Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Life of the Parish Priest in the Modern World

The process of globalization, that has in some quarters gradually secularized and demythologized the world view of our people, has not spared the parish priests from its effects. Suddenly thrust into the world that is fast shrinking due to high technology and the concomitant process of globalization, the parish priest is bewildered and bothered by some realities that are happening unexpectedly in his parish. They are events that change the social behavior of some parishioners as they touch deeply the priest's life as the appointed parish priest of the locality, challenging even his leadership and authority. What is the place of the parish priest in a society that has become so complex, mobile, and sophisticated? Is the content of his message saleable? Do the sacraments still attract our people,still believers as necessary means of salvation that could liberate them from the meaninglessness of life? Is the priest still needed by society? Or, has he become a mere commodity, one who is there as a figure head? In short, is he still relevant in the globalized world?

Some years ago a parish priest came barging into my office with the heavy steps of a man with a problem. Deeply hurt he blurted out with a tale of woe. “I am but a mere commodity in the parish, Bishop,” he complained. “Imagine, a group just came to my rectory in the late afternoon, asked me to hear the confession of the youth who are having a youth camp in the parish. I got mad for a while for in the first place they never had that elementary courtesy to discuss with me as parish priest regarding the youth camp. I feel like taken for granted, a non-entity, an old hag. They could have approach me beforehand, tell me about their plan of putting up youth camp, discuss matters with me. In that way, I would know what they are doing in the parish, make out my role in the activity and the religious services that I have to extend. But, no, they just came in, asked for the sacrament of reconciliation for the youth, and expected me to do their bidding. But what hurt me more is the response of one of them: ‘But we thought we do not need your permission, Father. Our group is transparochial’”

Knowing the priest I just could not summarily dismiss him with a pat on the back and the cliché: “Don’t worry, Father. I will call the attention of the organizers and discuss with them this matter.” No, he is a very sensitive priest, a dedicated pastor, a deeply religious person with a fierce love for the parishioners. And so I surmise that his complaint was indeed serious.

To by pass the pastor in doing an out-reach activity in the parish is, to say the least, not proper, no matter how laudable the apostolate may be. It is first of all an affront to his authority as the duly appointed pastor of the parish. As pastor it is his bounden responsibility to know what is happening in the parish, ensure that the faithful under his care participate abundantly in the means of salvation, that is, the word of God, the Sacraments, prayers, charitable work. He has to promote preaching and catechesis, liturgical life and public worship, associations of the faithful, and the variegated forms of the apostolate and social actions. It is within this purview that Canon 519 declares: “The parish priest is the proper pastor of the parish entrusted to him. He exercises the pastoral care of the community entrusted to him under the authority of the diocesan Bishop, whose ministry of Christ he is called share, so that for this community he may carry out the offices of teaching, sanctifying, and ruling with the cooperation of other priests or deacons and with the assistance of lay members of Christ’s faithful, in accordance with the law.”

It is part of his responsibility, therefore, to be vigilant and sensitive to any activity in the vicinity, including the out-reach program for the youth, seeing to it that it ultimately promotes the building up of the Christian faith in the community. Otherwise the parish will be splintered, a parallel church created. And so the hurt of the pastor at bar is not just based on a flimsy snobbish act of the charismatic group. Its reason is deeper.

But the greater pain that the pastor suffers in his not being consulted is his being considered, consciously or unconsciously, as a useless servant leader. By not consulting him, the charismatic group seems to declare that they do not need him, that he is a religious leader who does not possess the power to inspire and form the faith of the members, a spiritual director who cannot guide parishioners along the right path, a pastor who cannot feed his flock with his homilies and catecheses, who cannot sanctify with the sacraments, cannot own the collective dreams and visions of his parishioners, define their goals and objectives, organize them and make them into a community of members who care for one another.

Needless to say every priest has charism; that any ordained minister is charismatic. To take a priest as a mere product of an institution that ordains him through the rite of ordination is a myopic view of what a priest really is. Priesthood is an office, a spiritual office that cannot be occupied by anybody who is not spiritual, that is, a person who is genuinely called to this office. To be a priest is to be called by God. The man who is called by God has to contend with this spiritual call, undergoes the long process of transformation that the Holy Spirit has stirred up in him. To receive, therefore, the order of the priesthood, is to respond to that call of God, the stirring of the Holy Spirit in the deep recesses of his soul. Any priest is a creation of the Holy Spirit; he is charismatic. It is along this line that Pope Benedict XVI once observed: “It is important that the spiritual office, the priesthood, itself be understood and lived charismatically. The priest himself should be a "pneumatic," a homo spiritualis, a man awakened and driven by the Holy Spirit” ('Theological Locus of Ecclesial Movements', Joseph Ratzinger, 1999, Crossroad).