Gratitude is the heart’s memory. Since it is the heart’s memory, I wish to express humbly to the great Creator of my being, to Almighty God, as I say (with Ps 52:11) “I will thank you Lord always for what you have done” and I shall consider this anniversary celebration a profound awareness of St. Paul’s words: “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you”. Yes, it is a prompting, a refreshing for my memory and yours, a recollection, and now it becomes a present given to me by the Archbishop, which makes me shrink tremendously while I humbly bow in obedience before a chosen gathering significantly hit by coronavirus.
Allow me to begin my homily by reading from the letter to the Hebrews that “every priest is chosen from among men.” I must confess that I am mesmerized and dazzled by the word “chosen”. Why did God choose me? God picked me up from among the street boys of Lucban. But it was my mother’s heart that led me to the love of the sacraments of confession & holy communion as a proven path towards the priesthood. As a kid I only knew then that a priest wears a black cassock and it puzzled me whether he has trousers or none. As my life story goes, it was the Mass, the vestments and the bells that were a marvel to my young mind. And so when my good mother had my father put me, a ten year old kid, on the saddle of my uncle’s horse and galloped to Tayabas Minor Seminary. It was Japanese time. No vehicles were allowed in Lucban. Only the Japanese soldiers had a truck. While in the minor seminary, I can vividly recall the Seminary Rector lifting me up almost every night from the floor for a week or two and put me back to my bed.
Why did God choose me? I would later hear the words “you did not choose me but I chose you” (Jn l5:16). Through the years in my seminary life amidst the desert experience, the joys of the community and the curiosity of study led up to the enfolding of the mystery of God’s calling me until the time of my answering “Adsum,” – “Here I am, Lord.” And in the prostration at the Litany of the Saints at my priestly ordination and repeated at my episcopal ordination the words “you did not choose me, but it was I…..” reverberated behind my tears. Chosen from among the people. My spiritual father and my seminary rector stressed that I am a priest for the people and yes, how can I become a priest without a people?
65 years in the priestly life. Yes, 65. Only because of God. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus. (2 Tim 1:9)
Allow me to peregrinate: One third of those years were spent in Seminary ministry for formation and for teaching. I had spent 20 years living in the fellowship of priests formators and in the company of candidates for the priesthood. I familiarized myself in the Latin language with and taught Latin poetry to my students. My capability in Scholastic philosophy was broadened by my pupils in the College seminary. And I learned theology and its praxis as well as to love God’s Word with my students.
Of the two third of my life in the priestly service of God, I spent partly with a stint in the Nunciature of Manila and almost all of my episcopal life in ministering to and serving in the Archdiocese of Cebu while working with and in reverent submission and guidance to two eminent shepherds of God’s flock: Cardinal Ricardo Vidal and Archbishop Jose Serofia Palma.
Ministering side by side and trying to be in unison with his eminence, Cardinal Vidal, who was a big inspiration and a big brother who showed me the path to a fruitful ministry. Then there is no better word in my life as a bishop emeritus with our Archbishop: a very dear friend and a perfect copy of my idol Archbishop Piamonte, Archbishop Palma’s love for the priests of the archdiocese is especially remarkable. I have known the length and breadth of service he is rendering to the church in Cebu and even in the Philippines at large. I am grateful for the countless things he has gifted me.
And to my brother priests in our palace family, their amiability and fraternal love manifested in many, many ways. To the palacio M.C.S.T. Sisters whose congregation’s name and existence has a special incision in my heart. To all members of the palacio household, whose kindness and service is noteworthy. A million thanks!!!
BISHOP ANTONIO R. RAÑOLA, D.D.
April 4, 2020