Where do we go from here?
During the year dedicated to the priests the parishes all over organized various activities to mark the year. In addition to the special prayers for the priests during every mass, there were also various events organized to show the appreciation of the people to their priests. While showing their gratitude is not wrong, however some of them I am afraid were overdone to the extent it was seen as over-glorifying the priests.
The priests should earn the respect and love of the people and accept the praises showered by them and not demand such appreciation from the people whom they serve as that would mean seeking self-glorification. We tend to forget that priestly vocation is not to seek glory but is one committed to serve the people entrusted to them with great love and humility as exemplified by St. Jean-Marie Vianney, the patron saint of priests.
St.John Vianney,Patron of priests
St. John Vianney was rightfully chosen as the patron of parish priests in 1929 for his mortifying confessions and humble service to his parishioners who were mainly poor peasants. Thousands from all over the world came to meet him in the confessional to seek repentance for their sins. Many, even the staunchest of sinners were converted at his mere word. Fr.John Vianney gave priority to the people in need over meetings, retreats and his own conveniences, attributes that are rarely seen these days, not only among priests but among us in all professions.
As we have come to the conclusion of the year of the priests, it may be timely for us to review the benefits if any we have gained by dedicating a year for them. Are we any more closer to God now? How do our priests of today measure up to their patron saint as converters of sinners?
Today life may be very much different from what it was during St.John Vianney’s time. People are generally better off, more literate and sophisticated than the poor peasants that St Vianney had to deal. Individual and private confessions are becoming obsolete being replaced with mass confessions during Lent and Advent. People’s confidence on the once sacred penitential rite is fast waning. It is basically due to the attitude of the priests who seem to be non-people friendly. In fact in many places they are the centre of divisive church politics that causes so much in-fighting among the people.
Our priests who used to be very close to the hearts and lives of the people are today distancing themselves from the people. Ordinary people with problems are finding it extremely difficult to approach them for comfort and guidance especially on very personal issues. Our priests today are slowly being reduced to mere administrators of rituals rather than full-time shepherds to their flock.
In many parishes there is tremendous unhappiness among the people in the way their priests deal with them. Many are arrogant and tell off the people rudely even for minor mistakes that they may make. They punish them by refusing sacraments to those who fail to participate in church activities. There are those who shut the doors of the church to prevent late comers from entering. There are also priests who castigate those who have to leave just before the mass ends. Aren’t administering the final rites and burial services the sacred duties of the priests? Is it right for them to play God by being the ultimate judge to punish the so-called sinners in ways they deem fit? Aren’t they governed by the virtue of forgiveness to those who have sinned which is the hallmark of our faith?
As humans we all have our own problems to handle and we go to church to get some solace and encouragement to manage our problems in the way Christ would like us to do. Many among us may not be able to cope with certain crisis in our lives and families and may be considering resorting to drastic measures like violence, divorce and even suicide as a means to escape from the pain and agony. It could be a tragedy for the parish priests to drive these desperate people away by their rude remarks without trying to understand their plight.
In the West the clergy sex scandal had plagued the whole year dedicated to the priests bringing tremendous shame to the Catholic Church and the Catholics at large. The loss of confidence of the people there on the Church is difficult to regain and no amount of coaxing is going to undo the damage done to its integrity and respect it once enjoyed among all the communities of the world. The dwindling number of church goers and the drastic decline in priestly vocations is testimony to this decline in faith in the Church.
The Church must seriously reflect on its declining role in the life of the people not only in the West but throughout the world. It needs drastic changes to its fundamentals, including the ruling on celibacy, if it wants to remain relevant in the future. Gone are the days when people are willing to blindly accept all that they hear from the clergy as they are now in a better position to understand and interpret the transcripts in the Bible. The rapidly increasing number of many Evangelical churches all over the world proves this point.
Instead of blaming others for our problems we must look at our own weaknesses and rectify them. The hierarchical system needs revamp to reflect the mindset of the people today. The priests are normal humans with all the weaknesses like you and I. It would be unfair to make them God-like and expect the impossible from them including the performing of miracles like Christ. The clergy-sex scandal should be a lesson that the real enemies of the church are within not outside the church. In fact commenting on the church's widespread sexual-abuse scandal, Pope Benedict XVI says, "The greatest persecution of the church doesn't come from enemies on the outside but is born from the sin within the church."
Pope Benedict XVI - the persecution comes from within the church
The Church in the West may have numerous monumental and beautiful churches that attract millions of tourists but the Church there is at the verge of collapse as Jesus is not in the hearts of the people anymore, although they claim to be his followers. He does not dwell in magnificent mega structures, churches, cathedrals and the so-called historically Holy sites but in the hearts of every man and woman. Unless we learn from the lessons from the West we may be heading for the same fate as our sister Church there.
The year for Priests that was launched with much pomp and fanfare, has come and gone but sadly did not change us or our priests for the better. It did not make us better followers of Christ. What we need is not years dedicated to priests but priests truly dedicated to serve Christ by their services to those under their care.
Jesus the 'supreme shepherd - cares for all his sheep
Our priests must gain a special place in hearts of the people by their exemplary behavior that radiates love, forgiveness and humility not arrogance and glory. In short they must resemble the “supreme shepherd ", Jesus Christ in leading them to God by reaching out to Him in every one of his parishioners regardless of color or social status.