The challenges of being a priest
BY SAMUEL FRANCIS IMC
Priests are always subject to judgment by parishioners, and sometimes they just can’t win. Samuel Francis IMC, a theology student at St Joseph’s Theological Institute in Cedara, explains.
In his homily in the Mass that concluded the Year for Priests last year, Pope Benedict pointed out that the priest is not a mere office-holder like those which every society needs to carry out certain functions.
The priest, the pope said, does something which no human being can do of his own power: in Christ’s name he speaks the words which absolve us of our sins and in this way changes our entire life.
Over the offerings of bread and wine he speaks Christ’s words of thanksgiving, which are words of transubstantiation words which make Christ himself present, words which thus transform the elements of the world, which open the world to God and unite the world to God.
The priesthood, then, is not simply an office, even if some of the cleric’s tasks are managerial; the priesthood is firstly a sacrament.
St John Mary Vianney, the patron saint of priests into whose care Pope Benedict entrusted the Year for Priests, once noted that without the priest, the passion and death of our Lord would be of no avail; that it is the priest who continues the work of redemption on earth.
The priest said holds the key to the treasures of heaven; that it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord; the administrator of the Lord’s goods. The priest therefore, is not a priest for himself; he is a priest for you.
So, what exactly do you know about your priest? Apart from seeing him dressed in the liturgical vestments, performing liturgical rituals, what do you know about his attributes and his limitations?
The priest is a human person with flesh and blood; he is not a log of wood, he has feelings. He can become angry and hungry; he can weep and bleed. He can become exhausted; he snores and dreams. He can sweat. He has tastes and preferences; he has likes and dislikes. He can be impatient and anxious too.
The priest can also rejoice and be glad, he can have fun. He can love, and would like to be loved in return. His humanity notwithstanding, the priest has been called from among people so as to lead people back to God.
Scripture says that God chooses the weak in order to shame the strong (1 Cor 1:27). Pope Benedict has added that God makes use of the poor men in order to be, through them, present to all men and women.
The pope said that this audacity of God who entrusts himself to human beings who conscious of their weakness, and yet considers them capable of acting and being present in his stead is the true grandeur concealed in the word priesthood.
Society has placed the priest very high on the social ladder and consequently his humanity is often almost forgotten.
A priest is expected to act like an angel and behave like a saint, even though angels and saints are spiritual beings who do not physically reside with us in this corporeal world. Moreover, even today’s saints were yesterday’s sinners, as we all are; they were human beings who struggled to be holy while sometimes making mistakes.
Society expects the priest to be everything to every person. He should have all the answers to every question and all the solutions to every problem. Every priest is called to be exemplary and to live according to the gospel values of which he is the custodian.
Unfortunately, however much a priest tries his best, he is sometimes led into temptation by the very people to whom he ministers. They test his patience, test his intelligence and tempt his faithfulness to the evangelical counsels.
It is absurd that when a priest does something good, very few people notice it, but when he is involved in some sort of scandal (real or imagined), the whole world talks about it.
The lives of these dedicated men are full of challenges. Many demands are placed on them and much is expected of them. However, no matter how hard a priest tries to do his best, somebody will find a fault.
If a priest preaches for more than ten minutes, he is long-winded, but if his homily is short, he did not prepare. If he visits parishioners, he is nosy, but if he doesn’t, he is an uncaring snob. If he takes time in the reconciliation room to counsel sinners, he takes too long, but if he doesn’t, he doesn’t care.
If he celebrates Mass in a quiet voice, he is boring, but if he puts emphasis on his words, he is an actor who likes to show off.
If he starts Mass on time, his watch is fast, but if he starts late, he is holding up the people. If the parish funds are kept secret, he is not transparent, but if he mentions money, he is money-minded. If he is young, he is inexperienced, but if he is old, he should retire.
Either way, somebody will always find a fault. And when he dies, there might be no one to replace him!
Priests need you and me to be better ministers. They need to be valued, loved and welcomed, appreciated and encouraged. Let us appreciate the priests we have, support those in formation and encourage our youth to start seeing religious life as an option.
As the scripture says: The harvest is rich, but the labourers are few (Mt 9:37).