7. How great is a good priest
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them out ahead of him, in pairs, to all the towns and places he himself was to visit. He said to them, ‘The harvest is rich but the laborers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send laborers to his harvest’.
The purpose of the Congregation of the Mission is to follow Christ, the Evangelizer of the Poor. This purpose is achieved when, faithful to Saint Vincent, the members, individually and collectively … help the clergy and laity in their formation and lead them to a fuller participation in the evangelizing of the poor.
Constitutions, 1, 3
The Congregation of the Mission was called to dedicate itself to the formation of the clergy as a way of serving the poor in a more effective way. There was no doubt in Saint Vincent’s mind that this new work was God’s wish. Aware of the difficulties involved, the Congregation desires to remain faithful to God’s will and Saint Vincent.
1. When the Fullness of Time Came
Saint Vincent explained how and why the Congregation assumed this undertaking:
The third goal of our humble institute is to instruct ecclesiastics, not only in the sciences of understanding but also in the science of virtue. In this way they can adhere to Jesus’ command to ‘follow’. What good is it to teach one without the other? None or almost none. They need both learning and virtue. Without these, everything else is useless and dangerous. In the beginning, the Company was only concerned about itself and the poor … but when the fullness of time came, God called us to contribute to the formation of good priests, to give good pastors to parishes and to teach them what they had to know and do. What an important task! How extraordinary! Who would have thought of the exercises to the ordained and seminarians? Never would this have occurred to us if God had not demonstrated that it was his will to employ us in that task. For the most part, it is God who has brought us, the Congregation of the Mission, to these duties, asking us to dedicate ourselves in a serious, humble, devoted, and consistent way to this task. 1
2. How Grand it Is to Be a Good Priest
Saint Vincent had various experiences that taught him the difference between a good priest and a bad priest. How much good is possible for a devoted priest; what damage a bad priest can do. The missionaries should give themselves to forming priests, helping them to acquire learning and virtue. This task is both difficult and rewarding.
The formation of priests is a participation in the priesthood of the Son of God who has given them the power to sacrifice his own Body, to distribute it to others as food so that those who eat it shall live forever. This power over the Body of Jesus Christ is an utterly divine and incomparable fact which fills the angels with awe. The power to forgive the sins of men and women is also divine, and for the angels in heaven there is reason for gratitude and praise. Could anything be greater or more wonderful? Oh, how grand is a good priest!2
3. Making the Gospel Live
It may be said that ‘coming to evangelize the poor’ does not mean to come merely for their salvation but also to fulfill the words of the prophets and the figures of the Old Law and for the purpose of making the Gospel live. You know that in times past God rejected priests who had profaned holy things. He called their sacrifices abominations and said that he would raise up other priests, who, from the east to the west, from the north to the south, would cause their voices and their words to be heard: ‘their voice is heard throughout all the earth’. And by whom did he fulfill this promise? By his Son, our Lord, who has formed priests, who has taught and trained them and given them power to ordain others: ‘as the Father has sent me, so I send you’.3
- What do I think about the work of forming the clergy?
- Am I willing to go out of my way to be of assistance to another priest?
Father, you have taught the ministers of your Church not to desire that they be served, but to serve their sisters and brothers. May we be effective in our work and persevering in our prayer, performing our ministry with gentleness and concern for others. We pray in the name of Jesus, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.4