About priests in the Year for Priests
Fr. IRENEUSZ SKUBIŚ
‘Percutiam pastorem, et dispergentur oves gregis’– ‘I shall strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered’ (Matthew 26:31). Lord Jesus builds a picture of the Church on the example of a shepherd’s life. In the biblical times the shepherd’s life was the fundament of living and shepherds constituted an important part of the working society. In his teaching Lord Jesus often referred to fisherman’s work – job that was equally important for the Jewish community. ‘From now on it is men you will catch’, he would say to Peter (cf. Luke 5:10). These examples serve to show the mystical picture of the Church that Christ founds. This Church is based on the Apostles, in the teaching of Christ on the shepherds of the people of God. In the next stages of the Church’s life those who led the people of God, baptised, accepted to the Church, organised communities and liturgical life would be bishops and priests. Apart from the visible layer there is another one, the theological one based on the Gospel and teaching of the Apostles, especially St Paul. This is the action of the Church, surrounded by the word of God, accepting the Old Testament as the Book of the Revelation and reflecting on the teaching of Jesus Christ – the Church together with the leading roles of bishops and priests.
Lord Jesus realised that those who would lead the Church would be especially exposed to attacks and inconveniences like shepherds. Therefore, the Gospel warns us, ‘I shall strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ First of all, it refers to Christ himself. Striking him – the arrest, accusation and crucifixion – created a situation in which disciples were scattered. However, we forget that we are dealing with God himself. Although in the early Church almost all popes were killed – St Peter, his successors, including Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, and so were the others – the Apostles and Christians were persecuted and shed their blood. Christ’s Church has not been destroyed but abides and embraces the whole world. However, the first blow was always against the shepherd who had the most fundamental role to play – to lead the others and he usually gave his life for the community experiencing torture before that.
This is the whole history of the Church. Numerous persecutions of shepherds, priests of Christ’s Church, happened especially during the first three centuries but one can say that in various parts of the world they occur today. The 20th century was hard for the Church and numerous priests, including the Orthodox ones, were murdered by the totalitarian regimes: the Nazis and the communists.
The quoted words of Lord Jesus are still valid. Jesus constantly reminds all priests of them so that they will not yield to the soothing illusion that persecutions do not occur now, in the 21st century. Unfortunately, they do occur. How often we witness derisions and mockery of priesthood, evil examples of priests and their generalisation, prejudicial pictures of a stereotype of priest – paedophile, etc. One can even say that ‘striking the shepherd’ reaches the Holy Father Benedict XVI who has been accused of consenting to this sin. Of course, we all are not holy to the highest extent but as far as the exaggerating phenomenon of priest paedophilia is concerned it is only a tiny percentage as compared with other groups of social confidence such as teachers, doctors, lawyers, etc. We know the attitude of the Church towards paedophilia and it is known what Benedict XVI thinks about it. We know his last document where he stresses that he will do his best to punish the perpetrators of these deeds in a severe way. (The German Church has launched a special infoline so that the victims of potential sexual abuses by clergymen could have concrete support and the infoline instructs how to prevent such cases effectively). One should condemn evil also when it happens in Catholic circles. However, its measure must be objective, the same measure as in other social groups. Similarly, we had the problem with vetting in Poland: huge crowds of people of various professions and structures collaborated with the Secret Services, including some percentage of the Catholic clergymen but the vetting was practically conducted only among the priests... This is a big harm done to the Church and many priests who received the label ‘Secret collaborator’ although in every case there was a different reason for contacts between a given priest and the SB and certainly, no priest went there on his own.
We still have the Year for Priests. We have just experienced the Week of Prayer for Vocations. There was the National Priests’ Pilgrimage to Jasna Gora. Let us pray for our priests helping them carry the burden they have on their shoulders. Let us open ourselves to the seminarians and the need of priestly vocations since we need many labourers in the field of evangelisation. And let us try not to allow attacks against shepherds and scattering of ‘the sheep of the flock.’