A Renewed Clergy for the Renewal of Church and Society
THE Philippine Church has now shifted its focus on the clergy and onconsecrated persons as she continues her journey towards 2021, the 500th year of the arrival of Christianity in the country. It is the desire of local church authorities to underscore the renewal of our priests. So, for a period of one year, from November 2017 to November 2018, we shall be witnessing significant undertakings aimed at transforming our priests into worthy ‘’alter Christus” in our midst.
Priests have always had a special place in the process of evangelization. Their enormous contributions in spreading the Word of God should be hailed. We’ve seen them embark on perilous journeys, climb mountains, cross rivers, visit dangerous mission territories, endure changing weather conditions, organize indigenous communities, educate the poor, protect the vulnerable, and spend their own money. But for whatever its worth, they are far from perfect.
In a pastoral letter issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the bishops echoed this reality. They said, “At times, they seem far from God and from following his will. Some get entangled in their concern for material possessions, in their need for pleasures and in their desire for power. Instead of becoming servant-leaders of communion they may even lead us to confusion and disharmony”.
It is heartwarming to know that our bishops are fully aware of the imperfections of priests. And it is encouraging to hear them provide directions on how to correct these flaws. They said, ‘’Such misconducts call for sincere reflection and humble repentance and reparation. May these faults point us to new and vast possibilities of renewal and communion with those who are weak and broken. May our Priests and Consecrated Persons, in their weakness and woundedness, continue to serve and guide fellow sinners with the joy of the Gospel that leads to the fullness of life’’. Jesus himself encourages us with His words: “In the world you have tribulation; but take courage, I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16:33)
Critics have always pointed out that the Church should focus more on reforming her priests than on getting involved in government affairs. While true, that is not to say that the Church is ambivalent in cleansing her ranks of erring pastors. The Church has always lived with the principle ‘’ecclesia semper reformanda’’, believing that she should constantly reform along the way. No wonder, it’s the erring priests who have been the first casualties of this reform.
The Year of Clergy and Consecrated Persons doesn’t appear to be a ‘’triumphalistic’’ undertaking. It aims to interiorly look at the state of the Church knowing fully well that her problems are from within the institution and that reforms need to be done ‘’ad intra’’ (from within).
This process of reform includes revisiting the principles for seminary formation. On Dec. 8, 2016 on the occasion of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy issued an updated instrument for the formation of priests entitled “Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis”.
According to Card. Beniamino Stella, Prefect of the Congregation, ‘’The document takes into account the rapid evolution in historical, socio-cultural, and ecclesiastical contexts. It draws inspiration from Pope Francis’ teachings and spirituality concerning temptations tied to money, to the authoritarian exercise of power, to rigid legalism, and to vainglory’’. Once fully implemented, we expect our priests to possess the required necessities to be authentic ‘’men of the cloth’’ while remaining ‘’men in the world’’. We hope to see them shun pretenses – living double lives – and most especially eschew entitlements that allow them to be ‘’lords’’ and not servant-leaders.
Despite our priests’ frailties and inadequacies, they remain our pastors, leaders, and shepherds. This may be discomforting to some, but the lofty standards by which we hold them are just that, standards created in the minds of the faithful without any factual much less Biblical basis.
The Letter to the Hebrews 5:1-2 clarifies how priests are chosen in the early Christian communities. It says, ‘’Every high priest is chosen from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness’’.
Truth be told, there are also priests and there are plenty of them, who have been faithful and painstakingly lived up to their promise of celibacy, simplicity, (vow of poverty for the religious) and obedience with a greater degree of fidelity and dedication. We salute them for their perseverance and we hold them in high esteem. These priests are an inspiration to the faithful and pillars of strength for other priests who are weakened by sin.
Unhampered by woundedness, we now take this journey as priests, consecrated persons, and lay people towards 2021 and beyond. Let us be motivated by pursuing one goal, that is to embrace Jesus and to make Him present in every aspect of the Church and societal life. Our mission, both as sinners and saints, is to permeate the Church and society with the enduring “Word of God’’ and not with ephemeral values and profane standards.
Hence, this renewal of priests must not only be in ‘’disposition’’ but more importantly in action. Using images associated with a shepherd, a renewed priest must make use of a shepherd’s staff to bring his flock to green pastures, not necessarily where there is material plenty, but providing the flock with food that nourishes both the body and the soul, the bread that gives life; a renewed priest must also use a shepherd’s rod to discipline erring members of the flock. He does this without any fear or favor, not pleasing anyone because by doing so, he compromises the truth, undermines what is good, and disregards what is just; lastly, a renewed priest uses shepherd’s oil to soothe and heal pain caused by sin, injustice, oppression, and indifference.
Much is desired for the renewal of our Church and society, but it is significantly necessitated by the renewal of our priests, shepherds after the heart of Jesus.