Confession of a human person
In the seminary for 13 years, I thought that as I was being formed to perfection, I had to develop a disdain for my humanity.
I had perfect attendance in our prayers. I woke at 4:30 a.m., went down to the canteen and took a cup of coffee to keep me awake for the morning prayers and Eucharist at 5:30. Even if alcohol from late-night drinking lingered in my mouth, I gathered all my strength to rise from my bed and join the choir. It is unwritten in the seminary that you can imbibe as much as you want in drinking sprees approved by the masters, as long as you will attend the prayer and liturgy the next morning. I cannot recall how many times I prayed the lauds animated, not by the Holy Spirit, but by the spirits of beer and brandy. Perhaps some parishioners, seeing me, may have remarked as the people did of the apostles during the Pentecost: “They are drunk” (Acts 2:13).
During my master’s studies, I did not enroll in late-afternoon or evening classes except in some inevitable instances. Consequently, I hurdled traffic jams on España Boulevard during rush hour. I would rush to the seminary after my afternoon classes at the University of Santo Tomas to catch the 6:45 p.m. office of readings and evening prayer. More than once I walked the 2-kilometer distance between UST and Santo Domingo Church, just to avoid being stuck in a PUV standing still on España, and be in the seminary in time for our prayers.
It was an awkward moment when our master was trying to drive home a point, during a community meeting, that it was okay to be absent from the choir occasionally, for valid reasons. He pointed to me and asked how many times I had missed being with the choir. I could not answer. It was not as though I had been absent ad nauseam in our prayers. On the contrary, I could not remember being absent during prayers.
I made it a point to attend all community activities in the seminary. I refused invitations from our lay collaborators, even from my own family, to have a dinner outside, just to be with my brothers in movie viewings, outdoor and indoor recreations, cleaning sessions, faith sharing, etc. I was there in practically all the seminary’s activities. I thought I had to be there, as an obedient friar following the instructions of his master and the structures of the seminary.
With this belief, everything seemed excellent to me. I kept perfect attendance in prayer and community activities. I completed my graduate studies with marks acceptable to our order’s standard. One brother even labeled me his “ideal brother.”
This was how I perceived my formation: that I had to be impeccable, perfect, close to being an angel. I was wrong.
At the beginning of the year, I took up the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program facilitated by the Camillian Fathers at the Philippine Heart Center. I enrolled in the program, not because I was a problematic friar (as the CPE connotes among seminarians) but because it was a regular program required for all of us in formation. Along with the master’s studies and psycho-spiritual integration, CPE was the recent addition to our regular formation program. That explains our 13-year formation. Ours is relatively long compared with other seminaries’ formation programs that usually run for 10 years, or even less.
CPE clarified my wrong notion regarding our formation. It allowed me to get in touch with my humanity, to embrace it. For a long time, I thought that to attend to my needs as a man was to err, to deviate from my formation to be perfect. Though my body was crying out for rest and sleep, I had to get up and dress to go to the choir, to fulfill the responsibilities assigned to me, to multitask, to deliver what was expected of me but to do so excellently, to the detriment of my health.
Though I yearned for the love and affection of family and friends, I pushed them away as I had to prioritize the things that would keep me perfect, the instructions and structures in the seminary. Though I was on the verge of crying in pain, I held back my tears for I had to be invincible.
Being in the seminary, I had to be strong and perfect, I thought. I had to banish human needs that may connote weakness and vulnerability. I had to be tough and faultless.
For years this routine worked. I thought I could continue to believe that everything was okay, that I had successfully dealt with my problems and issues by rejecting my humanity and its imperfections. But that would be an injustice on my part, on the aspect of myself that was hurting. Through CPE I bared my wounds that had been unattended for years, my humanity that had been placed on the back burner.
I had bruises and wounds, as well as imperfections. I had failed. I got tired. I cried.
I am a man; I am imperfect.
Saint Thomas says: Grace builds on nature. Grace does not eliminate our humanity, our uniqueness. It brings man to its perfection in God. But that can only be possible with our cooperation with God, commencing with our admission of our own imperfections which we desire to be perfected by God.
My humanity is not totally irreconcilable with my vocation to be perfect. I entered the religious life, a school of perfection, because I sought perfection. And my journey toward perfection begins with my admission of imperfections, which make me who I am, a human person. They are part of my nature, of my uniqueness. I believe they are not removed as our formation puts them into perfection. We are to be uniquely perfect, perfect in our own respect.
In the last leg of my formation, I make this confession: I am an imperfect man. And this imperfect man is a minister of Christ. Isn’t it wonderful to realize that Christ can use even a fragile, broken instrument to make His presence felt? As a minister participates in Christ’s ministry, he has to be in touch with his emotions, his humanity, as Christ did. Without such, Christ the wounded, sorrowful, tearful, hungry, and desolate will find it difficult to work through a “superman.”
Neither admission of imperfection nor embracing humanity makes one less worthy of the religious life. It demonstrates openness to the process of perfection, an acknowledgment of the need for others’ help, for God’s help. That makes humanity a blessing, and not a curse.
It pays a lot to be truthful. Coming face to face with my core wound, admitting my weakness, becoming vulnerable—this was my process of coming to terms with the truths in my life, with my humanity. I do not need to pretend I am perfect, that my life is perfect. I have wounds and weaknesses. I am vulnerable. These truths do not make me less human. In fact, admitting them, owning them, makes me a human person, in touch with my humanity.
This is the first step in this school of perfection: confessing that I am a human person.
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Hilario V. Sicat Jr., OP, 29, is a member of the Dominican Province of the Philippines.
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