Catholic priest in the church in the world and in the future based on the teachings of the PASTORES DABO VOBIS
By, Bro. Anoop Augustine OFM CAP
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.” 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.
Catholic priest is defined by the illustrated oxford Dictionary as “an ordained minister of the catholic Church.” According to Britannica world language standard dictionary He is “one specially consecrated to the service of a divinity and considered as the medium between divinity and worshiper as for prayer, service or blessing and one in holy orders, a clergy man and one who belongs to the second order of ministry in the catholic church.”
There are three chapters in this paper. In the first Chapter I 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 as expected. 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.
The methodology used in this work is systematic and analytic in nature. When the three chapters are compared one may find a progressive thread from the first to the final chapter. By bringing out the content of this apostolic exhortation I make a humble attempt to highlight the relevance of the same in the challenging scenario of priestly life today. Thus we conclude that the life of the priest remains as the enduring hope of the Church and the world alike.
CATHOLIC PRIEST IN THE LIGHT OF SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL
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. According to Summa Theologica, priest acts in persona Christi. The word persona has three meanings such as face or mask, character or likeness of and persons a supposition of an intellectual nature. The meaning of the word person is applied in its fullest sense to the very person of Christ himself. He is the true face of God, true character, representation, part and likeness of God. This is also the core teaching of the fathers of the church. Thus we can say that priest is an individual being of rational nature but also a person who is intimately related to Christ by his acting in Persona Christi.
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.
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.
Christ sent apostles as he himself was sent by the Father and then through the apostles Bishops were made their successors. The functions of Bishops’ ministry were handed over in subordinate degree to the priests thus they become co- workers of the Episcopal order fulfilling the apostolic mission entrusted by Christ. Because it is joined with the Episcopal order, the office of priests share in the authority by which Christ himself builds up and sanctifies and rules his Body. Hence the priesthood of priests, while presupposing the sacraments of initiation is nevertheless conferred by its own particular sacrament. Through that sacrament, priests by anointing of the Holy Spirit, are assigned with a special character and so are configured to Christ, the Priest in such a way that they are able to act in the person of Christ, the head. Thus priests are given grace by God to be ministers of Jesus Christ among nations. In this way through their ministry and life, they procure the glory of God the Father in Christ. This is a conscious free and grateful acceptance of God’s plan as completed in Christ and now manifested in their life. Thus in their devotion to prayer, adoration, preaching the word, offering the Eucharist, administering the other sacraments and exercising the other service for the benefit of the people are contributing at once to the increase of God’s glory and peoples’ growth in divine life. Priest is also a man taken from amongst men and appointed for men in the things that appertain to God that they may offer gifts and sacrifices for sins, live with the rest of men as with brothers. In the words of Paul they are men set apart. He declares that he became all things to all men that he might save all (lCor 9:22). Thus priests also live in the world among men but completely consecrated to the task for which God chooses them.
1.1.1. Presbyterorum Ordinis
This decree on the ministry and life of priests speak in detail the function of priests. Firstly 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). Since the people of God are formed into one by the word of the living God, priests have to preach the same word of the living God to them. Through their preaching, they lead the people to glorify God, teach the Christian message and church doctrine and endeavor to treat of contemporary problems in the light of Christ’s teaching. 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.
Secondly, priests function as ministers of sacraments and Eucharist. God the holy one and sanctifier willed to take men as allies and helpers to become humble servants in his work of sanctification. As consecrated persons, they share in a special way in Christ’s priesthood, carry out sacred functions, and minister through his spirit priestly functions for the benefit of all. They introduce men into the people of God, they reconcile sinners with God and Church, they anoint the sick, they relieve the ill and especially by celebration of mass they offer Christ’s sacrifice sacramentally. Among all these celebrations, the Eucharist is the most important function, because all other sacraments, all ecclesiastical ministries and all works of the apostolate are bound up with the Eucharist and directed toward it. Thus Eucharist becomes the source and summit of all gospel preaching. Priest presides over the Eucharist celebration. Priest helps people to offer themselves to the sacrifice of the mass. They also help the people to submit a contrite heart and call them to repentance. They also help people to carry out the evangelical counsels according to each one’s grace and suited to their individual cases. Finally they also teach people to give thanks in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.
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. In the name of the Bishops they gather the family of God as a brotherhood endowed with the spirit of unity and lead it in Christ through the Spirit to God the Father. For the exercise of this ministry, a spiritual power is given to them, whose purpose is to build up. In this they ought to treat everybody with greatest kindness after the model of the Lord. According to the words of the apostles they should be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching (2Tim
4:2). Priest instructs the people and leads them to the full development of their vocations in accordance with the gospel teaching and also to sincere and active charity and the liberty with which Christ has set them free. They educate the people to
reach Christian maturity. In their service they have to commit more to the poor and weaker sections as a sign of Christ’s messianic mission. They should also look after the young with diligence. In the building up of a community of Christians, they are not the servants of any human ideology or party. Rather their task as heralds of the gospel and pastors of the church is the attainment of the spiritual growth of the Body of Christ.
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. Every nation or rite is expected to have its own programme of priestly training. The Christian community as a whole has the responsibility of fostering vocations. It will be possible only when the faithful live out a fully committed Christian life. Bishops and priests also have their duty to foster vocations. Every care should be taken in minor seminaries to prepare students by religious formation and especially by suitable spiritual direction.
The major seminaries should help the students to become true followers and disciples of Jesus. “In them the whole training of the students should have as its object to make them true shepherds of souls after the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, teacher, priest and shepherd.” It will be possible only by study, reflection and by meditation on the word of God. Students should be trained to have a pastoral heart. The attention to the spiritual formation includes topics like mystery of the Church, priestly celibacy, duties and dignity of the Christian marriage. The theological studies should help the students to have a solid and consistent knowledge of man, the world and Catholic teaching on divine revelation and it should be taught under the guidance of the magisterium of the Church.
The decree speaks of the treatment of the systematic theology to help the students to equip themselves with the teachings of the Church fathers who have contributed to the faithful transmission and elucidation of each of the revealed truths. “In like manner the other theological subjects should be renewed through a more vivid contact with the mystery of Christ and the mystery of salvation.” The students are also to be taught about the different religions that are commonly found in their particular community and area. The decree concludes by earnestly reminding the superiors and professors of seminaries of the duty of training future priests in the spirit of renewal laid down by the council. It also exhorts the candidates to priesthood to be committed to the hope of the Church and the salvation of souls.
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. In fact Lumen Gentium, which is, promulgated in 1964 becomes the basis for the decrees Optatam Totius and Presbyterorum Ordinis. It is Christ who set up variety of offices for the good of His body the Church.
Jesus Christ is the eternal priest who is sent by the Father for the particular mission. He completed his mission by setting up the Holy Church and entrusted it to the Apostles to continue the same mission. Today the Pope, Bishops and the Priests being the successors of Peter and the Apostles continue the work of redemption of mankind. This mission is destined to continue till the end of the world. The ministries are meant for nurturing the constant growth of the people of God. These ministries “are endowed with sacred power.”
The council speaks of Episcopal office in two ways. Firstly, the office that is instituted for the community and secondly, of the presence of Christ in and through his ministries. It is in Bishops that Christ the eternal priest is present in the midst of those who believe. So here the council speaks of the fullness of priesthood of Bishop. “What is involved is a fullness which is the exercise of power over the universal Church, is collegial by its very nature and subject to the authority of the Pope.” 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 on priestly celibacy is an important one because it affirms celibacy against all its adversaries. 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 minister looks up him as the model and supreme ideal.
Jesus sent by the father, became man in order to save the humanity from sin and give new birth to enter heaven. Being entirely consecrated to God’s will, Jesus brought this new creation by his Pascal mystery thus introducing a new form of life sublime and divine which transform the very earthly condition of human life. Christ, mediator of a more excellent testament opened also a new way in which the human creature adheres wholly and directly to the Lord and is concerned only with him and with his affairs thus he manifests in a clearer and more complete way the profoundly transforming reality of the New testament.
Christ is the mediator between heaven and earth and between the father and human race. Wholly in accord with mission, Christ remained throughout his whole life in the state of celibacy which signified his total dedication to the service of God and Men. This deep connection between celibacy and the priesthood of Christ is reflected in those whose fortune it is to share in the dignity and in the mission of the mediator and eternal priest, this sharing will be more perfect the free the sacred minister is from the bond of flesh and blood. He promised a more than abundant recompense to anyone who should leave home, family, wife and children for the sake of the kingdom of God.
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 priesthood. It is a special ministerium or service to the community of believers. It does not originate in the community. In fact it is a gift given to the community by Christ himself from the fullness of his priesthood. It further says that the priesthood calls for a social integrity of life and service and such integrity is supremely suited to priestly identity. Priestly identity incorporates both great dignity and availability proportionate to it. It involves humble readiness to accept the gifts of the Holy Spirit and to transmit to others the fruits of love and peace, to impart to them that sure faith from which derives a profound understanding of human existence and makes possible application of the moral law in the lives of the individuals and in the human situation. Priest is also a steward and witness. The priestly life is built upon the foundation of the sacrament of orders which imparts on our souls an indelible mark. This mark is made in the depths of our being and it has its personalistic dynamism. Thus the priest also becomes a sign for others.
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. 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. The saint is quoted said “how great is the priest! If he realized what he is he would die, God obeys him, he utters a few words and the Lord descends from heaven at his voice to be contained within a small host. The words of the saint continue to uphold the priestly vocation. He speaks in an excessive manner about priesthood. The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven it is he who opens the door, he is the steward of the good Lord, the administrator of his goods. According to him the first thing he needs to learn is the complete identification of the man with his ministry. In Jesus ‘person and mission tends to coincide. All Christ’s saving activity was and is an expression of his filial consciousness which from all eternity stands before the father in an attitude of loving submission to his will.’ He further says that a priest must make church his home. However he is to be active visiting the sick, families and organizing the patronal feast, collecting funds and managing funds for charitable and missionary work, embellishing and furnishing the church, caring for the orphans and teachers of the providence, providing for the education of the children, founding confraternity and enlisting lay persons to work at his side. The saint taught his people by witness of his life. From a deep personal identification with the sacrifice of the cross led him by a sole inward movement from the altar to the confession. The words of the Lord that “I will charge my ministers to proclaim to sinners that I am ever ready to welcome them, that my mercy is infinite.” Thus priesthood is to put our unfailing trust in sacrament of penance. The Cure also trusted in God’s providence, his chastity was one that suited the one who touched the Eucharist daily, his obedience found embodiment in his conscientious fidelity to the daily demands of his ministry. The letter ends with words, “in the world you have tribulation but take courage, I have overcome the world.”
PASTORES DABO VOBIS ON CATHOLIC PRIEST
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. It says that “the sacrament of Holy Orders confers upon the priest sacramental grace which gives him a share not only in Jesus’ saving ‘power’ and ‘ministry’ but also in the pastoral ‘love’.” It leads us to an integral, richer and fuller meaning and understanding of the identity, ministry and life of the priests in Christ. Greater emphasis has also been given to the human dimension of priestly formation and has listed a series of human virtues and relational virtues needed in the priest. 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 DaboVobis.
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.
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. A social climate which is subversive of good human relationships leads inevitably to a type of loneliness which people try to satisfy by way of consumerism and a hedonistic approach to life. These corrosive influences of the cultural environment inevitably filtered into the attitudes of priests and their understanding of the priestly ministry. 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 focusing 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. 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 is a development of the Vatican II document Optatam Totius, on priestly formation. It takes up the distilled wisdom of the 1990 synod, to which the Holy Father adds many of his own penetrating insights on priestly formation. 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.
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. Priest is living and transparent image of Christ. The priesthood of Christ, the expression of his absolute newness in salvation history constitutes the one source and essential model of the priesthood shared by all Christians and the priests in particular. Christ thus becomes the absolutely necessary reference to understand the reality of priesthood. In the Church and precisely on behalf of the Church, the priest is a sacramental representation of Jesus, the Head and the only Shepherd. 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. The call of the ordination is not only to perform acts, even if it be in the person of Christ, and in the name of the whole Church, but to share in a permanent and irrevocable way of life, a way of being that involves priests’ entire life and is therefore permanent. 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.
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, moulded and characterized by the way of thinking and acting proper to Jesus Christ, Head and Shepherd of the Church which is summed up in his pastoral charity.” 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.” This pastoral ministry is not only the specific life task of the priest, it is also the way and the means of his personal sanctification.
The path of efficacious ministry of the Word, sacrament and pastoral leadership is one of the priestly sanctity. The ministry of the Word requires from the priest a familiarity with the Word and its exegesis. He needs first of all to approach the Word with a docile and prayerful heart. He imbibes the Word of God, putting on progressively the mind of Christ more than the lay faithful, as teacher of the Word he needs to abide in the Word to become himself a disciple of the Word to make others disciples. He needs to be transformed by the word first, to transform others by the proclamation of the same. 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.
Other sacraments particularly that of reconciliation plays an important role in the sanctification of the priest. The ministry of the spiritual leadership of the Christian community too has its demands on the priest. It specially requires the faithfulness, integrity, consistency, wisdom, a welcoming spirit, friendliness, goodness of heart, decisive firmness in essentials, personal disinterestedness, patience, enthusiasm for daily tasks, and confidence in the value of the hidden working of grace as manifested in the simple and the poor. These and other qualities of heart and mind required by the very ministry of the priest well places him on the way to that radicalism of the gospel which we call Christian perfection.
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. “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me (Lk 10:16). Christ’s mission is now the Church’s mission. The Church the sacrament of salvation, exists to continue the saving mission of Christ. Therefore, the priest as a co-worker in this saving mission, recognizes, loves and serves the Church in her hierarchical structure. The obedience of the priest is communitarian in the sense that it is part of the unity of the presbyterate. It is expressed in the co-responsibility regarding direction to be taken and choices to be made. Priest’s obedience is pastoral in the sense that it implies a constant readiness to allow oneself to be taken up, consumed by the needs and demands of the flock that he serves.
Speaking of priestly celibacy the council fathers placed it in its total context when it stated: Chastity is seen as holding fast to their Lord with undivided love which is profoundly in harmony with the new covenant; bearing witness to the resurrection in a future life and obtaining the most useful assistance towards the constant exercise of that perfect charity by which they can become all things to all men in their priestly ministry.
It 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. It is unencumbered service of the Kingdom witnessing to the mystical marriage between the Church and Christ. Priestly celibacy lived in joy and fruitfully makes of the priest a living sign of the world to come.
John Paul rightly does write: Only the person who contemplates and lives the mystery of God as the one and supreme good, as the true and definitive treasure, can understand and practice poverty, which is certainly not a matter of despising or rejecting material goods. It means a responsible use of these goods. It is an ability to renounce them with great interior freedom, that is, with reference to God and his plan.
Poverty of the priest today is linked with a “preferential option for the poor.” The poor were the addressees of the mission of Jesus. Pastores Dabo Vobis calls the priests to avoid anything that in any way may antagonize the poor or keep them away from the priests. John Paul II goes a step further and invites the priests to consider the poor and the weakest sections of the people as a portion entrusted to him in a special way.
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, 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.
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. “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.”
Within the Church’s life, priest is a man of communion. In his relationship with people, he must be a man of mission and dialogue. Deeply rooted in the truth and charity of Christ and impelled by the desire and the imperative to proclaim Christ’s salvation to all. The priest is called to witnessing all his relationship to fraternity, service and a common quest for the truth as well as a concern for the promotion of justice and peace. Today, in particular, the pressing task of the new evangelization requires a new favour, new thoughts and new expression for the announcing and witnessing of the gospel. This he fulfils by sharing in Christ’s consecration and mission in a specific and authoritative way, through the sacrament of Holy orders, by virtue of which he is configured in his being to Jesus Christ, head and shepherd, and shares in the mission of preaching the good news to the poor in the name and person of Christ himself.
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 realize 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.
The ultimate source of strength to serve God’s people in the priesthood comes from the person of Jesus Christ. Thus in order to serve church which is an organically structured community of the faithful invested with the same baptismal dignity and a diversity of charisms and functions, it is necessary to know and love her as she is willed by Jesus Christ, her founder and not as passing philosophies or different ideologies would fashion her. The ministerial function of service to the community which is based on configuration with Christ demands a knowledge of and respect for the specific role of the lay faithful and the encouragement of every possible means of having all assume their proper responsibilities. The priest is at the service of the community. He needs the specific contribution of the laity for not only the organisation and administration of the community but also for faith and charity. Christian families and fervent communities have often assisted their priests in times of crisis. It is likewise highly important for the priests to know, esteem and respect the nature of following Christ in the consecrated life, which is precious treasure of the church, a witness to the work of Holy Spirit in her.
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.”
Even though the people have parental support, friendship, spousal intimacy etc., a Jesus-like priest is someone for all, at all times. He becomes someone special at the critical moments of life such as initiation into the religious tradition by baptism and confirmation, spiritual healing, renewal, wedding, sickness, death etc. A Jesus-like priest is called to deprive himself of all the self advantages. In his pastoral work and charity, a priest is called to imitate the self-giving of Christ in order to offer himself as a gift, placing himself at the disposal of the community and at the service of anyone in need and to take the true meaning of his life.
Further, Benedict XVI says that to the pastor, men often come normally, without a mask, without other pretexts, but in situations of suffering, infirmity, death, family issues, they come to the confessional unmasked with their own being. It seems to me that no other profession gives this possibility of knowing man as he is in his humanity and not in role as he has in society. 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. The priest also has the privilege of encountering the creator right through the day in people and situation at the end of the day in solitude of his own heart. Thus a priest in his pastoral work and charity, amid loneliness and struggles such as physical, emotional, psychological, sexual and social dimensions of priestly life can be an instrument of Christ’s self giving love, thereby overcoming the struggles. Priestly ministry and spirituality do offer space and opportunity into self sacrificing love.
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. The church in every age draws her inspiration from Christ’s example. Still, more different practical forms the church involves in the pastoral care for vocations. Her task is not only to discern but also to accompany the priestly vocations. With an inspiring spirit she brings to priesthood only those called and brings them adequately trained with a conscious and free response of adherence and involvement of their whole person with Jesus Christ, who calls them to intimacy of life with him and to share in his mission of salvation.
The house of formation for priests, more than a material space, should be a spiritual place, a way of life, an atmosphere that fosters and ensures a process of formation so that the person who is called by God may become with the sacrament of the Orders a living image of Jesus Christ head and shepherd of the church. Living in the seminary which is a school of the gospel means to follow Christ as the Apostles did. One is led by Christ into the service of the God the Father and of the people under the guidance of the Spirit. Thus one becomes more like Christ the good shepherd in order better to serve the church and the world as priest. In preparing for the priesthood one learns to respond from the heart to Christ’s basic question of love and the answer of the future priest can only mean total self giving. One needs to transfer this spirit to the social, psychological, political and cultural condition of the world today, conditions which are so varied and complex bearing in mind the different particular churches. As the initial and ongoing formation is closely linked, they become one sole organic journey of priestly living. In the following section we shall see different aspects of priestly formation.
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 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. The ministry of the priest is certainly to proclaim the Word, to celebrate the sacraments to guide Christian community in charity in the name and the person of Christ. 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.
Further priests have to cultivate a series of human qualities for them to be balanced people strong and free capable of bearing the weight of pastoral responsibilities. They need to be educated to love the truth, to be loyal, to respect every person, to have a sense of justice, to be true to their word, to be genuinely compassionate, to be men of integrity and especially to be balanced in judgments and behavior. The capacity to relate to others is fundamental for a priest who is called to be responsible for a community and to be a man of communion. A priest is not to be arrogant and quarrelsome, but affable, hospitable sincere in his words and heart and prudent and discreet generous and ready to serve, capable of opening himself to clear and brotherly relationship and of encouraging the same in others and quickly to understand, forgive and console. Priest is to be a man of communion and affective maturity which people appreciate with great value at and is the most affective ways of transmitting the gospel message.
Responsible love and affective maturity is a necessity for a priest to be called celibate. Affective maturity helps the priest to be prudent and able to renounce the threats to his charism of celibacy and to be vigilant over both body and spirit and capable of esteem and respect in inter personal relationship between men and women. His human maturity requires a clear and strong training in freedom which expresses itself in convinced and heartfelt obedience to the truth of one’s own being, that is to the sincere gift of self as the way and fundamental content of the authentic realization of the self. Education of moral conscience is also intimately connected with formation to responsible freedom in priestly life. It calls for obedience to moral obligations. In priestly life it is a loving response to God’s demand and to God’s love. The human maturity of the priest includes the formation of his conscience which helps him faithfully meet his obligations with regards to god and the church and wisely guide conscience of the faithful.
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.
Priest seeks Christ in faithful meditation on the Word of God and in active participation in the sacred mysteries of the church. Priest is called to live intimately united to Christ rooted in baptism, nourished by Eucharist and radically renewed each day. The mystery of Christian living is at the heart of its spirituality especially for the priest. Through a suitable spiritual formation priest have to become deeply aware, experience and communicate this amazing and blessed mystery to others. Priestly communion is in terms of friendship with Jesus. Search for Jesus is another great spiritual value. Priesthood is a finding of the master to follow him. Priest continues to imitate Christ throughout his life and ministry. This seeking signifies meditation in the Word of God, active participation in church’s holy mysteries and the service of formation. It is an interior life of intimacy with God and prayer and contemplation. Priest is called to be a man of charity and educate others after the example of Christ the new commandment of brotherly love. Spiritual formation leads the priest to experiencing and showing a sincere, human fraternal and personal love, one that is capable of sacrifice, following Christ’s example, a love for all and each person.
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. It includes a study of philosophy and other human sciences such as sociology, psychology, education, economics, politics and service of social communion. In this way a priest becomes a living contemporary of Christ. It helps priest to speak the language of people today. The intellectual formation is based above all in the study of sacred scripture. St. Thomas says that the whole of theology is ordered to nourishing faith. Devotion, spiritual joy, piety, charity, humility God’s grace and God’s infused wisdom are also the necessities for a sound intellectual formation. Thus a priest becomes competent enough with clarity and deep reasoning to face the complexity of the time and to answer the question that the people ask today.
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. He wins over people by becoming servant of all. The pastoral theology helps the priest in this regard. It is a
scientific reflection on the church in history as a universal sacrament, living sign and instrument of service and charity. It throws light upon the practical application of the pastoral service. 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. He also equips himself to fight against human poverty, blind violence and unjust power. He defend the rights and dignity of man rooted on the redemption effected by the cross of Christ. Through a communion and cooperation with the laity, a pastor recognizes their competence and experience in different field of human activities. Eventually he transforms the world in the light of the gospel.
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. This is made possible by the dynamism of grace intrinsic to God’s gift along with personal effort of the priest. The indelible mark of ordination calls the priest to a permanent and irreversible way of life, entrusted with pastoral ministry rooted in his being and involving his entire life. He needs to have a constant updating in order to remain current and effective so as to keep pace with the path of history. 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.
22.214.171.124. Dimensions of ongoing formations
- Ongoing formation calls for adaptation, updating and modification.
- Long term preparation of ongoing formation takes place in major seminary.
- It deepens the aspects of human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation of a
- It brings priest’s human formation into maturity with special assistance from the grace of Jesus Christ.
- It requires spiritual meditation which precedes, accompanies, and follows all the actions of a priest.
- It calls for a continuous reform of prayer in priestly life.
- It calls for a commitment to study and serious and disciplined familiarity with modern culture.
- It calls for pastoral charity that is impelling and stimulating priest to be ever acquainted with people to whom he is sent.
- Ongoing formation enables the priest to love the “mystery” which he bears within his heart for the good of the Church and of mankind.
126.96.36.199. The agents of ongoing formation
Those responsible for ongoing of priest are to be found in the Church as communion. In this sense:
- The entire particular Church as responsibility under the guidance of Bishop to develop and look after the different aspects of her priests permanent formation.
- Priests draw precious spiritual nourishment from pious Christians who practice their Christian faith and love of God in all kinds of their social and civil tasks.
- The regulations and norms established by Church authority and examples given by other priests also help priests for ongoing formation.
- The Bishop has the higher responsibility with regard to ongoing formation of his priests since they receive ordination from his hand.
- In the particular Church context, families also play a role in the ongoing formation of priests.
- Ultimately each individual priest is himself primarily responsible for ongoing formation.
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.
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, even in countries of long standing Christian tradition people live without reference to the transcendence. There is also 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. Political programmes became hostile to Christian moral teaching. Religion being neglected led to a sphere of private conscience. As a result traditional status and privilege of priests considerably diminished in urban society. Christian moral values being not allowed to public discourse or secular realities, religious values on one hand and one’s professional, social, and family commitments on the other, strong materialistic influence active in many areas of society erasing the notion of man made to the image and likeness of God with a supernatural destiny, priests becoming only social workers, forgetting their endowment to lead to lead souls to eternal salvation, priests taking their priorities from political, academic and media elites, responding to agenda of the world rather than promoting the agenda of the Church, increased emphasis on ideas of freedom and democracy certainly questioning religious authority, priests’ authority from revelation finding uncomfortable in a society shaped by dynamics of realism, common priesthood changing the existing understanding clergy, misunderstanding of lay vocation, an increased clericalism of the laity in an effort to set them more involved resulting in a blurred identity of clergy among people and themselves giving rise to a functionalistic conception of ministry which sees the ministry of pastor as a function and not as an ontological reality.
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 fulfill by their work the plan of salvation in history.”58
THE RELEVANCE OF PASTORES DABO VOBIS IN THE CHALENGING
LIFE OF PRIESTS TODAY
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. If we take the case of India, there are issues like social honor, domination of powerful, ideologies of exclusion, in favor of the elite, everything seen as commodities, humans for law, spirituality shying away from existing conflicts, accumulation of powers, convenient denial of justice, prosperities measured on business establishments and stock exchanges, insensitivities to one’s own neighbour, profit the only criteria for development and so on and so forth.
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. 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. Psycho-sexual imbalances are also visible in the life of priests. Due to lack of proper guidance, some fall into the addiction of alcoholism and sexual weaknesses leading to a disoriented and depressed life. 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.
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 fervor. At times media and some intellectual circles convey a marked skepticism and certain cynicism with regard to Church’s message. This develops a sort of inferiority complex among pastors and leads them to relatives or conceals 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.
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.
3.2.3. Challenges of new relationships
Though the communication media has made unprecedented advances, people are self enclosed. Priests are also very much affected by these tendencies. 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 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.
3.2.4. Challenges of division
Priest today face a Christian community who fight each 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.
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 essential characteristics of priestly life are communion with the Lord. By being a living and transparent image of Christ, a priest brings newness and essential 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.
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 cooperation among people and also can make objective judgments.
A priest further needs to cultivate a series of human qualities in order to be a balanced person, free and strong, so that he can bear the weight of his pastoral responsibilities. He also needs to be educated to love the truth, to be loyal, to respect every person, to have a sense of justice, to be genuinely compassionate, to be a man of integrity and especially to be balanced in judgments and behavior. Being responsible for a community he needs to relate with others. For this he needs to be more affable, hospitable, sincere in his words and heart, prudent and discrete, generous and ready to serve, encouraging and quick to understand, forgive and console. 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. 
3.3.3. Being a communicative person
A communicative person is one who has capacity to build a community through communion. For this he has to listen and open 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 must become both medium and message. He also should have excellent counseling skill and extra ability to understand people. 
3.3.4. Being an evangelizer in the world
A key role of the priest is to preach the Word of God, 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.
Priest is an evangelizer. Its implications are in the pastoral role. Pastoral aspects are developed here. Since 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 them to be proactive and to positively invite young men to follow Christ along this path.
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.
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. Therefore, one needs to have the required intellectual discipline. The priest as part of the rest of the Christians has to swim against the tide. Seeing religion as private, people turn more to the counselor, social worker or psychiatrist than to the priest. With an attitude to life based on materialism and self-interest, and a decline in personal and social moral values, any kind of life-long commitment poses a special challenge to priestly vocation.
If we take the case of India, with the challenges facing the rapidly growing economy of India and the impact of globalization on Indian culture, the priest is called to serve for full human development. He has to face all present challenges and problems with the people – the financial crisis, economic inequality, poverty, corruption, workers’ rights, unbalanced development, war, violence – all of which touch India. Besides his religious function, a priest has to work for the social welfare of the aam admi – the common men and women.
3.4. Observation of the people about a priest
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.
However 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. 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.
3.5. Certain factors that worry a priest today.
In today’s world priests have lots to do. Yet they are at times facing daunting experiences of weariness and disappointments. The following are some of the reasons that contribute to this effect.
3.5.1. Today’s priests are busier than ever.
According to Priestly Ministry in Multiple Parishes 44 percent of the country’s Roman rite parishes and missions share a pastor. Today’s priests are expected to do more and more, and many priests are doing more and more in multiple parishes. Today’s priests are busier than ever, and all that busyness has an impact upon a priest. While preaching during the 2006 Chrism Mass, Pope Benedict XVI said, “The priest must above all be a man of prayer. The world in its frenetic activism often loses its direction. Its action and capacities become destructive if they lack the power of prayer, from which the waters of life that irrigate the arid land.” Many priests know far too well the “frenetic activism” the Holy Father speaks of. When life in the parish gets busy, many priests cut corners in their prayer life. Their Holy Hour becomes littered with problem solving or homily prep and soon it feels as if prayer is dry. As the schedule presses forward many priests stop praying. Eventually priests long for the God they once “felt” so close.
3.5.2. Many priests define themselves by what they do.
Many of today’s priests define their identity by what they do. They feel good about themselves when things are going well in the parish; however, when the success of the parish flattens, many priests take it personally. Their identity is determined by what they do. It leads to crisis in priestly life.
3.5.3. All priests know about Jesus, yet many are hungry to know Him more
In 2006 Pope Benedict XVI said, “It is necessary to enter into real friendship with Jesus in a personal relationship with him and not to know who Jesus is only from others or from books, but to live an ever deeper personal relationship with Jesus, where we can begin to understand what he is asking of us. … Knowing God is not enough. For a true encounter with him one must also love him. Knowledge must become love.” Later in his book Jesus of Nazareth, the Holy Father echoed, “The organ for seeing God is the heart. The intellect alone is not enough.” Many priests desire a more intimate relationship with Christ, but far too many don’t know how to grow in desired intimacy.
3.5.4. Surprisingly, many priests don’t consider themselves experts in me spiritual life.
While addressing priests in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI urged clergy as he said, “The faithful expect only one thing from priests: that they be specialists in promoting the encounter between man and God. The priest is not asked to be an expert in economics, construction or politics. He is expected to be an expert in the spiritual life.” More and more of the lay faithful are rediscovering the rich tradition of Catholic spirituality. Many of them desire spiritual direction from their priests.-Even Blessed John Paul II urged parishes to become “schools of prayer”. With the many demands already placed upon priests, many clergy shy away teaching or spiritual direction because they feel ill-equipped. Priests desire to know more about the spiritual life, but who is there to help them? 
3.6. Major scandal that priests face today
In recent years, hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals have come forward claiming sexual abuse from priests in the Roman Catholic Church. Numerous “pedophile priests'” have been identified. Sadly, rather than defrocking the priests (removing from the priesthood), the Catholic Church has in most instances attempted to cover up the sexual abuse by transferring the offending priests to different parishes. The scandal and attempted cover-up continues to expand, reaching all the way to the papacy itself.
The possible reasons for the sexual abuse are the following:
- Aspects of values and structures often found in religious bodies have made it easier for a minority to abuse for years without being exposed or stopped. These include special authority (“a holy man wouldn’t do that”); special status (“this would so damage our reputation, we must protect it”); trust and deference by the faithful, which allow ready access to children; authoritarianism or hierarchy; and the value of obedience.
- Compulsory celibacy doesn’t cause child sexual abuse. But it brings many problems about discussing sex, sexuality, sexual problems or abuse openly. It contributes to secrecy and sexual ignorance, a sense of taboo around talking freely, double-life hypocrisy, and reluctance to seek help. Most older priests were trained from youth in all-male settings, being prepared for celibacy. That increased the taboos around talking, including about abuse some students will themselves have suffered.
- The traditional training of priests does not cause it but contribute which is also why
most child victims are male. The closed world of seminaries from age 13 cut off
knowledge of and contact with women, but becomes also an ideal setting for a
minority of abusers against the young trainees.
- Most Catholics will recall some monks, nuns or priests who should not have been
there or clearly did not wish to be, from an era of great pressure from families for a
son or daughter to take that respected career. It was also a haven for people with
unresolved problems. If you don’t want to be there, it’s much more tempting to take
out all your anger, frustration and sense of entrapment on vulnerable children or
The graph below illustrates the number of accusations of priests on an yearly base.
Annual Count of Incidents Reported
and Priests Accused, by Year
|Annual totals of accused priests
It is no consolation to victims, and no cause at all for complacency, however there’s less prospect of future physical and sexual abuse by Catholic religious for at least three reasons – in addition to what the Church hierarchy itself does to prevent it:
- Training for the priesthood now largely takes place after life in the community, university, or after a change in career – rather than through closed seminary life from age 13.
- Far fewer people enter the religious life without wanting to be there.
- And there are now safeguarding rules in all parishes, as there are in other churches,
along with greater awareness and intolerance of abuse among parishioners, local
authorities and media. However, recruitment of priests is itself a huge problem. The
deterrent effect of compulsory celibacy on recruits compared with other Christian
denominations is a live issue.
3.7. Certain ways to improve today’s priestly life
- Where there is more than one priest living, there has to be a proper well established communication links so as to have a healthy and friendly atmosphere. Even where the priest is all alone, he has to establish strong communication links with religious nuns, seminarians and parish council members so as to maintain healthy relationship regularly.
- Wherever there is more than one priest, food must be eaten together in common. If
it is not possible for all meals to be eaten together in common in some situations, due
to the constraints of various responsibilities, all concerned need to fix at least one
meal to be eaten together daily.
- An honest and serious effort must me constantly maintained among the Diocesan
priests living in the same house to have the spirit of team work.
- Wherever possible, the ‘working together’ principle should be adopted in spite of a
clear cut work distribution. For this purpose, issues, purposes, problems and goals of
each work assigned to everyone should be discussed together at regular fixed
It is best to do this once a week regularly. This will bring together a sense of
collegiality among the brother priest because one knows what the others are going
through even if that particular concern is not one’s responsibility.
- Praying together by the priests living in the same house or place as a great apostolic fruitfulness as well as witness value. The priests living in the same place need to strive to pray together at least once a day if it is not possible to do it oftener. A time fixed for prayer also gives some sense of orderliness in one’s personal life and avoids the impression that the priest is the one who does not need himself time for prayer and deeper reflection.
- One’s whereabouts must be more or less sufficiently transparent and the companions should know it so as to maintain a sense of belonging to one another and the sense of collegiality.
3.8. Certain formation imperatives
- The formation to candidates for the priesthood needs to include essential
theological pastoral foundation for common living in communities of faith.
- Candidates need to be psychologically prepared for common living and need to be
made aware of the intricacies of the same during their formation.
- While respecting the need for the students to have sufficient privacy in the
seminary, care needs to be taken to ensure that the principle of privacy do not
disintegrate into isolated and cut off gross individualism. Hence may have to rethink
the value of converting individual rooms into dormitories in the seminaries.
Dormitories in the past contributed a mighty lot into educating principles of common
living and a sense of common responsibilities and bondedness.
- The candidate needs to be aware of the exigency, effectiveness and implications of team work in pastoral ministry.
- Candidates need to be trained so as to have an open and transparent
Transparency and communication are the two necessary virtues for
building up communities.
- Holding, moderating and animating meeting as some of the toots that need to be
utilized to prepare the candidate to priesthood to make the effective communicators.
- 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. This promise is put into practice 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 one looks into priestly life seriously one can find so many problems. Problems from a simple parish dispute to major scandals of abuse and misuse. We cannot disregard them as mere human frailties. Yet the study reaches the state where one is not lacking in solutions. However mountainous the issue, Catholic priest would always surmount it. Catholic Church has always been quick to react to tendencies that are detrimental to its objectives. The urgency is double when it matters for priestly formation. In this regard Pastores Dabo Vobis is a comprehensive work on priestly training with sufficient insight for the future. The kind of emphasis given to human and ongoing aspects of formation underlines its deep insights under the current circumstance.
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. This exhortation gives an integral and full meaning to the ministerial priesthood as the sacramental participation in the power, ministry and charity of Christ. It says that “the sacrament of Holy Orders confers upon the priest sacramental grace which gives him a share not only in Jesus’ saving ‘power’ and ‘ministry’ but also in the pastoral ‘love’.” It leads us to an integral, richer and fuller meaning and understanding of the identity, ministry and life of the priests in Christ. 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.
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 John Ponnore, “The Diocesan Priest and the Community,” Vidyajyoti, October, 2013, 15-16.