By Fr. Dino Vanin, PIME
Jesus said “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens (hard to carry) and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues… (Matthew 23:2-6)
We priests should keep that somber remark from Jesus in the back of our minds.
This must, arguably, be the hardest of all areas where we should improve according to the mind and wishes of Pope Francis. It has to be so because we are always called, as priests, to actin persona Christi capitis (in place of Christ, the Head of the Mystical Body, the Church).
Being beset with human weaknesses and frailty, just like everyone else, we too have the innate tendency to do what we can to look good, to make a good impression, to welcome accolades and praises while trying to minimize our deficiencies and cover up our flaws.
A simple reality check would reveal to us that, while most people would overlook and try to excuse in the great majority of their fellow human beings the innate tendency of sprucing up their image, this is definitely not permitted of priests.
The word “hypocrite” would be applied with lightning speed at the first signs of inconsistency in us.
This seems unfair; but it is not.
Many of the faithful who are supportive of us, who show respect and love us, place us on a pedestal. Meanwhile our denigrators look down on us at the bottom of the scum pit in which they had placed us from the beginning.
What to do?
To those who placed us on a pedestal we should quote Jeremiah 17:5 “Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings’…” And Jesus himself: “…without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5). Indeed, from the worst sinner all the way to the saintliest person, no one is confirmed in grace: anyone can falter, cause horrific scandal, and drag many down with him.
Once we get over our anger at our denigrators, we should thank them for holding us to a much higher standard. They are doing this unwittingly and, most likely, because they resent that, through our preaching and teaching, we tell them that the Catholic Church will always refuse to approve of any lifestyle that is against natural law or contrary to God’s commandments.
Hence, we should continue to preach and teach the truth that Jesus Christ entrusted to the Church to be kept from alteration and misinterpretation (Cf. 1 Timothy 3:15), always humbly keeping our sins before us and have full and exclusive reliance on the Holy Spirit.
We should be tough enough to endure our share of the rejection and abuse that was meted out to our divine Master. Ours is a mission on the cutting edge.
It has been so from the Church’s inception:
“For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord,[ ] but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.”
(2 Timothy 1:6-8).