I am often asked, especially by young people, why I became a priest. Maybe some of you would like to ask the same question. Let me try, briefly, to reply. I must begin by saying it is impossible to explain it entirely. For it remains a mystery even to myself. How does one explain the ways of God? Yet, I know that at a certain point in my life, I became convinced that Christ was saying to me what he has said to thousands before me: “Come, follow me!” There was a clear sense that what I heard in my heart was no human voice, nor was it just an idea of my own. Christ was calling me to serve him as a priest.
And you can probably tell that I am deeply grateful to God for my vocation to the priesthood. Nothing means more to me or gives me greater joy than to celebrate Mass each day and to serve God’s people in the Church. That has been true since the day of my ordination as a priest. Nothing has ever changed.
Words cannot describe the supreme gratitude, thanksgiving, praise, adoration and awe I feel towards God as I celebrate the 6th anniversary of my ordination to the Sacred Priesthood.
On the one hand I feel like I was ordained yesterday. It seems like I am still in the honeymoon period of being a priest, for every Mass, every confession, every session of spiritual direction feels as if it is being offered for the first time. On the other hand, because of the sheer density and wide spectrum of the emotional and psychological experience of a priest, I feel that I have been ordained for time immemorial. I do not remember what it was like to not be a priest, even though in human terms it was only 6 years ago that I was ordained.
This is who God has called me to be, for I was born to do this, to be a living offering, an oblation, a living sign that men and women may know that God is fully alive and that he loves them vigorously with great joy, and that he will continue to call men to the altar to lay down their lives in union with the Eucharistic Victim for the salvation of all mankind.
Even if I had a thousand lives to live, I would live every single one of them as a priest. How glorious is God, how vast and incomprehensible is his great love, that he would fashion on earth the sublime masterpiece of his Sacred Heart, the wonder of his presence, his Fatherhood, his love, alive in his priests!
Has it been happy? That’s a tough question. After all, happiness is relative. But someone said about money – that money is relative – the more money, the more relatives. That’s my feeble attempt at wry humour, in case you missed it.
But on a more serious note, we can generally agree that happiness is indeed relative. Happiness is fleeting, and it is also dependent upon so many different factors in different people that it becomes problematic when we gauge anything by the value of happiness. Most apparent of all is the fact that happiness is a feeling. You can’t measure feelings. And if there’s one thing about feelings that we simply must understand, it is that love is not, and cannot, be about feelings. The moment we allow our feelings to direct when we love, how we love, and whom we love, we easily become self-centered and selfish people.
One author once said that what matters most in life is not happiness but meaning. If our lives have been meaningful, if they have contributed to the meaning of the lives of others, if they have added meaning to the world and to the hard tasks in life like suffering, discomfort and misadventure, then our lives would have mattered much more than if they simply made us happy. Happiness is something that can be bought. You can, for the price of an admission ticket, go to some theme park and experience the ‘happiest place on earth’, but the ‘most meaningful place on earth’ has yet to be used as a marketing ploy because that would be literally choosing the narrow gate that, to many, remains the least preferred choice.
So, for the present, I shall settle with ‘meaning’. Being a priest has not only added meaning to my life. I do hope that it has also brought meaning to the lives of the many whom I have encountered, touched and, hopefully, healed and motivated in these last 6 years of active ministry. Happiness just doesn’t cut it, because not even Jesus was happy all the time in his ministry. I’m willing to wager that hanging on the cross hoisted above Calvary on that first Good Friday could not have been a very happy moment in Jesus’ life. In fact, his use of the Greek ‘makarios’ in Matthew’s Beatitudes, translated into “happy are the …”, has us standing on our heads to see how Jesus defines happiness.
No, it has not been happy all the time for me either as a priest these 6 years past, but having said that, I don’t think that any one of my friends, parishioners, former classmates and schoolmates can ever say that their choice of vocation in life has been one that has been happy at every single moment of their lives. If so, then the tapestry of their lives would be more like a flat sheet made up of one single shade.
But if our lives are indeed a picturesque tapestry on which not just we, but God the master weaver as well adjusts the warps and wefts of the loom of life, then the ups and downs, the joys and sorrows, successes and failures, the times of sickness and health, plenty and poverty, all add to the depth of meaning and beauty beyond adequate description.
Some of my brother priests are 16, 17, 67 years into their priesthood. In the shadow of their long years of their ministry, my 6 years looks more like a kidney stone. I salute their commitment and courage, and their quest for holiness. But perhaps 6 years is a good beginning to look at things anew, and where possible, add more meaning to my priestly life. And today I will renew my commitment in serving the Lord and his faithful.
My dear friends, please pray for me, for although I am a clay vessel, a poor and humble instrument of his grace, he has entrusted me with dispensing his mysteries and graces to his people. May God pardon me for my sins and failings, excesses and defects, imperfections and faults, and may Mary, Mother of Priests, and our beloved Fr Founder, St Annibale Maria Di Francia, pray for us, now and at the hour of our death. Amen!
Fr Gerald Binegas RCJ
Fr Gerald is serving as the Assistant Priest at the partnered parishes of Christ the King, Braybrook and Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Maidstone. He and the Parish Priest, Fr Rene Ramirez RCJ, are the first Rogationists of the Heart of Jesus to serve God and neighbour in Australia. We thank God and pray for them in this new mission.