The Identity of Priest: A Summary

Fr. Dehon: Founder of the Priests of Sacred Heart

Definition of ‘Identity’

A similar explanation is offered by Wheelis:

  • Identity is a coherent sense of self. It depends upon the awareness that one’s endeavours and one’s life makes sense, that they are meaningful in the context in which life is lived. It depends upon stable values, and upon the conviction that one’s actions and values are harmoniously related. It is a sense of wholeness, of integration, of knowing what is right and what is wrong, and of being able to choose.
  • Identity produces an inner coherence that is manifested externally as a consistency between ideals and actions. One of premises to the previous chapter stated that identity is an elusive concept whose meaning is analogous; the dissertation has discussed at least three meanings of identity.

Term ‘identity’ is used since upon it rests the whole of the personality structure and all its operations.

The first meaning is identity as the basic sense of self. This is the most fundamental use of the the third meaning is the notion of a priestly identity. This has reference to the process by which an individual with an already constituted sense of self and ego identity internalizes and lives the central defining values of the catholic priesthood.

The second meaning refers to the consolidation of the young adult personality described by Erikson as ego identity. This is a specific element of the self and represents a more restricted use of the term.

Traditional

The priest was ordained to serve in the person and spirit of Christ; he was to lead those entrusted to his care; he was to nurture those in his care the celebration if the Eucharist and the other sacraments; and he was to live a life of self-sacrificing love, exemplified by his commitment to life-long prayer and celibacy.

The New Context

  • Vatican II: the council intended to affirm also the hierarchically-ordered constitution of the church in which priests were to lead local communities in union with bishop. However, the Council did intended that the Church was to affirm the equality of all the baptized and their shared responsibility for the mission of the church and the equality if the baptized has been more formative of popular ecclesiology than has the hierarchical ordering of the church.
  • In the addition, the Council affirmed the equality of all the baptized has given birth to a rejection of the “clericalism”, that attitude which implied that ordination was a gateway to privilege and power, there than service.
  • The priests hold over ministry and leadership in the church increase last three decades. This means often that a priest will reside in one parish but have responsibility for a number of parishes. In concrete terms, the priest generally takes responsibility for the liturgical life and administration of these various communities and delegates the day-to-day pastoral care and leadership to others.
  • Vatican II highlighted the ministry of the priest- his service of the people in the name of the church-rather than the “state” of the priest. Significantly, it emphasized also the relation of the priest to the preaching of the Word. This ended what had been an exclusive focus on cultic activity.
  • Priest could be dedicated to pastoral care of the sick and broken, they could be prayerful men anxious to lead congregation to experience Jesus in the Eucharist, but they often felt ill-equipped to draw on their own faith in other to lead others to a deeper encounter with the Spirit in prayer.
  • With Clerical sexual abuse recently, priests have generally had to face mistrust, adopt codes of conduct, and suspect their own spontaneity.
  • This identity crisis applies not simply to how priests see themselves, but to how others see them. The priests can believe that they are the least cared for segment of the church, even while being perceived to be the most pampered. Priests cab be portrayed at different times as either heroes or villains, even while they usually believe themselves to be neither.

Priestly identity: affirmation and challenges

This section will attempt to occupy the ground between two poles

  1. There is nothing to be said with certainty about priestly identity
  2. There is nothing about it which is problematic
  • Priestly identity is ultimately a concern for the church. The identity of the priest will be clarified only as the whole church grapples with all the issues involved.
  • Foundational to our tradition is that the candidate for the priesthood is responding to a vocation: an authentic desire for the priesthood is God initiated, not self-initiated.
  • The primary requirement, therefore, for a priest who wants to have a strong sense of his identity is that he remains grounded in his relationship with God and the church.
  • Nurturing one’s relationship with God must not be contrasted with living as a minister engaged with the need of the world and the church. In order to do this well, the priest needs both to be immersed in the Word and in the world which the Word addresses: “the proclamation of the Word that has become his word.”
  • The priest is called firstly to be a disciple of Jesus in the Spirit. The disciplineship of the priest is inseparated from the life-style of the priest.
  • There are also issues about provision for adequate income and retirement planning for priests. A system where the priest is depended on the patronage of his superiors promotes immaturity, a lack of responsibility, and the temptation to focus on seeking one’s security and comfort. All of these are injurious to a prophetic witness to the Gospel.
  • What is the required instead is honest appraisal of what helps or hinders the human development of priest in the context of relationship and sexuality, and the provision of adequate formation programmers, both before and after ordination, to promote both authentic humanity and authentic holiness.

“What makes the priests different?’

“What makes the priest who he is?”

The priest is the one called by Spirit, and confirmed by the church’s ordination, to live a life of discipline in and for the church. The agenda for the life of the priest: a commitment to conversion so that his witness to the movement of the Spirit will be ever deeper.

The notion of the priest as the one who is sacramentally ordination to live his call to discipleship in and for the church is sustainable only within a church which realizes its identity as a community of faith. In other words, the issue of priestly identity is not only an issue for the church as a while; it is a touchstone by which we can measure whether the church exists as a community of faith or as something else, as something less.

Challenges

  • Priests take on responsibility for several parishes and in proposal that priests remain in active ministry beyond the age of 75
  • The priest may well be inseparable from heroic sacrifice, but we ought to name as sacrifice what is demanded of priests because we as a church refuse to face the implications of our situation.
  • Fewer and fewer priests to take on more and more responsibility will not meet all the needs that must be met, will not make the priesthood attractive, and will not resolve the issues about ministry in the church.
  • We need to look again at the nature of ministry, its relationship to the need of the church, and its relationship to the structures of the church, not all of which exist iure divino,. We need also to continue to explore the relationship and different between women and men in the church.

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