The Church needs priests, but for what?

Church needs priests

We’ve just turned the page on the month of June, traditionally in some parts of the world, the time for priestly ordinations in many parts of the Catholic world.

According to figures from the national bishops’ conference, the Church in France was ordained 122 new priests this summer – 77 diocesan and 45 from religious congregations.

One can spend a long time discussing these numbers.

Catholics who are more or less resigned will deplore the decline in vocations. Others will see the figures as a reason to abolish mandatory celibacy or ordain women.

And still others will urge the bishops to follow the example of those dioceses or communities that are attracting vocations.

What these three seemingly different attitudes have in common is that they focus on numbers – numbers that should be increased one way or another. But perhaps this is the wrong way of looking at the problem.

To put it provocatively, we do not “need” priests who will be available to everyone to provide various spiritual services. We must place ourselves on another level.

The priest is first of all a sign of God’s concern for his people. The priest is a gift that God gives to his Church to guide it and help each of its members to advance on the path of holiness, through listening to the Word of God, sacramental life, fraternal service, and so forth.

But are we aware that God wants to make us a holy people, a people of saints?

The vocation crisis is perhaps above all a crisis of the desire for holiness, an issue that is apparently absent from the synodal consultation’s feedback.

It’s a desire to live more and more in the grace with which God fills us and which transforms us interiorly, to the point of making us new beings.

What use are priests to us if we have no desire to be made holy?

And how can we desire to become saints if there is no longer anyone to remind us, through a choice of life totally dedicated to the building up of the Church, that God calls each one of us to holiness (cf. Lev 19, 2) and sustains us on this path by his grace?

That is why we need priests. But not just any priests, especially after revelations of various types of abuse committed by the clergy.

We need priests who will not be puffed up by pride, but who are fully dedicated to the sanctification of those entrusted to them.

Hence the fundamental role of Christian communities in the discernment of vocations.

  • Dominique Greiner is a senior editor at La Croix, as well as a moral theologian and Assumptionist priest.
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