3 moments of the sacrament will stay with me forever
It’s been 13 years since my brother Luis decided to become a priest. This year, his journey to ordination comes to a close. He was ordained deacon in May and will become a priest in December.
To be honest, I expected the diaconate to be an unimportant but necessary formality. Yet, when the day came, I was surprised at how deeply the liturgy moved me. It was so thoughtfully prepared that during the ceremony I found myself falling in love again with the faith I inherited.
Here are 3 of those moments:
- Listening to Cardinal Tagle talk about how service brings joy.
During his homily, the cardinal explained that ordained ministry begins with the diaconate because “deacon” comes from the greek word diakonos, which means “servant.” He explained that in the Church, leaders are called to imitate the example of Jesus, who led by serving, instead of being served. A valuable reminder, especially in the Philippines, where many local clerics behave more like princes than pastors.
What made his message of service more compelling was his wide, inviting smile. His happy demeanor modeled a second theme of his homily, namely, that Christian service brings joy. Since it was also the feast of the Visitation, he pointed to Mary’s joyful “song” to Elizabeth, better known as the Magnificat, as an instance in Scripture when we see this truth come alive.
- Watching my parents embrace and kiss my brother.
After Luis received his dalmatic (the deacon’s garment), he went to greet my parents. I was surprised when, instead of a polite hug, my mom wrapped Luis in a tender, long embrace, while my dad gave him a sweet kiss on the forehead. Needless to say, watching that moment filled many eyes with tears.
More than sentiment though, that moment made me see that the deepest spiritual seeds my brothers and I received were not from priests, but from my parents.
Like most Catholic families, my mom and dad brought us weekly to Sunday Mass, and taught us our first prayers. Yet, for them, rituals were never enough. My mom insisted that we understand the reasons behind our faith, and develop an intimate relationship with God.
She and my dad also taught us that faith had to be lived out beyond Church walls and rituals. For them, genuine faith had to compel us to serve others, especially the most disadvantaged in society. It’s a message they continue to teach us through how they live each day.
The moment my mom and dad embraced and kissed my brother was, for me, a living icon of the faith, love, and service I learned at home. Especially since, putting myself in their shoes, I imagine giving up their eldest son to the priesthood was far from easy. More so since in Asian cultures, the eldest son is expected to be like a second father of the family. Aside from this, because of his vocation, Luis won’t be as physically present at home, will need to live poorly, and can’t be relied on for the family’s practical needs. Despite these sacrifices, my parents’ tenderness toward him that day showed how completely they embraced his vocation.
In that moment, and the memories and insights it triggered, I caught a glimpse of what the Church means when she says the family is called to be a domestic church.
- Seeing Luis prostrate at the altar.
At any ordination, the climactic moment is when the candidate prostrates himself before the altar, while the choir chants the Litany of the Saints. What made this even more poignant for me was hearing my second brother chant the litany. To see one brother stretched on the ground, while the other begged the saints to intercede for him, was achingly moving.
The stronger emotion, however, came from realizing that through his sacrifice, many would experience God in a deep and transformative way. When Luis entered the seminary, he told me that he was offering his vocation for many who were still thirsting for God. That day, seeing so many in the crowd with bowed heads, while he lay prostrate, gave me a glimpse of how because of the offering of his life, many would experience God’s love in a tangible and redemptive way.
At that moment I felt God whisper into my heart, “Now do you see how precious the offering of a generous heart is to me?”