Diocesan Priestly Spirituality in service of mercy:
A reflection on my Priesthood as I celebrate my silver Jubilee
Thanks to Fr Thanduxolo for kind and generous invite and persistence – only now do I make sense. Thank you all for coming to participate in this public lecture!
We are all familiar with the name Gugu Zulu – he died recently climbing Mt Kilimanjaro – Thinking about this and meditating about my jubilee, my prayer is; Lord help me to die climbing.
I was ordained a Priest on the 5th of October, 1991. We were five ordained that year for the whole country; two have since died May God rest their souls, one was suspended, two of us are still living – not because we are better, but possibly because we are worst sinners and God wants to give us opportunities to come to him.
It is humbling though in this unworthiness that in these 25 years of my priesthood I have celebrated well over 9 125 Holy Masses – passing on the Mercy of God (that I have received), to people in different situations.
It is humbling that my over fourteen years of teaching in Seminaries (both in Zimbabwe and South Africa), has seen over one thousand students passing through my classes and the majority of these are priests – Many are Missionaries of Mercy in different capacities in Dioceses.
At the launching of the Year of Concecrated life, Pope Francis underlined three things – thinking of the past with gratitude, look at the present with passion and looking at the future with Hope.
I very much and joyfully appreciate how the Lord has used me to be his vessel of mercy and I pray that this will continue till I breathe my last.
Through this Ministry, Mercy and Grace have over-bounded; A priest after my own heart” (Jer. 3:15).
Two book titles seem to summarise my years of humble service in the Catholic Church;
- Life is worth living – F Sheen;
- The God of Surprises – Hughes, Gerard
I am but dumbfounded to look back and experience The God of Surprises in my life, and indeed observe that this is the life worth-living.
Definition of Terms
What is Diocesan Spirituality, Is there such a thing?
Diocesan priestly spirituality has over the years experienced callous and sheer arrogance and rejection – Is there such a thing?
Doubting, denying or rejecting the existence or the possibility of Diocesan Priestly Spirituality is in fact approving, affirming it.
The Code of Canon Law defines a Diocesan Priest as he who is incardinated into the Diocese, he is called to be the Bishop’s collaborator.
Vatican II Document, Lumen Gentium, 39 – 41 notes; All are called to holiness.
Pope Francis says; Every state of life leads to holiness always (10 March, 2015, Papal Audience) – Diocesan Priesthood is a state of life.
St John Chrysostom (is quoted) on priestly spirituality; “The pastor must be pure in thought, exemplary in actions, discreet in his silence and useful in his words. He should be close to all in his compassion and above all, dedicated to contemplation…see Kadaplackal, page 22
St Thomas Aquinas is also quoted (ibid., p22); “Through sacred ordination, one is deputed to the most sublime ministries through which he serves Christ himself at the altar. Hence a greater holiness is required of him than even that of the religious”
Vatican II, PO, 12; “Priests are bound…to acquire this perfection”
Karl Rahner on Meditations of Priestly Life (1970), writes; “The priesthood of the Church is completely the priesthood of holy men…”
Pastores Dabo Vobis, 33 reads; “The priestly vocation is essentially a call to holiness of life”
Diocesan Priestly spirituality exists!
Every sound definition of Spirituality can be captured in this broad understanding; Spirituality is ‘conforming one’s will to the will of the Creator’.
People like Philip Sheldrake, Ronald Rolheiser agree that longing, thirsting and hungering for God is at the heart of Spirituality
“Spirituality is not what you say, it is what you do”
The word comes from Misericordia – miseria and cordis meaning a heart that feels pain with those who suffer – A heart that goes out to be with the suffering.
Diocesan Priestly Spirituality is expressed and comes alive here!
Here we need to emphasis and underline the three phrases which are at the heart of Diocesan Priestly Spirituality at the service of mercy;
- Sentire cum Patris
- Sentire cum Christus
- Sentire cum Ecclesiae
Divine Godhead – transcendent Godhead -vocation has its origin in God Heb.3:1ff
Economy of the Trinity – The Son is the High Priest offered himself, altar and sacrifice
The Father in his love created, in his mercy he saved, in our sinfulness we are sanctified – all these come through the hand of a priest
The life of the Cure of Ars, John Marie Vianney bears testimony to this – a Sodom and Gomorrah – is changed, transformed by God’s mercy.
John Vianney attests; ‘Priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus’ – Indeed love for the heart of mercy implies being the face of the heart of mercy.
Christ source of Mercy
In Luke 4, Jesus Christ says I have come to bring good news to different groups of people. Mercy goes throughout the Christian message and Gospel. St Augustine talks of the sea of mercy while St Faustina talks about the mercy of God being given especially in Baptism and the Eucharist. A Diocesan priest is a witness and herald of this mercy.
In Mt 9:13 our Lord says I desire mercy not sacrifice. The Priest, altar christus, desires and does what the master desires/does surely. At Ordination we hear the words’ Become what you….
Diocesan Priest, the Giver of God’s Mercy
Vatican II Document, Gaudium et Spes, 1 states;
“The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men and women of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well…” GS, 1. In this light Joseph Bernadin reminds us; ‘The incarnation means that nothing of our humanity is alien to God or untouched by divine power…’ He continues to powerfully talk about the priest as the bearer of the Mystery and a doctor of the soul thus; “We are not dispensable ‘functionaries in the Church, we are bridges to the very mystery of God and healers of the soul” ( Fallon Michael, (2004) , A priest After my own heart, p. 9 – 11.)
Hans Urs Von Balthasar on service of Mercy by the Priest
He says that the power and authority of the priest does not come ‘from below, from men’, it comes from above, from God from Christ. Mission always comes from God and it demands the whole person. “The priesthood is a matter, (not of a profession), but of participation in the redemptive work of Christ, a personal and existential participation that will cost the individual concerned his entire personal life” (p.13ff.). In the words of Pope Francis the priest is indeed the missionary of mercy
Pope John Paul II on Mercy
St John Paul II says that through the Priest, Jesus teaches (word), sanctifies (sacrament) and governs (pastoral charity) (PDV, 15, 41.). Teresa of Avila reminds us; “Keep your eyes fixed on him, he never takes his eyes off you” (Way of Perfection, 26.3).
There is also the emphasis of the Community. The priest becomes a part of the presbyterium.
To be a priest means to be crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:19) in imitation of Christ.
Pope Benedict XVI on Mercy
The fact that the Priest is the dispenser of God’s mercy in Pope Benedict is expressed in the three ‘M’s;
- Mediator – the Priest connects man who is in need of God’s mercy with God and also connects God with man.
- Missionary – a certain exodus (going out) in every priest is necessary – going out of self to serve the other.
- Martyr – dying to self; his will not my will, (let him increase, may I decrease) – John the Baptist Spirituality of self-emptying.
Pope Francis’ call to Priests of Mercy
Pope Francis calls priests to learn to have a father’s gaze; “have the heart of a father”.
“This priestly gaze – which takes the place of the father in the heart of Mother Church – makes us see people with the eyes of mercy. ..”
Thus Confessors and Priests are signs and instruments and ministers of God’s mercy.
In their Mission, Priests are challenged to be available in creating “culture of mercy.” zenit.org, July, 2, 2016, revealing the face of the merciful God.
Diocesan Priestly Spirituality – Face of the Mercy of the Father
The Hand the Priest, the Hand of Mercy
In the Sacrament of Marriage, this hand passes on the mercy of God in binding the two into one. Already during this celebration, this hand blesses those who will be born in this union.
At birth, the priestly hand mercifully welcomes a child to the Family of God in Baptism.
During Confession, the Priest’s hand liberates the enslaved soul – hence the mercy of God is given.
At Confirmation the priestly hand of mercy strengthens the young person’s faith.
At Holy Mass in the distribution of Holy Communion, this hand nourishes the soul; The Body of Christ.
At the Ordination of a Priest, the priestly hand welcomes a brother into the Presbyterium and the service of Mercy
At the Anointing of the sick, the mercy of God is passed on healing of body and soul.
During the burial, this hand ushers the soul of a person into the mercy of God and new life
Diocesan Priesthood is a vessel of God’s mercy. We need to remain open and embracing Isaiah’s motto; Here I am, send me Lord and Mary fiat; Yes, thy will be done
Challenges to Priestly Spirituality serving as God’s Mercy
The Changing face of Priesthood as Cozzens alleges, endangers the priestly Priesthood of service.
Also different Models of Diocesan Priesthood like (Chief/king kind of priesthood; Materialistic kind of priesthood – what do I gain/get from this – sacrifice gone; Sangoma kind of priesthood will challenge the priesthood at the service of mercy.
We are challenged to know Christ and make him known.
One’s own dissimilarity to Christ and representation of the person of Christ which is a paradox and of power in weakness, demands faith and trust in God.
We are “Pioneers” in Diocesan Priestly Spirituality – thus we need to set good standards for the future
What must we do?
Prayer connecting humanity with God – Giardini Fabio in his book ‘Pray without Ceasing’ calls us to prayer; for mercy is in prayer and action. “The Eucharist is the centre of my life”
- Availability and Presence – Fallon Michael underlines the ‘focus on mercy’ by the priest as this is service of mercy.
- Carlo Carretto sees God as provider of mercy in the deserted earth – In the challenges of life we need to be in communion with others. Also, let the Eucharist be central – ‘source and summit of our faith’
- Rossetti encourages us to love the priesthood
- In being compassionate and empathising we are living the physical and spiritual works of mercy.
- Trustful surrender – know Christ and make him known – weakness becomes strength, thus we float and walk on water
How can I thank the Lord for his goodness to me? I will offer a thanksgiving sacrifice of praise – By his Grace I will look up to him in humility, trembling and service!