With a Father’s Sense of Responsibility for His Children
“Moses asked the Lord… ‘Was it I who conceived all this people? Or was it I who gave them birth that you tell me to carry them at my bosom, like a foster father carrying an infant, to the land you have promised under oath to their fathers?’” (Numbers 11:12)
Ideals are important because from them flow attitudes, actions, and patterns of behavior. Part of the priestly ideal is that he is related to lay people as a father is to his spiritual children. This status of lay people as spiritual children in relation to the priest in no way lessens their dignity ‒ after all, adult children in no way feel themselves less adult when they acknowledge their relationship to their physical parents. Moreover, all Christians, priests and laity, must be spiritually childlike: “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. (Mt 18:3). But priests, as representatives of God’s fatherhood on earth, have the awe-inspiring responsibility for the salvific well-being
of the laity.
Just like St. Paul: “My little children, of whom I am in labor again until Christ be formed in you..”(Gal. 4:19). Or like that great pastor, St. John Vianney, who showed what it means to pray like a father of souls:
Before daybreak he went down into the church. Before the altar where his Lord and Master watched unceasingly, he knelt upright without support, fixed his eyes on the Tabernacle, joined his hands or spread out his arms, prayed, wept, groaned, meditated:
“My God, my all, You see how I love You, and I do not love You enough.
“My God, You have given me all; behold the little that I give You. Give me the strength to give more.”
“My God, here is all—take all: but convert my parish. If You do not convert it, it will be because I have not deserved it.”
“My God, I count my merits as nothing, but Yours are infinite. May they win for me the grace of suffering.”
“My God, I consent to suffer all that You may wish, for all my life . . . . for a hundred years. . and the most bitter suffering, but convert them. . .”
From the priest’s strong sense of having spiritual children flows dedication, generosity, frankness, and leadership as he seeks to lead them to maturity in Christ so that they may be “filled with the utter fullness of God” (Eph.3: 19). It is this sense of responsibility that makes him sensitive to the fact that he is always a father. Fatherhood is a life not a job. Just as a dad does not take a vacation from his wife and children, neither does a priest. His bride, the Mystical Body of Christ, and his spiritual children are always in his heart and mind.