ from the womb to the tomb. As we celebrate her birthday today, let us ask her intercession that like her we may be faithful to Christ and to our vocations in life.
Two: Prayer. Bishop Joe Grech once said: ‘Prayer is not everything, but it is the first thing.’ Prayer is not doing something for God but being with God and allowing God to do something in and for us. Constant prayer gives us wisdom and makes us humble to realize that not everything is under our control and that we don’t know everything as the First Reading from the book of Wisdom today hinted. We need to pray. This is our only way to grow into a real and personal relationship with God. We need to pray daily as part of our daily life. Such is the importance of prayer and the need for it in our time that Pope Francis calls all Christians in the world to be one with him in prayer for peace in the whole world especially in Syria. As a parish, I encourage you all to spend sometimes after mass remain in the Church and spend some times before the Blessed Sacrament and let us be one with the whole Church in prayer and in solidarity with all of the world to pray for peace.
Three: Treat one another as another ‘Christ’ coming in our way today. Let us look at one another with the eyes of faith, with the eyes of Christ. Let us see Christ in our brothers and sisters- who is worthy of our love, respect and affection no matter who they are, how old are they, and what social status are they in. St Paul in our Second Reading today shows us this. He became friend with Onesimus– a runaway slave of Philemon. Paul looked at Onesimus not a slave but as a brother, a friend, so he also encouraged Philemon, his friend to love Onesimus as a brother too. We can learn from St Paul here.
One way to take on this challenge is to be one with the Church in Australia that observes this Sunday as a Child Protection Sunday. This is to acknowledge that each child calls for our respect, love, and care no matter who they are and what family background they are coming from.. This is in a way, being a disciple of Jesus: treating each one of us, child or adult, man or woman, with the eyes and the heart of Jesus- the loving, the caring and the compassionate heart of Christ to all sinners.
So as we continue our celebration today, let us assess our lives as a disciple of Christ. How are we as disciple of Christ today? What cost are we willing to pay to be called his disciple?