THEME: Living the Dignity of the Catholic Priesthood amidst the Challenges and Prospects of Contemporary Society
The welcome address was given by the Rector of the Seminary, Very Rev. Fr. Charles Robert Snyper, who noted that the week-long celebration was to help us reflect on the nobility and dignity of the Catholic Priesthood and its fragility.
The Chairperson of the ceremony was Most Rev. Gabriel Charles Parmer-Buckle, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Cape Coast. In attendance was Most Rev. Mathias Kwabena Nketsiah, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Coast.
THE KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY MOST REV. PETER PAUL YELEZUOME ANGKYIER
In his introduction, Bishop Peter Paul highlighted on the significance of reflecting on the faith which gave a firm foundation to pastoral duty. Again he said that secularization has had an adverse effect on the pastoral nature, both at the local and universal levels. His speech was centered on these five areas: what is the priesthood, the dignity of priesthood, challenges of priesthood, prospects of the challenges of the priesthood, and living the dignity of the priesthood in our contemporary time.
WHAT IS THE PRIESTHOOD?
According Wikipedia, the priesthood is “the power of God, given to man, an authority to perform duties entrusted to him.” As an authority, it is a privilege to perform services in the name of God. The church teaches that the priest works in the person of Christ, the Head. He again said that, the priest of the Old Law was a figure but in the New Law, the priest acts in the power of Christ. Thus Presbyterorum Ordinis 1 says that “through the sacred ordination and mission which they receive from the bishops, priests are promoted to the service of Christ the Teacher, Priest and King.” Among the qualities of priesthood the Bishop mentioned are goodness of heart, sincerity, justice, and honest. Priests would be powerless, he said, if they remained aloof from the people they serve.
THE DIGNITY OF PRIESTHOOD
Bishop Yelezuome Angkyier laid huge emphasis on what transpired at the Lord’s Supper: Mark 14:2-16, 1Corinthians 11:23-27. In the Upper Room, Christ transformed the Bread and Wine to his Body and Blood and thus the institution of the Holy Priesthood when He asked his disciples to break bread in memory of him. The Eucharist is the power-source of the Holy Priesthood. Consequently, the priesthood has no dignity and value outside the Paschal Mystery. Through the hand of the priest the bread and wine are transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Christ. Again, Most Rev. Peter Paul said the priest is not the savior but shares in it hence a valuable instrument to this saving work of Christ. His dignity is thus of divine origin. The priesthood is the most sublime, and outstanding miracle, a ministry which surpasses all understanding. The dignity of priest according to St. Ambrose exceeds the king just as gold exceeds the lead. Again, St. John Mary Vianney would be right in saying that, if the priest understands his duty, he will die. He did not mince words by saying that after God stands the priests and the priest will only realize this when he patens into that blissful state. He is only inferior to God hence the dignity of his office. The words of priests open the world to God and unite it with Him.
THE CHALLENGES OF THE PRIESTHOOD
Most Rev. Angkyier emphasized on five major challenges of the priesthood.
The first challenge is the influence of post-modern global culture. He said that, the growing secularization in the world has a negative impact on our culture which promotes radical individualism as against any natural attachment. This teaching elevates the individual above all else. This spirit is contrary to the duty to service with others and has implication on community life and parish living. Secularization is a culture which opposes universal moral value as unjust. Hence the church is perceived as interfering in the business of the individual. The evangelical counsels of obedience and celibacy are therefore put to question.
Another challenge is materialism and consumerism which focuses our life on money, possession and the passing things of this world. The priest is a soldier of Christ who is out there entangled with secular business and material things since these possess and take hold of us. Complacency is another factor of challenge to the Catholic Priesthood. Materialism robs us for the duty entrusted to us as priests. Materialism also gives birth to the spirit of self-sufficiency.
Financial constraint is another challenge of the priesthood. Some priests are unable to live up to expectation due to certain conditions on the pastoral ground. Society expects the priests to be everything to every person, he must have answers to every questions, seen as an angel hence any servant-attitude raises the eye-brow.
In addition to the points above, Most Rev. Angkyier said proliferation of churches is also a challenge to the priesthood. The gospel of prosperity is preached nowadays instead of a call to conversion. Again, the ministry of prophecy is on ascendency, among others, challenging the nature of the priesthood.
Finally, celibacy in a hyper-sexual world is a challenge to the Holy Priesthood. We are in the world where sex is glorified and hence it poses a great challenge to the priest who is called to live the counsel of celibacy. The nature of the contemporary priesthood has given a big blow to the amount of trust of the people of God in their priest.
In the light of these challenges, he said, the priest is called to live, act, and maintain the nature and dignity of the priesthood. The challenges experienced are necessary to the priesthood. Priesthood is a gift.
PROSPECTS OF THE CHALLENGES
The Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Damango said that the challenges are lessons which aid the priests to grow in his ministerial work. They are also a wake-up call to recover and recall the dignity of the priesthood. It is a period of purification of the priesthood (Ecclesia in Africa 22). We are to reconsider the place of the gospel witnessing to the people in a radical way. It is a call to us to wake up the virtues of prayer in the life of the priest. It invites us to take a clever look at the formation of the candidate for the priestly life. We must build the human-nature of the would-be priest and his spiritual formation as well.
LIVING THE DIGNITY OF THE PRIESTHOOD IN OUR CONTEMPORARY TIME
The call is not a call to do the impossible but to live in every moment conscious of who we are. Most Rev. Yelezuome gave five points on living the dignity of the priesthood in our contemporary time.
We must commit ourselves to a deeper life in prayer. The priest must be connected in a deeper union with God. Prayer creates the priest. The priest must keep his eyes fixed on Jesus, the pastor of pastors. Priests must dedicate themselves to spending time in Eucharistic adoration where ideas are made, love is found and homilies borne.
Again, priesthood must be lived in fidelity. We must be faithful to the priestly dignity no matter the cost. The fidelity is not a job or career but an identity. Thus Mother Teresa would say “the Lord does not ask us to be successful but to be faithful.”
Moreover, the priest must seek holiness. The office demands holiness of him who holds it. This makes the priest a mediator between God and man. A holy priest is a servant who represents the Master here on Earth. He continues the work of salvation. He gives his all for God and he is ever ready to sacrifice. Holiness must be the common and daily pursuit of priests.
In addition, priesthood is a commitment to service. The ministerial priesthood is distinctive and hence rings the bell of constant dedication and service to God and his people.
Finally, he said that priesthood is a call to obedience. The priest must conform to the entire demand of the divine will. Obedience is the total submission of one’s will into the hands of God. Obedience is possible when there is humility, sacrifice and total abandonment.
In his conclusion, Most Rev. Peter Paul said that we participate in the priesthood of Christ, and hence we must seek and find the joy in Jesus so that we can work to uplift the ministry of Christ on earth. The challenges are a call for purification, opportunity to discern well into the priesthood of Christ which comes with joy and challenges.
CLOSING REMARKS BY THE CHAIRPERSON
Most Rev. Palmer-Buckle, the Chairperson of the ceremony brought to light the unending process of priestly formation. Since the church is always under formation, he said, so is the priest. His studies never end in this dynamic society. The virtue of humility in the process of formation is indispensable in that, it is only in humility that we give Christ the chance to form us in order to grow in his likeness.
The chairman said that, we are but sharers and we participate in the high priesthood of Christ. He noted that the nature of the ministerial priesthood is nothing other than service. We are called to serve and do so with our heart. He encouraged the assembly to put in our best to raise the image of the ministry. We are not supposed to repeat the mistakes of the priests but rather learn from their mistakes and live what is right in them.
Again he encouraged the gathering to do an act of prayer for the country, Ghana. We must be men and women of Christ, the word of God, and our lives must be characterized with the word of God. We must be people of charity that is, doing something for ourselves with the other person in view. We must not be self-centered. These can be our gift to the nation on her 62nd Independence Anniversary which coincided with the Ash Wednesday.
Finally, the Metropolitan Archbishop of the Catholic Diocese of Cape Coast, Most Rev. Gabriel Charles Palmer-Buckle, challenged the people of God to have at heart, a deeper communion and love for the Eucharist which is the foundation of our lives. We must grow in love for Christ in the Eucharist.