By WILBERT A. CELESTINO
I was born on Jan. 9, 1982, in a typical Filipino household in one of the northern provinces of the Philippines, near the national capital region of Manila. My family’s native province of Bulacan is filled with locals, called Bulakeños, who are specifically known to be characteristically warm and affectionate people. I am the third among four siblings.
We grew up with parents who taught us the Christian virtues of faith, hope and love. Education was one of the most important factors in my family; because of this I have learned to appreciate the value of education in my life. My father’s name is Arsenio Celestino Jr. and my mother’s name is Rosalia Celestino. Both of them were teachers in a public school in our home town. My father and my two sisters died when I was 12 years old, during a fluvial procession in our town, which took place on a river for nine nights in honor of the feast of the Holy Cross. The death of my father was a great loss for our family. My mother would always tell us that everything was a grace from God, that we had a special mission for one another, and that is why He gave us life. She further told us that we should value it and share it with others. I always kept my mother’s inspiring words on my mind
When did you first think about becoming a priest? I had never thought of becoming a priest as I encountered problems in life when I was a child, even though my parents were very active in serving the local church. They laid down for us the values of praying, of receiving the sacraments and the importance of attending the Mass. In such events, I saw how God touched my life. I continued to hold onto those values as I planned my life and attended college; it seemed that everything was going well and that I was fulfilled in life. But then, during my second year in college, I was invited to become part of a certain organization for Dominican students in my university. It was a period when many questions in my mind sought to be answered. It was a journey into the self that made me not only reflect on things about me, but also to understand the reason why situations in life go a certain way. I saw how God was working in my life through those experiences, and that he was sending me a message to do more, not just for myself, but to be a servant to the word of God for others. After I finished my degree in College, and worked for a year and half while continuing to discern His call, I decided to enter the seminary.
Did you have a priest you looked up to in your youth? One of the Dominican priests that I looked up to was Father Napoleon Sipalay, Jr., who was my former novice master. He embodied a true example of discipleship and a missionary heart; it was such a very inspiring moment when he said that he would be on a mission in Sri Lanka to be with people who were spiritually in need. His lowliness of heart manifested most evidently when he left his position as a formator and went out from his comfort zone to answer the call from God. He told me that later on, I will be in the same situation as he was and that I should not say no to God, because he is the ultimate reason to why we are breathing and why there is Love.
Upon hearing those words I was kind of reminded of what St. John Cassian said: “What you must cling to is genuine lowliness of heart, which comes not from show and from words but rather from the central humility of the spirit. When you give the clearest proof of patience, then your humility shines splendidly.”
What do you envision your priesthood to be? As a future servant to the word of God, it is ultimately important to have a life of prayer and of service to others. This is possible through recognizing our mission to the church and knowing that we are part of that mission. Priesthood must be rooted in prayer and conversing with God, for it is the food for the ministry. Therefore, through prayer one is reminded of the reason why he is a Priest, that is, to bring people to Jesus and Jesus to the people.
What is your greatest joy as you contemplate the priesthood? My greatest joy in contemplating priesthood is the joy to serve God and His people by celebrating each sacrament and by drawing them closer to God. It is a journey of being a spiritual guide to the flock, to live out the teachings of Christ, and to teach them the gospel. It is indeed a great joy to see how God’s gift of grace can enrich people. How we can touch other people’s loves is simply beyond our understanding.
Priesthood is also like a bamboo, a grass that stands tall but bows low, both firm and flexible. It is good to see things from above because you see more than when you are below. It takes great wisdom and understanding to do this. The problem with being above, just like an eagle, is the difficulty in seeing details. The magnification is increased, but the distance from the object decreases. Thus, Priesthood is also an act of going down. What God is teaching regarding in this future ministry, is the need to stand tall with wisdom, obedience, love and understanding. However, we also need to bow low in humility and simplicity in order to see details and the things that we cannot see because we are clouded with intelligence combined with pride.
What do you tell someone who is considering the priesthood? As John Paul II said, “Do not be afraid.” Listening to the call from God is very important. One must listen to the inner working of the soul and seek out spiritual guidance and find help in discerning the personal call. It is a matter of taking action, following the heart and contemplating through prayer and reception of the Eucharist. Fear is somehow a part of this process, but accepting the Lord’s invitation to follow him brings a great peace of mind, knowing that if we apply every iota of energy we have, spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally, we can achieve great things, or rather, God can achieve great things through us. Accepting God’s call is a matter of love, greater than any love man can ever dream of; a reality he can only faintly conceive. This love continually calls in a voice that has echoed through the ages: “I have called you each by name, for you are precious in my sight, and honored. And I love you,”(Isaiah 42:1-4) It is love that calls, and to be human is to answer that call.
Do you have a favorite devotion? My favorite devotion is to the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin Mary. One saint who inspires me in this devotion is St. Hyacinth of Krakow. He had a very deep and faithful devotion to both the Blessed Sacrament and the Mother of God. The Blessed Virgin Mary is our mother in faith who is constantly looking after us, especially in times of need. Her constant love and our relationship with her exist; hence, we encounter different kinds of experiences of comfort. I cherish many moments in life, but my relationship with Blessed Virgin has been none equal to compare; with her and her son I have been able to walk the path of life towards loving myself and others.
How do you relax? Do you have a favorite vacation and/or retreat spot? Nature relaxes my day. The mere appreciation of God’s grandeur in creation is a very rejuvenating feeling. Walking and fishing are some of my favorite activities, especially since our seminary has a beautiful lake.
Describe a good day at the seminary. A good day in the seminary is composed of a well balanced life of prayer, study, recreation, and community. It is always a challenge to achieve this balance in life, but it is important in revealing the depths of mystery that underlies God’s personal call to Priesthood; our YES to God’s work, so that at the end of the day we can see the loving hand of God in our vocation.
Finish this sentence: “It would surprise people to know I … am a Graphics Designer and Pastel Art enthusiast. Art is my life. It is a way of giving meaning to things and a way of reflecting on some events in my own life. It is a way of communicating, through illustration, the mystery of God and the beauty of his creation. It is through Art that I can effectively evangelize and teach about God’s love for humanity. This is an avenue for me to see more of myself and express it by inspiring others with my work.
Celestino is a second-year Theology student at University of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Ill.