Praying with the Pope in June
For the month of June, David Stewart SJ invites us to reflect on the active solidarity with priests, and he reinforces the Pope's invitation to pray for them.
That priests, through the modesty and humility of their lives, commit themselves actively to a solidarity with those who are most poor.
The late, great Cardinal Basil Hume OSB, when ordaining new priests in the Diocese of Westminster, used always to remark on how people would presume that the men being ordained had been tested to see if they were strong enough. No, suggested Dom Basil, the question must always be, “is this man weak enough to be a priest?” Those of us in Christ’s church who are ordained priests know the truth of that; we know that we are to try to minister to weakness, surrounded by weakness and from our own weakness. If we don’t know that, or can’t do it, then we fall into the evil of clericalism, which is about power, not weakness and is exactly the opposite of the late Cardinal’s prerequisite for ordination. It is a great grace for us priests to know that, in the church’s largest prayer-group, we are prayed for, this month, through the Pope’s intention.
There is a way in which priestly life, and the life of vowed religious in general, should represent the best possible way of living as a follower of Christ. But that is a risky thing to say without qualification, without discernment! There must be no hint of first- or second class Christians! We firmly believe in the priesthood of the whole baptised people of God. Some are called to be pastors. There’s the ministerial priesthood, and the priesthood common to all. Every one of us hears the same call to holiness, when we celebrate the sacrament of Baptism. During the ceremony, following the actual moment of Baptism, comes the anointing with sacred Chrism. The priest or deacon prays, as he anoints, “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life”. We take on these sacred offices of priest, prophet and king, The Catechism reminds us that “Baptism gives a share in the common priesthood of all believers” [CCC.1267]
Everything we say about priests in the church must be understood in this light; the shared priesthood of all, and that it is never about power. The Holy Father’s intention this month is clearly oriented towards ordained priests, the pastors. Pope Francis famously asked that pastors have “the smell of the sheep”; that they must know their people, and know their struggles, hopes and fears, always in particular solidarity with those who are poorest. Priests make this conscious choice, recognising and embracing all their own weakness. It is, as we’re asked to pray this month, an “active solidarity” which means two things – one, that it comes from a deliberate decision, a choice and, two, that it is more than just pious words!
This solidarity with the poorest, we pray this month, will be enabled by modesty and humility; again, that keynote of avoiding the temptation to domineering power. Humility and modesty are not compatible with power unless it’s given away. But the rest of the people of God must never use this solidarity as an excuse for evading their own baptismal call to solidarity, to modesty and humility, in their own situations as lay members of Christ’s church. Nor must they clericalise the priests. Sometimes priests find themselves put on a pedestal of clericalism against their will, either because people have false expectations of them or a mistaken view of them as an officer-class who must be obeyed. Perhaps, then, part of our prayer with the Pope this month could include a resolution to support our priests, now fewer in number in our part of the world who, in the weakness that they need to live their vocations, need not adulation but the loving support and prayers of their flock.
Suggested daily offering prayer
Gracious Father, I contemplate your presence among us. Help me to do all things for the greater good of all people. Help me to remember, today and every day, that my sacred baptism graced me with a share in the common priesthood of all believers. May I not forget the priests who minister to me, my family and my community; that I may support them, encourage them and pray for them. I offer to you today all my thoughts, words, deeds and all that am for this, and all, the intentions of Pope Francis this month.
Our Father… Glory Be …
CHALLENGES FOR THE MONTH
Offer to support the parish priest of your community, giving your personal help to the mission, especially in social service works for the poorest.Talk with others in the parish or community about the possibility of a meeting between laity and priests to learn about and reflect on the current demands of the priestly vocation and service.Set time aside yourself, or promote in your community, a moment of prayer focused on the Heart of Jesus, asking for the grace of following Jesus, poor and humble.