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Priesthood: Vocation to solidarity with the most poor

The priests need to understand that they are not only in the line of Melchizedek but they are also equally in line with the Poor man of Assisi whose name Pope Francis who gave up Vatican palace has adopted to be in his line.

Priesthood: Vocation to solidarity with the most poor

By Joe Palathunkal
That priests, through the modesty and humility of their lives, commit themselves actively to a solidarity with those who are most poor.

Solidarity with the poor is the crux of vocation to priesthood in the Catholic Church and Pope Francis wants the whole Church to reflect on this greatest concern of Jesus and call to mission by him to all those who pledge to lead a life in accordance with his mission. Unfortunately today, many priests in different parts of the world lead a life that has not even a slightest touch of this papal intention.

This is indeed disgusting when priests in Asia and Africa live life that is the absolute opposite of this papal intention as the ordinary people in these continents lead a penniless life and crave for a day’s meal. No amount of the spiritualization of the poor and poverty can exonerate them from what they do which has no resemblance to what is even being Christian as normally understood.

The magnificent churches built among the poor are a dangerous failure in the Christian vocation of the priests who have a duty to be with the poor as the intention of the month exhorts. When poor people are forced to contribute to the building of such churches or contribute to the luxuries of the priests, it is not only unchristian but it is an alienation that takes away the priest from the people.

Vatican II has rightly commented in the context of improving living conditions to make a human person conscious of his or her dignity: “But human freedom is often crippled when a man falls into extreme poverty, just as it withers when he indulges in too many of life’s comforts and imprisons himself in a kind of splendid isolation.”

Every Catholic priest needs to understand that he is ordained a priest to wash the feet of the poor as Jesus did at the institution of the Eucharist and instead he disowns them and leads a life that is a scandal for the poor, then, indeed, he lives in splendid isolation. The intention of the month is indeed a warning against such isolation, the opposite of the solidarity it speaks of.

The priests need to understand that they are not only in the line of Melchizedek but they are also equally in line with the Poor man of Assisi whose name Pope Francis who gave up Vatican palace has adopted to be in his line.

Jesus who felt compassion for a hungry and tired crowd prompting him to multiply the loaves and fish to fill the empty stomachs, very clearly tells us that poor indeed means the breadless and the homeless. Priests who are eloquent about interpreting Christian poverty in the light of merely ‘poor in spirit’ are grossly mistaken.

The birth of Jesus in a stable, the call of the shepherds, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the economic condition of the disciples whom he chose, his preference for those who feed the hungry and clothe the naked, all indicate that for Jesus poverty was indeed the actual physical poverty. Augustine, Ambrose or Helder Camara all have supported this definition of poverty through their thinking and theology.

The lopsided approach of the Catholic priests to the poor got a challenging blow when the Brazilian Archbishop Camara said: “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”

Catholic priests escape from their basic vocation to lead a life of solidarity with the poor by not asking ‘why the poor have no food’ and this why of Helder Camara can be effectively asked by only those priests who understand the birth and death of Jesus as the continuing stable and cross in the lives of millions of the poor all over the world. Catholic priests need to remember that they are ordained to present this Jesus to the poor as the representative of Christ the poor.

And those who have this understanding will never even dream of a luxurious and lavish life amidst poverty and squalor of the people and Pope Francis wants all his priests to understand poor as Jesus did. And that is why he said: “The poor must always come first.” The Catholic priests in India and many other poor countries must always keep these words as their talisman when they are tempted to lead a life of luxury amidst the poor. That is the crux of the papal intention for this month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a Heart that burns with love for the poor.

(Joe Palathunkal is Associate Editor, Living in Faith)

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