“We are called to put people at their ease, making them feel joyfully welcomed, appreciated and forgiven”. The priesthood is not a career but a vocation, a lifestyle not a profession, a total and perpetual commitment, not a temporary job or assignment.
One may wonder what the identity of a priest or a religious should be, and the one thing that is certain, beyond any other possible answer, is that Jesus would not necessarily be interested in hiring efficient officials, skilled administrators or expert bureaucrats. What he seeks are sincere friends ready for selfless service. Jesus said: “I no longer call you servants… I call you friends” (Jn 15:15).
The job description of a priest is, therefore, similar to that of the disciples, that of welcoming people and… washing their feet. We are called to put people at their ease, making them feel welcomed, appreciated and forgiven. A distinctive sign of priests and religious must be the ability to welcome those whose lives are broken and who are seeking, despite everything, to draw close to God and be reconciled with themselves and with Him. We must be, in other words, “the divine hospitality industry”.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus defines himself in his identity as a “servant”, as demonstrated in the episode of the washing of the feet, or in the well-known Christological hymn of the Philippians, where we read that “he emptied himself, assuming the condition of a servant and becoming as men are” (Phil 2:7).
Paul insists that, although Christ was equal to God, he felt he was not to take advantage of his divine status for the advantages that could derive from it. When the appointed time came, by becoming a man, he fully shared the conditions of his humanity. Humbly accepting his new condition, he lived his life in self-giving to all and in obedience to the Father until his death and death on the cross. (see Phil 2:6-8).
The priesthood is not a career but a vocation, a lifestyle not a profession, a total and perpetual commitment, not a temporary job or assignment. The testimony of Msgr. Joseph Louis Bernardin, the Cardinal placed at the helm of the Archdiocese of Chicago until his premature death, offers a great example in this regard.
On the day of his episcopal ordination, as he walked with his mother along the aisles of the church, she drew him to her as she whispered: “Walk joyfully in the way of the Lord but don’t appear overly pleased. You have simply been chosen by God’s goodness. Don’t set yourself above God’s people, stay connected with Christ.” Words accompanied him throughout the years of his episcopal service.
Staying connected to Jesus Christ is what matters most. The priestly call challenges us religiously to understand that, if it makes sense to become “good Samaritans” (cf. Lk 10:25-37), this is not enough. One often has to fight against the structures of sin that oppress millions of people by overcoming the fear of the consequences on the part of those who perpetrate injustice. This means reading and critically evaluating the root causes of the evil and the risks of insecurity present on the road to Jericho, on which even today so many people are beaten and deprived of a dignified life.
(Marcel Uwineza) – (Photo: 123rf.com)