By Matthew Robinson
Director of Clergy Support
FALL RIVER — One of the challenges faced by today’s priesthood is a general decline in public esteem, and while this is a grace-filled opportunity for priests to ensure an inner purity of motive, it nonetheless can become a stumbling block for the priest himself and his ability to fulfill his priestly mission.
For the priest himself, one can never ignore what the “Doctor of the Church,” St. Thomas Aquinas, says: “Grace perfects nature.” To ignore one’s human nature as designed by God can become an obstacle to the workings of grace. We all need a sense of basic esteem. In fact, we know through psychological research that a lack of esteem can lead individuals to a depleted sense of personal achievement and inability to do their job. In marriages, perpetual mutual esteem and admiration of spouses have been shown to be the critical factor for marital health.
Lack of public esteem also affects the priest’s ministry as he finds it more difficult to preach the truth of the Gospel in love. His legitimate authority as a spiritual father is reduced to a fatherhood of appeasement in many respects because the priesthood has suffered such a loss of esteem.
The Church, in The Vatican’s Dicastery for Clergy, exhorts us to show the highest esteem for ecclesial vocations. It quotes St. John Chrysostom who stunningly teaches, “We should not only respect the priest more than princes or kings but esteem him more than we do our parents. Indeed, our parents have begotten us through blood and by the will of the flesh (cf. Jn 1:13), while the priests have brought us to life as sons of God; they are the instruments of our joyful rebirth, of our freedom, and of our adoption into the order of grace.”
Priests, like everyone, need esteem, a respect derived primarily from our love for the priesthood itself. Rebuilding this esteem in our Diocese will have salvific consequences. Please consider taking the first step by participating in the Our Priests Make a Difference initiative (located on the page ten) and showing your esteem for our priests.