Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Chaste Fatherhood of the Priest

I happened to be in small talk with a parishioner after Mass on Sunday. The question of hearing confessions in a school that was not only in another parish but in another diocese came up. I said that I couldn't go into a school in another parish or diocese to hear confessions if the pastor (parish priest) had not at least implicitly given his permission to do so. Just as I couldn't go to bless someone's home in another parish without the consent of the pastor of that parish. My parishioner friend said something like: "And by adopting that attitude you model chaste fatherhood in the priesthood." Wow! Okay... And he went on to explain that boundaries and hierarchy are things that husbands and fathers must also observe. He does not talk to another woman in the manner of a husband. He only does so with his wife. He does not intervene in another's family but honors the fact that the father of the family has jurisdiction over that family. Similarly a priest does not go into another priest's parish. He respects that priest's fatherhood, his jurisdiction over that parish.

My parishioner friend, of course, is right. A priest, by his assignment as pastor to a particular group of people, is, as it were, wedded to them. He acquires the relationship of father and husband by the canonical assignment given him by his bishop, or delegated to him by the pastor of the parish. This is why a priest's heart must be essentially paternal and his love spousal. As many say, priests must be those who would make the best husbands and the best fathers. They must be capable of an exclusive love - with Jesus Christ, who is the real Spouse of the soul.

It so happened that the next day, Monday, I read this in the wonderful book "In Sinu Iesu - When Heart Speaks to Heart, The Journal of a Priest at Prayer" by A Benedictine Monk. I shall quote the chapter in full for it bears meditating, particularly by priests. But laity will learn better how they should relate to their priests and how they should expect their priests to relate to them by pondering these words. The words that follow are words from God the Father to the monk.

Faith in My fatherhood will be the path of healing for many, who, like you, were kept from growing up in freedom and joy beneath the gaze of their father. I want to banish fear from your life. I want you to feel loved and surrounded by My presence as Father - a presence that supports you, that will not hold you back from becoming the man that I have always wanted you to be; a presence that will allow you, in turn to become a father, a father in My image, a father as My Jesus was fully a father in the midst of His disciples. They discovered My fatherhood in His countenance. They sensed it in drawing close to His Heart, the saw it at work in the signs of mercy and of power that He worked in My Name. 
It must be so for you. Be the image of My fatherhood. By means of the fatherly love that I shall place in your heart, be My instrument for the healing of many who did not know what it is to be loved by a father. The fatherhood of the priest is a grace that he corresponds to My designs of love upon him. The Church, the beloved spouse of My only-begotten Son, suffers in that so many priests do not know how to live the grace of their fatherhood. Souls ask for fathers, and too often they are sent away, abandoned to live like spiritual orphans. 
You, be a father. Receive the graces and energies of My fatherhood in your soul. The more a priest lives his fatherly mission, the more will he resemble My Son, who said, "He who sees Me, sees the Father." I bless you, My son. I bless you to be a father for the praise of My glory and for the joy of the Church of My Son.

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