|Fr Florencio Sánchez, LC|
Part 15 in a series on priestly experiences and
insights, published on Thursdays during the Year for Priests.
2009. After many years of priesthood, it is possible that
the essential lessons of life and of the priesthood itself
become ever simpler. A person’s perspective becomes clearer with time,
purified by each day’s insights received into a prayerful heart.
Florencio Sánchez, LC, originally from Mexico, has spent his 26
years as a priest in Spain. And as time goes
by, a particular truth seems to stand out ever more
“With every day that passes by, I see it
confirmed that the treasure is in clay vessels,” he says.
means that the treasure, which is the love of Christ
that reaches others through my priesthood, is ever more beautiful
and necessary for every man and woman. It changes their
life, making it more like what they want deep down
in their heart.”
“But it also means that my limitations and
my sins become more evident in comparison to that precious
pearl. And they weigh more.”
“But,” he adds, “they are carried
better in that Company.”
Yet, this is the way of life,
a fundamental truth that not only priests but also every
person of faith must eventually recognize.
For Fr Florencio, seeing
this reality of human weakness and divine grace just makes
him grateful. The treasure and the clay travel together, inseparable
until the last breath. And this is a beautiful, meaningful
thing, when seen with faith.
“I give thanks because the treasure
cannot be separated from the clay. That is how He
wanted it, because the treasure without the clay vessel is
just an abstraction that doesn’t move anyone. That is to
say, a Christ without flesh, without the Church, without priests
would just be a religious idea—perhaps lovely and grand, but
Whether we like it or not, our faith is incarnational
and sacramental, and it will always have these mysterious frontiers
where two realities come together: the visible and the invisible,
the high and the low, the interior and the exterior.
But is that something to wish away so that we
can have an airbrushed faith without the dung of Bethlehem’s
stable? Or is it an opportunity for growth?
Stir up the
Fr Florencio is currently serving as one of the chaplains
at Francisco de Vitoria University in Madrid, Spain. His
work brings him in touch with thinking people—faculty and university
students— not all of whom are necessarily convinced by Christianity.
His mission requires him to find a way to make
the Christian message relevant to people who perhaps look on
the Catholic Church with a critical eye, or who dismiss
it as irrelevant to their lives.
|Fr Florencio participating in a discussion panel at Francisco de Vitoria University on the topic of the Jewish and Catholic response to secularism, with Rabbi Baruj Garzón and José Antonio Verdejo, general secretary of the University.|
Meeting the secular challenge has
given Fr Florencio an opportunity to explore another frontier: the
Catholic faith in dialogue with the modern world.
His experience has
given him a perspective on evangelization very much in line
with Pope Benedict’s approach: we need to start by listening
to the person in front of us, and help them
find the deep, interior question to which Christ is the
“When proclaiming Christ, we have to bear in mind
that an answer to a question that was never asked
will just provoke rejection. In the concrete, real world we
live in, it means that if someone is not looking
for something deep in his or her life—and we are
all looking for it in one way or another—then they
will have no interest in Christ, nor will they feel
the need for His salvation,” says Fr Florencio.
Catholics (and Christians),
he says, make a typical mistake: we talk without thinking
about the reality of the person in front of us.
We try to give water to someone who doesn’t even
realize he is thirsty.
“The easy—and sterile—thing to do is
to repeat what we have learned about Christ without thinking
about who is in front of us. The difficult thing,
the great challenge, is to stir up the question that
everyone carries inside, and to present Christ as someone living
who can be the answer to that quest.”
vision of the world
When asked what advice he would give
to lay apostles based on his own experience as a
priest, Fr Florencio mentions the importance of changing our perspective
of a world that in some ways has grown distant
“Look on the world with sympathy, from the heart
of Christ, even though there are things that may be
very distant from Him, because speaking to the world from
a defensive position makes it difficult for us to reflect
Christ,” he says.
There is a balance between apostolic boldness and
an observant, tactful approach that listens before speaking and translates
the message into terms that the other person will understand.
Adapting to the other person is not watering down the
message. It is charity; it is effective communication. People are
not always ready to go from A to Z all
in one day. So we begin where they are at.
Fr Florencio says, “I understood this when I saw the
response of rejection to a speech that was too confident
in its affirmations of faith, that did not connect much
with the audience, and that had a very negative view
of the reality of today’s world.”
“That is not evangelical,”
“St Paul spoke to the Athenians in the areopagus
about their gods before speaking about the risen Christ. This
was not just a strategy of evangelization. It was simply
a vision of the world won over by Christ.”
of the ghetto
In some countries, there is a tendency for
faithful, orthodox Catholics to uphold orthodoxy as the highest value,
and then use that standard to judge and exclude.
lines get drawn. There are the orthodox conservatives… and then
everyone else. In reality, the faith is not reducible to
“conservative” or “liberal.” But labels, even inexact ones, are so
convenient when we want to separate “us” from “them.”
does not for a second doubt the value of orthodoxy
as a non-negotiable good. Of course, we are not at
liberty to change Christ’s teachings. But, he says, it is
not enough. If we want to reach people, we cannot
settle for just defending orthodoxy. We need to go further.
orthodoxy is a non-negotiable good, without a doubt. But he
who speaks or writes with orthodoxy as his main concern
is speaking only for himself, and not for someone who
is very far from those truths,” he observes.
So table-pounding and
Bible-thumping are out. Respectful listening is in. And the model
for this more nuanced and gracious approach to people is
Pope Benedict XVI.
“He is a master at speaking about
the faith to today’s world, thinking of modern man and
not just of orthodoxy. It goes without saying that he
is orthodox. But he is able to think without defensiveness,”
Learning to change the way we see the world,
he maintains, is the interior shift that will make the
biggest difference. It will make us fundamentally more sympathetic to
the people who are in front of us, more respectful
of their own journey to Christ, and more able to
offer them the answers they need—once we help them find
the questions in their own heart.
A question may be
a humble thing, but it can be the grain of
sand around which a pearl is born. And that pearl
of great price, the gift of faith and the promise
of heaven, is no less valuable for having grown to
maturity in a vessel of clay. Once it is harvested,
then it will be set in gold and silver. But
until that day, treasure and clay travel together, bearing witness
that God is not afraid of our humanity.
Fr Florencio Sánchez,
LC, was born in Mexico City. He entered the Legion
of Christ in 1977 at the novitiate in Salamanca. Prior
to entering the Legion, he studied Actuarial Mathematics at Anáhuac University.
As a Legionary, he studied Philosophy at the Gregorian University
and Theology at the University of St Thomas, both of
which are in Rome. He was ordained to the priesthood
in Rome on August 20, 1983. Since then he has
been working in Madrid, mainly with young people. He is
currently one of the chaplains at Francisco de Vitoria University
and the superior of one of the Legionary communities in
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