Some years ago, in the United States, a group of seminarians were on retreat. They were due to be ordained deacons later in the year. As part of the retreat, the seminary rector arranged for the seminarians to undertake a 3-kilometre walk following a direct route, to a church in the city where they were to spend 30 minutes in prayer, before returning home the same way. They were asked to walk alone and not talk with one another until they had returned.
After they arrived home, the rector invited into the room where they were gathered, ten people, and he asked the seminarians if they recognised any of them. None of them did.
He then explained that he had asked these people to take up positions along the route the students took to the church and back. Some had been dressed as beggars. One had lay down on the pavement. Some asked for help. Not one of the students even stopped to acknowledge them!
After the helpers had left the room, much to the seminarians’ surprise, the rector announced that their ordinations to diaconate were to be delayed four months. He said there was no point in them being ordained for service if they could not recognise or respond to people in need. More importantly, he did not want them to think that making a retreat or visiting a church was holy, but responding to people’s needs was not!
It is important for us to remember that our vocation as Passionist priests is our response to a call from God.
It is important for us to remember that our vocation as Passionist priests is our response to a call from God. It is not a vocation that many people take up and it does carry serious responsibilities and duties, but it is not a superior vocation to anyone else’s baptismal vocation. We each must listen to how God calls us. Perhaps it is best expressed in Jesus’ words, “To whom much is given, much is expected” (Luke 12:48).
Sometimes people want to put a priest on a pedestal, especially a new priest. But what good can a priest do from up there on a pedestal? All he can do is talk, and if he is talking from up there, he’ll be talking down to people, not as equals and probably not about what they need to hear. We Passionists don’t want that, and nor does anyone else need that.
We need priests who are one of the people; who do not see themselves as separated from; above or superior to other people.
We need priests who are humble, despite their gifts and their calling.
We need priests who are holy, not just because they pray, but because they love people and want to help them. There is a Zen saying. “I saw a holy man walking across the water. But then I saw a holier man building a bridge so others could cross.”
We need priests who will understand the stories, struggles and suffering of the people with whom they walk with.
We need priests who will inspire and challenge us to live our lives more faithfully and courageously.
We need priests who preach a message of compassion and the total mercy of God. Not empty or “nice” words, but a belief that comes from their heart.
We need priests who practice what they preach.
We need priests who laugh.
We need priests who cry.
We need priests who can draw people together, both peace-makers and gentle reconcilers.
We need priests who are passionate about the message of Jesus and equally passionate about being like Jesus in their own life and ministry.
This multifaceted challenge is reflected in Jesus’ challenging words, “If anyone wishes to come after me, they must deny themselves and take up their cross every day and follow me. For anyone who wishes to find life must be prepared to give it away.” (Luke 9:23)
Are you willing to take up Jesus’ challenge? Can you be a passionate, Passionist priest for the 21st century? If you feel a stirring within to be a messenger of of hope, love, peace, and mercy, then get in contact with us!
Brian was born in Sydney, the third of eleven children. He joined the Passionists in 1966 and has enjoyed the opportunity to be engaged in a variety of ministries since being ordained in 1973, including youth and adult retreats, parish missions and faith, spirituality and leadership formation especially through the Passionist Family Group Movement in New Zealand and Australia. Brian has been involved in the formation of Passionist candidates for a number of years and is currently living with the Holy Cross community in Melbourne.