Thursday, April 22, 2010

Vocation Promotion: The Diocesan Priesthood

The Diocesan Priesthood: Who are these men?

A diocesan priest is a priest who commits himself to a certain geographical area, and is ordained into this service of God's people within a diocese. At their ordination, they are reminded that they are primarily co-workers of the bishop of the diocese.

Not all priests do the same type of work, yet their mission or purpose is one: to bring the faithful through their everyday lives closer to Jesus Christ and to one another in him. At their ordination, all priests make a lifelong commitment to celibacy and obedience to their diocesan bishop.

The Ministry of the Diocesan Priest

The primary ministry of a diocesan priest comes from the Greek word, “to keep house”. The diocesan priesthood is one of being available and involved in the day-to-day lives of people, thus helping the local bishop to “keep house” in the family of God. Diocesan priests are in reality the extension of the Bishop, who is the chief shepherd of the people of God in his diocese. Their primary responsibility is meeting the spiritual needs of the Catholics in their diocese. Generally, but not always, this means parish ministry.

As a pastor or an associate pastor, the diocesan priest spends his time and energy in ministry, such as visiting parishioners, school communities, administering the sacraments, and preparing homilies, along with parish administration. He may also be asked to undertake other ministries, such as teaching, campus ministry, being a chaplain at a hospital, monastery, or a prison. Some are assigned to work in diocesan offices like the Marriage Tribunal, Vocations Office, Office of Communications, or Youth Ministry and others teach in the seminary.

A central responsibility of a diocesan priest is to pray for his people and for the whole Church. As a pastor, a diocesan priest is the shepherd of his parish community, thus responsible for their spiritual growth and wellbeing as families, individuals, and as a faith community.

Diocesan priests do not make a vow of poverty like that of religious priests, sisters, or brothers. Instead they are called by the Church to live simply and receive a salary from which they pay for their personal needs and save for future ones. A diocesan priest may live with one or two other priests in a rectory, but many times he lives alone. Diocesan priests therefore need to have healthy, supportive friendships with fellow priests among whom they can share their joys and burdens and take time together for relaxation and recreation.

In short, the Diocesan Priest is a mixture of collaborative leadership, making the richness of Scripture and Tradition available through preaching and teaching and compassionate pastoral care. In all these tasks, he is someone who bears the imprint of the Gospel on his life, and in his prayer and service in a world of very secular values.

The Spirituality of the Diocesan Priesthood

The radical witness of the secular or diocesan parish priest rests in Christ’s call to root his priestly presence in the rhythm of common place, everyday life. The word “radical” comes from the Latin word ‘radix,’ which means ‘root.’ The radical person is one who is ‘rooted or fundamentally original.’ The word ‘diocese’ comes from the Greek word ‘dioikein,’ which means “to keep house or to manage.” And finally, the word “parish” come from the Greek word ‘paroikos,’ which means ‘dwelling beside or near.’ What are all of these leading to? The radical presence and witness of the parish priest is to be the fundamental or original presence of God’s care, God’s “dwelling beside or near” the “ordinary and commonplace household” of his people. To be an ordinary priest carries the great dignity and responsibility of being called by Christ to live or dwell near ordinary people in their common, everyday, spiritual and temporal needs.

The diocesan or parish priest is like the rest of men, he is not called by Christ to come apart from the crowd because he is more perfect or superior than others. In fact, the priest may truthfully be more foolish and less wise than the rest of men, as Saint Paul so insightfully said. He is called apart from the rest of men in order to serve them because he too lives in the limitations of weakness. The ‘gentle attitude’ which a priest possesses is the recognition and acceptance that he is not perfect. He is very fragile and vulnerable. When a priest is just another ‘ordinary person,’ he is able to accept that he does not have to be perfect, that he does not have to know all things, that he does not have to be always right, that he does not always have to look good. “He must grow greater; I must grow smaller” (John 3:30). In a few words, John summarises the whole Christian mystery and discipleship. A priest is also called to grow smaller and Christ must grow greater. It is not important whether he is learned, likeable, or successful. The only thing that is important is that Christ grows greater not only in his life but also in the lives of the members of the community entrusted to him for pastoral care.

A parish priest is only able to be a caring and healing presence to people when he is there with them in a common woundedness, a shared vulnerability. A priest does not ‘save’ anyone. He is rather called to be with people, to let his life enter into theirs, and let their life enter into his. Life becomes a common search, and true parish community creates a unity based on the confession of our basic brokenness and a shared hope. The Christian parish is a healing community not because wounds are cured and all pains are alleviated, but because wounds and pains become openings or occasions for a new vision. Our common hope leads us far beyond the boundaries of human togetherness to a Christ who calls his people away from the land of slavery into a land of genuine paschal liberation.

The identity and spirituality of the diocesan priest and his ministry cannot be separated from its community setting. He is ordained for the community. Everything that makes a priest exists because there is a community to be built or supported. His commitment, specifically as a priest is total commitment to the service of the Christian community, the Body of Christ. Through Baptism he brings people into the Christian community; through the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick he makes the community whole; through the celebration of the Eucharist he deepens the bonds of unity with Christ Jesus and with each other. He is addressed as “Father” because he brings the Christian community into being, not in his own name, but as the instrument of Jesus Christ.

What distinguishes a diocesan priest’s spirituality? Here are some elements which are unique to the diocesan priesthood:
1. The special bonding with the bishop and the priests of the diocese. A diocesan priest is never a ‘lone-ranger’, he is commissioned by his bishop, the successor of the apostles. He may or may not live a communal life with fellow priests, but he is ultimately called to ‘community life’ through meaningful collaboration with parishioners, religious, brother priests, and his bishop.
2. A call to the Local Church. The diocesan priests’ mission is grounded in a diocese. They are primarily responsible for all the people and events within the local church. He must go to any parish or ministry where his bishop sends. They, however, do not follow their people if they move beyond their territory, or diocese. They wait to serve the new people who will take their place in the diocese.
3. A call to a special kind of community experience. A diocesan priest is called to work in collaboration with his community, be it laity, religious, priests or bishop. His ministry does not merely cater to Catholics but also to non-Catholics, to treat all as sons and daughters of God.
4. A call that lays emphasis on pastoral service. His ministry is conditioned, shaped and targeted towards the specific pastoral needs of the community. His ministry has no meaning apart from the community in which he serves. The community is the incarnated Body of Christ which calls forth his gifts and whose gifts of each member are also called forth by him in return.

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