‘FAN INTO A FLAME THE GIFT OF GOD WHICH IS IN YOU THROUGH THE LAYING ON OF HANDS’ (2 Timothy 1:6)
Today’s feast of Saints Timothy and Titus. Both were ‘ordained’ by Paul and sent to be missionaries to Ephesus and Crete.
SESSION 3: BROTHERS IN THE PRESBYTERATE
Hands were laid on us first by the bishop and then by the concelebrating priests, most of whom were part of the Presbyterate we were becoming part of. This was and is a visible sign of a sacramental bond that unites us as brothers in the one priesthood.
Before the laying on of hands at the Rite of Ordination we were asked:
‘ARE YOU RESOLVED WITH THE HELP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, TO DISCHARGE WITHOUT FAIL THE OFFICE OF PRIESTHOOD IN THE PRESBYTERAL ORDER AS A CONSCIENTIOUS FELLOW WORKER WITH THE BISHOPS IN CARING FOR THE LORD’S FLOCK?’
The priest is a man in relationship: his relationship to his family, to his parish, to his diocese, to the universal Church and the entire cosmos.
‘Everything is interconnected’ Pope Francis in Laudato Si
He is within the Church in relationship with others. ‘All priests who are constituted in the Order of Priesthood by the sacrament of orders are bound together by an intimate sacramental brotherhood.’ Pres. Ord, 8.
‘It is impossible to define the nature and mission of the priestly mission except in the context of the rich network of relationships which spring forth from the Most Holy Trinity’ St John Paul II.
‘A spirituality of communion means an ability to think of our brothers and sisters in faith within the profound unity of the mystical body and therefore as those who are ‘part of me’. St John Paul II, Novo Millenio Inuente, 43.
‘To make the Church the home and school of communion’ John Paul II. Novo Millenio Inuente, 43.
‘No priest is a priest on his own; we are a presbyterate and it is only in this communion with the Bishop that each one can carry out his service’. Pope Benedict XVI, 6th August 2008.
We are asked to discharge the office of priesthood within the presbyteral order and with the bishop. We share in the ministry of the bishop. No one should feel on their own.
‘Good pastors are in unity. They are one’. St Augustine.
Sense of a team, togetherness or communion.
But is there? There is in theory but what is the reality? Parishes as independent republics. To discover more fraternal ways of being priests is an ongoing challenge, especially when there are less of us about.
There is a negative perception of priests living a lonely life. Within the Church and within the priesthood, there is a feeling that this unity and fraternity could be better.
‘Priests are not satisfied with the current state of priestly unity. Only 69% of priests believe that priests are supportive of each other. This is far too low. Unity is an important factor for the happiness and morale of priests’. Stephen Rossetti, ‘The Priesthood Today and Tomorrow’ in Origins, Vol. 40, No. 44, 2011, 713-723, 721.
‘Super-independence leads to isolation and priests who live isolated lives tend to have their needs met in unhealthy, manipulative ways.’ Brendan O’Rourke, CSsr.
From Ferns, Murphy, Ryan and Cloyne reports of scandals in Ireland and elsewhere. Who are we accountable to?
Do we welcome accountability or se it as an imposition?
Being accountable, committing to a code of professional ethics. Recognizing that priesthood is not a licence for private practice.
In the hierarchical structure of the Church, are we accountable only to ‘the man upstairs?’
Vertical accountability is necessary but also horizontal accountability to the people we serve.
Accountability to fellow priests, the parish and those to whom we minister. Are there structures of accountability in my diocese? Should we be required to avail of supervision like other care-giving professionals?
(ii) Relationship with the Bishop:
We share in his ministry. Sacramental connection with him. That we minister with his encouragement, blessing, advice and interest. On our part that we keep him informed, discuss ideas and integrate our ministry within the overall mission of the diocese.
All of us as priests should feel that we minister in whatever parish or place with our Bishop’s full support. He too is a brother priest. To acknowledge his need for support and encouragement.
The ministry of the Bishop – to care for priests as sons. That a Bishop is concerned for the priest personally and for his mission.
(iii) Sharing the Mission with the Laity in communion.
Ferns report and other reports: never again to have a Church within a Church. Yes, we need to foster and celebrate communion in the presbyterate but in such a way that is directed outwards to the whole Church and to the world in mission. Clericalism, no. Priestly fraternity and a clear identity, yes.
My own story: The influence of Office of readings for Lent week 4, Wednesday: ‘I will take some of the spirit which is upon you and put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself, alone’ (Numbers 11:17ff). To enable the laity with this spirit.
To form the formators. To multiply the good being done. ‘On this rock, I will build my Church’ (Matt. 16:18). That God builds his Church on the rock that is my faith but also on the rock that is the faith of the faithful.
The formation of intentional disciples and a missionary Church..
Working in harmony to build up the Christian community. Maintaining good relations. Good communication. Clarity, honesty and authenticity.
‘Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: “We have always done it this way”. I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities’. Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 33.
What is vital now is also a wider communion with the whole Church on pastoral matters and matters of faith.
This will mean us learning how to receive as well as to give.
The priest’s task is ‘to awaken and deepen co-responsibility in the one common mission of salvation, with a prompt and heartfelt esteem for all the charisms and tasks which the Spirit gives believers for the building up of the Church’. Pope John Paul II, Pastores Dabo Vobis, 74.
The common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial priesthood are ordered to one another and each in its proper way shares in the priesthood of Christ’ (Lumen Gentium, 10).
‘The ordained ministry has a radical communitarian form and can only be carried out as a collective work’ (PDV 17).
‘The more the laity's own sense of vocation is deepened, the more what is proper to the priest stands out’. John Paul II, PDV 3.
Witnessing to Unity:
Priests ‘gather God’s family together as a brotherhood of living unity’ (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 6)
‘We are called to a real communion of life that shows young people: ‘yes, this can be a future for me too, it is possible to live like this.’ Pope Benedict XVI, 25th July 2005.
On Priestly fraternity:
‘The Lord also wishes that you join forces: that you be concerned for one another and support one another fraternally. Moments of common prayer and study, and sharing in the demands of the priestly life and work, are a necessary part of your life. It is a fine thing when you welcome one another into your homes with the peace of Christ in your hearts! It is important to assist one another with prayer, helpful advice and discernment! Be especially attentive to those situations where there is a certain weakening of priestly ideals or dedication to activities not fully consonant with what is proper for a minister of Jesus Christ. Then is the time to take a firm stand, with an attitude of warm fraternal love, as brother assisting his brother to “remain on his feet”.
Pope Benedict, Celebration of Vespers with priests, religious and seminarians, Church of the Most Holy Trinity, Fátima, Wednesday, 12 May 2010.
‘Perhaps as never before, today the credibility of the priestly ministry depends on how much priests are themselves rooted in a lived unity…If a priest is to be a specialist in anything, then he must be so in communion, in unity. The spirituality and form of life of priests is that of unity ... But such a service of unity and for unity cannot be lived by priests in isolation. It is only by living in unity with their bishop and in the unity of the presbyterate that they can show that it is not they who work or speak but the Lord’.
Klaus Hemmerle, from Priests Today: Reflections on Identity, Life, and Ministry, ed. B. Leahy and M. Mulvey, New City Press, New York, 2010.
‘A priest without any priest friends is an oddity’. Stephen Rossetti, Letters to my Brothers, 99.
‘A priest alone is a priest in danger’
‘Friendship is at the service of virtue’ St Thomas Aquinas. Friends are those who tell me what I need to hear and not what I want to hear.
How can we witness to Christian unity if we can’t get along ourselves?
‘Vatican II’ priests vs. younger priests of the new orthodoxy.
Not either/or but both/and. The need for unity in diversity. Guarding against splits in the presbyterate. That we guard against any form of polarisation.
There is always a danger in believing that one’s own portrayal of the faith and priesthood is the only accurate one.
‘By ourselves, priesthood is incomplete. And God forbid that all of the other priests should be just like us! But all of us together complete the face of the priesthood. Our true unity can only be found in our diversity’. Stephen Rossetti, Letters to my Brothers, 104.
Mary our Mother and mother of priests. United with the Apostles at Pentecost. Pray for Us!!