TIMOTHY RADCLIFFE OP
The Joy and Sorrow
of Priesthood Today
the National Conference of Priests
at Digby Stuart College, Roehampton.
That your joy may be full - John 16.24 >>>
The Identity of the Priest >>>
Parish as community >>>
Facing sin and failure >>>
|That your joy may be full
- John 16.24
I wish to talk about the joy and sorrow of
priesthood today. When I met the Council of the National Conference of Priests to discuss
my contribution to this Conference, I was told that many priests in England and Wales feel
depressed and demoralized. How widespread this demoralization is I do not know. But
regardless of how many priests are actually demoralized, there are many good reasons why
we might be: the shortage of vocations, the lack of a clear priestly identity, the loss of
respect for our vocation, the scandals of sexual abuse, the disappearance of the young
from many parishes, disagreements with some statements by the Church and so on. So I wish
to look at some of these issues, and ask how we can face them without being demoralized.
This is important because there is a deep contradiction between priesthood and depression.
You can be a good and depressed banker or taxi driver, a gloomy but effective accountant
or lawyer. But one cannot be a preacher of the gospel and be plunged in gloom. It makes no
sense. We can only be credible bearers of the good news if we are fundamentally, if not
always, joyful. I am not referring to a happy clappy jollity, going around slapping people
on the back and telling them to be happy because Jesus loves them. That sort of thing does
make me feel deeply depressed. But there is a deep joy that belongs to our vocation as
priests.This joy is deeply linked with sorrow and even with anger. Our vocation summons us
to share not just the passion of Christ, but also his passions, his joy and sorrow and
anger. These are the passions of those who are alive with the gospel. So I wish to look at
some of the issues that might indeed make us feel depressed, to see how we might face them
with sorrow and joy and even anger rather than debilitating demoralization.
I shall begin by looking at the identity of the priest and see what are the challenges in
living out that identity with the local community. Then tomorrow I shall look at some of
the issues that might demoralize us in our relationship to the wider Church: our role of
proclaiming Church teaching, the scandals which fill the papers, and so on.
I am deeply aware that I am not the ideal person to do this. I have lived outside Britain
for the last ten years, and so I am not yet back in touch with the Church here. Also I am
a religious priest, and though we face the same challenges, sometimes we do so
differently. But I console myself by thinking of one of my brethren who gave a lecture in
the United States. When he finished the lecture, the applause was rather tepid. He sat
down and said to the man beside him: "It was not that bad, was it?" The man
replied: "Don't worry about it. I don't blame you. I blame the people who invited you
|The Identity of the Priest
In The Changing Face of the Priesthood,
Donald Cozzens writes: "At the core of the priest's crisis of soul is the search for
his unfolding identity as an ordained servant of Jesus Christ. The issue of the priest's
identity grips the roots of his soul." While some priests deny concern about their
priestly identity, more concede that the issue hangs over their heads like a storm cloud,
robbing them of the confidence they once knew, rendering them awkward and self-conscious
in certain parish situations.
As we all know, before the Vatican Council the priest had a clear identity. He was a
sacred cultic figure, who had status and respect just because he was ordained. He was
precious because he celebrated Mass and consecrated the body and blood of the Lord, even
if he was a dreadful pastor and preacher. That identity was put into question by the
Council. There was a rediscovery of the common priesthood of the whole people of God, of
the universal call to holiness, and of marriage as a sacred vocation. The priesthood was
now seen above all in terms of service and leadership. Most priests were and are
enthusiastic about this new identity. In theory at least, it has liberated us from a
stifling clericalism; it offers an identity that much more Christ like and evangelical.
So what is the problem? Why is it that thirty years after the Council, so many priests are
ill at ease and unclear as to who we are? I can think of at least four reasons.
The idea of the priest as servant and leader is beautiful, but the words tend to pull in
opposite directions. Servants are not usually supposed to lead, like bossy butlers. I
reminded of those French waiters who, with immense superiority, try to tell you what you
should order from the menu. Remember the Irish bishop who announced at his consecration
that he intended to serve the diocese with a rod of iron.
The image of the priest in modern theology is so idealized that none of us can live up to
it. I read a lot in preparation for this lecture and I was horrified to discover that I
had to be a brilliant preacher, an efficient administrator, a creative liturgical genius,
a patient listener, an inspiring leader, a spiritual guru, good with the young and with
the old. I became profoundly demoralized, and convinced that I was a bad priest who ought
to apply for laicisation. You almost lost me!
A theology of service tends to focus upon what the priest does rather than who he is. This
can lead to a utilitarian view of the priesthood. To be a good priest, one must work
incessantly and be effective. But in this secularized world, with diminishing religious
practice, priests will often find that we have achieved little and so must be failures.
The concept of ministry has expanded enormously. In the USA 80% of people who are
ministers in the Church are lay, and 80% of these lay people are women. This has two
effects. One is that the priest feels less special. Is all the sacrifice of celibacy and
the stress worth it just to be one of these ministers, when most of the other ministers
have all the pleasures of marriage? And secondly, the priesthood is the focus of much
aggression by those who feel excluded from it, e.g. married men and women. So the priest
as a minister may feel himself to be both devalued and yet envied, which is the worst of
all situations - 'How dare you exclude me from this rather unimportant role that you
So it is understandable that some priests, often younger men, are attracted by a return to
,the good old days, when the priest was a cultic figure with sacred hands. Other priests
dread this as a return to clerical elitism, and delight in a theology of service, but some
will admit that they are unsure as to who we are and what it means to be a priest today.
Is there a way forward?
I believe that there is, and it is to be found in the Letter to the Hebrews, the only
document of the New Testament that develops a theology of priesthood. There we have a
vision of Christ the High Priest who is a sacred figure, who celebrates the heavenly cult.
But his holiness does not separate him from other people but weds him to us. This offers
us a profound vision of priesthood which I have not the time to develop here, but which
carries us beyond the polarisation of those who see the priesthood in terms of service and
those who are nostalgic for the priesthood as a sacred figure.
The Old Testament understanding of holiness implied the separation of the priest from all
that was impure and imperfect.The high priest could not go near a corpse, and if you
wanted to stop a rival becoming high priest then a nifty move was to bite off his ears!
But in Hebrews we find this vision of holiness is turned upon its head. Christ's holiness
is shown in his embrace of us in all our sinful imperfection. His holiness is displayed
not by distance from us but by closeness. And the culmination of his sacred ministry was
when he embraced death, that most impure thing, and became himself a corpse. Therefore
Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his blood.
'Let us therefore then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured.' (Hebrews
The gospels never speak directly of Christ as a priest, but we find this same theology of
holiness. He embraces the untouchable, the lepers; he eats and drinks with sinners; he is
sacrificial lamb who dies on the altar of the cross. So the whole people of God is a holy
and priestly people, because it embodies Christ's embrace of us all in our messy lives,
with all their weakness and failures. And the sacrament of that holiness is the Eucharist,
in which Christ gave his body to us all, including to the disciples who would betray and
deny him. The holiness of the Church is shown in its inclusion of sinners, not their
exclusion. As James Joyce said of the Church: "Here comes everyone." It also
offers us ordained ministers a vision of our priesthood which is utterly free of
clericalist elitism, and which is founded upon our intimacy and identification with people
in their struggles and failures.
Let me make a confession. As the time for me to be ordained drew near, I began to have
terrible doubts as to whether I was called to be a priest. I had become deeply repelled by
clericalism, and by any hint of priestly superiority. I dreaded the hypocrisy of it,
because I knew that I was no better than anyone else. I only accepted ordination in
obedience to my brethren. I could identify with St Augustine who wept when he was ordained
a priest. The cynics thought that he was weeping because he had not been made a bishop,
but in fact it was because he had no desire to be a priest at all. After my ordination I
saw with horror my parent's parish priest advancing towards me. Only two years before he
had commanded me to leave 'those heretical Dominicans' so that I might save my soul. Now
he threw himself down before me and asked for a blessing from my sacred hands. I fled from
the reception to my room, to recover my calm. I was only driven back because one of my
German brothers followed me upstairs and tried to talk to me about Heidegger! That was
I finally came to love my priesthood in the confessional box. It was here that I
discovered that ordination brings us close to people just when they feel farthest away
from God. We are one with them, at their sides, as together we face human frailty, failure
and sin, ours and theirs. The trouble with clericalism is not that it made the priest a
sacred figure, but rather its understanding of the sacred was derived from the Old
Testament rather than for the gospel.
One of the most sacred occasions at which I have ever taken part was the funeral of a man
called Benedict, some twenty five years ago. I anointed him just before he died of AIDS,
and his last request was that I bury him from Westminster Cathedral. Now that took some
negotiation! At the funeral, the coffin was there at the centre of cathedral, and around
were gather his friends, many of them also with AIDS. Here at the symbolic centre of
Catholic life in Britain was the body of someone who represented so much exclusion, as
having AIDS, being gay and dead. In this moment we can see the epiphany of God's radiant
This vision of the priesthood is essentially missionary, reaching out. It means that
serving the Christian community cannot be the ministry of priests to the exclusion of all
other ministries. However great the shortage of priests, the diocese must try to free some
of us for other forms of outreach, so that those who would never come near a Church can be
touched and welcomed. And when one's ministry is to a parish, then the parish community
must be in some sense missionary, turned outwards.
This holiness of the priesthood does not mean that we are necessarily morally superior to
anyone else. It is the opposite of elitist. It expresses the scandalous outreach of God to
those who are on the edge. This implies a certain social dislocation for the ordained
priest. We do not have a clear place in the social hierarchy. We are slippery figures who
should be equally at home with Dukes or dustmen. We are to embody an inclusiveness that
cannot be fully comprehensible to our present society, and summons it beyond all its
inclusions and exclusions. I was a student in Paris when Cardinal Danielou died on the
staircase on his way to visit a prostitute. The press aired all the expected innuendoes.
But, as far as I could see, he was a holy man being a good priest. In way it was the
perfect place for a Cardinal die.
It is even fitting that we dress in a rather odd way, and even occasionally wear skirts
when other men gave up doing so five hundred years ago. It suggests that we sit askew to
the ordinary structures. This reminds me of one of my American brethren. Like many Irish
Americans, his Christian names included Mary. He was sounding off in the common room about
the people being ordained priests these days, all these weirdoes, homosexuals and God
knows what else. And one of the brethren answered him: "Come on. Your name is Mary
and you are wearing a white skirt. What makes you think that you are so normal."
This is a dimension that must enter into our discussion about whether priests should be
allowed to marry. I think that the arguments in favour of a married clergy are extremely
strong, perhaps overwhelming. Perhaps the main regret that I would have is that a married
priest might be more evidently part of the social system. There would be a pressure for
him to have a lifestyle that clearly placed him somewhere in the social hierarchy, because
of the education that his children got, and where they went on holiday and so on. It might
be harder for him to represent the inclusivity of the Kingdom. This is not a knockdown
argument for retaining celibacy, but it should be borne in mind. Does this vision of
priesthood contribute to the debate about the ordination of women? If I may be evasive, I
would just say that I was asked to address the topic of men who are depressed because they
are priests, and not of women who are depressed because they are not!
I am suggesting that the ordained priest is called to embody in his life and being God's
out reach to all of scattered humanity. This takes one beyond the dichotomy of those who
see priesthood in terms of being and those who see it in terms of doing. All that we do as
ordained priests should express and embody the holiness of God,s being in Christ,
transforming the outsider into an insider, death into life, and sorrow into joy.
How is a priest to live this vocation, especially in the face of the crises of our Church
and society? Today I will look at some of the challenges that we face in living this role
in relationship to the local community. And tomorrow I will look at how we live it in
solidarity with the wider Church, with all the crises that it is suffering at the moment.
When Michael Hollings felt called to the priesthood at the end of the war, he went to see
the regimental chaplain, who was a Benedictine. The chaplain asked him why he wanted to be
a priest. Michael replied: "To help people. He asked if I did not see Mass as being
the centre of what a priest is. I simply said I did not, I wanted to help people, The
chaplain was deeply shocked. My impression is that the spirituality of the diocesan
priesthood is deeply grounded in the life of the laity. Bishop Untenor of the USA wrote
that: "Diocesan priests belong to the community of the disciples of Jesus Christ. We
face the same struggles as every lay person, and we live in the same world as they
It is, in the deepest sense, a lay spirituality, a spirituality with and for the laos, the
people. I grew up thinking that the first class priest was a member of a religious order.
There seemed to be a bit of a contradiction between the word 'secular' and the word
'Priest' - as if the secular priest did not fully make the grade. But if we accept the
theology of Hebrews, then the priesthood is God's embrace of the secular, of what is lay.
Our great high priest was in fact a lay person. Being a secular priest, thus expresses
what is at the heart of all priesthood. Maybe it is we religious who are the sacerdotal
odd balls whose priesthood needs to be explained. It is a bit late for me to discover this
after thirty years as a Dominican priest!
If this spirituality is above all geared towards life with the laity, then it is here that
secular priests, and often religious priests too, will experience our greatest joy but
also our deepest pain and even demoralization. I will glance at just three sensitive
areas: the difficulties of leadership, the frequent failure of parishes to be the
communities that we dreamed of, and finally the pain of living our priestly life so close
to so much human failure and tragedy.
Much modern theological literature talks
about the priest as leader. I must confess to unease with this. First of all because, as I
said earlier, I think that it sits uneasily with the idea of service. How can one fit
together being a servant and a leader of the people of God? This tension can confuse our
relationships with those with whom we collaborate. They are delighted with the idea that
the priest is there to serve and may be a bit surprised that this usually means telling
them what to do!
More fundamentally the word suggests to me the world of business management. The leader is
expected to be competent and decisive, not showing his weakness or hesitations, taking
bold decisions. Above all leadership is usually evaluated in terms of success and
achievement, the meeting of goals. But priesthood is not about success and achievement. We
often find that we have not achieved much. If we think of ourselves as leaders, then we
will probably feel that we are failures. And our people, who often live and work in the
world of business management, if they are lucky enough to have a job, do not come to us
hoping to find in the parish the same values that they live in the office. Yet the word
has become very popular in the Church, even in religious life. I am always being asked how
long I was 'in leadership'. I usually reply: 'Never until now.'
But Hebrews may offer us a vision of leadership which is priestly, and which can offer us
a relationship to the people which is neither domineering nor will make us feel failures.
Jesus is the pioneer of our faith,"who opened the new and living way through the
curtain, "(10.20). He goes before us into the presence of God. Jesus leads by going
ahead, taking the first step.
Our leadership is shown in being those who are prepared to take the first step: in
reaching out to those who are excluded and marginalized, in offering and asking for
forgiveness. In the parable of the prodigal son, reconciliation is achieved because both
the younger son and the father take the first step in different ways. The son takes the
first step of coming home, and when the father sees him in the distance, he takes the
first step of going to meet him.
The Pope has shown us what this means in his outreach to the Orthodox, to Jews and
Muslims, taking the risk of rejection. He has taken the first step in asking for
forgiveness for the sins of the Church, despite opposition within the Vatican. That is
leadership. So for us to be leaders does not require that we be omni competent, decisive
people who tell everyone else what to do. It does require that we dare to take the first
step in going before people, whether to welcome those who may not want us, to invite
people to do more than they ever believed possible, to forgive and to ask forgiveness.
This can be lonely. True leadership, in this sense, can lead us to the solitude of the
Perhaps in the universal ethos of the market, our leadership will be in daring to let fall
the mask of competence, to face our own limitations and failures, and not be afraid of
them. We can go before in facing our fragility without fear. Leadership above all means
taking the first step into vulnerability. True leadership gives us the utter joy and
freedom of dropping the heavy masks of being knowledgeable, strong macho people who would
have been highly paid executives if only the Lord called us to BP instead of the
|Parish as community
Another areas in which we may have to face
failure and demoralization is in the creation of the parish community. When I met the
Council of the National Conference of Priests, one priest shared his frustration because
so often the parish was seen as a petrol station rather than a genuine community. People
popped in for a quick Mass rather than to gather around the altar as the people of God.
Parishes are not always the beautiful communities that we read about in books of theology.
The parish liturgical team has prepared a rich feast but many people just want elevenses,
before going home for the real celebration of Sunday lunch. This is not surprising. In the
modern city the territorial parish does not build upon any natural sense of community. The
priest may see the parish as his principal community, but most people would put the parish
far down their list of places in which they belong, after their homes, football clubs, the
schools of their children and the places they work. This can give the parish priest the
feeling that he is a failure. He has failed to gather the people around the altar; he has
failed to build a Eucharistic community.
It is not my task to look at the future of the territorial parish and consider
alternatives. I just want to make a simple point, which is that any community that we try
to build here is always going to be somewhat of a failure, because the Kingdom has not
come. Every Christian community, whether it is a parish, a Dominican priory or the Legion
of Mary, is a faulted and fractured symbol of the community that we long for, the Kingdom.
If a parish were too successful, then we might make the mistake of thinking that the
Kingdom had come and that the parish priest was the Messiah.
The archetypal gathering of the Christian community was at the Last Supper. And think what
a dismal failure that community was: one of the disciples sold Jesus, another went on to
deny him, and the rest ran away. Jesus failed to gather them into a community on that last
night, so we should not be surprised if we do no better than he did.What Jesus did was to
offer the sacrament of community, the sign of the Kingdom that was to come as a gift in
its own good time. If the parish is not a greatened dynamic community, then this may not
be a sign of our personal failure at all. Sometimes we can do no more than enact signs of
what is to come.
When I was a young Dominican student at Oxford, I went to the chaplaincy to see Michael
Hollings.Unfortunately he sent me away with a flea in my ear because he did not like
religious! Years later I came to know and admire him. Everywhere he went he kept an open
house, at Oxford, Southall and Bayswater. Once he caught a burglar in the act of robbery
and invited him to stay for tea. I knew that I could never cope with that sort of life,
but I admired it as a sign of the Kingdom. It was not the Kingdom, at least I hope not!
But it was a sign of the Kingdom that embraces everyone. We cannot build that community
ourselves only gesture towards it. It will come as a gift and surprise.
In March I was in Cairo, and I went to visit a part of the city which tourists rarely see,
Mukatan. It is the city of the rubbish collectors. There are some 300,000 of them, and
they are mostly Christians. They go out in the morning to collect the city's rubbish and
bring it back to Mukatan to sort through and see what there is to sell or recycle. It is
the filthiest, smelliest and most depressing place I have ever seen. The people seem half
dead. Even the children playing football in the street move lethargically, like old men.
Behind this awful place there are high cliffs of stone. And a Polish artist has given his
whole life to covering them with images of Christ in glory. When the rubbish collectors
come home on their donkey carts with their piles of stinking bags, they can see on the
rocks the transfiguration of Christ, and his resurrection and ascension. These images
proclaim that they are not just rubbish collectors but citizens of the Kingdom, destined
for glory. They are kept alive by signs.
|Facing sin and failure
The priest is the bearer of the good news.
This is why demoralization so deeply undermines our vocation. Nobody will believe us if we
look miserable. But the role of the priest is often to bring this good news to people
whose lives are touched by despair and failure. Tony Philpot wrote that: "the
diocesan priest deals, ex professo, with failure. There is, of course, his own failure,
the knowledge of his own sinfulness. But there is also the fact that the Gospel is about
the forgiveness of sins, and his vocation is to deal with the sins of his flock, Failure
is the raw material on which he works. "
In our society, he must also be faced with all the ills and pain of a society in which the
collapse of social structures and secularization means that many people confront a deep
loss of meaning in their lives. How can we manage to go on being joyful bearers of good
news when we see so many broken families, young people lost and on drugs and the triumph
of a culture of trivialization?
Of course the primary way in which we do this is through celebrating the liturgical year.
This is a story that includes suffering, failure, humiliation, sin and exile and which
propels us beyond them to the Kingdom. Each year we are brought out of Egypt and make the
journey towards the Promised Land. We begin in Advent and are carried through to
Christmas, and from Lent to Easter, Pentecost and finally to the Feast of Christ the King.
We share the demoralization of the Israelites in the desert, and of their descendants in
Exile in Babylon, and are carried beyond it.Jesus says to the disciples at the Last
Supper, "You have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice,
and no one will take your joy from you." (John 16.22). We live out annually a story
that transforms sorrow into joy.
But that is not enough of an answer. Despite the annual cycle some priests still feel
burdened and demoralized. The annual re-enactment does propel us towards the Promised
Land, but just when we are about to enter and relax, there we start all over again.The
year can feel like a liturgical snakes and ladders: we get to the Feast of Christ the King
and then, woops, we go sliding all the way back to the beginning again. So, during this
endless repetition, some glimpse of the end of the journey must break in now. Even now we
must enjoy some foretaste of the joy and peace of the Kingdom. We have to live now so that
the people of God get some hint of the end of the journey. We cannot wait until we are
dead to become alive. Otherwise, why should the people believe that we are going anywhere?
The rhythm of the liturgical year will feel like jam yesterday, jam tomorrow but never jam
So I believe that if priest is to be the bearers of good news, then we need to have a way
of life in which evennow eternity breaks in. It is not enough just to survive now. We need
to flourish. We each need to make a way of life that really offers us life, alive with the
foretaste of eternity life. Otherwise we will be overwhelmed with the sorrow of this age,
or succumb to its culture of trivialization. The earliest name for the Christian life was
, 'The Way,' We need to show that it is a way somewhere, and not just a wandering around
in circles in the desert.
The big question is how a priest may shape such a way of life. Some diocesan priests have
said to me that it is easy for religious to talk about having a way of life, especially
when they are not parish priests. We have a rule of life to follow; we live in
communities, and we have more control over our lives than do priests who are at the beck
and call of their parishioners and can never predict what dramas each day will produce.
Other priests deny this and say that the priest can and must shape his time so that he can
pray, relax and flourish. Other priests say that this would be possible if the bishop
faced the crisis caused by the shortage of priests and bites the bullet. I would ask you
to reflect now upon how you can shape your lives so that even now people can glimpse in
them the first fruits of the new creation: freedom, peace and joy.
My intuition is that it must be possible to claim that freedom to shape a way of life that
is really alive. You are, like Jesus, handed over into the hands of men and women. Like
Jesus, you have taken the immense risk of giving yourself to the people freely. When
Cardinal Bernadin was consecrated Archbishop of Chicago, he said to the people,: "For
however many years I am given, I give myself to you. I offer you my service and
leadership, my energies, my gifts, my mind, my heart, my strength,and, yes, my
limitations. I offer you myself in faith, hope, and love."
This is a Eucharistic self-gift: ' This is my body, given for you,' Yet Jesus remained the
freest person there has ever been, whose life was shaped by obedience to the Father. He
gave himself into our hands, and yet he was never a passive puppet. He shaped his life, as
indeed did Cardinal Bernadin. How can we find that Eucharistic freedom, so that we give
our lives away, and still shape a way of life in which the light of the Kingdom can be
glimpsed? That is the question I put to you.
We need to have a way of life that lets us rest sometimes, rest with God and also just
rest with ourselves. We need to have moments when we can disappear and do nothing, weekly
or monthly and also annually. And this is not primarily because if we are rested we shall
be more efficient and effective priests. It is nothing to do with management.It is because
the good news that we preach is that all human beings are summoned to rest with God and
share his Sabbath. This is the gospel, that we are all citizens of the Kingdom in which we
shall lounge around and waste our time with God for all eternity. The greatest dignity of
human beings is that we are called to play with God for eternity, homo ludens. Who will
ever believe us if we are never seen to rest now?
Most of us are compulsively busy and must be seen to be so. I am. If we are to be credible
preachers we must not be afraid to be seen to be lazy sometimes. We must dare to put up a
notice on the Church door saying: 'No Mass for the next three days. I am on holiday.' We
must resist the demonic voice within us, accusing us of being bad priests. I admit that I
am very bad at this. I spent much of my sabbatical being busy and above all making sure
that I was seen to be busy. And if I play a quick game of Free Cell on the computer, I
have mastered the art of flicking it off the screen if I hear anyone coming, so that next
Sunday's sermon appears instead! This is the action of someone who is only on the way to
believing in the gift of free salvation, unearned grace.
Finally, the joy of the Kingdom must break in now. It would take another couple of
lectures to explore this joy so forgive me for being very brief. When Jesus was baptized,
a voice was heard from heaven saying: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I
delight." At the heart of the life of the Holy Trinity is God's sheer delight in God,
the Father's joy in the Son, which is the Holy Spirit. Jesus the High Priest embraced us
within that delight. We are taken up into Father's own pleasure in the Son. The holiness
of God radiates this joy that God has in all that exists. When Jesus ate and drank with
tax collectors and prostitutes, it was not a duty. It was utter delight in their company,
in their very being. When he touched the untouchable, it was not a clinical gesture, but
the hug of joy.
So it belongs to our priesthood that we rejoice in the very existence of people, with all
their fumbling attempts to live and love, whether they are married or divorced or single,
whether they are straight or gay, whether their lives are lived in accordance with Church
teaching or not. The holiness of the priesthood is radiant with this joy. The Church
should be a community in which people discover God' s delight in them. This is our
ministry. And so our priesthood should make us passionate people, passionate in our
delight, passionate in our sorrow at people's sufferings, and even angry at their
oppression. If we delight in people then they will delight in us. We shall discover God's
joy in us, offered by the most unexpected people, who may not even believe in him.
If joy is indeed at the heart of our priesthood, then we should be concerned for each
other's happiness. The happiness of priests should be a primary concern of bishops and of
the diocesan presbyterate. If we see that another priest is miserable, then it is not good
enough to assume that he must deal with this alone. If we are ourselves plunged in gloom,
we must not rely on some macho individualism to pull us through. The joy of the priest is
not just his private concern, because it is an intrinsic part of the preaching of the
gospel, and the manifestation of God's holiness.We must dare to seek it for each other.
©2001 Dominican News Service
TIMOTHY RADCLIFFE - a Dominican born in London in 1945.
Ordained to priesthood in 1971. Studied in Oxford and Paris. A lecturer of the New
Testament in the University of London for many years. 1993-2002 - Master General of the