The year 2016 had been a milestone year in my life because I celebrated my 25th anniversary as a religious of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament. I am so blessed and grateful for the many years I have been nurtured by the tremendous grace of vocation I am embracing. I was not able to attend the celebration in Manila with my SSS confreres and co-jubilarians. Nevertheless, I had the opportunity to celebrate the occasion with majority of jubilarians in the Diocese of Cleveland, Ohio, presided by the bishop, now emeritus, Most Rev. Richard Lennon.
While 2016 had been a celebratory year, there was also pain and sadness because I lost my Papa Johnny to illness in November that same year. He served his parish church for more than forty years in various capacities. Although I was able to see him and talk to him before his passing, I was not ready to accept his death. The emotional pain and grief of my mother and the rest of my siblings in the hospital room were really excruciating, especially the moment of letting go. But it was apparent that my father was ready to go…
This is the paradox of life: Sometimes we need to celebrate the passing of days and years in life, but and most of the time, we need to celebrate life on the way to life eternal. We just have to let go and let God work His ways in our life. For me this is a learning experience - to accept that our life is greater than our loss; our life is greater than our pain.
This experience also made me reflect on my vocation more deeply as I marked my 20th priestly anniversary this year, 2017, ever thankful for this gift of vocation and the graces God has bestowed upon me to perform my ministry with great perseverance.
Before I began my journey as a chaplain clergy serving full time as pastoral care minister, I remembered being immersed in our Blessed Sacrament community in Davao when I was a postulant. I was tasked to assist a religious brother who had suffered a minor heart attack. Little did I know that it was already an initial formation of caring for the elderly and sick in the community. When I was taking care of him, I thought I was just being respectful to a senior and infirm member of the local community, unaware of my potential for this type of service and its impact on my future ministry.
For the past several years, I am not only called to minister to my brethren in the community but also to attend to the pastoral needs of members of the Catholic church like those in the hospital, as part of my responsibility as ordained priest and as chaplain, and those in nursing institutions, visiting them, administering the sacrament of anointing of the sick, hearing confessions and giving holy communion.
During the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis in Manila, Philippines, in January 2016, he celebrated Mass with bishops, priests, religious and seminarians, and his homily expounded on the theme of all pastoral ministry as born of love. I then realized that my ministry of taking care of the sick is a call to be love in the heart of the church.
I thank God for the grace of mercy and compassion. Most of all, I thank God for giving me the willingness to explore so much more the call for healing ministry within the grace of my vocation in the banquet of the Eucharistic celebration. I am being challenged constantly and called to be bread, broken and shared to the people of God. It is absolutely a blessing to celebrate twenty years of religious missionary priest.
The Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament (SSS) Rule of Life (RoL) no. 12 - Infirm or Elderly Religious, states: “When one of our brothers is ill the community shall unite itself with him in his suffering … . Thus, are provided with all the care they need and that, depending on the condition, they receive the sacrament of the sick, in the joy of the Lord and surrounded by their brothers.” This particular guide and lifestyle affirms my own life experience as one of the professed members living in the community since the initial stage of my formation until this present time.
Saint Peter Julian Eymard, founder of SSS, made a definitive witnessing of his own life experiences of being weak and sick, thus integrating his own life to the practice and the mission of the congregation, to care for the sick and suffering in the Church and those in the community as well. This is a concrete reminder for all of us members that RoL no. 12 is a mission directive to be a caring community with compassion and support for the infirm and elderly.
Even as a young priest assigned at a parish in Monteynard, France, Fr. Eymard would visit the sick and ask the nature of their illness. He had developed an interest in herbal medicine and would teach those who were interested how to recognize such herbs, how to prepare and use them.
St. Eymard made sure that the community he founded included the care for the priest. RoL no.44 – At the service of the priest, confirms that SSS seeks to share with the mission of the priest a life of faith, prayer and friendship as we welcome and accommodate them (the infirm and elderly) by offering hospitality, formation and animation. The holy SSS founder explicitly said, “I would leave everything for priests.” Indeed, his thoughts and vision were more than adequate to see the goodness of taking care of one another in the community as reflected in his own past pastoral and communal life experiences.
Fr. Lito Hitosis, SSS, is associate priest at St. Paschal Baylon Parish in Cleveland, Ohio, USA.
He also serves as full time Chaplain in the nearby Hillcrest Hospital.
Provincial Update no. 53, November 9 2017