I’VE always wondered what “human formation” is in regards to training men to become priests. I understand the spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral formation, but I couldn’t quite grasp human formation. Perhaps it’s because the term “human” is too general and encompasses varied aspects of existence.
The term becomes intelligible to me when I look at it in the light of being a person of “communion.” It’s to be in solidarity with other people in their joys, sorrows, and sufferings. It’s to forget oneself and one’s needs for the sake of the other. Often, the test of what is to be truly human comes when we can sympathize and empathize with people.
This past week, for example, we examine our human quality by our reactions and response to the devastations that Hurricane Harvey has caused in the lives of our fellow human beings in Houston, Texas and other parts of the state. Are we hurting for them? Are we drawn to offer them our moral, material, and spiritual support? If this horrible disaster does not affect us, then we do need to question our “humanness.”
When we talk about being human, we do not just dwell on our natural tendencies—our limitations and weaknesses—particularly when we casually say, “Oh we’re just human.” In fact, being human means transcending our lives by extending them to others in the spirit of generosity and kindness. It’s going out of ourselves, losing our lives for the sake of the other. Ironically, it’s when we do this that we become more human.
It’s no wonder that Jesus says in the Gospel this Sunday (Matthew 16:21-17) that “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” It’s in the losing of one’s life for the sake of solidarity with fellow human beings that one realizes his or her full humanity.
In theology, we say that Jesus Christ is the criterion of what it is to be truly human. He manifested this by his life of service, his suffering and death on the cross, and his resurrection—all for the salvation of all peoples and for the glory of His Father. It is in the light of this mission that Jesus scorned Peter in this Sunday’s Gospel when he said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
To be human means not to be an “obstacle” to God’s will to bring salvation to his people. It is to be a “bridge” to the fullness of life that the Gospel promises us. Satan and his allies are skandalon (Greek), literally “stumbling blocks” to God’s will of fulfilling life and salvation. They desire to destroy a person’s capacity to be in communion with God and with others.
This understanding of what it is to be human is fundamental to the ministry of a priest. After all, if priests are called to be alter-Christus, they must reflect the humanity of Christ whose life on earth was in full communion with His Father and all people!
By baptism, all of us Christians are called to men and women of communion. In today’s times when many people in the world hurt because of ongoing violence, disregard for human life, poverty, injustice, and natural disasters, we’re more challenged to exercise authentic humanity, that is, a deep sense of solidarity with all people.
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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.