By Paschal Chisom Obi
Priesthood is not a job. It is a vocation. Priesthood is not a profession. It is a call. Job seeks for promotion and profession seeks for recognition, but vocation finds its driving force in an inner call and obligation to serve others. In Christian theology, nobody become a priest for his own sake, he became a priest for others. In the book 'The Priest is not his own', Fulton J. Sheen said, “Every priest is like the wandering son of Isaac.”
Some Catholics use the word “Priest or Rev.Father” without knowing the content, nature and responsibilities following the title. Seminary is a formation ground were seminarians study for the Catholic priesthood. On ordination day, a seminarian becomes a priest. Mother, friends and relatives rejoices and boasts saying: “Our son is now a priest.” There are many who ask “What motivated this young vibrant man to become celibate? No explanation is sufficient for some of them. An elderly priest once said, “That ordination is another voyage of discovery into the priesthood and to this vocation, “no one takes the honour upon himself” (Heb.5:4). Thus, priests are chosen from among weak and sinful men, but ordained for men in things of men that pertain to God. Christ's twelve disciples were fishermen and craftsmen, most of them were uneducated. This shows that God does not call the qualified, He qualifies the called! (1Cor.1:27-29).
Christ, during his earthly mission said to Peter: “Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt.16:18).” This authority and power has been handed down to popes, bishops and priests, so as to carry on the truth, acting in the name of the whole Church “Alter Christus”(ccc.1548) and in accordance with Christ's mission. Christ also said to his disciples, who ever shall be great among you shall be your servants. Even the son of man came not to be served, but to give his life as a ransom for many (Matt.20:25-28). Thus, priests are called to be humble and obedient servants and shepherds' of the people entrusted to their care. In order to understand the concept of the priest being a shepherd, it is worthwhile for one take a look at the biblical context of the good shepherd (cf.Jn 10:11-15).
Christ is the model of priests. In the book, “Those Mysterious Priests”, Sheen called Christ a 'Priest-Victim.' As a priest He was sinless (Jn.8:46), as a Victim He identified with sinners (2 Cor.5:21). As a Priest he was separated from the world; as a Victim He came into the world for our redemption. On the Cross, He was upright as a Priests; on the Cross, He was prostrate as a Victim. As a Priests, He mediated with the Father; As a Victim, He mediated for the sins of men. As a Priest He had dignity; as a Victim, He suffered indignity.
Hence, frustration is a common feeling many priest experience in their ministry, says Dr.George Manalel in his book, “Priest as a Man.” This frustration can come from anywhere. He admonished priest saying, “Being human means being emotional and Jesus experienced emotions and frustration in life. He felt pity, he wept, He felt hurt, He got angry, and He loved. Jesus himself never denied His emotions; He only took it up to the Heavenly Father in prayer.” A problem shared, they say, is halvf solved. Never die in silence. Thus, telling a close friend about your situation, especially to a spiritual director often helps. Rev.Fr.Kingsley Okereke, Isch posits that the reason why most priest crash is that, they did not share their lives or experiences with anybody.
Michael Fallon in the book, “A Priest after my own Heart” called priesthood the most sublime and noblest vocation. In his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Pope John Paul II proclaims that it is also a gift and a mystery, because of it's Divine origin. The words of Dionysus, the pseudo-Areopagite, attest to this: “Of all divine things the most divine is to co-operate with God for the salvation of souls.” It is indeed a noble task, a great gift and a mystery for a mere mortal, to be a priest, says Pope John Paul II.
The Holy Eucharist is the most excellent of mysteries and the most essential task of every priest, says St.Thomas Aquinas. When the Archbishop emeritus of Ibadan Archdiocese, Most Rev. Dr. Felix Alaba Job was interviewed concerning the Eucharist, he replied, “I am proud to be a Catholic priest and I thank Christ in the Blessed sacrament and His Holy Mother, for making me what I am, and if there is a reincarnation, I would come back and be a Catholic priest.” (Catholic weekly Independent Newspaper, Sun, 19th January, 2014). To all ordained ministers of the Church, “you are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” Always recall the passion that drives you hard when you first took the step towards priesthood. St. Paul will encourage you saying, “Fan into flame the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of hands” (2 Tim.1:6).
Hence, an unholy and prayer-less priest is a powerless priest. Together with the official prayer of the Church, priests should strive to develop a habit of personal prayer. This offers them an opportunity to evaluate their work and to hear the voice of God in their ministry. The Second Vatican Council reminds us that everyone is called to a life of holiness. An unholy priest therefore is an unhappy priest. For just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all that you do (1 peter.1:5). To be fulfilled in the ministry, priest should make timely evaluation of their Spiritual work and life. Receiving feedback from the faithful will enhance their performance and morale towards a fruitful ministry. This feedback psychologically helps them to grow spiritually and to correct their faults were they are lacking.
Priests are public figures and in the eyes of the Catholics, priests are supposed to have special spiritual and psychological qualities and when any of these are found lacking, they tend to compare and criticize them. Dear reader, it is the same Lord that calls, but He endows His spiritual gifts differently. St. John Chrysostom said, “Priesthood is an office that is too onerous even for the shoulders of angels. In line with this Pope Benedict XVI opened a year of the priests, with the aim of renewal, prayers, reparations and reconciliation with and for the priests.
According to Abraham Maslow, everybody has a strong need for love, acceptance, belonging and achievement. A priest cannot stand alone; he needs the support of those he serves. Thus, Serra Club is an international organization dedicated in taking care of priests. We can encourage and support our priests by praying for them, be involved in the pastoral works, extending our talent, money and time to them. Priests are out to serve us, and we should treat them with love. Hence, nobody is perfect; we are all striving towards perfection. Beloved, priests are human beings and are vulnerable to mistakes and desires of the flesh. Thus, when priests are in error, correct them with love. Do not gossip, hurt or point accusing fingers on your priest, because the only one who can give verdict is Christ. Psalm 105:15 warns us saying, “Touch not my anointed and my prophets do no harm.”
And we ask the Blessed Mother to renew in them each day the grace of ordination, to shelter our priests from earthly pleasures, to comfort them in hours of loneliness and pain, to strengthen them, especially when all their life of sacrifice for souls seems but in vain. This we ask through Christ our Lord, Amen.
Happy Feast-day to all religious and secular Shepherds.