THE HUMAN AND SEXUAL MATURITY EXPECTED OF THE PRIESTS OF ASIA

Bishop Antonio Luis Tagle
Consultation for Major Seminary Rectors of ASIA, FABC

I. Why the Interest in the Topic?
Some Presuppositions of Our Discussion

1. The concern about the human maturity of priests has become more urgent in our time because of the allegations of sexual misconduct among the clergy that have been exposed to the media and brought to the legal arena. These have caused harm to the moral standing of the Church, pain to its members and financial bankruptcy to some dioceses. The issue cannot be ignored.

2 Human maturity, however, is not limited to and is not to be equated with the area of sexuality alone. Right after the scandal caused by the sexual misconduct of priests erupted, reports of priests’ inability to relate, misuse of authority, addiction to money, alcohol, gambling etc. and psychological breakdowns have also surfaced. All these concern human maturity as well.

3. Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis (1992) brought to the attention of the whole Church that human formation is the foundation of all other aspects of priestly formation, whether preparatory or ongoing. This teaching by the Pope was not occasioned by the scandals per se but by the common reflection on the Synod of Bishops in 1991.

4. The human and social sciences have since contributed to the discussion, often centering on whether the prevailing ecclesiastical discipline governing the clergy enables them to grow in full humanity or not. Whatever their answer may be, it is undeniable that the interest in the human aspect of priestly life has caught fire even outside the confines of the Church.

5. Human and sexual maturity is expected of all priests, diocesan and religious of various cultures and of diverse forms of ministerial involvement. But we are aware that every cultural context proposes unique norms and expectations of human maturity that pose challenges and opportunities when brought into dialogue with each other and with the Christian vision. So it is legitimate to discuss the demands of human maturity of priests in the context of Asia.

6. Our preparation will be divided into three parts: 1. a quick review of the genesis of the ministry of presbyter, 2. the aspects of human maturity demanded by the theology of ministry; 3. some aspects of human maturity that need to be highlighted in the Asian cultural context.

II. The Rationale of the Ministry Of Presbyters

Of the many texts available to us for reflection, I would dwell on Acts 20: 17-35 to provide a general framework. It recounts the farewell of Paul the Apostle to the presbyters of the Church of Ephesus.

1. St. Paul’s discourse signals a deeper reality, i.e. the transition from the Apostolic Time to the Post-Apostolic time of the Church. The original Apostles (the Twelve and the Missionary Apostles like Paul) are slowing disappearing, chiefly through persecution. The burning issue was what would happen to the Church when these eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life and resurrection were gone. In this crucial moment that spelled out the life and continuity of the young Church, the presbyters (presbyteros/ episkopoi) entered. St. Paul encapsulated the responsibility of the presbyters in these words, “Keep watch over yourselves and over the whole flock the Holy Spirit has given you to guard. Shepherd the church of God which he has acquired at the price of his own blood” (Acts 20:28).
The presbyteral ministry is one of watching over (oversight, supervision) and shepherding mystical view of the Church as the flock for whom the Chief Shepherd laid down his life (cf.Jn.10:11).

2. For St. Paul, caring for the Church meant first and foremost guarding it from those who distort the truth (Acts12: 29-30), save wolves that would attempt to snatch the sheep by leading them astray from the truth. Keeping the Church true to the faith preached by the Apostles is the primary act of the presbyters’ shepherding of the Church. Similar ideas can be found in the so-called Pastoral Epistles, “I charge you to preach the word, to stay with this task whether convenient or inconvenient” (2 Tim.4/2). “In his teaching (a presbyteros) must hold fast to the authentic message, so that he will be able both to encourage people to follow sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it” (tit. 1/9).

3. But presbyters must keep watch over themselves too (Acts12/ 28). For how could they safeguard the community’s life and faith if they would not safeguard the purity of their own faith? So St. Paul commended the presbyters to the Lord and to His gracious word (Acts 12/32). This is echoed in the second letter to Timothy. “As for you, be steady and self-possessed; put up with hardship, perform your work as an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2Tim.4/5).
4. The presbyters should not only be true to the faith transmitted by the Apostle, they should also follow his example of not setting his heart on anyone’s silver or gold or dress (Acts 12:33). The Apostle worked with his hands to meet his needs, the needs of his companions and the weak (Acts 12:34-35). The first letter to Timothy says of an episkopos: “He must not be addicted to drink. He ought not to be contentious but, rather gentle, a man of peace. Nor can he be someone who loves money” (1 Tim.3/3). Self-control is expected of presbyters (cf.Tit.1: 8; 1 Tim 3/2).

5. As a summary, the very ministry of the presbyter in the Church calls for human qualities that would enhance the ministry of building up the Church. When these human qualities are wanting, the ministry does not serve its purpose, and the Church is rendered weaker, uncared for, a prey to wolves!

III. The Human Maturity Demanded of Presbyters by Their Ministry

The presentation above already indicates some elements of human maturity for a presbyter to do justice to the ministry.

1. The first is the capacity to work for, with and in community and to form community by fostering relationships. But only a person who has attained a mature level of self-esteem can relate in community. He has genuine respect for the gifts of other people and is not threatened by them. For a presbyter, building community entails accountability to the community and to Jesus whose body the Church is.

2 A presbyter who is expected to proclaim and defend the Gospel of Jesus must be a person of truth and truthfulness. Only in truthfulness can a person be uncompromising with the truth and discerning of it. He also needs love of learning, study and exploration of the truth of the faith.

3. A truly human presbyter has a clear sense of purpose. He knows his mission and the identity that it brings. For that mission, he strives towards purity of motivation. He will not allow the priestly ministry to be adulterated by what is foreign to or destructive of it. With inner freedom, he lets go of vices, attitudes, relationships, lifestyles and attachments that are not in keeping with his purpose in life.. Inner freedom begets apostolic self-discipline.

IV. The Demands of the Asian Context

The human qualities mentioned above are of universal significance. They are needed in Asia too. There is no need to repeat them in this section. Allow me to simply indicate how the context of Asia, with its great religions shaping our cultures, values and mindsets, with its poverty, calls forth from presbyters some unique challenges in the area of human and sexual maturity.

1. Being a person of community, the presbyter in Asia must manifest a welcoming and compassionate attitude towards those who belong to other faiths, to the poor and to the neglected in Asian societies. A true spirit of communion must be manifested   by a presbyter, not merely as a strategy to win people but a genuine manifestation of human respect for others. In many Asian societies, no true communion exists, especially where women, the girl child, the lower castes and the poor are continuously degraded and abused. Presbyters should be the face of a Church that cares rather than victimizes, a Church that welcomes rather than drives away.

2. In a pluralistic context, it is a temptation to be either so defensive of the truth one possesses as to demean others to be so accommodating of others that one eliminates all differences. A presbyter in Asian pluralistic society needs confidence in the truth of the Gospel, coupled with the spirit of genuine dialogue. The former enables one to be secure in sharing the truth one possesses. The latter enables one to recognize the truth that others possess. A happy blending of these two is a mark of a mature presbyter in Asia who avoids the two extremes of relativism and rigidity.

3. Given the many religious traditions of Asia that have influenced deeply the cultures, thought patterns and values of Asian peoples, presbyters must exercise healthy self-criticism in order to determine what values are truly operating in them. This will hopefully bloom into a prophetic spirituality both in the Church and in the wider society.

4. Religious people are esteemed by many Asian cultures and traditions. Asian people support their religious leaders with reverence and generosity. The desire for prestige cannot be a worthy motivation for entering and persevering in the ministry. Monetary gain, societal status, control over other people, and many other factors can influence a presbyter’s sense of purpose and performance in the ministry. An interior commitment to mission with its corresponding lifestyle of missionary asceticism and integrity is desirable for Asian presbyters.

By Way of Conclusion

1. How did your seminary formation address the issues of human/ sexual maturity?
2. What are the urgent issues related to human/sexual integrity that you are encountering in your dioceses, religious communities and seminaries? How do they impact on the mission and image of the Church?
3. How could we effectively address the need for human/sexual maturity among our seminarians and priests?

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