We, priests, enjoy a strong influence on people and especially the sons and daughters of our Church community, and they give us the right to interfere in their private lives and help them in their life choices. They also give us authority to be judges in their private matters. If their trust falls in unsuitable or unbalanced hands, then their affairs may end up going astray. Therefore, we priests, should be alert in exercising our authority and leadership to the faithful who are entrusted to us.
St Paul, the Apostle, warns his beloved Corinthians: "All things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial. All things are lawful, but not all things build up. Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other.”(1) This instruction applies to us priests and demands of us to constantly be on the look out for those around us and care for them. We need to be careful not to cause scandal through our words or actions so as not to shake the faith of the people around us, and destroy their enthusiasm and their affiliation to the Church. We should also pay attention to our behaviour, our language and opinions, even when we are outside our pastoral duties and during our holidays. Through our ordination we have given up our personal life and become representatives of the Church. Moreover, we represent Jesus Christ who chose us and called us to be the successors of his Apostles. We are, therefore, without doubt, the mediators between God and man.
Jesus put clear guidelines for our pastoral work. He asked all his Apostles and their successors to be like Him "the Good Shepherd” (2) for his people, the shepherd that cares for each one and searches for each one and loves each one. We, priests, become the door through which the sons and daughters of our Church enter to Jesus Christ. We become the guards who watch over the flock so no one can come in and take one of its sheep. The good shepherd builds a fence of love and trust and makes himself a guard at the door so that no one can come in and scatter God’s flock.
The Prophet, Ezekiel, in chapter thirty four, speaks about the shepherd and urges spiritual leaders to think of the consequences when they use their authority in the wrong way. "You are doomed, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves. Should not shepherds feed the sheep? … You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.” (3) Today, these words are directed to us because the Lord will not ask us to account for the projects we achieved, but for the souls that were entrusted to our care to enable them to grow in faith and love and be strengthened in Jesus Christ: " Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account.” (4)
St Paul focuses on the talents that the Holy Spirit bestows on the priests. All the various priestly services should be for the good of the flock so that they can reach Jesus: "The gifts He gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints (the faithful) for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (5) The most important of these services is the vigilant of the spiritual life of the faithful, and its protection from all the negative influences that come from outside. The Church is in need of servants and not masters: "The greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.”(6). The Church is in need of a father who can bind his sons and daughters to Jesus and His Church. A father who has "divine jealousy”(7) and can guide his sons and daughters to hear and discover the gifts and inspirations of the Holy Spirit.
We, the Priests, in our priestly service are exposed to many temptations and we sometimes try to take possession of the flock instead of freeing them: "Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock”(8). At other times, we get confused between personal authority and spiritual leadership. For this, we should always practise a humble authority that enables lay people to discover in us what would attract them to living the evangelical counsels, and to find in us true partners in their daily struggles.
It is true that we are human and fallible as St Paul says (9), but what is more true is that in spite of our faults, we should not forget that we are God’s helpers and "we are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry.”(10). We are called to a continuous resurrection, like that of Christ, which makes us avoid indulging in external attractions that pull us away from our loyalty to our priesthood.
Let us offer our supplications to our mother, the most Blessed Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, the most worthy of all praise, to protect our priesthood, for she is the mother, teacher and protector of all priests.
Bishop Issam John Darwish
1. 1Cor 10:23-24
2. Jn 10
3. Ezk 34:2-4
4. Heb 13:17
5. Eph 4:11-15
6. Lk 22:26
7. 2Cor 11:1
8. 1Pet 5:3
9. 1Cor 9:27
10. 2Cor 6:1-5