Dear Reverend Father,
My dear son, as you take up this profoundly new office of teaching (munus docendi), sanctification (munus sanctificandi) and leading (munus regendi), I would like to put these words of counsel before you as an elderly parishioner who saw you grow up, went to school and eventually entered the seminary. I am myself a father of a priest so I share with you similar words I advised my son with 35 years ago when he became a priest.
Your formation, I have learned, has been laid on four pillars: human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral. Expectations from your flock will always be measured alongside these four.
On the SPIRITUAL LEVEL, I know you are and ought to be a spiritually standing man among men. The first measure in this regard is your prayer life. The life of the priest is the reflection of the life of the man Jesus. Often times, the Gospel narratives disclose a beautiful aspect of Jesus of Nazareth; He would often withdraw from the masses in order to commune with the Father, the source and measure of his power for the ministry. As a priest, prayer is the most effective antidote to stresses in your ministry. Most of the woes and personal crises of few priests, therefore, are the indication and result of prayerlessness. When you build a constant prayer life, you acquire a sense of calm and peace. When you pray for yourself and for others, it shows you care about yourself and about others too.
My dear young priest, do not abandon the spiritual foundation you have laid these many years in the seminary. For if prayer and the Eucharist are taken out, what else is left in you? How empty you are! Apart from the Divine Office, the official prayer of the Church, go the extra, at least, for the sake of your own spiritual fortification. Form the habit of personal prayer. Personal prayer offers the priest an opportunity to share his stresses and tension with God.
On the INTELLECTUAL LEVEL, you know how fast our world is transforming. In thisk light, we expect our priest to be ahead of us in order to inform and instruct us to possess a panoramic view about life in a challenging contemporary world.k Espouse new trends of homily delivery, counseling, parish administration, finance, scripture and theology. Read!
PASTORALLY, remember daily that being a priest, you have shouldered a weighty task here on earth. Endeavour to manfully put your hands to the Lord’s work which you gladly have to accept. The performing of your ministerial assignments should interest you however daunting. And let the pressure and the drudgery accompanying the doing of it not make you become cynical about the fate and faith of the many lovely people who will fly to you for solace and answers in the noisy confusion of their crestfallen lives. Neither should pastoral responsibility blind you to what virtue there is in being totally available to the People of God. May the many men and women the world over who encounter you, priest of God, discover a haven of surpassing peace and happiness.
Permit me to call your attention to suffering.
Dear Father, the cross will not be lacking in your life; neither will trials of various kinds and of different times. I reiterate: your ministry pushes you nearer to crosses. There are the types of suffering your brother priests self-inflict. These include the pain some have in considering that they are forgotten by his Bishop or Superiors; some are pained because they did not get the deserved promotion or posting. Or again, the bitterness of some who grope in a mirage, refusing to accept their shortfall or limitation either in intellectual dexterity, spiritual charisms or physical competence. My Reverend Father, I urge you to get serious and distant from these cocoons of self-pity listed above which have unnecessarily become part of the woes of certain priests. These have eaten away their better person, creating walls and rivalry in the priestly fraternity; it is needlessly unhealthy.
The cross of say sickness, false accusation and ingratitude from us the faithful … these are the crosses worth speaking about … these bring suffering and can be looked at as trials in your life as a priest. Bear these with Jesus Christ as your model. From Bethlehem to Calvary, He was a suffering man, eventually inviting all who want to be his disciples to take up their cross daily and follow him. If there had been a better road than suffering, he would have taught you. It will be better and safer to leave the unsolved enigma of sufferings you would encounter in the hands of Divine Providence, in the spirit of Psalm 22. Moreover, when you will put on the vestments and go to the altar to offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice, dear priest, remember you do not go empty-handed. You bring with you your joys and sorrows, projects and plans, disappointments and pains, unpleasant experiences and ingratitude received. In that Sacrifice where you shall offer Christ to God the Father, you likewise offer yourself through Christ, with Christ and in Christ. Eventually, keep saying with St Paul, “I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Col 1:24).
Father, you can see how the balance of morals and the traditional respect for the clergy is awkwardly tilted in our age. To the extent that few persons who you will encounter can mete out to you without compunction or a scintilla of reverence abuses, assaults or open confrontations. Am referring to the past attack on two Catholic priests by a citizen of this land; indiscipline at its height! And no one cares! But Jesus sees … He knows. He cares!
Carry out your ministry with zeal for the Lord, precisely in the ministry assigned to you wherever and whenever. Remember that as always, the final word on pastoral assignment comes from the Bishop. Be flexible in responding to assignments. It is the best of cooperation when you bring your gifts of nature and grace, of intelligence and will, to carry out an assignment. It is enriching and safest not to lobby your superiors for an assignment; try rather to see the Master’s invisible hand in decisions of your superiors.
My dear, some of your brother priests have almost made themselves judges in their own cases by considering that they have the right to be assigned to a particular place of assignment or study course. If you do this, are you not following your own personal preferences? Take yourself far away from this.
On the HUMAN ASPECT, because no one is an island entire of itself, build good and lasting relationship with people: lay and clergy. But do not feign affection. You need people if you are to work productively for, a single bracelet does not jingle, so goes a Congolese proverb. Build true human relationships with people and not the superficial kind proposed to us by an era characterized by unbridled use of communication technology.
Even though I urged you earlier on to forge a life of community and solidarity with your fellow priests, it is not impossible also that from time to time, there may be one or two priests who give bad example to their fellow priests. Reasons are that perhaps they are discontented with the Bishop or the competent authority or the diocesan administration. And such unhappy clerics would try to sell their disgruntlement to their fellow priests. As a younger priest, you are more vulnerable in such situations. Ask grace constantly from God who called you so that with much courage, spiritual wisdom and discernment, you are able to navigate your way out of the bad company of such priests. Seek counsel from a good and wise spiritual director.
In relation to us who are the laity and who constitute more than 98% of the Church, I urge you to build your relationship on good and strong ecclesiology, with clarity of identity. You cannot replace us but you can encourage us to carry out our own apostolate knowing that our respective apostolates are but complements of each other. Invite experts and together with them, educate us on variety of concerns: political engagements, leadership, healthcare, Christian family building and also on Church matters: challenges to evangelization, the percentage fall of Catholics at Sunday Mass, reasons for coldness of many young people towards religious practice, reasons why some sects or new religious movements attract some of us Catholics. Now, many of us Catholics are looking for more spirituality … deep spirituality. We need something to hold on to so that after Mass we do not queue to camps for top-up prayers. Lead us in and teach us how to pray. Be humble to even welcome feed-back from the lay people regarding the quality of your homily and administration style.
Finally, my dear son and my father, love, cherish, make recourse to and promote the Mother of the Lord, Mary Mother of priests. Invoke the Blessed Mother Mary that she may accompany you with maternal grace as she was present at every stage of life of the son, even by the cross. And when the evening of your life draw nigh, beseech her with these words:
“Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly to you, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to you do I come, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer me. Amen.”