Post Covid-19 Church and Priesthood

A recent WhatsApp video of a priest asking the faithful to follow the government directives on places of worship has prompted me this to write this.

I am not sure of the video’s authenticity. At first the priest urges the people to follow government guidelines and says he would permit them to the Church for personal prayer in strict adherence to the instructions. Later, he announces a special Mass and “offertory” to celebrate the feast of Saint Anthony. He said he would allow a limited number of people with prior permission.

What draws my attention was the mention of special “offertory” of 1,000 rupees. I was confused about its intention. Is the 1,000-rupee special prayer for the spiritual solace of people who are shattered spiritually, physically, economically or to make money for the Church?

It is relevant to listen St. Paul who says in 2 Cor. 2:17: “For we are not peddlers of God’s Word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God as standing in His presence.” The priest of the Lord should not be a peddler of the Word of God, but show the right path with his words and deeds.

A priest friend recently told me casually that the lockdown has deprived most priests of income that used to come to them from Church collections and offerings given as tokens of love on occasions such as marriages, baptisms, funerals, blessings of houses and vehicles. On saints’ feasts, priests used to arrange special Mass and novena and collected a good amount of money.

Of course, most priests use the money to meet various needs of the parish such as beautification of the Church and presbytery. But sometimes they forget the priority of the Church and its minister should be to serve people as Jesus had done.

The post Covid-19 Church should shed extravagant expenditure on Church embellishments and feast celebrations. Do we need to spend millions of rupees merely for the sake of spatial reorganizations? Quite often, funds are collected forcibly from the people. Priests would cite the examples of the sacrifices our forefathers had made to build beautiful Churches in the past.

Yes, of course our forefathers did construct Churches shedding their sweat, but not tears the present generation is forced to do. Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC-1539) speaks “Priests are ‘appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins’ (Heb. 5:1).” The priest should be the shepherd who knows the sheep in and through, not a contractor of sheepfold.
St Peter rightly said, “I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the over sight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it-not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not Lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:2-3).
Pope Francis says that priests are not administrators but those who accompany people in their journey. The priest must be a person sent from God, who stands in the presence of God and speaking sincerely. The priest must realize that the priesthood is ministerial and refers to the “office” implying the term of ‘service’ – CCC-1551.

Coming back to Church reconstruction with funds collected forcibly from people. Is it done only for spatial reorganization or add beauty to them? If so, what difference is there between us and emperors of old who built so called beautiful Churches with bonded labour and money looted from their people?
In such instances, we cannot wash our hands of the organisational loot as Pontius Pilate. Time has come to realist what is taught, taught in CCC -1565; ‘Through the ministerial priesthood, the priest shares the universal dimension of the mission that Christ entrusted to the apostles- to preach the Gospel to the end of the nation.”

School and parish halls are built near the parish Church to facilitate people’s socioreligious development. However, these institutions eventually become means of earning and amassing wealth, allowing irregularity and misuse. Do Churches need income generating institutions and parish halls?
The post Covid -19 period should enable priests not only to open our Churches to all but ‘Church’ herself to understand and feel the mind of the faithful and address their problems. The Church should focus on the wellbeing of the faithful: shelter the homeless and offer spiritual and material wellness to all.
The Church should offer free education in its institutes, and provide medical facilities to the sick. It should rebuild or build the temple of God only after completing the building of the ‘living temple of God’ (1 Cor. 3:16;6:19).

St Paul’s words should renew the ministerial priesthood: “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:6-7).

Martin Valiyaparambil V.C.