Forming Priests in a Post-Trump Era – Part 2

(You can read Part 1 of this article here)

Beyond the establishment and anti-establishment

Analysis of recent political trends reveals that there is a dissatisfaction with the “establishment” that is entrenched in its self-serving policies and not listening to the aspirations of the people. In this context, to portray oneself as “anti-establisment” can also become trendy. Yet, does this condone and justify a divisive, demeaning language that demonizes “the other”?

Beyond that, and more pertinent to our argument, is a priest part of the establishment or the anti-establishment? In one of the writings of the early Church we read that “every high priest, being taken from among men, is appointed for men in things pertaining to God” (Hebrews 5, 1). Surely he is not called to be on a pedestal, closed in on his own ecclesiastical hobbies, escaping away from reality. Nor is he called to voice and radicalize the worst fears of people today and dividing communities, ghettoising and condemning “the other”. Yet what an engaging challenge it is to build bridges rather than walls! How much do we need people who do not speak nonsense! Rather than voicing the worst, what a blessing when we have people who speak words that make a new life possible.

There are proper ways of listening to the people’s deepest aspirations. A priest walks with this Church and listens to the voice of God who gives hope. When the priest thinks with the Church he enters into a dialogue among the people and the bishops and the Pope, a dialogue of people searching for holiness. That journey is assisted by the Holy Spirit. It leads the priest on a journey to listen to what Pope Francis describes as “the holy middle class”: “I see the holiness in the patience of the people: a women who is raising children, the elderly priests who have so many wounds but have a smile on their faces because they served the Lord …patience as taking charge of the events and circumstances of life, but also as a constancy in going forward day by day”. The priest listens to the holiness of the people and names it to challenge both the establishment and the anti-establishment.

A priest needs to be trained to speak out. But in this post-truth era, he first needs to be trained on how to listen. As Rabbi Jonathan Sachs aptly puts it:  “Never have your ear so close to the ground that you can’t hear what an upright person is saying!” If we have at least another twelve young people training to lead by example and by God’s grace, the seeds of hope for humanity will continue to overturn empires.