In a time when the credibility of the Church has been shattered by the sexual abuses of clergy, this week we are surprised by the incredible.
First of all, the Irish Bishops have published a Pastoral Letter for the Church in Ireland on the occasion of last Sunday’s Vocation Sunday. The Letter is entitled: “Vocations, the Gift of the Love of God”. In this Letter, the Leaders of the Church that has paid the highest price because of the sexual abuses of clergy, have declared courageously that “it is still a good time to be a priest”. Speaking like that, do not they sound mad?
Last week, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated his 7th anniversary since His election to the See of Peter. The International News Agency, Zenit, got this idea of interviewing some journalists who cover the Pope and the Vatican for various famous international media. It sought to get an picture of how the image of the Pope has evolved during His pontificate. Alessandro Speciale, Vatican correspondent of UCA News, Religion News and Vatican Insider, reminded us of the surprising and controversial way Pope Benedict XVI faced this challenge, and crisis within the Church. He said: while “many men inside the Church would… would have given an instinctive answer: ‘the world attacks the Church’… this Pope realized that it was an evil within, which had to be extirpated.” The Pope new that pruning is hard, because it strips the vine leaving it with a piece of ugly trunk.
The actions of the Pope and the Irish Bishops is beyond politics and diplomacy, beyond the art of wise management. It is a courage that springs from a source that is beyond human.
Maybe it is really appropriate that the Church has traditionally chosen a Sunday (the fourth) in Easter tide.
The Christian Priesthood is absolute madness if it is not understood in the light of what happened on Easter morning. The Resurrection of Jesus has reverted human logic (read my last message on this subject). The Letter to the Hebrews defines the priest as “taken from among human beings and is appointed to act on their behalf in relationships with God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins”. A human being taken from among human being. The priest is a fragile, weak, wounded, and sinful being, like each and every other human being. Yet, appointed to offer sacrifices for sins, for his sins and for the sins of every human being. He is like the Good Shepherd who “gives his life for the sheep”. The Christian Priest is not to offer just some sacrifice, he himself is the sacrifice. For him who believes not in the afterlife, for him who believes not in the Resurrection of Jesus, to offer oneself as a living sacrifice, is purely nonsense. Wasting one’s life for nothing; you rarely, if ever, receive some gratitude. Man is like that: you make him one thousand favors without showing the least appreciation; but then, you fail him once and he will tell all the world about it!
The Resurrection of Jesus, His victory over the ultimate enemy and obstacle of man, makes you say: “it is still a good time to be a priest”. Even in a time when the priest is so humiliated, even in a Church that her credibility has been shattered so much, it is still a good time to give your life for humanity. The Resurrection of Jesus fills us with great courage, because the situation could have been much worse, and it can still be. However, we are not afraid not even if we are killed and the Church destroyed. Those who believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, maybe because they have encountered Him in a personal way are assured that New Life follows death and not the other way round.
It is this faith, “the assurance of the things we hope for”, that gave Pope Benedict the courage to face one of the greatest evils from within the Church. It is this faith that made the Irish Bishops re-affirm that the Priesthood is a gift of the Love of God. It is this faith that renders the Christian a sign of contradiction, someone whose actions can sometimes surprises with what seems to be incredible.

Fr Paul Fenech

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