Priest Stuff

Priest Stuff
Lord, I never wanted to be separated from you.

Stretch Out Your Hand!

Photo c/o RCAM.org

The Congregation for the Clergy has issued an updated instrument for the formation of priests entitled Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis or ‘The Gift of Priestly Vocation’. In an interview with the Prefect of the said Congregation, His Eminence Beniamino Cardinal Stella stated that "The last Ratio Fundamentalis dates back to 1970, even though it was updated in 1985. In the meantime, the historical, socio-cultural and ecclesiastical contexts have changed, above all due to the effects of the rapid evolution to which the world is subjected nowadays." The updated Ratio was promulgated on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, 8 December 2016.

“The Gift of Priestly Vocation, placed by God in the hearts of some men, obliges the Church to propose to them a serious journey of formation,” the opening line of the document reads. It is meant to provide guidelines for the formation of priests, which “needed to be revamped, renewed, and restored to the center.” Along the way of priestly formation, reinforcements are needed in order to persevere. The Lord reaches His hand towards us and we must stretch out our hands towards Him in return so that we may stretch our hands to others as well.

Our Lord Jesus Christ went into the synagogue on a Sabbath and healed a man with a withered hand under the watchful eyes of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law (cf. Mt 12:9-13, Mk 3:1-6, and Lk 6:6-11). Then He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." So he stretched it out and it was completely restored. We encounter a man in this passage, who could neither receive nor offer because his hand was withered. It means that his hand became dry and deprived of life, stiff and unable to move, and shrunken down in size that it cannot be extended to help others. Although his situation was not life-threatening, it limited him. A withered hand represents the inability to reach out and take hold of what is before us.

What is our withered hand that renders us dry, stiff and atrophied in our vocation? Is it our sense of inferiority? Is it a painful past that freezes our vision of the future? Is our withered hand the negative words implanted in our mind that crush our self-esteem? It could be our academic limitations, physical struggles, or lack of time management. It might be the lack of self-confidence, spiritual dryness, or our sinfulness. There may be something in our life that is limiting us from being whole, productive, or from enjoying the blessings of life. Whatever is our withered hand in life, Jesus commands us, "Stretch out your hand." Be restored and made whole. This updated Ratio, more than anything, will guide the formandi to go beyond their limitations and strech out their hands.

In the Philippines, we have an exceptional custom called mano po to manifest our respect by kissing the hands or putting the hands of the elderly on our foreheads. In mano po, we stretch out our hand to others and humbly ask for blessing, and the blessing is imparted with these words: Kaawaan ka ng Diyos (May God have mercy on you). For us Filipinos, to be blessed is to receive mercy; and it all started when we do our part, when we stretch out our hand, and go beyond our limitations in life.

In Kapampangan, it’s is not only mercy that is imparted by the elders but God Himself. So when one asks for the hand and say “manu pu”… the elders will respond with not just “Kaawaan ka ng Diyos” but “Dis pu” meaning “May God bless you.” Literally, to impart blessing is not just to give mercy but to give the Source of Mercy, who is God Himself.

The Gift of Vocation is received when we stretch out our withered hand in total dependence on God, when we streched out our hands to humbly ask for mercy in order to be restored and made whole. The grace of our vocation overflows when we stretch out our hand towards God who first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4:10) and towards the people whom we shall minister.

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