Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Address to the National Council of Priests, Canberra, Australia, 11 September 2018
Address to the National Assembly of Diocesan Priests, Christchurch, New Zealand, 13 September 2018
“Being a priest in an unprecedented time of change”
PART 4: PRIESTHOOD ORIENTED TO MUTUALITY AND PARTNERSHIP
In the end, though, I firmly believe that we are on the threshold of renewal and transformation of the priesthood. Like the wedding feast of Cana, the wine of old has served the Church well but it is running out. The old way of being a priest has, likewise, well served the Church we love. But that model of the exalted, separated and elitist priesthood is drawing its last breaths – at least in many parts of the world including Australia.
There is a better wine that the good Lord has prepared for us.
The new wine of God’s unconditional love, boundless mercy, radical inclusivity and equality needs to be poured into new wineskins of humility, mutuality, compassion and powerlessness. The old wineskins of triumphalism, authoritarianism and supremacy, abetted by clerical power, superiority, and rigidity, are breaking.
When Jesus sent out his disciples on a mission to announce the Good News, he sent them not as lone rangers but in pairs. What I derive from that practice of his is that Christians can only minister effectively when they recognise their limits as individual and are open to partnership with others. Priests particularly must learn to minister in relationship with one another and with their community.
Yet, ironically, the whole clerical culture is often geared towards individual heroism and even Messiah complex.
The Cure d’Ars is probably the patron saint par excellence of the kind of priestly individual heroism. No wonder many of us suffer from ministerial burn out, depression and loneliness.
If the priesthood has a better future, it has to be humanised; it has to find expression in better mutual support, collaboration and partnership. It has to free itself from the variant strains of clericalism such as sexism, narcissism and paternalism.
While ordained for service, the priest remains not apart from but a part of the faithful in need of support, ministry and community.
Though he preaches, he listens with open heart to the preaching of others. (When I am home with my mother, I am keen to hear pearls of wisdom from the real preacher!)
Though he blesses, he also bows his head to receive the blessings of others. (Pope Francis’ gesture at his first appearance was refreshing.)
Though he leads with a leadership of service, he must be willing to be led by others.
Though he ministers, he also recognises the ministerial charisms in others and works with them in collaborative ministry for the good of the community. Maintaining the healthy tension of this dialectic is a key to the priesthood oriented to mutuality and partnership.
It seems to me that the Church cannot have a better future if it persists in the old paradigm of triumphalism, self-reference and male supremacy.
So long as we continue to exclude women from the Church’ governance structures, decision making processes and institutional functions, we deprive ourselves of the richness of our full humanity.
So long as we continue to make women invisible and inferior in the Church’s language, liturgy, theology and law, we impoverish ourselves as if we heard with only one ear, we saw with only one eye and we thought with only one half of the brain – and often the lowest reptilian section thereof. Until we have truly incorporated the gift of women and the feminine dimension of our Christian faith, we will not be able to fully energise the life of the Church.
Part 5 will be published tomorrow.
To read Part 3 of Bishop Vincent’s address, click here.