SEVEN REQUIREMENTS: A HOMILY ON THE MEMORIAL OF ST. JOSAPHAT (BISHOP, MARTYR)
We all have to grow from infancy to adulthood. Today, adults tend to look up to the youth in the name of trying to be relevant to young people. In real life, it is the youth who should look up to adults. One group of adults that children are naturally attracted to is priests. This is , one of the few examples when Pope Francis is preaching and a child runs up to him and hugs him or says something to him. As a child I had priests that I really admired and looked up to. It comes natural because most priests have this natural look of innocence which comes with the office. Of course, he is the preacher; he knows what is right and wrong, so he cannot be possibly doing anything wrong.
Well, if you want to have a response to that, ask St. Josaphat, who died trying to bring about unity between the Eastern and Western church so that we are all under the authority of one pope. If all is well, we would not be so divided into so many churches, and even within one church, there are factions. Sometimes it is the irresponsibility of the priest that make people leave the church. At other times, it is the irresponsible of the people that make them leave the church. Each time I hear that someone has left the church, before I start blaming the person, I have to take a good look at myself first.
In the first reading, St. Paul highlights the qualities of a good bishop. Since the priest is the representative of the bishop in whichever parish he has found himself, and since the bishop is also a priest, then whatever qualities apply to bishops apply to priests as well. In those days, there were few churches, each headed by a bishop. Later, when churches became numerous, and every church is not able to have a bishop assigned to it, then parishes were created and priests are appointed to each parish to assist the bishop, since the bishop cannot be in all the parishes at the same time. That is why there is the saying that the bishop is the parish priest of the whole diocese. I will give a list of the qualities.
1. Responsible Family Man: In the Roman Catholic Church, we have deacons who are married, but priests are celibate. This is not a divine law, but an ecclesiastical discipline. The Roman Catholic Church is only one of the rites. There are people who belong to other rites, and their priests can be married, though not after they have been ordained. There was a time in history, when priests were married. However, this is not our focus for today. It is enough for me to say that a man who wants to become a priest because he does not feel he is able to be a good husband and father, is someone who should not become a priest. Anybody who cannot be a responsible family man can also not be a responsible priest. The qualities needed to be a good father and husband is the same qualities needed to be a good priest. So, the priesthood is not for people who are afraid of getting married, or who are unable to be married.
2. Gentle: I do not mean this in the sense of someone who never gets angry, and someone who accepts anything, even what is unacceptable. A gentle person is not the same as a weak person. A gentle person is a strong person, who knows how to use his strength. He is not hot tempered. Many people have left the church because of priests who are hot tempered, and in their anger say and do stupid things. However, sometimes even when you gently tell people the truth, they go out and tell people, you were shouting on them. That happens. But the point is clear, a person who cannot control his anger should not become a priest. A priest should have a big heart to forgive offences. Jesus says in the gospel that if someone offends you seven times a day and seven times a day comes back to ask for forgiveness, you must forgive that person. A man who cannot forgive offences should not become a priest. A man who keeps malice and bears grudges should not become a priest. A violent person should not become a priest.
3. Temperance: Temperance has to do mainly with appetite for food, drink, sleep, sex, etc. A priest should not be a lover of any of these things. A man who eats too much, have no control over his intake of alcohol and incapable of living a chaste life, or sleeps too much, should not become a priest. The sight of a drunk priest is a very disgusting sight. Some people can notice even when you have had just a glass of wine. It is not about not drinking completely, but about not drinking heavily. A lover of alcohol, a lover of food, or a lover of sex, or a lover of sleep, should not become a priest.
4. Detatchment: A priest should not be a lover of money. Recent readings have made this fact clear. Some people want to be very rich. They want to have endless wealth. The priesthood is not for such people. The priest should be truly detatched from money and material things. A man who want to live a fanciful life and use expensive things and throw around money, and build houses and buy flashy cars, and live large, and make friends only with the rich, is someone who should not become a priest. Both the rich and the poor should have equal access to the priest.
5. Wisdom: A priest should be very wise. He should be able to make good decissions and know how to deal with people. People would always try to play on his intelligence and he has to be street wise. A naive person, someone who is not matured, who is not sensible and wise should not become a priest. Sometimes we think that a person is prayerful and always in church, so, he should become a priest. If his prayer life cuts him off from reality, and he is naive and foolish, then as holy as he may be, the priesthood is not for him.
6. Devout: God save us from a prayerless priest! There are so many priests who only pray when they are in a public gatherings. This is a sad reality. A priest should be always in prayer. I am not talking about an exaggerated piety, aimed at impressing people and making them think you are special. I am talking of a real interior life- a deep relationship with the Lord. A person who does not have that is not a candidate for the priesthood.
7. Knowledge: People call a priest umfundisi, because they consider him a teacher. If the teacher does not know what to teach, then it is unfortunate. Many priests have stopped studying since their ordination. They only repeat the things they have learnt in the seminary many years ago. People have asked me to go on further studies and I have tried to tell them that I am on further studies, even though my idea of further studies is different from theirs. Many priests wait until they are sent to Rome to study Canon Law before they can actually take up a book and read. People are hungry to be taught and the priest should be a lover of knowledge, so that he can defend the faith like St. Josaphat did and explain to people what they need to understand. That is why a priest has to be academically sound. It may sound harsh, but a person who is below average intelligence should not become a priest.
These are not my words, but from the letter of St. Paul to Titus. Jesus warns us in the gospel not to become an obstacle to people, by way of scandal. When we dont guard against the dangers listed above, then we end up unleashing terror on parishes in the name of sending them priests. We will end up ruining people’s lives instead of saving them. Jesus says it is better for that person to have a millstrone put round his neck and thrown into the Sea, than that he should lead one of the little ones astray. He said to us ‘Watch yourselves’. Those who have become priests already can still fall into any of the dangers above. So, to my fellow priests, I know it is not easy. I know the devil is always busy. But with your faith, no matter how little, God will see you through. To lay people, I say, if your priest does something wrong to you, forgive him. He is also human. Even if he does it seven times a day, forgive him. When he fails to be the priest, teach him by showing him how to do it. Let us all watch ourselves. It is easy for the priest to blame lay people and it is easy for lay people to blame the priest, but watch yourself. Dont spend your life watching others. Keep an eye on yourself.
I am Fr. Ifeanyichukwu Henry Nwokoro, CSsR. I am your fellow child of God and this is my way of sharing my daily reflections with you. Please feel free to leave a comment, suggestion or question. Let everything that lives and that breathes give praise to the Lord.
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