AT first glance, we may think that Jesus was speaking to a general audience when he was proclaiming the Beatitudes. But after reading this Gospel scene (Luke 6:17, 20-16) thoroughly, we would find out that Jesus was directly conveying its message to his disciples.

For the Gospel states, “And raising his eyes toward his disciples, he said: Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold your reward will be great in heaven…”

It makes sense that Jesus would direct this message to his disciples, for they gave up their trades and left the comfort of their homes to follow him. The power of Jesus’ words made them “hungry” for more of God’s wisdom. But in following Jesus and believing in his words, some people hated and insulted them, and denounced their names. So to encourage them, Jesus called “blessed” and assured them of their reward in heaven.

With this in mind, we find the relevance of Jesus’ words to his disciples in today’s times. To what maybe be a surprise for us, we meet men and women, especially young ones, who feel compelled to follow Jesus—to become priests, religious, pastors, and missionaries.

They have heard the “calling” and they are willing to dedicate their lives to preach the Gospel and serve God’s people.

I think of the seminarians I teach who constantly amaze and inspire me in their intense desire to be priests. They are hungry for wisdom and skills in their eagerness to bring people to God and direct them to the truth of the Gospel.

Yet, when I reflect on the life they are willing to embrace, I think of the sufferings, difficulties, rejections, and challenges they will experience and endure. I pray that they will remain strong and receive moral support from their mentors and the people they serve.

It’s not easy to remain faithful to this vocation especially in a secular and political environment that opposes the Gospel and the Commandments of God. Take for example the political climate in the Philippines now in which the president constantly attacks the Catholic Church, denounces priests and bishops, and even tells people to kidnap and kill “useless foolish” bishops because they oppose his deadly war on drugs.  Another example is the support of many politicians and citizens in the U.S. for bills that support abortion.

This is the reason why Archbishop Socrates Villegas recently told the newly ordained priests in his diocese to be brave enough to defend the faith and to stand up for it, not to be afraid be good priests, to be “broken and crushed into pieces” like the Body of Christ, to be “coward” to be separated from Jesus. He told them to be “weak enough” to rely solely on the grace of God while being “afraid” of “lying…lust…hypocrisy… stealing money from the people…convenience and comfort.” (https://epicpew.com/video-priesthood-sabins-studio/)

Thus, as members of the Body of Christ, one of our crucial tasks is to pray for our bishops, priests,  ministers, religious men and women, and seminarians to remain steadfast in their vocation, to be brave and “weak” at the same time, relying fully on God’s grace. Instead of criticizing and attacking them, let’s pray that they be authentic and loyal in their vocation.

Let our prayers reflect the words of the First Reading this Sunday (Jer 17:5-8):

“Blessed be the one who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots on to the streams: it fears not the heat when it comes; its leaves stay green; in the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruits.” Amen!

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From a Filipino immigrant family, Reverend Rodel G. Balagtas was ordained to the priesthood from St. John’s Seminary in 1991. He served as Associate Pastor at St. Augustine, Culver City (1991-1993); St. Martha, Valinda (1993-1999); and St. Joseph the Worker, Canoga Park (1991-2001). In 2001, he served as Administrator Pro Tem of St. John Neumann in Santa Maria, CA, until his appointment as pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary, Los Angeles, in 2002, which lasted 12 years. His term as Associate Director of Pastoral Field Education at St. John’s Seminary began in July 2014.

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