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Fr Michael De Stoop: When I am weak, I am strong

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Pope Francis ordains one of 16 new priests in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in April 2018. Photo: CNS/Tony Gentile, Reuters
Pope Francis ordains one of 16 new priests in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in April 2018.
Photo: CNS/Tony Gentile, Reuters

In 1966, German theologian Karl Rahner SJ (1904–1984) pondered what the priest of tomorrow will be like if he is to prove worthy of his mission.

As the men who are about to be ordained on 3 August in St Mary’s Cathedral are indeed the priests of the future as foreseen by Rahner, we can only conclude that what he foresaw is indeed prophetic.

Specifically, Rahner declared that instead of bearing witness through the Church, the Church will bear witness through the priest.

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His priestly office will not carry weight through social prestige; rather, he will have to set forth and prove its validity by the proof and power of the Spirit, by the authentic vigour of his experience of God.

The priest will be the man with the pierced heart, from which alone he draws strength for his mission, for he will lead people to the very core of their existence, to their inmost heart, precisely because he has found his own heart.

The priest’s heart will be pierced with the godlessness of the life around him; pierced by love that does not count the cost; pierced by the experience of his own weakness; and, as former Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart once added to Rahner’s words, “pierced by the misconduct of fellow-priests, which has cast such a shadow over all of us.”

The Church has lost credibility in the event of shunning weakness. Thus, I suggest to those about to be ordained, you consider that authentic brokenness is better than unique giftedness.

Owning your brokenness, weaknesses, and neediness for Jesus alone to meet is invaluable. Essentially, such ownership serves the Church faithfully.

Walking humbly with Jesus is worth more than even the most exceptional ministry gifts.

The greatest successes are not built on success, but on failure, frustration, and the fears that need to be overcome.

If there is one thing the faithful expect of us priests more than anything else, it is to receive assistance to grow closer to God; yet, you simply cannot help the faithful become more faithful disciples if you give more priority to your mission than you do to your own relationship with God.

For if we are to participate in Jesus’ identity as the Beloved Son, Chaste Spouse of the Church, Spiritual Father, Head and Shepherd, and Divine Physician, such priestly identity cannot be fabricated through our achievements. Rather, we receive our vocational identity in relationship, not mission.

If you proceed, then, from relationship, identity, to mission (and in that order), your lives will be truly blessed, together with those you serve.

Fr Michael De Stoop is Parish Priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Fairfield.
Fr Michael De Stoop is Parish Priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Fairfield.

As much is demanded of priests, I recommend you write a self-care plan and share it with your spiritual director and pastoral supervisor to see if they have any suggestions regarding any strategies you would do well to add. Then, stick to it.

Otherwise, you may deprive yourself of your important physical, emotional, and spiritual needs and you cut yourself off from the encouragement and support of those who care about you.

The most important thing to stick to is the Daily Examen Prayer, for as Blessed Cardinal Newman claimed, “Self-knowledge is at the root of all religious knowledge.”

Let me explain. Whenever I ask people seeking spiritual direction if they have talked to God about their interior reactions that emerge in their prayer and daily life, a response I frequently receive is: “Oh, but God already knows how I feel.”

Sadly, when such affective criteria is not shared with God, developing a greater knowledge of God’s divine nature is hindered, together with growth in union and intimacy with him.

Such growth is hindered because we are not disembodied spirits like the angels; rather, we can only grow in our intimate knowledge of God through contemplating the human nature of his Son.

Yet, how can we contemplate Jesus’ human nature if we are not familiar with the attractions and resistances we experience in our own human nature?

So, yes, feel deeply. True masculine strength is empathic, loves passionately, and sacrifices willingly. Feeling deep emotion causes our heads to descend into our hearts.

This allows us to empathise with hurting people. An effective priest is one who owns his weakness, is secure enough in Christ to be vulnerable, and who suffers with others.

Always take your day off. Even when everything around you seems like it is falling apart, take the rest you need. In addition to your sacrifices, the rest you take honours God, for rest demonstrates your reliance on Jesus.

Additionally, you owe your well-being to the people entrusted to your pastoral care, for without it, you cannot serve their needs.

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