Friday, March 21, 2008

The task of priests

Vatican II, in its' Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests (Presbyterorum Ordinis) No. 4, had this to say:

"The People of God are joined together primarily by the word of the living God. And rightfully they expect this from their priests. Since no one can be saved who does not first believe, priests, as co-workers with their bishops, have the primary duty of proclaiming the Gospel of God to all. In this way they fulfill the command of the Lord: "Going therefore into the whole world preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mk 16:15), and they establish and build up the People of God. Through the saving word the spark of faith is lit in the hearts of unbelievers, and fed in the hearts of the faithful. This is the way that the congregation of faithful is started and grows, just as the Apostle describes: "Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Rom 10:17).

To all men, therefore, priests are debtors that the truth of the Gospel which they have may be given to others. And so, whether by entering into profitable dialogue they bring people to the worship of God, whether by openly preaching they proclaim the mystery of Christ, or whether in the light of Christ they treat contemporary problems, they are relying not on their own wisdom for it is the word of Christ they teach, and it is to conversion and holiness that they exhort all men."

According to the Council, the task of priests is "not to teach their own wisdom but God's Word." And this task is of no less importance for the priest than his offering of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Both of these are inseperably linked to each other: "The ministerial priesthood has the task not only of representing Christ - Head of the Church - before the assembly of the faithful, but also of acting in the name of the whole Church when presenting to God the prayer of the Church, and above all when offering the Eucharistic sacrifice." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1552).

For this reason, priests have the very serious obligation to teach the faithful under their care that it is never licit to have sexual relations outside of marriage; that a Catholic cannot (having been validly married in the Church) after divorce, marry another or otherwise pretend that sexual relations with another individual are somehow "marital"; that "formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense" and that '"the Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life" (CCC, 2272); and that "every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible, is intrinsically evil.." (CCC, No. 2370, citing Humanae Vitae, No. 14).

The Church proposes these (and other teachings) as true and it does so in the name of Christ. The priest is not to question them. He is not to ignore them or neglect them out of a false sense of "compassion" or "charity." It was Pope Paul VI who said that, "To diminish in no way the saving teaching of Christ constitutes an eminent form of charity for souls." (Humanae Vitae, No. 29). Pope John Paul II reiterated these words in Familiaris Consortio, No. 33.

We are reminded in Lumen Gentium 14 of the Second Vatican Council that: "He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a "bodily" manner and not "in his heart." All the Church's children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged."

When a priest ignores or neglects his duty, his task, of serving the Word of God with fidelity, he fails to persevere in that charity described by Popes Paul VI and John Paul II as a charity which diminishes in no way the saving teaching of Christ. And he will be the more severely judged (Luke 12:48)*.


* "..Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more."

2 comments:

Michael Cole said...

Saint Augustine (Father and Doctor of the Church) said that his vocation as Christian filled him with hope but that his vocation as Bishop instilled him with fear. I wonder how many priests reflect on those words? The priest will have much to account for. Indeed, every Catholic will. We have been given the fulness of truth. Therefore, we have no excuse. All the more reason to approach God in His mercy now.

Robert said...

I can't remember the last homily I heard dealing with abortion, contraception, fornication or homosexual behavior. Except of course on EWTN. The "hard topics" are not dealt with. Those who engage in those activities remain comfortable in their sin as a result. But I pray for change each day.

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