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03 Priests Forever in a Changing World

posted Apr 4, 2019, 5:54 PM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Apr 17, 2019, 10:09 PM ]
As we join in celebrating the sacerdotal ordinations of four deacons in the Archdiocese of Bombay on April 6, 2019 by our Archbishop, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, we cannot help but think of the Holy Father's summit on clerical abuse of children that concluded in February, and the concrete experiences that were shared by the victims. On one hand, the fact that the Holy Father referred to the problem of abuse of children as amounting to "human sacrifice" of children by those who are ordained with a mission to protect them, exemplified the gory nature of the problem. But on the other hand, the magnitude of the scandal perceived by members of the Church and society speaks clearly about the high standards that are expected of ordained ministers, as they attempt to be configured to Christ. I pray that our four new deacons may be graced by our Lord to understand these high standards and rise up to them. 

As they configure themselves to Christ, the Teacher par excellence, they are to "preach and teach" in the name of the Master. The ministry to preach will engage them in the challenge of making God's word come alive vibrantly in many a liturgical setting; while the ministry to teach will open up many an opportunity to catechise, conduct retreats, counsel and be involved in social transformation. The ministry to preach and teach is not effective, if it is not supported by the life witness of the preacher and teacher. St Pope Paul VI summarised this requirement in an unforgettable dictum: 'Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.' (EN, 41) In the contemporary world, transparency in the behaviour of public figures has become a premium value. The priest will need to know how to internalise transparency to enhance his witness value, without failing the test of personal integrity. The more easily his interior dispositions are known and appreciated, the better preacher and teacher he can become. 

As they configure themselves to Christ the High Priest, they are to be mediators between the flock of Christ and the heavenly Father, in order that people may be able to experience divine grace. The Holy Father has exhorted priests not to become clerical dispensers of Sacraments, obstructive of the heart that seeks to genuinely connect with the compassionate God in the Sacraments. In the contemporary world, this has led to the faithful seeking audaciously their own practical solutions to their hunger for that deeper encounter with God, bypassing the offer of the Church's sacramental life. Ministers of the Sacraments need to challenge themselves to understand this deep yearning that is there in the hearts of the people, although externally there seems to be a decline in the celebration of the Sacraments. This sensus fidei, when grasped correctly, will enable God's ministers to help His people to return to a more meaningful celebration of the Church's Sacraments. 

As they configure themselves to Christ the Good Shepherd, they are to be leaders of the community in persona Christi, according to the authority that Christ has in the community, and which He shares with His priests. Once again, the experience of the recent summit has attempted to provide checks and balances vis-à-vis clerical authoritarianism, by proposing the setting up of systems of accountability. In the contemporary world, accountability is seen as a means to societal responsibility and solidarity. Lumen Gentium gives this advice to pastors, which our newly ordained could take to heart: "The latter (pastors), helped by the experience of the laity, are in a position to judge more clearly and more appropriately in spiritual as well as in temporal matters." (LG, 37) 

We are grateful to God for calling these four deacons to the Priesthood. We are also grateful for the six others called to the priesthood last December—Salesian Frs Justus Mendis, Rudolf D'Souza and Sunil Pinto, as well as Jesuit Frs Ivan D'Souza, Dean Fernandes and Patrick Vaz. These young men are doing our archdiocese proud, and they fill us with the hope that our city can indeed continue to provide labourers for the Lord's harvest. 

Fr Aniceto Pereira (Rector, St Pius X College, Diocesan Seminary, Goregaon East)