When ministry is reduced to performance PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 20 January 2016 13:46



In a recent priestly ordination, I heard a comment that struck me. I have heard more or less the same comment a number of times already, giving me an idea of a trending attitude of priests about a certain aspect of the priestly life and ministry. I’m rather disturbed by it.

The comment was: with this ordination, we now have a glut of priests. We lack parishes to put them or assignments to give them.

Frankly speaking, the comment shocked me. To me, such comment indicated a poor appreciation of the priestly life and ministry. How can there be an excess of priests when just by considering numbers alone, the ratio goes something like one priest per thousands of faithful to be attended to?

To be sure, the challenge is not only a matter of handling the quantitative dimension of the priest’s work, which is already overwhelming. What is more arduous, requiring a lot of time and energy, not to mention, a lot of prayers and sacrifices, study and patience, is the spiritual and moral dimension. Here, the priest is expected not only to be competent, but also and first of all to be truly holy!

What immediately came to mind was the impertinent thought that maybe many priests consider their ministry as simply saying as many Masses as possible if only to gain some money. I wanted to dismiss the thought, but each time I hear the same comment, it comes back all the stronger.

With that frame of mind, obviously the more priests there are, the less the chances are of saying Mass and of gaining some income. That’s when one can feel that the field is getting overcrowded. I call it a mercenary frame of mind.

The ugly thought is somehow reinforced by the fact that many people also share the same observation. They complain about Masses hastily said, with hardly any semblance of solemnity in them.

Homilies are poorly prepared and are delivered as if the celebrant is simply shooting from the hip. There’s so much improvisation and going in circles, with exhortations that are repetitive, predictable, too generic and bland.

What is worse is when the ministry is reduced to mere performance that relies simply on human means and natural gifts, like the talents for oratory, acting and singing, etc. Even totally uncalled for gimmicks are employed. The church becomes a theater, and the worshipping is reduced to entertainment.

I now feel that this observation has to be acknowledged as a real issue, without prejudice to the question about the need for more parishes and assignments to be given to a growing number ofclerics, which in itself as a good problem to have.

There is great need to review the formation plans for priests more deeply and thoroughly. There has to be better way of helping priests individually and personally, especially in the aspect that really matters most—their spiritual life, their pursuit for holiness. They should be less of simply being bureaucrats, administrators, officials, and more of pastors, priests through and through who can inspire holiness in others.

Given the temper and the signs of the times, with many difficult issues emerging due to the rapid technology-induced developments around, we need to see to it that priests have the substance and the grit to tackle the challenges.

Priests have to get out of their comfort zones and complacency. In this regard, it has to be noted that there is great danger to justify wallowing in comfort and complacency because of the heavy toxic load that priests can have and also because of the celibate status, even if poorly lived, that exempts them from problems usually associated with married people who have families to support.

That’s the reason why the Church has been preaching about the centrality of the cross of Christ in everyone’s life, and especially in that of priests who are expected to lead the way and to walk their talk. I remember that in one talk given to my batch while preparing for our ordination, we were told that we should be ready to be crucified. A priest who is afraid of the cross would not be a good priest.

Priests have to shun special privileges and entitlements as much as possible, something that can be a very formidable temptation, since many people can be all too willing to spoil them with these perks. They have to learn to give themselves completely, while passing unnoticed, and knowing also how to detach themselves from the people.

People should see only Christ in every priest. That’s the ideal.