The Priest Today
The vocation to the Christian priesthood is a call by God to minister to his people. It is a call which expects a positive response. It is not primarily one choice among other choices by a man. It is Christ who chooses. It is Christ who calls. It is Christ who lays his hands on him. It is Christ who anoints him and empowers him.
No man of himself can choose to be a priest. It does not involve personal initiative. The priesthood cannot of itself be a means of sanctification. One can be holy without ordination to the priesthood.
God makes a choice among many men. Why does he choose one man and not others? That is a mystery. Only God has the answer.
The priesthood is a configuration to Christ. The priest is a man marked out by Christ. Indeed, like St. Paul, he bears the marks of Christ in his body. It remains indelible, so firmly has Christ imprinted himself on his chosen one.
The choice of Christ elicits a response. This response involves taking on the mission of Christ to work for the salvation of men and women. It imposes a responsibility on the person who has been chosen. As St. Paul says, "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!"
However, the priestly ministry is not a merely material exercise. It involves a personal self-giving to Christ. It calls for the imitation of Christ. It entails giving up everything which may hinder the proclamation of the Gospel and the task of renewing the lives of men and women. It involves self-sacrifice on behalf of the People of God.
The priesthood cannot be merely a private relationship with Christ. A priest is ordained by the Church for ministry. The task of transforming the world has not been given to individual men. It is the Church that is called by Christ to continue his ministry of salvation here on earth. Christ gathered to himself a group of men, called apostles. Before leaving the world he said to them as a body, "As the Father has sent me I also send you." It is clear that not only is the minister of Christ to speak and act in the name of Christ, but he is also called to live the life of Christ. The life of Christ was characterized by the complete giving of himself to his Father. He held back nothing. His whole mission was animated and directed by love. "God so loved the world that he gave his Only-Begotten Son." The Son so loved the world that he gave his life for its salvation.
So it is imperative that the priest endeavour to live according to the values of Christ incarnated when he was on earth. This he must resolve to do if he is to be faithful to Christ. To do so, the priest must be very watchful of himself. He must be careful to guard against the worldly spirit that continuously challenges his response to Christ. He must be humble, obedient, disciplined and trustworthy. He is called to love the world. But he must work hard not to be absorbed by it. With Christ, he must be able to say, "I have overcome the world."
Throughout the centuries, and even today, the Christian priesthood has often been seen as a personal adornment. It has sometimes been used for self-promotion. Unfortunately, the worldly spirit of ambition, competition, jealousy, and self-aggrandizement has sometimes set in. What we get is then not the genuine priesthood but a caricature of the priesthood. This has been the cause of corrupt practices, lifestyles, entirely contrary to the Spirit of Christ. This has done great harm to the Christian people and undermined the credibility of the Church.
The priest must be a man of prayer. This should seem to be self-evident because the Master, Christ, indulged in frequent prayer. Prayer to his Father was his spiritual lifeblood. One very unfortunate thing today in the priestly ministry is that men configurated to Christ endeavour to exercise their ministry with very little prayer life. This has been greatly at the root of priestly scandals. Any attempt at the renewal of priestly life must engage seminarians and priests in this absolutely important necessity of making time for prayer. Evangelization cannot be effected without the power of the Spirit. Prayer is the guarantee that our work is accomplished by the Holy Spirit.
Ministry without prayer is virtually useless. It becomes a little more than a worldly exercise of a holy thing. The very concept of ministry then demands a complete overhauling of one's spiritual life. Prayer is the sign that we recognize that all our ability comes from God.
To fulfill his calling, the priest must make his sentiments the sentiments of Christ. He must live as Christ lived. As Pope John XXIII puts it, "There are worldly judgements which can penetrate even the sacred recesses of clerical life." It is very tempting and fascinating to become merely a creature of the world.
At the Chrism Mass in 2013, Pope Francis advised priests: "Be shepherds with the odour of sheep; make it real as shepherds among your flock, fishers of men."
The priest is called to know his flock. He is called, like the Chief Shepherd, Christ, to be very close to his sheep. This is his vocation. However, his relationship with his flock must be such that the light of the Gospel may shine out through him. He must serve a beacon to those who are in search of sincerity, truth and love.
Christ came not to be served but to serve. The priest is called to be a servant. He must see his priesthood, not as a social embellishment but as a service. He must endeavour to avoid an air of superiority. He must shun the arrogance that is characteristic of some clergymen. Only in this way can he bring Christ to the world.
No institution can remain what it is meant to be without an endeavour to be faithful to its original structure. Nor can it survive if it does not relate to the age in which man lives. After all, we do not live in a vacuum. We are all an essential part of the whole wide world.
In today's world, there are certain cultural traits that must be borne in mind. We need to face the realities of life. The world may be fascinated by glamour. But the world is not inspired by glamour.
Do we then, provide the much-needed inspiration for men and women of the world? What do they most ardently seek? Where can they find it?
Today, people are looking for sincerity, a genuine simplicity of life, a spirit of poverty, concern for the poor and the marginalized, and an undying commitment to truth and justice. The world desires a man with a sense of humour, who is self-disciplined, self-critical, and who possesses a sense of purpose and is able to give others a sense of direction. The priest is God's gift to the world, a world in which men and women are perishing for lack of inspiration.