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The One Who Feeds

Homily of H.E. Most Rev. Charles John Brown D.D., Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines

Thanksgiving Mass on the Occasion of the 40th Sacerdotal Anniversary

of H.E. Most Rev. Victor B. Bendico, D.D., Archbishop of Capiz

April 11, 2024 | Immaculate Concepcion Metropolitan Cathedral, Roxas City, Capiz

“The priesthood” as St. John Vianney taught so beautifully, “The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.” “The love of the heart of Jesus.”

Your Eminence Jose Cardinal Advincula, Archbishop of Manila, brother bishops who have come from near and far, concelebrating priests here from the Archdiocese of Capiz (in big numbers and probably other diocese as well), deacons, religious sisters, religious brothers, lay faithful here of the Archdiocese of Capiz:

For me as your apostolic nuncio, it gives me a lot of joy and happiness to be with you here this morning, on April 11th of 2024; to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the ordination of your beloved Archbishop Victor Barnuevo Bendico, who today celebrates 40 years since the moment of his ordination as a priest, which took place here in the Archdiocese of Capiz, in his local parish. You may know that his excellency was baptized in this church, but he was ordained priest in 1984 by †Archbishop Antonio Floro Frondosa, in his parish church, in the week right before Palm Sunday in 1984. So, Archbishop Bendico, then Father Victor, was thrown into the Liturgy of Holy Week as a newly ordained priest.

All of us know his very impressive curriculum vitae. He served as Spiritual Director at St. Pius X Seminary, Roxas City (1984-1988); parish parochial vicar in some parishes; parish priest of parishes; rectos, at one point, later on at Sta. Maria Mater et Regina Seminarium Maius, (Saint Mary, Mother and Queen, Major Seminary), here in the Archdiocese of Capiz; and then, parish priest, here in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception here in Roxas City, until in October of 2016, he was chosen as Bishop in Baguio; and received his episcopal consecration, the fullness of the priesthood in [January] of 2017. Then, little bit, less than one year ago, he returned to you here in Capiz. Pope Francis decided that the best thing for the Archdiocese of Capiz would be for your beloved Archbishop, then Bishop Bendico from Baguio, to return here as your Archbishop. So, we are here to thank God for the gift of his 40 years of priesthood.

The predominant image of our liturgy this morning is, as we heard in the readings, as you can see in your programs if you have them, as you can also see in the holy cards that have been printed, and indeed in the chasubles that we are wearing―the symbolism of the liturgy this morning is the symbolism of the Good Shepherd.

“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn. 10:11). Isn't that a beautiful image in the ordination of a priest? When he literally lays down, prostates in front of the altar? As we sing the Litany of the Saints, invoking the intercession of the Saints, to pray for this man, this deacon who will be ordained to the priesthood. To be ordained means to be ordained as a shepherd in the image of the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. That is an image that we can see even in the ordination of a priest.

This concept of shepherd. The shepherd is the one, as we heard in the gospel this morning (John 10:11-18), is the one who defends the sheep, keeps the sheep from being scattered. He carries a staff to drive away the wolves and the wild animals, who would threaten the unity of the flock.

The One Who Feeds

The word shepherd in the original Greek is quite interesting. In English, of course, shepherd comes from the sheep. The shepherd is one who herds the sheep. He is a sheep herder. So, the shepherd, that word in English, is named for the sheep. In Greek, the word is “ποιμὴν” (poimēn), shepherd, which seems to come, apparently from the word for “grass”. For grass which the sheep need to feed on.

So, we have the idea in the Greek of the shepherd as the one who feeds or leads the sheep to the place where they can be fed; and the basic foundational notion of the shepherd. This is even more clear in Latin: the “pastor bonus” right? The Good Shepherd, the pastor.

Pastor comes from the Latin word or Latin verb “pascere”, to feed. The idea is feeding. “Feed my lambs,” “Nourish my sheep”. The pastor is principally, who is, one who feeds, one who nourishes. We have that word in English: “pasture”, which is a grassy area where the animals can find nourishment. Even the word in Italian “pasta” means “food”, comes from the same derivation as pastor. The one who leads the sheep to the place where they can be fed.

We have one Shepherd, first and foremost, Jesus, our Lord and God, who is the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for us, the sheep, and who feeds, doesn't he? He feeds us. He feeds us with His body and His blood in the Eucharist. He feeds us with His word in Holy Scripture.

“The Lord is my shepherd”, as we said and prayed in the Responsorial Psalm today. The Lord is the Chief Shepherd; but He has chosen in His providence, to ordain shepherds who will be after His heart, shepherds, human shepherds, priests, and bishops, whose principal function, we can say, is to feed the flock―to give the flock nourishment; to give the flock life. Feeding, food indicate life, the transmission of life.

To Feed from Two Tables

How does that happen in the life of a priest? How does he feed the flock? How does he imitate Jesus the Good Shepherd? It's interesting in the Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation that the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI wrote back in 2007: Sacramentum Caritatis (The Sacrament of Love, The Sacrament of Charity), about the Eucharist. The Pope wrote this, “There is an intrinsic bond between the word of God and the Eucharist. From listening to the word of God, faith is born or strengthened in the Eucharist the Word made flesh gives himself to us as our spiritual food.” Then Pope Benedict wrote “Thus, from the two tables of the word of God and the Body of Christ, the Church receives and gives to the faithful the bread of life” (SC #44).

So, life is coming to us from two tables we can say. We are fed from two tables: the Table of the Word, and the Table of the Sacrament. The Table of the preaching, and the Table of the Eucharist. The idea of the Table of the Word, of course, principally this means preaching and explaining the Scriptures. 

What a task of a priest is to expound on the Scriptures, to teach people from the Scriptures; but we can think of that Table of the Word in a more extensive way in our lives as priests, my brother priests. Not only preaching the Word of God in Scripture, but all of God's revelation, all of what we call the Dei Verbum, which is not only the Dei Verbum written, but also the Dei Verbum of Tradition, and so forth, of doctrine.

By teaching doctrines, by transmitting doctrine, we are feeding the people from the Table of the Word. We are nourishing God's flock. We are transmitting that life that comes into us from our contact with Christ. In a certain sense, we can say that doctrine, the Word of God in the most extensive way, revelation in some ways is the Via the Veritas and the Vita. Doctrine is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We want to absorb that truth and to put it into practice in our lives. That's what we as priests do by preaching, by teaching. It is one of the ways in which we give life to our people. It's one of the ways in which we lead our people to the sources of life, which is what a shepherd does in the most basic sense of the word.

But of course, there's that second sense of leading to life from the Table of the Sacrament, which in a restricted way of course is the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Sacraments, the Body, the Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, which transfers, which communicates Christ’s life into our people. We are giving them the life of God through the Eucharist, and the other sacraments.

So, these two ways of being a shepherd: ways of feeding through preaching and through sacrament, it's the central foundational aspect, an element of our lives as priests.

That's what we celebrate when we celebrate 40 years, or any priestly anniversary for that matter. We celebrate a man who was chosen by God, a man whose life was changed on the moment of his ordination to the priesthood. In the traditional theology of the priesthood, we received that sacramental character, an ontological change. We become shepherds after the image of the Good Shepherd. We become other Christs for our people. We become images, we become icons of Christ; with our limitations, with our difficulties, with our occasional failures. Yes, we are images, of icons of Christ. Let us never forget that. Images of Him, the Good Shepherd who goes in search, especially of the lost sheep, to lead them to life, through the teaching of the Church, and the reception of the sacraments. This life that comes into us, that changes us, that gives us joy and happiness, and prepares us for heaven.

The Word and the Sacrament. It's interesting brothers and sisters in Christ, some of our Christian brothers and sisters who are not Catholic, have the idea of the “sola”. Right? “Only”. “Sola scriptura”. Maybe you've heard that term. “Sola fide”.  “Sola scriptura” = “only scriptures”. “Sola fide” = “faith alone”. But we, for us Catholics is not really “sola” for us. It's always in Latin “et” which is “both”, “and”. There's always a question of “both” “and”. So, it's “Word and Sacraments”, it's “Scripture and Tradition”.

We are sanctified by faith “and” good words. We honor marriage “and” the celibacy. We don't choose between the two. In fact, the original Greek word for heresy, hairesis means “to choose, to select, take one without balancing with the other”. So, faith and works, marriage and celibacy. Jesus is God and man. Our Lady (we are in her beautiful cathedral this morning) is a virgin and mother.

Small Ways of Laying Down One’s Life

So, in this sense we can think about the role of the priest, the man of the Word, man of the Sacrament. Why? Because as an image of the Good Shepherd, he is leading his people always to life. In order to do that effectively, the priest must lay down his own life in some way―lay down his own life in some way. We were all, as priests, have to make sacrifices in our priesthood. The small ways of laying down our life, when things don't go our way. When perhaps we receive a mission or an assignment that we didn't really want or desire, it will lay down our lives; but when we do that, we are doing exactly, we’re kind of putting into practice what we did symbolically in what then Deacon Victor Bendico, when he laid down in front of the altar, before he was ordained to the priesthood. We’re laying down our lives for our people. We are truly being images of Jesus the Good Shepherd.

So, today we thank God for forty years, as the Ruby Jubilee, forty years of the priesthood of your beloved Archbishop Victor Bendico. We thank God for all the gifts that He has given to the Church in these forty years. In the name of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, who is representative, of course, I am in the Philippines. I want to congratulate and to thank his excellency for his generous and selfless service over these forty years.

What a beautiful testament to have all of us here this morning on this anniversary, to thank God for the gift of His priesthood; and also, to reflect for those of you who are priests and bishops, to reflect on our own priesthood. To think about how we can better lay down our lives for our people, and we can lead them to the sources of life. That is our principal function as priests and as bishops.

We do all of these things always under the watchful eyes of Our Lady, the beautiful, all-powerful Holy Mother of God, in whose cathedral we are praying this morning. We ask Our Lady, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, to intercede for our beloved Archbishop Victor Bendico, to protect him, to lead him to another forty years of priesthood, at least here on this earth; and then a priesthood and eternity in heaven.

Ad multos annos! Congratulations, Your Excellency.

Transcribed by Joel V. Ocampo

Photos from Pamati - Archdiocese of Capiz Facebook page

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