One of the most inspiring homilies that I heard recently was preached by Rev. Fr George Maliekal, provincial of the Salesian province of Shillong. Listening to him enabled me to gain an insight into the essence of priesthood. It was this homily that led me into a conversation with him. I had a few questions. His answers were thought provoking at the same time challenging.
What according to you is the essence of priesthood?
Traditionally a priest is considered to be a minister of the Word, a minister of the Altar and a minister of the people. I feel that the essence of priesthood lies in these three aspects of priesthood. The word of God and the Altar are the uniting forces for the faithful at the same time they provide sustaining energy for a priest.
You remind me of the words of St Paul to Timothy, “Proclaim the Message…insist on it refute falsehood, correct error, and give encouragement.” How do you see priests as ministers of the Word in today’s context?
Today, the most unbelievable part of our life is the message that is being communicated; technology has immensely improved; social media has become faster than ever before. Today’s media culture presents truth as relative. Today’s society does not have a point of reference when it comes to moral norms. However, people continue to ask like Pilate, “What is truth?” It is in this context that a priest is called to be a minister of the Word. God’s Word is the ultimate truth. When one’s life is ordered according to word of God he or she lives in truth and which leads to a meaningful life here on earth and eternal life in the world to come. Each time a priest proclaim the word of God he should remember that he is the announcer of that Word which has the power to give life.
What according to you is needed the most to be an effective minister of the Word?
The ministry of the Word is not only about being an announcer of Word but it is about being a lover of the Word. It is that kind of love that would lead him to know the Word in all its richness. Hence a minister of the Word should be marked with an eagerness to know the Word in all its profundity which flows from his intense love for the Word. It is sad to see ministers being busy with mobiles or distracted in any other way during liturgical celebrations.
Do you feel that the way a minister live out the principles of God’s word affects his ministry of preaching?
Of course, I do. A minister of the Word not only has the responsibility to be an announcer of the Word. He needs to fall in love with the Word, to grow in knowledge of the Word and finally become the one with the Word. Many may not be impressed by one’s lips-announcement of the Word. But they will certainly be inspired and challenged by his living the Word. In short, a minister’s life should be a living Good News.
You mentioned that together with the Word the Altar provides sustaining energy for a priest. Would you like to comment something more on it?
Altar is part and parcel of a priest’s life. he is ordained to be a minister of the Holy Eucharist. How sacred should be the feet that ascend to the altar! How sacred should be the lips that pronounce the words of consecration! How sacred should be the hands that hold the host and the wine! These realities should come focused more and more as one journeys towards his priesthood. After all, priesthood is nothing, but a commitment to love the realities of the Altar.
A candidate to priesthood needs to cultivate a fervent love for the Eucharist from the early period of formation. What have you to speak about it?
You had asked what the essence of priesthood is. That reminded me the words of Pope Benedict XVI. He summarized the core of priesthood in the phrase, “Nothing more beautiful than to be conquered by Christ.” Hence there is absolutely no ray of doubt in my mind does not have an intense love for the realities of the Altar, if he absents himself from Mass for reasons that are flimsy, it is strongly advised that he reconsider his vocation.
How do you see a priest as minister of God’s People?
Priesthood is all about giving oneself in service to God’s people however little he might feel about himself. It is the selfless giving of himself that will make his priesthood bear abundant fruit. A priest on the day of his ordination prayed, ‘O Good Jesus make me a priest, like with your own heart filled with zeal for your people.’ I remember reading the words of a spiritual director to a seminarian, “Are you excited about that? Are you eager to enter a life of selfless, generous, at times inconvenient service to God’s people? Don’t become a priest, if you are not excited about it. yes, if you drift into the priesthood, you will drift through it.”
Finally, what message do you have for the candidates to priesthood?
I wish that everyone, priests as well as those aspiring to share in the priesthood of Christ realize the seriousness of their vocation. They need to keep in mind what pope John Paul II wrote to the priests Holy Thursday, 1979. He said that the only priest who will always prove necessary to people is a priest who possesses certain characteristics.
- One who is conscious of the meaning of his priesthood
- One who believes profoundly
- One who professes his faith with courage
- One who prays fervently
- One who teaches with deep conviction
- One who serves with zeal
- One who puts into practice in his own life the program of beatitudes
- One who knows how to love disinterestedly
- One who is close to everyone and especially to those who are most in need.
It is my prayer that everyone aspiring to be a priest may aim at becoming a priest after the heart of our Lord