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A missionary approach to priestly ministry

This year [20009–2010], Pope Benedict XVI has invited us as a Church to celebrate the Year for Priests. The model offered to us is that of St. John Vianney, a French parish priest who died in 1859. Some people wonder how relevant this model is; others are skeptical about the true nature of such a year, when lay ministries are flourishing. Is this an attempt to return to the past, to go back to what we had before? Looking beyond these concerns, I believe this year gives us the opportunity to reflect on the life and ministry of priests and to consider models of pastoral leadership that meet the needs of today’s world. From that point of view, I would like to suggest that tomorrow’s priests will be, among other things, missionaries.

The missionary priest is first of all motivated by a vision: he sees the world as being sustained and inhabited by God, the Emmanuel who pitched his tent among us for all time. Instead of grieving over what isn’t working well, the priest is able to see the Spirit at work in all that is true and honourable, that is just and pure, that is pleasing and commendable, as Paul says in his letter to the Philippians (4:8). The missionary priest loves the world and humanity with the eyes and heart of God. The missionary priest is the sacrament of God’s admiration for God’s past, present and future work. The missionary priest is a spiritual man, a man of the Spirit, who presides over the sacramentality of life in all its forms and various dimensions.

Contemplative and aware of God’s tangible generosity in his own world, the missionary priest is nevertheless not so naïve that he cannot feel sorrow over the countless situations of suffering, misery and distress that are an integral part of that world. He therefore shows compassion, caring and solidarity to all who are sad, hurt, excluded, helpless and sick. He does not try to run away from places of suffering; rather, he feels called and sent to be present in such places. He responds by using his own gifts, of course, but at the same time he is always trying to prompt his peers, those close to him, and other Christians to respond with him to these needs. He knows that the mission is about co-operation and collaboration. For this reason, he encourages co-responsibility and interdependence in everything he does. In the face of so many needs and serious crises, the Good Samaritan must have a collective body – the Body of Christ, of which the priest is a member. A man of compassion, the priest is a prophet who echoes the suffering of a Father God who is in solidarity with human misery and the fight against destructive forces.

Finally – and of course this not an exhaustive list – the missionary priest lives in hope and can see in all and with all people the promises the future holds and the seeds of a new earth. Freed from the obsession to make a difference at all costs, freed from the compulsive need for immediate results, and not interested in being seen as someone out of the ordinary, the missionary priest seeks, in all situations, to promote communion and reconciliation between people, and to give communities access to the Gospel as Good News and to Christ as a way of Life. Knowing that major changes begin with small acts, he encourages and supports all initiatives and interventions, however modest, that serve the common good, communities and the protection of creation. He is a man of the Kingdom of God that is to come and yet is already present among us, for those who have eyes and hearts to welcome it. The priest is a pastor who serves a culture of life in abundance.

Yes, now more than ever, we need missionary priests. For even today, the harvest is plentiful. We pray that the many who have the ears to hear, the eyes to see, and the hearts to be moved, will be reached by this call, whether it comes to them on the lighter breezes of everyday life and experience that invite them to pay attention and to respond, or through the penetrating cry that arises from people and communities who are seeking hope in the midst of suffering and despair.

Luc Tardif, OMI
Saint Paul University, Ottawa