As members of the religious family called the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC), we live out our calling as brothers and priests. That means that while all of us live out our commitment to religious life, for some our ministerial commitment is as ordained priests.
Much is being written and talked about in relation to the “Year of Priests,” which has been designated by Pope Benedict to focus on the priestly vocation. As MSC, seeking to witness to the love and compassion of our God shown in the life and person of Jesus, what image or model of priesthood do we seek to follow? Indeed, there can only be one image or model – that of the Jesus of the Gospels. Perhaps the picture of Jesus’ priestly ministry that most clearly exemplifies priesthood is Jesus who kneels down and washes the feet of his disciples (Jn. 13:1-15).
On the night before Jesus died for us, when he could have had the world at his feet, he chooses, instead, to kneel at the feet of the world in this most humble gesture of service and giving. “I have given you an example to follow,” says Jesus, “so that what I have done for you, you should also do” (Jn.13:15).
Living out our calling as MSC priests can be illustrated by looking at the priestly calling as outlined in the prayers and liturgy form the rite of Ordination and from some practical examples of MSC ministry.
Preacher and Teacher of God’s Word:
The first task of priests is to preach the Gospel of Christ, or as the prayer of the ordination ceremony puts it: “Meditate on the law of God, believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” This does not refer simply to the homily at Mass but to all the work of a Missionary of the Sacred Heart. So for our men in Venezuela or South Africa it means promoting justice for the poorest and neediest people, so that they do not get left out or left behind. For in the Gospel these people are at the centre of all Jesus preaches and does. Likewise for an MSC working as a prison chaplain or helping a person with an addiction to drugs, gambling or alcohol it means treating each person with a deep respect and concern for their brokenness and pain.
Celebrating the Mysteries of Christ:
At ordination a priest is formally called to “celebrate the mysteries of Christ . . . for the glory of God and the sanctification of Christ’s people.”
Our God is a God who draws near to us, to help, heal, listen and love us. It is a humbling privilege as an MSC priest to celebrate the Eucharist with the parish community, to baptise a new-born baby, to journey with a couple committing themselves to married life, to be in the presence of the sick and dying through the sacrament of anointing, and to witness to God’s forgiving love in the sacrament of reconciliation. In the highs and lows of life, and in every moment in between an MSC priest tries to be an instrument of God’s compassion in the world.
Following the Example of the Good Shepherd:
On ordination day each priest hears the words, “Always remember the example of the Good Shepherd who came not to be served but to serve, and to seek out and rescue those who were lost.” This is lived out in everyday situations of being available to listen to a worried student as a school chaplain, giving time to walk with the person trying to find their way to God during a retreat or comforting the family who are burying their mother.
With and For the People of God:
In a world where people can so often be divided, alienated, alone and lonely there is a huge need for working together and building up a real sense of community. For a priest to look for special treatment or expect to be in control is often referred to as “clericalism” and is a long way from the example of Jesus. Instead, each priest is called to, “Remember that you are chosen from among God’s people and appointed to act for them . . .” Our life and ministry as Missionaries of the Sacred Heart is done in collaboration with those we seek to serve, recognising, celebrating and combining the gifts and talents of all God’s people.