THE HOOK OF FAITH PRESENTS
A TIME FOR PRIESTS: 19th January To 16th February 2021
‘FAN INTO A FLAME THE GIFT OF GOD WHICH IS IN YOU THROUGH THE LAYING ON OF HANDS’ (2 Timothy 1:6)
Today is World day for Consecrated Life. Our lives too are consecrated as priests to God for service.
On the day we were ordained as the bishop handed us the paten and chalice he said:
‘Imitate the Mystery you celebrate. Model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross’.
Suffering in the life of the Priest: What we suffer is seldom proportionate to what we deserve. Most of the time it is less or more.
My visit to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the rock of Calvary. Followed by a Mass where the first Reading was from Romans 6.
We were baptised into the mystery of the Lord’s passion and into the mystery of his resurrection.
We share in his cross. He goes before us. Therefore what we suffer is always greater than ourselves alone. It is part of the suffering of his mystical body which is the Church.
We are like lightning conductors. We participate in the victimhood of Christ and priesthood of Christ and therefore suffer for the Church our bride.
Vicarious suffering: ‘He himself took up our infirmities and bore the burden of our ills’ (Is. 53:4).
‘We must understand and learn how to accept more profoundly the sufferings of pastoral life, because priestly action is exactly this, it is mediation, it is entering into the mystery of Christ’.
Pope Benedict XVI, MEETING WITH THE PARISH PRIESTS OF THE DIOCESE OF ROME, 18th Feb. 2010.
What are the sufferings of the priest?
1. Being cast from the centre to the margins
‘Once he was a social and public point of reference, inserted into a local area with a well-defined role. Now the priest can often seem marginal’.
We are dedicated publicly to a cause that many consider increasingly private.
It’s easy for us to feel ‘off-side’.
Feeling irrelevant, misunderstood. Going against the tide.
‘Existential suffering’ as the years go by – falling ill, losing our parents, then our siblings, our classmates.
Mental anguish of priests – stuff that weights heavy on our hearts. The agony of Jesus in the garden. He assumed our mental and emotional suffering in order to redeem it.
Older priests. Isolation. Different interpretations of retirement. What use am I now?
2. Old Age.
Failing strength. Failing energy. More commitment and responsibility. Fewer priests. A sense that life is passing us by, has passed us by. A sense of failure. A sense of unachieved things eclipses what has been achieved.
Increased dependency for some is humiliating.
We witness to Christ in different ways throughout our lives. Not one size fits all.
Suffering lack of children. Must remember promise to Abraham: ‘I will make you the father of a host of nations, I will render you exceedingly fertile’ (Gen. 17:5-6).
The Church needs to take a conscious hold of the presence and gifts of senior clergy. To listen to their wisdom and harness it.
What do I do with the time remaining to me in this life?
In what ways can I contribute to the Church now?
How do I need to prepare for eternal life?
For elderly priests, who they are now takes precedence over what they do. But this is how it should be for young priests too!
Cementing our ‘Amen’ with that of Mary to God. An invitation to greater trust in weakness. ‘For when I am weak, I am strong’.
‘We should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honour to dishonour, a long life to a short life. . . . Our one desire should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created.’ St Ignatius of Loyola.
We discover in our own precariousness the entry point of Jesus, for ourselves and for others. It is here that transformation happens, as we enter into varied covenant relationships with one another.
‘Before priests can be invited to imagine a priesthood of the future they first have to be encouraged to acknowledge the losses connected with the past. The loss of status, numbers, credibility and certitude features prominently. There is a certain mourning priests need to do before they can embrace the future’. Kevin Egan, The Irish Catholic, 7th April 2016.
‘Blessed are those who mourn’. ‘To live lie with a light grip’. Not to cling on too tightly to anyone, any place or any role.
Now we really have to live by faith! And when the Church lives by faith, she is at her strongest and best.
3. Preaching Faithfully
Book by James Feehan, Preaching Christ Crucified: Our Guilty Silence.
We need to have courage to preach the cross.
‘But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles’ (1 Cor. 1:23).
‘No faithful priest is loved by everybody’. George Bernanos, Diary of a Country Priest.
‘When we walk without the cross, when we build without the cross and when we profess Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord’.
Preaching the Cross is counter-cultural: Today’s emphasis is on glory: ‘Glory of God is man fully alive’ (St Irenaeus). Self-fulfilment, achieving your potential. Nice message but if it is empty of the cross, it is futile.
Discipline and sacrifice have been and always will be part of the Gospel.
The cost of preaching God’s Word:
‘You have seduced me Yahweh and I have let myself be seduced; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long’ (Jeremiah 20:7-8).
Examples of preaching the cross today.
Preaching message of Pro-Life in an urban parish or University
Preaching poverty in an affluent parish
Preaching chastity on a university campus
The witness and example of St Oscar Romero in El Salvador.
Prayerful Perspectives on suffering:
Sacrificial dimension to the priesthood: ‘I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me’ (Gal. 2:20)
‘I have been crucified with Christ’ (Gal. 2:19). Configured to Christ the victim.
We are not just configured to Christ the head and chief shepherded but to Christ who was mocked, spat at and scourged.
‘Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ in behalf of his body which is the Church’ (Col. 1:24).
Not a case of if we suffer but when and how.
Two key things: our suffering must be linked to love and to Christ’s cross.
Model you life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross.
We are called to imitate Christ’s selfless love on the cross: ‘Are you resolved to unite yourself more closely every day to Christ the High Priest who offered himself for us to the Father as the perfect sacrifice?’
Rite of Ordination.
‘If we have been given some share in the sufferings of Christ, rejoice. Because we will enjoy a much greater gladness when his glory is revealed’. (cf. 2 Cor. 1:5; 1 Peter 4:13).
‘No priest sees problems so sympathetically as the priest who is standing on the watchtower of Calvary’. Fulton Sheen.
‘We will be purified, not by looking at his wretchedness, but by looking at him who is all purity and holiness…In the saddest times, think that the divine artist is using his chisel to make his work more beautiful and remain at peace beneath the hand that is working on you’.
St Elizabeth of the Trinity, Letter 249.
‘Believe that at those times he is hollowing out in your soul capacities to receive him, capacities that are, in a way, as infinite as he himself. Try then to will to be wholly joyful under the hand that crucifies you’.
St Elizabeth of the Trinity, Letter 249.
Keep in mind other priests in the world who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Story of Fr Ragheed Ganni and other priests from Iraq:
‘The terrorists take life, the Eucharist gives life back’.
‘It is not me holding him, it is he holding me’.
St John of the Cross – during his time of imprisonment in Toledo, he wrote the most beautiful poetry and shared the most beautiful insights into God’s transforming love.
Example of Mary: faithfully at the foot of the cross. ‘Be it done on to me according to your word’. Ready to accept all even if it meant embracing the cross.
We must embrace our crosses. The key is not just to accept them but embrace them. Beware of quickly reaching out to compensations in order to get around the cross and avoid it.
‘God has entrusted us to lead the Church through a very difficult period…if we embrace our crosses we will find ourselves holier, more at peace and truly joyful, whatever might come’. Steve Rosetti, Our Journey into Joy, 21-22.
Our suffering will give way to joy. The Lord grants us a share in his suffering in order to make us more effective instruments of his saving power.
‘For the price of my redemption is always in my thoughts. I eat it and drink it and minister it to others’ St Augustine.
‘I am more used to falling down than to climbing …I can only tell you what I know myself, the downward path’ St Bernard of Clairvaux.
‘Human weakness allows those who are in some way afflicted to acquire humility and self-knowledge…It makes them kind and not cruel towards their neighbours so that they are compassionate with them in their struggles’. St Catherine of Siena.
‘You willed that your priests would also be clothed in weakness in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error: let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God’. Pope Francis for Jubilee Year of Mercy.