In the occasion of his second priestly anniversary, we have asked Fr. Cesar the following questions on this unforgettable day of his life.
- Dear Fr. Cesar, today August 15 that is the Solemnity of Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven, you are celebrating the second anniversary of your priestly ordination. What are your feelings for this second anniversary and what are you discovering as priest?
“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.” (EG1)
When I think about these two years of priesthood, the first thing that comes in my mind is the word THANKS. These words of Pope Francis help me to express a deep gratitude that I owe to many. The life of a missionary should always be a thanksgiving and fount of joy.
In the beginning of this year 2015 one Brazilian reporter, who works in Radio Vatican came here in the Philippines to prepare the papal visit. Among the activities she had, she visited our community to interview one of my confreres about our missionary work in this country. After interviewing him, I had the opportunity to talk informally with her in the corridor. She defined the missionary as a person of a lot faith, courage, patience, freedom… While she was saying it, I was thinking that a missionary needs all these things. However as missionaries, we find ourselves with a little faith, courage, patience, etc. We are neither ‘super-hero’ nor ‘supermen’. We are normal people trying to be good, for God and for others.
Two years of ordination is a very short time. I am so grateful to God and my Congregation who gave me this opportunity in my life to be missionary; this is the first and central point in my history.
The priesthood is one element that is part, in my case, of the missionary life but not the center. To be a priest is something hard to understand. Among all the definitions that I heard about priestly ministry that of Rowan Williams caught my attention: “The priest is the unitive, sacrificial and intercessory presence, the one who makes connections. The priest is the operator of reconciliation, the one who can tell what to do in order to reconnect.” (Living Baptismally. Rowan Williams at Trinity College, 14 May 2002).
The experience of presence, connections, and reconciliation in this time as a priest was what I dreamed for my missionary life. Living my priesthood, I feel three necessities: the necessity to grow, learn and be with God.
To learn: This could be the first necessity for all, especially for a missionary. The psalmist says: “Make us know the shortness of our life, that we may gain wisdom of heart.” (Ps 90,12). To learn a new language, acquire new skills, try to understand new culture, and learn new pastoral methods… In all these, the risk is to learn everything but these things stay outside of us. That is why the words of the psalmist are so helpful because when we talk about learning we must get the second part of that activity: to learn how to learn. It means internalizing it within us in a way that it transforms us and gives us a new vision of life and of the world. In others words, to transform our thinking and feelings. This is the most difficult part of any process of learning.
To grow: When we start one new activity, we are full of energy and many times we think that we have all the skills and strength for that. However, we realize that every single day we need to grow. We are always small children surprised with the events of life. I ask God to give me always the ability to marvel in front of the newness of life.
In the middle of all the challenges and necessities of life I felt this deep desire: the search for God. The Eucharist, the Word of God, the Sacraments and contact with the people of God are realities that challenge me every moment because in all this I am called to make new choices every single day. Only God can help me in this journey. In these first years of priesthood, the example of people like Pope Francis is for me a fount of inspiration of the search for God.
- Two years of priesthood, and also almost two years of priestly ministry and mission in the Philippines. What can you say about your presence in this country?
As I said above, the mission as well as the religious consecration – in my case – comes in the first place if I consider that I am trying to live my priesthood with that perception. Forty days after my ordination I arrived in the Philippines. This was my first assignment and since the beginning when I received that news I was very happy.
To be, at the same time, missionary and priest in this country is the most beautiful experience in my life. When I arrived here the first thing that I tried to do was to learn English followed by Tagalog. To learn a new language is like a new birth. I am always more convinced that this is the best period of my life, because it is given me the chance to restart again from zero. Time and patience are the two essential elements in the life of those who learn something and what give the possibility, little by little, to get involved in the daily activities of this new reality. The language offers us this occasion.
One of the most common pastoral activities that we are called to do as priests is to celebrate masses that everybody expects from a priest. That aspect of our ministry takes a lot of time, in preparation and celebration. However in this, we believe, is the centre of our vocation and consecration.
Going around to the small chapels of our Saint Francis Xavier Parish, I got one image that summarizes my missionary work here. In most of the chapels we usually have one small cross on the altar. For us the cross is the greatest expression of salvation. In it, we see the power of God`s love for all. There, we contemplate the lifeless body of Christ but full of God`s presence because it is the presence of love. Most of the time that image of the cross on the altar is old and broken. Many times the image of Jesus on those crosses one member is missing: a leg or a hand or again the part of the head, or a member that was glued many times.
In this image I see what I am called to be as missionary and priest. This image helps me to realize that I should be these missing members. In one poem prayer of Teresa of Avila, but from the ancient tradition of the spirituality says; “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, and you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours with which he looks compassion on this world.” This is what I am trying to be with the Filipino people as missionary.
In front of all these new realities of missionary life and ministry, I could finally say as Paul to the Philippians: “It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:12). This faith is what keeps in me the joy of those who encounter Jesus. THANKS.
Fr. Cesar da Silva sx
August 15, 2015