By Shawna Hanson Eucharistic
Revival Committee Chair
Newly ordained, the young priest, Fr. Manuel, was sent to preach a mission in the small town of Palomares del Rio full of the dreams “of having a church full of souls eager to listen to his sermons, of people fervently praying the rosary with him each day, and of organizing a beautiful procession in the streets.” Like all of us who set out on an adventure at the dawn of a new vocation, Fr. Manuel’s mind and heart were full of enthusiasm and promise, and any potential difficulties or challenges were far from his mind, but his dreams were shattered almost immediately. When he arrived at the parish church, there was no one to greet him. The church itself was in a serious state of disrepair. Inside, it was very dirty, full of cobwebs and dust. The altar clothes were worn, burnt and uncared for, and he soon learned that few came to church except for funerals, marriages, and baptisms. There was little sense of community.
Full of sadness and disappointment, and probably some fear, he considered leaving immediately. Instead, he chose to kneel in front of the tabernacle. As he gazed at the tabernacle, he felt someone looking back at him “in desperate need of a friend.” In his words:
“My faith was looking at Jesus through the door of that tabernacle, so silent, so patient, so good, gazing right back at me … his gaze was telling me much and asking me for more. It was a gaze in which all the sadness of the Gospels was reflected; the sadness of ‘no room in the inn’; the sadness of those words, ‘Do you also want to leave me?’; the sadness of poor Lazarus begging for crumbs from the rich man’s table; the sadness of the betrayal of Judas, the denial of Peter, of the soldier’s slap, of the spittle of the Praetorium, and the abandonment of all.
“On that afternoon, in that moment in which I was before the tabernacle, I saw that my priesthood would consist of a work of which I had never before dreamt. All my illusions about the kind of priest I would be vanished. I found myself to be a priest in a town that didn’t love Jesus, and I would have to love him in the name of everybody in that town. I would dedicate my priesthood to taking care of Jesus in the needs of his life in the tabernacle: to feed him with my love, to keep him warm with my presence, to entertain him with my conversations, to defend him against abandonment and ingratitude, to give relief to his Heart with my holy sacrifices, to serve him with my feet by taking him wherever he is desired, and with my hands by giving alms in his name, even to those who do not love him, and with my mouth by speaking of him and consoling others in his name, and by crying out to those who do not want to hear him, until finally they would listen and begin to follow him. This would be a beautiful priesthood!
Very often I hear questions coming from wounded priestly and apostolic hearts. These questions are as follows: What can be done to turn those who are Christians merely in name into real Christians? How can we make them live their Christian faith and morals? What can be done to make them come back to a holy and fruitful Christian austerity? In a word, how can we convert this world which after twenty centuries of Christianity is obstinately going back to the most corrupt and degrading paganism? The answer to these heartfelt questions can be found in one word: Go to the tabernacle! Priests, go to the tabernacle! Let us draw power from the tabernacle! Nobody goes to the Father except through his Son, Jesus.”
As St. John Paul noted at his beatification, this “experience before a deserted tabernacle was to mark his whole life, and from that moment he dedicated himself to spreading devotion to the Eucharist, proclaiming the words he subsequently chose as his epitaph: ‘Here is Jesus! He is here! Do not abandon Him!’”
St. Manuel spent 11 years as a parish priest before being appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Malaga. In 1935, he was appointed Bishop of Palencia. “His life was that of a pastor who was completely dedicated to his ministry, he used all the means at its disposal, the preaching, the publication of writings, the promotion of institutions for the development of Christian life and especially the testimony of an exemplary life” (St. John Paul II). St. Manuel died in 1940 after a brief illness. He was beatified in 2001 and declared a saint by Pope Francis in 2016. St. Manuel is a patron saint of the National Eucharistic Revival (https://www.eucharisticrevival.org) and his life embodies its goals.
St. Manuel, pray for us.