By FR. ROLANDO DELA ROSA
Many people today prefer to attend the Latin Mass even if they hardly understand the words and the ritual. In the Latin Mass, the focus is on the majesty and grand spectacle of the Eucharistic celebration, not on the priest whose back is turned towards the audience.
In the contemporary Mass, the priest faces the people, so the focus has shifted from the splendor of the liturgy to the very ordinary humanity of the priest whose personality and preaching have become the target of people’s scrutiny and investigation.
Although many people still have high regard for the priesthood, many have long been disillusioned with the men gifted with this noble vocation. In their eyes, priests who personify nobility, heroism, or sacrifice are the exceptions, not the rule. What they see in many priests today are human weakness and failure, things they consider as symptoms of decline and obsolescence of a once sublime vocation.
Priests find it hard to defy such public perception. To prove that they are strong and deserving of their calling, many priests plunge themselves in breathless activism, the revival of esoteric rituals and devotions (like the Latin Mass), or inventing new ways of being priests.
Who do lay people idolize today? They prefer the popular, efficient, powerful, and entertaining priest, rather than the prayerful, holy, self-effacing one. With their subtle form of religious pragmatism, many lay people have separated priestly ministry from the very source of its power—the priest’s LOVE for God nourished by prayer, simplicity of life, and fidelity to ones’ vows.
Perhaps priests need to make a paradigm shift in the way they regard themselves. One of the most liberating things about admitting your weakness is that it stops you from pretending to be strong.
St. Paul wrote that he pleaded three times with the Lord to deliver him from his weaknesses. But Jesus answered him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2Corinthians 12:9).” Paul then declared that he would boast all the more gladly about his weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may be more manifest through him.
The Church cannot boast of a tradition of human success and strength. The Church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners. The Bible and the history of the Church show many examples of men and women who, despite God’s grace and blessings, gave in to their lust, greed, and other forms of human sinfulness.
Jesus himself showed some signs of weakness. He was profoundly upset in Gethsemane. He felt terror and fear; he looked for comfort from friends and for an escape from death and found neither. On the cross, Jesus of Nazareth was vulnerable and weak. But it was because of his experience of weakness, and his ability to master his anguish that he showed us the real meaning of courage.
Like Jesus, priests are not supermen. After all, Superman is not brave. How can a person be brave when he knows he is indestructible? A person is brave when, despite his awareness of his weakness and the possibility of failure, he dares to fight against all odds, to pursue his goal, firmly believing that there is always a higher power that assures his victory.