Priest of the Notre-Dame de Tout-Remède parish in Pays de Landerneau, Father Erwan de Kermenguy comments on the readings for the 31st ordinary Sunday (Ml 1, 14 to 2, 2.8-10; Ps 130; 1Th 2, 7-9.13; Mt 13:1-12). He opens his heart as a priest to shed light on the message about the good and bad guides spoken of in the Gospel.
Let me start with a confession that priests rarely make. I love you. I love you, and I love the Good Lord. I love you and the meaning of my life is to be at the service of your encounter with God… This encounter that we call holiness and which concerns us all, as the feast of All Saints reminded us this week. Priests rarely open up… we have our modesty. But at least you will know, even if I don’t know you personally, I love you. And the sign of this love is my celibacy. If I’m single, it’s for you.
The daily life of a serving priest
In Quimper Cathedral, almost ten years ago, I lay on the ground, giving my life to God for you. And if I tell you today, it is because I want to make the words of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians my own: “I have such affection for you that I would like to give you not only the Gospel of God, but also ‘to my own life’ ( 1Th 2:8 ). Now Saint Paul specifies that this love is like that of a mother, at the same time full of sweetness and sorrows… the sweetness of the care that we provide to the other… the sorrows that this same care costs us, in a day and night work. And in fact, my role as priest takes place during the day, meeting my parishioners, listening to them, praying with them, consoling, teaching… and at night, sending emails, writing homilies, answering questions. on Facebook, writing the parish newspaper, when it is not a question of ensuring the concrete organization of the parish community, the concerns of stewardship, heating, electricity, sound system, or choice of songs for the mass. My role as priest is lived in gentleness and pain.
There are bad priests who do not listen to God and who do not have at heart to glorify God.
This is all that makes up the daily life of a priest. What is a priest? The way of being a priest varies from one era to another, from one country to another. Some do catechism, the parish paper… in Brittany there were vicar teachers and vicar organists! But whatever form his ministry takes, the priest is a man consecrated to God for the service of a community, to help the community worship God. For it is good, it is just and good as we say at mass, that man should worship God. In other words, the priest is a tool for you, for your own holiness. And like all tools, you have to use them. And like all tools, there are good ones and bad ones.
There are bad priests
For there are bad priests, says God in the reading of the book of Malachi. There are bad priests who do not listen to God and who do not have at heart to glorify God. They seek neither the glory of God nor the holiness of men. They use the Law of God for their own benefit and not for the interest of the community for which they are responsible. They twist the rules of God and the Church for their own benefit. We find there, in this criticism of bad priests, the two great commandments of which Jesus spoke to us in the Gospel of the previous Sunday ( Mt 22, 34-40 ): love of God and love of neighbor. Bad priests, for Isaiah, are those who neglect God and their brothers. Bad priests are my business, says God. They will be despised, humiliated, humbled in the eyes of all, writes the prophet Isaiah. In a word, they won’t take it to heaven!
The holiness of the priest is to dedicate himself to the growth of his community.
But what can a priest take to heaven? The holiness of the priest is not to cultivate his personal halo or to put himself forward in front of the community, with beautiful clothes… This is true of all the baptized in fact. Christ warns us against the temptation to play the “good Christian”. “They do all their actions to be noticed by people” ( Mt 23:5 ). The goal of the priest is not to be noticed for himself… but to lead to Christ. You will tell me: yes, but you are called “my father” and you wear the cassock… so it is not very consistent with what Jesus tells us: Do not give anyone the title of father (Mt 23, 9) ! and beware of those who stand out by their clothing (Mt 23:5)!
A weird piece of clothing
The holiness of the priest is to dedicate himself to the growth of his community. The Second Vatican Council strongly reiterates to us: it is by taking care of their community that priests will become saints, not by taking care of polishing their halo every morning, taking care of the buttons of their cassock, or the comfort of their presbytery (cf. Presbyterorum ordinis n. 13). What a priest takes to paradise is you… because the shepherd is where the flock is… And if the priest accompanies his community in its walk towards the Good Lord, while taking care of his parish, he also gets closer to the Good Lord.
Jesus wanted to remind us that all fatherhood comes from God. When you call me “father,” you remind me of this terrible and magnificent responsibility that I took on the day of my ordination.
When I wear a strange item of clothing, like a cassock, I don’t go unnoticed in the street. It is not for the pleasure of being an original… It is to be a sign to everyone that God wants to be close to them. And it works. I think of this man who confided to me recently, on the terrace of a café: “God, I can’t believe it anymore… but I have respect for you, for who you are. » But it is not me for whom he has this esteem… it is for the priest, a man of God. The invisible God seems too distant and foreign to him, but the man of God is for him a form of incarnation. And the Master whom he cannot love, he already loves through the very imperfect figure of his servant. I meet men like him every month, that is to say at least ten per year.
Father and brother
When you call me “father”, you are certainly not breaking the word of Jesus… because Jesus was obviously not talking about Catholic priests who did not exist in his time! Jesus was talking about dads. Jesus wanted to remind us that all fatherhood comes from God. When you call me “father,” you remind me of this terrible and magnificent responsibility that I took on the day of my ordination, the charge of accompanying your spiritual growth. Saint Paul says in the same sense “I am a mother to you”… But when you call me “father”, I do not forget that I am your brother. The teachings that I give, including in this homily, I also receive. The invitation to conversion, an invitation constantly renewed, I hear it for me too… and very often I receive it from you as it is true that we become mothers through our children and that a priest becomes father through his community .
I hold my soul even and silent, praying for you and loving you before God.
My desire, my greatest desire, is that you be holy! That we are all saints… that is our vocation. Am I crazy for having this desire? Is this too ambitious a dream? Today’s psalm, Psalm 130, is one of my favorite psalms. He says “Lord, I am not proud of heart, nor ambitious in my outlook, I do not pursue wonders, nor great designs that exceed me, but I hold my soul steady and silent” (Ps 130, 1-2). My desire for holiness for you is like a mother’s desire for her children, the desire to see you enter life fully. Which parents do not want to see their children grow up, walk, find a job, succeed in life? Well this desire I have for you, brothers and sisters… in true life, which is the life of God. Well often parents keep this desire in the secret of their heart, in the secret of their love. And for me, it is in the secret of my prayer that I carry this desire. I hold my soul even and silent, praying for you and loving you before God.
If I open my heart to you as a priest, it is because Christians very often do not know what a priest is. We see him at mass, we see him at this or that moment in his function… but the priest is not a function. I told you this to help you understand what a priest is. Don’t worship your priests. They are not God. But love them as brothers, because they are brothers to whom God entrusts a beautiful and heavy responsibility: yourselves. Love them. And pray for them.
Pray every day this week for your priests, so that we correspond more to what God expects of us.
Two ways to help your priests
So I offer you two ideas for this week. First, ask yourself what the priests brought you. Alone or with family or friends, take the time to see the moments when God put on your path a brother priest who helped you move forward, who made you grow in spiritual life. Perhaps it is through a sacrament (your baptism, your marriage, a confession). Maybe it’s in activities, Christian team, cat class or Bible training. Perhaps it is simply in a parish life, as a pivot of Christian life. Ask it to yourself, share it with each other. And don’t hesitate to tell us. Not necessarily from ourselves, but from other priests. It also helps us to refocus on the essentials of our ministry to know when we are really helping you… because I’m not sure it’s when we’re fixing the church boiler, even if that’s nice. useful.
Second track: pray every day of this week for your priests, so that we correspond more to what God expects of us. As Malachi says, may we be more at the service of the glory of God and the good of men. Brothers and sisters, I love you.