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Priests are mortals too!

THIS AUGUST 4 IS the 160th death anniversary of St. Jean Baptiste Marie Vianney, who died in 1859, and was canonised and declared the patron saint of parish priests in 1929 by Pope Pius XI. His life is a timeless example of dedication to souls especially through the sacrament of confession. This occasion provides an opportunity for priests to reflect on the ministerial priesthood they share with Christ and for the laity to pray and pledge their support for their priests.  
 
Life of St. Jean Vianney is both a challenge and a consolation to priests today. Father Vianney, in spite of being so ordinary and with no special skills or academic excellence to boast about, excelled in heroic the virtues of charity and mercy. People who approached him experienced the living presence of Jesus in the Mass he celebrated and in the sacrament of Reconciliation he administered. His life is also a consolation as it reminds priests that their skills and merits are not the criteria for being a priest of Christ. 
 
While celebrating the 30th anniversary of the promulgation of the Vatican II decree, Presbyterorum Ordinis, Pope St. John Paul II delineated the identity of a priest as a “man of Eucharist, man of prayer.” That summerises the life of St. Jean Vianney; moreover, this is the vocation and challenge of being a priest. 
 
What makes the life of a priest different from others? The primary difference is the authority to administer the sacraments. But then there is a danger of mistaking this “authority” as power, both by priests and by the Church community. An undue significance is attributed to the powers of priests in the Church and that makes them feel out-of-the-ordinary. This “power” has lured many priests into a false sense of authority. All the wrongs of clericalism result from this false idea of the authority of priests.  
 
Priests are respected and revered and sometimes even feared as though they are extraordinary and super-human. It is also possible that they are not genuinely loved, nor understood, because they are seldom perceived and accepted as ordinary humans. Perhaps our Catholic community must learn appreciate and accept priests as fully human with all their strengths and weaknesses, with all the achievements and failures, with all their feelings and emotions.  
 
Unfortunately, this is rarely afforded to priests and consequently, we tend to leave no room for our priests to be weak!  The Catholic community wants to see priests as the epitome of all the virtues and holiness; who dress in medieval clothes and always stay in the sanctuary. This pressurises priests to pretend to be someone far from reality. Is this a reason why not many want to join priesthood?
 
The Church community must accept their priests with all their potentials and limitations, virtues and weaknesses. In my 15 years of being a priest, there were both incredibly special moments as well as occasions of agony. I realise that it’s my own weaknesses that helps me empathise with the people with whom I relate. My mission as a priest is to live and share the good news of Jesus but oftentimes, little children, non-believers or strangers me were the ones who taught me valuable lessons on love, humility and service. 
 
Scripture presents a priest as “a chosen one from among the people” and “set apart” for the work of God (Hebrews 5:1). Our call is to be with the people to pray with them and for them! jose