Tuesday, 6 November 2012

What does it mean to be a Catholic priest?

Many people think they know what it means to be a Catholic priest. It certainly is a 'job' that is above and beyond most others. It is also a calling that increasingly brings with it difficulty and struggle in our contemporary society.  

Fr Stephen Wang is a Catholic priest in the Diocese of Westminster, London. He is the Dean of Studies at Allen Hall seminary, where he teaches philosophy and theology. He was recently asked to summarise the meaning of being a Catholic priest in 1100 words. 

He begins: "The Catholic priesthood is an extraordinary vocation. Every Christian is called to bring the love of Christ to others. The ministerial priest, through the sacrament of ordination, is called to show that love in a special way."

"His vocation is to preach the Gospel and teach the Catholic faith; to lead God’s people in love, as a shepherd, as a spiritual father; and to celebrate the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, ‘for the glory of God and the sanctification of Christ’s people’ (Rite of Ordination). His whole being is transformed, so that he can be an icon of Christ for others, filled with the Holy Spirit, and a minister of grace."

"Catholic priests are ordinary men who never lose their humanity. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. They have different backgrounds and personalities, different strengths and weaknesses. Yet they have all been called like the first disciples: ‘Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’ (Mt 4)."

"This is not just an ‘external’ call to do something for Jesus, but an invitation to draw closer to him and share his life more intimately; just as the Apostles, before they were sent out to preach and heal, spent time with the Lord in friendship."

After detailing some of the differences between priests in religious congregations, he goes on to detail further, the roles and responsibilities of the parish priest:

"Parish ministry is incredibly varied. In a single day a priest might visit children in the school, bring Holy Communion to the sick, support a bereaved family, help a couple prepare for their wedding, hear someone’s confession, prepare sandwiches for the homeless, and lead a sacramental programme in the evening. And so much of priesthood is simply being with others – sitting, listening, talking, praying."

"The heart of each day is the celebration of Mass, when all these concerns are offered to the Father in the Holy Sacrifice, and the priest leads his people in worship, repentance, thanksgiving and intercession."

"Some diocesan priests work full-time in more specialised ministries, for example, as chaplains in prisons, hospitals, universities or the armed forces. Some even work abroad as missionaries – a reminder that every priest is called to evangelise."

Fr Wang goes one to detail the vows that priests take and what these mean before continuing:

"The priesthood brings incredible joys, especially in seeing God’s grace transform people’s lives, and in the special bonds that are formed with laypeople and brother priests."

"There are also real difficulties and challenges. These can be in the spiritual life, in ministry, or in the ordinary human struggles that afflict everyone at different moments: tiredness, loneliness, stress, failure, sin. Like every Christian, the priest tries to live through his difficulties with faith and hope, staying close to the Lord, trusting in him."

He concludes with advice for young men considering the priesthood in forming their vocation. 

His reflections concisely explain something of what it means to be a Catholic priest, and some of the roles and responsibilities that a parish priest carries out. It is a careful reflection explaining some of Fr Wang's personal views on the role of the parish priest.

Is this what you expected a Catholic priest to say about his vocation? What surprised you about this account? What jobs didn't you realise a priest carries out? Could you sum up the meaning of Catholic priesthood in a few words?

Read it in full here: http://bridgesandtangents.wordpress.com/2012/11/05/the-meaning-of-the-catholic-priesthood/
Buy copies of the leaflet he has written here: http://www.cts-online.org.uk/acatalog/info_LF67.html 

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