A few months ago I asked leading parishioners around our eparchy if they would share their opinionon the role of the priest in our community.
The answers I received were not a surprise to me. They were in fact a confirmation of what one would think a priest should be like. Almost all shared the same opinion which can be divided into 3 categories. The priest must be a man of God with a deep and unwavering faith. He must be a community builder and must be a good administrator.
A priest must have a “passion for Jesus”. He is “happy and positive”, one “who knows Jesus’ teaching. The priest has the key that we all need to happiness-Jesus.” Pope Francis was quoted when one person added that the priest “must know the smell of his sheep.” Another person added. “Apart from the obvious roles and responsibilities of a priest,(carrying out the Sacraments) a priest “should pray and do spiritual and theological readings.” “A priest must have such a reverence for God that it has a great impact on the way we (parishioners) live our lives.” These are very inspiring reflections on the vocation which God has given all priests, deacons and sisters.
Our respondents noted that the life of the Ukrainian Community in Australia has become very complex. Priest more than ever must “care for their flock and know their flock.” This includes knowing the history of our church and our nation.”
The priest through “regular visits to parishioners, especially the old, the sick and the dying” builds community life. But he needs an understanding of modern day issues in society such as child abuse, family violence, drug abuse and aging.” “People want to see the priest at all parish activities and functions, but many of those who were asked, said “it is most important for the clergy to visit the sick and shutins. Because people notice and appreciate this, even those who do not go to church often. Our parishioners believe that in order to receive respect a priest can never be disrespectful, and this includes to be respectful toward other church authorities. To put it simply “people reject the non respecting priest.”
The priest must be a good administrator. The church and our society have changed over the years. The church operates different entities and has properties. It runs schools, runs events, holds classes, hosts very important people, has fund raising events and with the ever increasing demands from governments on reporting a priest needs “administrative, accounting and a legal understanding.”
We all know that the priest also needs to be “closely linked to the world” we live in.
“It is not easy to be a parish priest” one reply concluded, “they are not master builders, nor messiahs, they are prophets of a future not our own. This future is the kingdom of God.” When I started this survey in order to write this piece, I did not know what I would hear. But I must say that our lay people certainly have a very profound understanding of the role of a priest in our society.
Let us pray for our clergy and our lay people as well.
This post is also available in: Ukrainian