07 Editorial - Grace in Vessels of Clay - Fr. Anthony Charanghat

posted Aug 1, 2018, 9:19 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Aug 3, 2018, 12:40 AM ]
Pope Francis, on the World Day for the Sanctification of priests, called on all the faithful to pray for priests, that their faith may not fail and that they be witness to the holiness which their Patron, St John Marie Vianney, embodied. This is more urgent in the face of a spate of scandals and failings that have recently surfaced in the Catholic priesthood. Does priestly holiness mean to be a brilliant academician, an excellent preacher, a great administrator, a scrupulous observer of the law? Or is it a call, with the help of God, to nurture grace in the vessels of clay that they are?

It may come as a surprise to hear that priestly holiness has just as much to do with imperfection as perfection. Yes, we are called to ‘be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect’ (Mt 5:48). Yes, we are to share in the divine life to which we have been configured to Christ the Good Shepherd at ordination. But as we encounter God in our blessedness, so too we meet Him in our imperfections, when we face them honestly, courageously and realistically. Our path to holiness leads right through our own dysfunction, calling us to an ongoing struggle against the evil one, as Vianney was wont to.

To begin with, we must acknowledge our transgressions as the first step to spiritual transformation and growth in sanctity. Growth in holiness means coming to terms with both our high calling and darker side of our lives in unfailing prayer. It would also imply collaborating with both civil as well as canonical investigations, and being open to facing the consequences, if found guilty. This painful journey of facing the darker side is a must, in order to be credible spiritual guides to others in the path of holiness.

St Paul too had to face his own shadows that included his human weakness and murky past as a persecutor of the Church. In his second letter to the Corinthians, he reveals that for many years, he battled with 'a thorn in the flesh'. His struggle gave birth to words that give meaning and hope to all of us who struggle with our own thorns in the flesh: ‘for when I am weak, then I am strong’ (2 Cor 12:10). 'Where there is sin, there Grace still abounds' and hence the priests must ceaselessly  pray to the Lord to deliver us from evil. 

Imperfections of human nature not only lead us to know God and His mercy, but bring us into closer solidarity with the rest of humanity who struggle like we do. This familiarity with God’s mercy is especially important for priests who are charged with the awesome task of leading others to holiness. For when we are in touch with our own imperfections and learn to rely on God’s grace, we can better lead others to holiness and be an effective bridge for people who are searching for God.

The priest who is constantly aware of his flawed human nature but graced humanity, as St Vianney was, will minister more compassionately to people who share the same human struggle. He becomes less judgmental, more helpful and understanding. He helps them to repent, accept forgiveness and know God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In this sense, he can derive the strength of his priesthood also from the weakness that seems to threaten it.

The crisis that threatens the institution of the priesthood must not instill a sense of gloom and despair. The prayers of the whole Church should lead all priests and faithful to place their trust and supreme confidence in the Lord, who is stronger than any obstacle they face. Through the intercession of Saint John Marie Vianney, the Divine Potter will mould and shape His priests— vessels of clay to be channels of grace to shepherd His flock, according to His Divine will.