Paper presented by Bro. Anoop Augustine OFM Cap, on St. Bonaventure’s day, July 15, 2014.

pope-john-paul-II            Priesthood is a wonderful gift of God given to humanity. Through the Holy Orders one is consecrated in Christ’s name “to feed the Church by the Word and grace of God.”[1] In this paper I would like to highlight the sublime aspects of the Catholic Priest based on the post Synodal apostolic exhortation, Pastores Dabo Vobis. This well valuable document by John Paul II gives an integral and full meaning to the christocentricity of the ministerial priesthood as the sacramental participation in the power, ministry and charity of Christ.

There are three chapters in this paper. In the first Chapter we look at the concept and meaning of Catholic priest in the light of second Vatican Council and some of the Papal teachings. Second Vatican council discussed a lot regarding the life and ministry of the Catholic priests. However, it did not get the due importance and significance from the part of its recipients. In the course of time, taking the wisdom of the council and adding his own personal insights John Paul II wanted to reassure the importance of Catholic priest and hence he exhorted his priests through a post Synodal exhortation, Pastores dabo Vobis which is the central part of this paper and will be dealt in the second chapter in detail. The third chapter is a reality check on how the priest, as conceived by the Pastores Dabo Vobis applies himself in the challenges of this world especially as a prophet, evangelizer and a man of future. In the conclusion we derive at a position that the relevance of the present exhortation as well as the life of the priest remains as the enduring hope of the Church and world alike.




Lumen Gentium speaks of priests as consecrated into the threefold ministry of Christ so that they can act in the person of Christ. In virtue of the sacrament of orders, after the image of Christ, the supreme and eternal priest, they are consecrated in order to preach the gospel, shepherd the faithful as well as to celebrate divine worship as true priest of the New Testament.[2] Based on this we shall see in this chapter what Vatican II and papal teachings speak about priesthood. In a special way we take notions of priesthood from the decrees of Presbyterorum Ordinis, Optatam Totius, and Lumen Gentium. Papal encyclicals and letters such as Sacerdotalis Caelibus and In the footsteps of Cure of Ars are also made use of.

1.1. In the light of the Second Vatican Council

            Vatican II dealt with priesthood in an extensive way. It has explicated the teaching on priesthood as expressed in the Council of Trent.  The two decrees of Vatican II namely Optatam Totius, Decree on priestly training and Presbyterorum Ordinis, Decree on ministry and life of priests deal precisely with the various aspects of priesthood.  Lumen Gentium also imparts lots of knowledge on priesthood.[3]

            Second Vatican council understands that Jesus who was consecrated and sent into the world by the Father makes his mystical body share in the anointing of the spirit. In this body all faithful are made a holy and kingly priesthood. They offer spiritual sacrifice to God through Jesus Christ. They also proclaim his virtues who called them out of darkness into his admirable light. Thus all get a share in his mission. They all give reverence to Jesus in heart and give testimony to him. However, the Lord also appointed certain men as ministers in order that they might be united in one body in which all the members have not the same function. In the community of the faithful, these men held sacred power of orders, that of offering sacrifice and forgiving sins and also exercised priestly office publically on behalf of all in the name of Christ.[4]

1.1.1. Presbyterorum Ordinis

            This decree on the ministry and life of priests speak in detail the function of priests. In short, priests are ministers of God’s word. St. Mark says that the lord commanded the apostles to go in to the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature (Mk 16:14). They have to expound the Word of God not merely in a general and abstract way but by an application of the eternal truths of the gospel to concrete circumstances of day-to-day life.[5] Secondly, priests function as ministers of sacraments and Eucharist. Thirdly, priests function as rulers of God’s people. Priest exercise the function of Christ as pastors and head in proportion to their share of authority.

1.1.2 Optatam Totius

            This decree Optatam Totius, on priestly training promulgated by Pope Paul VI on 28th October 1965 speaks on the training of candidates to the priesthood.  The priestly ministry animated by the Spirit plays a vital role in the Church today.  Firstly, every care should be taken in minor seminaries to prepare students by religious formation and especially by suitable spiritual direction.  Secondly, the major seminaries should help the students to become true followers and disciples of Jesus. It will be possible only by study, reflection and meditation on the word of God. Thirdly, the students are also to be taught about the different religions that are commonly found in their particular community and area.

1.1.3. Lumen Gentium

This Dogmatic Constitution on the Church also deals with some of the important areas of priesthood.  It determines three different levels of exercising the divinely established ecclesiastical ministry.  These three levels are Bishops, priests and deacons.  A priest is to assist Bishop and is to be dependent on the Bishop in the exercise of his power. Lumen Gentium teaches that the priests are the images of Christ the eternal high priest.  They are partakers of Christ.  In the celebration of the Holy Eucharist they exercise the sacred functions in the person of Christ. So primarily, priesthood is an office but at the same time it is sacramental representation of Christ in the midst of the people of God.

1.2. In the light of papal teachings

1.2.1. Sacerdotalis Caelibus

            This encyclical by Paul VI speaks about priestly celibacy. Priestly celibacy is firmly linked to ecclesiastical ministry. It supports the ministers in his exclusive, definitive and total choice of unique and supreme love of Christ. Christian priesthood can be understood only in the light of the newness of Christ who instituted the priesthood of the ministry as a real participation in his own unique priesthood. Thus the priest looks upon Christ as the model and supreme ideal.

1.2.2. Novo Incipiente Nostro

            In this letter to priest, Pope John Paul second speaks about Catholic priest’s love for Christ and church. He takes the list of verse in the Romans saying, ‘a love that springs from the grace of the priestly vocation, a love that is the greatest gift of the Holy Spirit. According to this letter Catholic Priest is someone chosen from among men and appointed to act on behalf of men. It also says that the priest is a gift of Christ to the community. Based on this, the sacramental priesthood is hierarchical and ministerial. It is a special ministerium or service to the community of believers.

1.2.3. In the footsteps of the Cure of Ars

            This letter of Pope Benedict XVI inaugurating the year of priests on the 150th anniversary of the “dies natalis” points to the priesthood as the love of the heart of Jesus as often said by Mary Vianney the patron saint of the parish Priests.[6] It says that priests quietly present Christ’s words and actions each day to the faithful and to the whole world striving to be one with the Lord in their sentiments and their style of life. It also points to countless situation of suffering endured by many priests because they share in the manifold human experience of pain. They also encounter misunderstanding from the very person whom they minister. They are also offended in their dignity, obstructed in their mission and persecuted even to the shedding of their blood.




            Pastores Dabo Vobis is the post- Synodal apostolic exhortation by Pope John Paul II to the Bishops, Clergy and faithful on the ‘formation of priests’ in the present day circumstances. It emphasizes the shepherding aspect of priestly life with a prophetic role. This exhortation gives an integral and full meaning to the ministerial priesthood as the sacramental participation in the power, ministry and charity of Christ. In this chapter we shall discuss the background setting, the vision, nature, mission and formation of the Catholic priest as envisioned by the teaching of Pastores Dabo Vobis


2.1. Background setting of Pastores Dabo vobis

Since his election as Pope, John Paul II made his own unique contributions to the theology of priesthood. He introduced the custom of writing a letter directly to all the priests of the Church for the feast of Holy Thursday, the day which he felicitously refers to as ‘the birthday of priests’. This was an innovation in papal teaching, one which the Holy Father used effectively over the past years to comment on many aspects of priestly ministry, and as a means to make his own original contribution to the theology of priesthood.[7]

            Like all his other writings, these letters draw deeply from the Scriptures. They are written in the form of a prayerful reflection rather than in the traditional doctrinal dissertation. It is clear, too, that he brings the rich experience of his own priestly life to this annual communication with his brother priests. These letters, together with his 1992 document on the formation of priests, Pastores dabo vobis, are, among other things, a response to some of the negative elements of contemporary culture which have, perhaps unconsciously, penetrated the formation and lifestyle of priests. Such elements include a certain rationalism which undermines conviction about the supernatural, and an aggressive individualism which makes binding and permanent commitments difficult. These corrosive influences of the cultural environment inevitably filtered into the attitudes of priests and their understanding of the priestly ministry.[8] They also made the promotion of vocations more difficult. These, and other factors, were what suggested to John Paul II the need to renew and revitalize the priesthood in light of Vatican II’s teaching on the universal call to holiness. 

            Consequently, in October 1990 he called a synod of bishops to study the question of the formation of priests. This focussing on priestly formation was, perhaps, a tacit recognition of the fact that the problems giving rise to the crisis referred to above arose primarily from inadequate or defective formation in the seminary. Hence the Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores dabo vobis, was promulgated. It is the most extensive document of the Magisterium devoted to priestly formation and constitutes John Paul II’s most comprehensive statement on the nature of priestly ministry.[9] We can now rightly speak of it as a magna carta of the theology of the priesthood which will continue to be authoritative for the future of the Church.  It points the way forward for a rediscovery and a reaffirmation of the priesthood of Christ as transmitted through the apostolic succession, and as enriched down through the centuries by the action of the Holy Spirit in the Church.[10]

2.2. Nature of catholic priests

 Pastores dabo vobis sees priest in the church as mystery, communion and mission. His identity has its source in the blessed Trinity, revealed and communicated in Christ, establishing in him and through the spirit, the seed and beginning of his kingdom. The nature of the priest can be further explained as communion with Christ, Vocation to holiness and Gospel radicalism.

2.2.1. Communion with Christ

            The priest finds the full truth of his identity in being a derivation, a specific participation in and continuation of Christ himself, the one High Priest of the new and eternal covenant. In the Church and precisely on behalf of the Church, the priest is a sacramental representation of Jesus, the Head and the only Shepherd.[11]  And in this capacity he authoritatively proclaims the Word, offers salvation and repeats his acts of forgiveness in the celebration of the sacraments, showing his loving concern for the sheep even to the point of a total gift of self. Therefore the priests’ true identity, his true dignity, the source of his joy and the very basis of his life is to continue the life and activity of Christ himself. Though it is the sacramental authorization that invests the priest the power to represent Christ in his official capacity, the authenticity and fruitfulness of the mission of the priest will depend on that personal identification with Christ, corresponding to the gift of vocation he has received. Without a serious effort to correspond as fully as is humanly possible to that union with the Spirit of the Lord, the priest cannot expect to satisfy the fast expectations of the Church and of humankind.[12]

2.2.2. Vocation to holiness

            “By virtue of his consecration brought about by the outpouring of the Spirit in the sacrament of the Holy Orders, the spiritual life of the priest is marked. John Paul II spells out the more elements of priestly holiness when he writes, “The priestly vocation is essentially a call to holiness, which derives from the Sacrament of Orders. Holiness is intimacy with God, it is the imitation of Christ who was poor, chaste and humble, and it is unreserved love for souls and giving of oneself on their behalf and for their true good. It is love for the Church which is holy and wants us to live holy because this is the mission of Christ that is entrusted to her. And of this holiness, it is the Holy Spirit who is the principal agent. The intimate communion with the spirit of Christ seeks to be expressed in fervent prayer, in the integrity of life, in the pastoral charity of the ministry tirelessly spending itself for the salvation of the brethren. In a word, it calls for your personal sanctification.” [13] The path of efficacious ministry of the Word, sacrament and pastoral leadership is one of the priestly sanctity. However it is the Eucharist which is the means par excellence for priestly sanctification as it is the sacrament which contains the whole spiritual good of the Church. [14]Other sacraments particularly that of reconciliation plays an important role in the sanctification of the priest.

2.2.3. Gospel Radicalism

            One of the characteristic features of the Christian priesthood is precisely the radicalism implied in it. That means a call to leave everything, to prefer no one and nothing to the master, to be willing to take up the cross and to follow Him. These are simply the undeniable demands flowing from the call of Christ to follow and imitate him. If it implies to all believers, it applies all the more to those who are in the forefront of the Church, configured to Christ. A particular significant expression of this radicalism is the evangelical counsels of Obedience, Poverty and Chastity.

            Obedience of the priest takes on three essential characteristics: it is apostolic, communitarian and pastoral. Chastity is a question of undivided heart, total dedication prompted by a love that is ready for “undivided loyalty.” It is the new and excellent way to be consecrated to Christ and to his mission. Poverty of the priest today is linked with a “preferential option for the poor.” Pastores dabo Vobis calls the priests to avoid anything that in any way may antagonize the poor or keep them away from the priests.

2.3. Mission of the Catholic priest

                        Primarily priest is one who unites individual Christians into the fellowship of Christ. He stands as a living sign and instrument of unity. He builds the God’s people into a living sign of Christ, vivifies their Christian existence and animates their missionary vocation. He is the unifying agent of the Christian community. In the Church which is the permanent presence of Christ on earth, a priest is placed in the midst of laity so that he may lead them to the unity of charity. Hence as members of the Body of Christ, priest has received from the spirit the ministry of incorporating the faithful into the body of Christ, the Church and fraternity, and his charism for the service of the body and of the establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth. This mission he fulfils firstly by serving the Church and the world, secondly by forming oneself and the others and thirdly by pastoral works and charity.[15]

2.3.1. Serving the Church and the world

             The fundamental relationship with Christ establishes the priest in a similar relationship with the Church, the living continuation of Christ in the world, his Body and his Spouse. It is a natural consequence of the configuration with Christ, something that is inscribed in the relationship with Christ. It forms a part of the being of the priest. He becomes a servant of Christ present in the Church as mystery, communion and mission. Therefore the priest is not a member of the Church like all others but by his ordination he is placed in the forefront of the Church. His ministry is entirely for the Church as it is for Christ. Therefore the life of the priest has an essential and undeniable ecclesial dimension. [16] “Jesus was God’s man for the world. So is the priest. But he is equally “The Church’s Man” for the world. All that the Church intends to be for God and for the world finds an embodiment in the priest.” [17] 

2.3.2. Forming oneself and others

            The priestly vocation is not merely the celebration of the Eucharist. His vocation calls him to sacramentalise Christian leadership in as many forms as possible. He is called to represent the likeness of Christ when dealing with those whom he serves. In turn the people will more easily realise the Christ likeness in their own lives by drawing inspiration from the priests. The fulfilment of priests’ vocation lies both in the sanctuary and in the society.[18]

2.3.3. Pastoral work and charity

            In the light of Pastores dabo Vobis Benedict XVI says, “The priest is a slave of Christ in the sense that his existence, ontologically configured to Christ, takes on an essentially relational character: He is in Christ, through Christ and with Christ at the service of man. Precisely because he belongs to Christ, the priest is radically at the service of all the people.”[19]  Further it is to the priest, men often come normally, without a mask and without other pretexts. In situations of suffering, infirmity, death, family issues, they come to the confessional unmasked with their own being. It seems that no other profession gives this possibility of knowing man as a priest is able to know. This privilege also becomes a serious responsibility. He is not merely acting in the name of Jesus Christ but like Christ in bringing about healing and reconciliation in the life of persons. Thus a priest in his pastoral work and charity, amid loneliness and struggles such as physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual become an instrument of Christ’s self giving love for others.

2.4. Formation of the Catholic Priest

            Formation of the priest in Pastores Dabo Vobis bases itself on the statement “following Christ as the Apostles did.” This following according to the gospels mean to be with him and to be sent out to preach and to have authority to cast out demons. Let us now see different areas of formation in priestly life.

2.4.1. Human Formation

            Human formation is considered the basis of all priestly formation.  A suitable human formation is the necessary foundation of the whole work of priestly formation. The priest who is called to be a living image of Jesus Christ head and shepherd of the church should seek to reflect in himself as far as possible the human perfection which shines forth in the incarnate Son of God and which is reflected with particular liveliness in his attitude toward others as we see narrated in the gospels. Every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God (Hebrew 5:1). To make his ministry humanly credible and acceptable, a period moulds his human personality in such a way that it becomes a bridge and not an obstacle for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ the redeemer of the humanity. Following the example of Jesus who knew what was in humanity, a priest is to know the depth of the human heart to perceive difficulties and problems among his fellow beings. [20]

2.4.2. Spiritual formation

Human formation when it is carried out in the context of an anthropology which is open to the full truth regarding the human person , leads to and finds its completion in spiritual formation. As God’s creature redeemed by Christ every person is called to be reborn of water and spirit to become a son in the Son. This is the basis of the essential religious dimension of the human person. The human individual is opened to transcendence, to the absolute and his heart is restless until it rests in the Lord. Spiritual life is a relationship and communion with God and is a fundamental and irrepressible religious need. It is work of the Holy Spirit and engages a person in his totality. Spiritual formation has its own meanings and connotations for the identity of the priest and his ministry. Spiritual formation is the core which unifies and gives life to his being as a priest and his acting as a priest. It is a foundation and extremely important element of a priest’s education. It is to live in intimate and unceasing union with God the Father through the Son Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. [21]

2.4. 3. Intellectual Formation

Intellectual formation is aimed at understanding the faith. By intellectual formation one participates in the light of God’s mind. Priest by seeking the wisdom turns towards knowing and adhering to God. In order to defend the faith and to account for the hope in the call of priesthood, they have to have a diligent care for the intellectual formation in their education and pastoral activity. The salvation of the faithful depends upon an ever deeper knowledge of the divine mysteries. In the midst of religious difference about the capacity of reason to reach objective truth and in the midst of fresh problems by scientific discovering and new technologies demands a high level of intellectual formation to enable priest to proclaim the changeless gospel credible to legitimate human mind.[22]

2.4.4. Pastoral Formation

            Pastoral formation aims at preparing the priest to enter into communion with the charity of Christ, the good shepherd. Here the priest under takes the ministry of the shepherd and learns to represent Christ to humanity. By this, a priest becomes sensitive to being shepherd, conscious and mature of his responsibilities and develops an interior habit of evaluating problems and establishing priorities and looks for solutions on the honest motivation of faith according to theological demands inherent in pastoral works. An initial and gradual experience of the ministry helps the future priest to insert themselves into the living tradition of the particular churches and to open their heart and mind to the missionary dimensions of the church’s life.[23]

2.4.5. Ongoing Formation

By the virtue of the gift of God received at ordination all priest are called for ongoing formation. As St. Paul asks Timothy to rekindle the divine gift he received so also a priest must live out his gift of life with permanent novelty, unfading freshness and original beauty. Ongoing formation is a response to the “come follow me” of Jesus and it is enlivened by the ‘yes’ of holy orders. It is also a call to live the truth, safeguard the faith and help communion. Ongoing formation increases priest’s awareness of his share in church’s saving mission. A priest is called to continue his life at every age and in all condition of his life. Priests who are young, middle aged and old go through this formation. The entire church helps the priest in this regard.[24]

2.5. Its relevance in the modern world

            Since the Vatican II there has been a crisis in the catholic priesthood. There has been an identity crisis among priests due to doubts about the essence and purpose of priesthood. This has arisen from a defective theological understanding of the very nature of the priesthood. This crisis reflected in defections from priesthood and serious decline in vocations. This phenomenon, John Paul II referred to as ‘a counter sign,’ ‘counter witness’ and one of the setbacks to the great hopes for the renewal aroused by the Second Vatican Council. [25]

            Firstly reformist view despoiled the unique sacral dimension of priesthood and questioned the idea of priest ‘different’ and ‘set apart’ from the rest. There also has been a tendency to ground the identity of priest ecclesiologically rather than christologically. There have also been attempts to reduce the theology of ministry to sociological criteria. Secondly a progressive secularization of the society and the rifting of the people away from the Church led, even in countries of long standing Christian tradition, people to live without reference to the transcendence. There has also been a large number abandoning following Christ as the way, the truth and the life, living by a relativistic and subjective ethics. Economic progress became the primary goal of the individuals and society. Attitudes leading to practical atheism drained a life of mystery and political programmes became hostile to Christian moral teaching.  Religion being neglected led to sphere of private conscience. As a result traditional status and privilege of priests considerably diminished in urban society. This led even priests to lose confidence in the effectiveness of Christian message of salvation and Church’s ability to articulate meaningful gospel.

            In these crises and more, Pastores dabo vobis becomes a response and a most comprehensive statement of priestly ministry. Therein lies its relevance in the modern world as it points the way forward for a rediscovery and reaffirmation of the priesthood of Christ as transmitted through the apostolic succession and has enriched down through the centuries by the action of the Holy Spirit in the Church. As the Synod fathers say, “Here the Catholic priests are called to find their identity to the extent that they fully live the mission of the Church and exercise it in different ways in communion with the entire people of God, as Pastors and ministers of the Lord in the Spirit in order to fulfil by their work the plan of salvation in history.”[26]




            Having seen about priestly life according to the vision of Pastores Dabo Vobis I would like to highlight in this concluding chapter the relevance of the same in today’s priesthood.  The current world scenario poses great many challenges to priestly vocation. Let us now see the context in which priest live today and their temptations. Also this chapter highlights response of priests to these challenges in the light of Pastores Dabo Vobis.

3.1. Priest in the present context

             Today priests live in the society in the midst of multiple problems such as poverty, injustice, consumerism, violence against children and women, economic inequality, marginalization of the weak, denial of pluralism, ecological exploitation, violation of human rights, religious fundamentalism and so and so forth. These forces vie with each other virulently to divide and fragment humanity and to destroy earth.[27] 

            Along with these, the personal life of the priests has also suffered dangerous setbacks. Very often a priest considers himself a ruler over people. He dominates people infusing in them fear and guilt. He uses them for his personal advantages and fortunes. Some sees priesthood as a part-time job. For some it is a life to achieve great name and fame. For example, a priest who runs an institute uses illegal means to keep the high standard of that institution. Many priests cannot interpret the Word of God contextually. He is not reading the signs of the time. Some become priests only for their family and closed circles. Some priests are immature in the eyes of lay persons. Some live a life unfulfilled lacking in mature professionalism. Some find it hard to fit themselves in society and community.  They are confused of their specific role and identity. Lure of money and affluence also put a question mark in the identity of priests today. Unlike the past, a proper use of communicative skills are also lacking among priests. Priests find their peers outside more effective and equipped in the matters of day to day life.[28]

            In these backgrounds priestly life is a challenging one. Challenges are not separated from the concrete reality in which the priests live. Therefore the contexts and challenges are closely linked. In the next session let us see them little more broadly.

3.2. Present day challenges in priestly life.

            Today humanity has advanced in so many fields. However, contemporary society suffers a lot. Many are gripped by fear and desperation. There is no joy of living. There is lack of respect. There is a struggle to live even with a little dignity. Knowledge and information have brought in new kinds of powers. Here a priest has to say “No to all that excludes, no to idolatry of money, no to system that rules other than service, no to all that violates and be upfront at the face all the cultural challenges. Let us now see the different challenges that the priest face today.

3.2.1. Challenge of a missionary spirituality

            Today many priests have an inordinate concern for personal freedom and relaxation. They see their work only as an appendage to their life and consider it not part of their identity. They see spiritual life only as a religious exercise. They do not come to an encounter with others, no engagement with world and no passion for evangelization. This leads to an attitude of individualism, crisis of identity and a cooling of fervour. At times media and some intellectual circles convey a marked scepticism and certain cynicism with regard to Church’s message.  This develops a sort of inferiority complex among pastors and leads them to relatives or to conceal their Christian identity. Thus they miss the joy of mission. They may act as if God does not exist and people who have not received gospel do not exist.  Even those with solid doctrinal and spiritual conviction frequently fall into a life a style of financial security and desire for power. Thus they lose their missionary enthusiasm.[29]

3.2.2. Challenges of other centeredness

            Today priest are obsessed with protecting their free time. They do not see joy in the task of evangelization. They do not see that mission make them fulfilled and productive. As a result they end up in a state of paralysis. They lack the adequate motivation and spirituality as to make their activities pleasurable. Some have unrealistic projects and some others have no patience to allow the process mature. Some lack contact with people, all these leads to a gray pragmatism. It may look normal. But in fact it wears down and degenerate into narrow mindedness thus priest who are called to radiate light and communicate life, end up in darkness and inner weariness losing all the zeal for apostolate.[30]

3.2.3. Challenge of pessimism

            Today priests have lost confidence in themselves. They are with an attitude of defeatism which stifles their boldness and zeal leading to some sort of pessimism. There is also a spiritual desertification without God. Due to violent opposition to Christianity, some try to hide their identity and faith. Even work places and family become parched. They raise serious question before priest.

3.2.4. Challenges of New Relationships

            Though the communication media has made unprecedented advances, people are self enclosed. Priests encounter a generation who are obsessed with suspicion, habitual mistrust, fear of losing privacy and all kind of defensive mechanisms in today’s world. People try to escape from others and take refuge in the comfort of a small circle and closed friends. Some prefer a Christ without cross and flesh like a sophisticated equipment which can be switched off and on according to one’s own will. They run away from a face- to-face encounter with others. People do not want the physical presence of others, with their joy and sorrow. Isolation and spiritual consumerism also challenge today’s priestly life.[31]

3.2.5. Challenges of Division

            Priests today face Christian communities who fight each other for power, prestige pleasure and economic security due to a spiritual worldliness. Some church communities make an inner circle. Instead of belonging to the whole church, they belong to this or that group. Some, divided by historical divisions, are very much reluctant to reconcile with others. Different forms of enmity, division, calumny, defamation, vendetta, jealousy and desire to impose certain ideas at all cost are tolerated even by the consecrated people.

            Along with these, the formation of laity and the evangelization of professionals and intellectuals represent a significant pastoral challenge. Even though the Church acknowledges the indispensable contribution of women, their role and participation need to the more specified and guaranteed. Youth ministry is another important challenge before a priest. Dearth of vocation also poses serious questions in the present day priestly life.[32]

3.3. A Response to these Challenges in the Light of Pastores Dabo Vobis

            Having seen some of the challenges that priest faces today, I would like to highlight in this section the response to these challenges. Pastores Dabo Vobis,being the magna carta of priestly formation, supplies adequate means to counter any obstacle on priestly life. Priestly life is not without challenges. However these challenges are to be overcome. The integrated formation envisioned by this apostolic exhortation enables the priest to beat the dark power of this world. The following are some of the answers to these challenges.

3.3.1. Being in communion with the Lord

            The essentional characteristics of priestly life is communion with the Lord. By being a living and transparent image of Christ, a priest brings newness and essentional model in the salvation history. By his sacramental representation he has the capacity to authoritatively proclaim the Word. His act of forgiveness and loving concern for the people even to the point of total gift of self is an answer to many of the problems that disturb priestly life. By receiving his true identity and dignity from Jesus, a priest can continue his pastoral work with great joy and strength. His personal identification with Christ is a power to correspond to the gift of vocation that he has received. By corresponding, as fully as is humanly possible, to that union with the Spirit of the Lord, a priest can expect to satisfy the expectation of the church and of human kind.[33]

3.3.2. Being a human face in the world

            A priest is a living image of Christ. In incarnation Christ shines forth in human perfection which is reflected in his attitude towards others. In the same way, a priest needs to be a good human being while dealing with other human beings. His personality must become a bridge between people and Christ. In order to perceive people’s difficulties and problems he must know the depth of their hearts. Consequently by making meetings and dialogues easy, he can create trust and co-operation among people and also can make objective judgments.

            Through the cultivation of a series of human qualities a priest can bear the weight of his pastoral responsibilities. He is educated in the love of the truth.  He is loyal and respects every person.  He has a sense of justice and is genuinely compassionate. He is a man of integrity and especially balanced in judgments and behavior. These qualities help him relate with community that he serves. He is more affable, hospitable, and sincere in his words and heart. He is also prudent, discrete, generous and ready to serve. His attitude of encouraging and quick in understanding helps him forgive and console his fellow beings.  In this way being mature in his vocation with affective maturity, sound morality and a compassionate heart, he can faithfully meet his obligations with regard to God and Church and can wisely guide the conscience of the faithful. [34]

3.3.3. Being a communicative person

            A priest is a communicative who has the capacity to build a community through communion. For this he listens and opens to the opinions of others. He allows others to fully involve in the management and functions as a team person. He believes strongly in delegating and empowering the subordinates. Clearly in priestly ministry today these are important requisites as these are important leadership skills. Like Jesus a priest is one who is true to his word and like Jesus he becomes both medium and message. He also has excellent counseling skill and extra ability to understand people. [35]

3.3.4. Being an Evangelizer in the World

A key role of the priest is to preach the Word of God and to be an evangelizer. In the present cultural environment, where people are constantly bombarded with audio and visual images, it is difficult for the priest to make his voice heard above all the static in the air waves. His preaching is also challenged by the pervasive catechetical illiteracy. Since he is a bearer of the only message that will bring about personal happiness, following the example of St Paul he is asked to preach the good news of salvation in and out of season if he is to convince people that the attractions of this world do not in the long run provide redemption.

The thrust of evangelization and preaching is to help people discover their individual vocation in the Church. An integral part of the priest’s role is to help those who are so called to discern vocation to the priesthood. Because of the radical decline in vocations this aspect of evangelization has now acquired a special urgency. John Paul II warns that priests can no longer adopt a passive role in relation to nurturing priestly vocations. He strongly encourages priests to be proactive and to positively invite young men to follow Christ along this path.[36]

3.3. 5. Being a Prophet to the challenges                          

A prophetic ministry is given to the priest in its fullest sense. It is primarily kerygmatic rather than liturgical activities. Unlike priests whose ministry is focused on the leadership of stable local communities, those exercising a prophetic priesthood must be available for mission. First of all a priest is God’s prophet. Scripture and the Fathers insist on the fundamental dignity of the “ministry of preaching”. St. Augustine goes so far as to say, “God’s word is no less important than the Body of Christ.”

In an increasingly globalized society, the effort to obtain common good has to assume the dimensions of the whole human family, assuring better humanity. For example in the face of social inequalities and structural injustices in India, the priest’s challenge is an immediate coordinated intervention to end this malaise. Though the priest does not have technical solutions to all problems yet he is expected to be an expert in humanity. He offers in service the teaching of the sacred Scripture on truth, love and justice. He has to dedicate himself to the global horizon of the socio-anthropological question.[37] Today’s visual and electronic media thrive on brevity, speed, change, urgency, variety and feelings. The priest is a counter-challenge to this as a thinking person who needs silence and the methodical skills of logic. In these ways and more a priest equipped himself for all the obstacles that come on his way.

4. Catholic priest: Hope for the world and the Church

            As the Pastores Dabo vobis means that “I will give shepherds after my own heart,” the Church today desires this promise of God being fulfilled through the life and ministry of priests. Today this promise is put into practise in the Church in the different parts of the world. In this third millennium where Church confronts urgent and serious problems the priestly vocation gives new meaning and richer hope. Being its evangelizer priest today responds with a great dignity and responsibility to the call of new evangelization. Priest becomes shepherds after the heart of Christ. He gives compassion for the multitude, giving them bread of truth, love and life. Priest today becomes a hope generating person. People in their anonymity and fear feel the necessity of a priest. Priest becomes someone who knows and calls them by their name. He becomes someone who can walk in safety along the path of life and find those lost in their life. Thus a priest becomes the most important person who can love and receive everyone into salvation as supreme gift of God’s love. In this way he becomes the beacon of hope in the Church.



            In this paper I was trying to highlight the nature of priests as envisioned by Pastores dabo Vobis. I can say that this well written exhortation gives a wholistic understanding of priest as demanded by today’s challenges but without losing the characteristic elements of the priesthood. As the most revived text on priestly formation, it covers all the aspects of a Catholic priest. By its dynamic and radical insights it prepares a strong platform for the future priests. It is also a hope generating piece of work. It has the solution to the problems that priests encounter today. Thus I would like to conclude that the teachings of Pastores dabo Vobis becomes the most significant answer to the questions that arise with regard to the place of a Catholic priest in the Church, in the world and in the future.



[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church,  Ministerial Priesthood, Bangalore,Theological Publications in India, 1994, 1551.

[2] The Conciliar and Post-Conciliar Documents,  Lumen Gentium, Mumbai, St. Pauls, 2004, 330.

[3] Lumen Gentium, 332.

                [4] Bastian Thottipatt, “Priest Today: In the light of Vatican II,” Mission Today Vol 12 (2010), 69-77, 70.

[5] Presbyterorum Ordinis, The Conciliar and Post-Conciliar Documents,  Mumbai, St. Pauls, 2004, 4.

                [6] “A Letter to Priests worldwide for the inauguration of the year of priests,” L’ Osssevataro Romano, 24 June  2009, 3.

                [7] www. Vatican. va/ holy father/John Paul_II/ Pastores dabo vobis

                [8] www. Vatican. va/ holy father/John Paul_II/ Pastores dabo vobis

                [9] www.

                [10] www. Catholic. Org.

                [11] John Paul II, Pastores dabo Vobis 13, Carmel International Publishing house, Trivandrum, 2005, 12.

                [12] John Paul II, Holy Thursday Letter to the Priests, 1991, 2.

                [13]  Roy Anthony, “The concept of Spirituality of Priests in pastoral Ministry,” Mission Today (2010) 127-138, 132.

                [14] Pastores dabo Vobis 21.

                [15] Pastores dabo Vobis 31.

                [16] Pastores dabo Vobis 34.

                [17] Pastores dabo Vobis35.

                [18] Kurian Kunnupuram, “Dimensions of Priesthood: the Challenges Priest face in India,” Jnanadeepa (2010), 71-83, 74.

                [19] “A Letter to Priests worldwide for the inauguration of the year of priests,” L’ Osssevataro Romano, 4.

                [20] Pastores dabo Vobis 21, 704.

                [21] Pastores dabo Vobis 21, 704.

                [22] Pastores dabo Vobis 21, 704.

                [23] Pastores dabo Vobis 21, 704.

                [24] Pastores dabo Vobis 21, 704.

                [25] Raj Irudaya, “Prophetic Priesthood Today,” Jnanadeepa (2010), 36-50, 42.

                [26] Raj Irudaya, Jnanadeepa, 47.

                [27] A. Maria Arulraja, “Priests amidst Conflicts,” Jnanadeepa (2010), 50-76, 63.

                [28] Joseph Lobo, “A Public Property called Priest,” Jnanadeepa (2010), 6-36, 17.

                [29] Kurian Kunnupuram, Jnanadeepa, 83.

                [30] Pope  Francis, Evangalium GaudiumApostolic Exhortation, Trivandrum, Carmel International Publishing House, 2013, 47.

                [31] Pope  Francis, Evangalium Gaudium Apostolic Exhortation, 73.

                [32] Pope  Francis, Evangalium Gaudium Apostolic Exhortation, 81.

                [33] Pastores Dabo Vobis 21, 703.

                [34] Pastores dabo Vobis 43, 741.

                [35] Jacob Srampickal, “Priest and Communications,” Jnanadeepa (2010), 117-142, 125.

                [36] John Ponnore, “Diocesan Priests and the Community,” Vidyajyothi (2013), 725-737, 731.

                [37] Dominic Veliath, “Priest in India: A Prospective reflection,” Jeevadhara (2010), 287-302, 293.

About bodhicap

This is the journal-blog from the Capuchins at Bodhi Institute of Theology, Tillery, Kollam, India.
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