Fr Noel's Homilies

Buzzword - Priesthood
Not so long ago, Catholic Priesthood was considered to be one of the world€™s more stable avocations. No longer! The well publicised resignations and criminal behaviour of a minority, coupled with the inability of many to handle the demands of a modern church, have badly dented the image of yesteryear€™s priest who had been so highly regarded by all and sundry. Today€™s liturgy focuses our thoughts on priesthood - the universal priesthood of the Old Testament; the priesthood of Jesus in St. Paul and St. Matthew shared by the ministerial priesthood with the laity.

Exodus 19:2-6: Moses explains why the Israelites are to be known as the €œChosen €œ People €“ they are to be the intermediaries called on to make God€™s plan of salvation known to all and sundry.

2 Romans 5:6-11:  Christ is the ultimate channel through which the word of God is made known

Matthew 9: 36, 10-8:  Having chosen and instructed the Twelve Apostles, Christ commissions them to continue the work of evangelisation sharing His  priesthood.

Point 1: It is characteristic of all human institutions that they go through stages of foundation, expansion and decline. The Church is unique in that it has been guaranteed by Christ against total failure -" [Mat 16:18] And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it". But this does not render the Church immune to movements of change and decay occurring in human culture. Particularly is this true of priestly ministry and religious life. In our western society, which once identified with Christian, a state of crisis has been reached, and this crisis is being reflected in the life of the Church. There has been a dramatic decline in numbers of ordained ministry in the Western world;, and the human weaknesses and limitations of existing personnel are being highlighted. This situation is reflected in Christ€™s words spoken to us in this morning€™s Gospel - "The harvest is rich, but the labourers are few; so ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers to his harvest".

Point 2: We all know that the harvesters are not just priests, nuns and brothers. Everyone who is a Christian works in the harvest of the Lord. But the "religious professional", to use the sociologist€™s term, is the chief of a team of harvesters. This does not always mean that he is a better person, or smarter, or even more zealous. It is hoped that he will be all of these, but.... It is so because the character of priesthood makes him so - [Heb. 5:1] Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. The recognition of the universal priesthood of the baptised person does not detract from the specialised ministry of the sacrificial priesthood.

It is interesting to speculate on the reasons for the decline in regard for this priesthood. Education is one factor. Time was when the priest was numbered amongst the handful of more highly educated people in the community. No longer! In addition, so much of what he spent years studying seems to be irrelevant in today€™s community, and this has resulted in a form of "identity crisis". The image of the priesthood has also been watered down by an increasingly secularised life style reflected in the abandonment of a dress code and, even worse, a loss of dress sense.. We all know that the "soutane  does not make the monk", but, equally, packaging can enhance the product, at least in its initial presentation. Not everyone is attracted to the "Scruffy Joe' image so favoured by so many of today's priests and religious. Celibacy, too, represents a hurdle for some; although a married clergy has not resolved similar problems Protestant denominations are experiencing in the matter of vocations and a happy clergy - no more than all married people live in a state of blissful peace.

Conclusion: Yet, whatever people may think, the priesthood is now more critical than ever because people, as they recognise the state of crisis, are asking what does it all mean, what is life all about, why am I here, where am I going. September 11th impacted dramatically over and beyond the massive physical damage caused. In more ways than one, it has served to make people think about the purpose of life and the meaning of death. It is here that the real role of the priest is to be found. Maybe he will have to upgrade his language skills to speak to people about these things in a way that brings to the Christian community, and anyone else prepared to listen, reinforcement and encouragement; but let him be in no doubt that he has a critically important and clearly defined role to play in answering those critical questions that humans can ask, and are asking! Indeed, the field is ripe for harvest, riper than it has been for a long, long time, and we need men and women to harvest it. The ordained priest has a critical role in this harvest; but he cannot have impact without the universal priesthood of the laity; no more than the universal priesthood can be effective without the ministerial priesthood. Together, however, we become a holy people, a priestly nation, a people set apart.

Scriptural reference: [1 Pet 2:9] But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.