The gift of Priesthood

The first part of the talk given by Archbishop Joseph Marino, Apostolic Nuncio to Malaysia to the clergy at the 1st Malaysian Catholic Clergy Assembly on July 16 at Majodi, Plentong.

Jul 27, 2018

From the very beginning of this talk, I wish to express my deepest and sincerest sentiments of joy to be standing before you, the clergy of Malaysia and Brunei, at this historic meeting that is bringing you together for the first time, in order to share and reflect together on the gift that we have received as priests in the Church.

Shepherds who live with the smell of the sheep
So let’s begin, rather, let me go right to the point. No phrase, in my opinion, can better describe what it means to be and act as a priest than the words that Pope Francis spoke in his first Chrism Mass as Bishop of Rome on 28 March 2013. He said towards the end of his homily on that day, we must be “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.” Think about it. When are we the happiest as priests? When do we feel that this calling makes sense? When do we become energized to go forward and to do more? Precisely, when we are with the people, those entrusted to us by our Bishops to lead and to nourish, to bring them the healing love of God, to liberate them from the distress of sin or mistakes; when we pick them up; when we encourage them and so on. We are most happy and, yes, satisfied when we live with the smell of the sheep, when we are at their side in good times and in bad times.

This living with the smell of the sheep, however, cannot be understood as making the priesthood a mere function or activity, a type of social worker. No! To live with the smell of the sheep finds its essence, not only in what we do, but in who we are. In fact, in that same homily, Pope Francis reminds us that we are “God’s anointed ones.” We were anointed at our ordination, and that anointing that we received is meant in turn to anoint God’s people. It is the anointing of “being for” others. It is the anointing of an oil, which flows from us to others, until it reaches everyone of our people (see homily 28 March 2013).

Pope Francis tells us that this oil that flows from us is meant “for the poor, the prisoners and the sick, for those who are sorrowing and alone”; it is an oil that must flow down to every request even the most inconvenient and, maybe at times, the most annoying (Homily 28 March 2013).

I remember, once, being called to the hospital at midnight. The family of a young Protestant girl who, when
I arrived at the room, was holding her newly born baby of barely two pounds, breathing only with the help of a small tube inserted in his mouth and being pumped by his mother who realised that she would decide when to stop and when to hand her baby back to God. All I could do was to stand there. She asked me to baptise the baby, which I did, and then she withdrew the tube and handed her baby to the nurse to prepare for the burial. It was then that I finally realised the infinite love of God, as described, even if a mother were to forget her child, I will never forget you (see Is. 49:15). Yes, my presence was an anointing of them, but they anointed me as well through the love that I witnessed.

People are convinced that they can find peace and blessing just from touching the priest or being touched by the priest, that is the oil flowing from us. The fragrance that the oil has, says Pope Francis, is not intended to make us fragrant enveloped in the clothes we wear, even liturgical ones, but it is the oil of happiness intended for the people.

Just notice the smiles that our people give when we bless them, touch them, listen to them with the heart of a pastor and encourage them. This is the moment when they trust us and open their hearts to us. These are the moments when the oil of comfort of God is given to them through us.

Let us never put the confidence of our ministry in all the theology that we learned in the seminary. Of course, theology is part of our formation and a necessary part. But, frankly speaking, when has letting the oil of our anointing flow upon the people ever depended on what we know about God, his Church and so forth. I would be bold enough to affirm, rarely, probably never.

There is another moment I recall as a young priest. We, at the parish, received word that a young man had died unexpectedly, and we, the priests of the parish, were called. We went to see the mother who was a widow. I had just completed the licence in Biblical Theology. Now, you would think that whatever I might have learned would have helped in ministering in this moment. Zero. All that mattered was to be there and let the oil flow upon the grieving mother, the oil of comfort and peace, through our presence. Pope Francis wrote recently in Guadete et Exsultate, (GE) “Thanks be to God, throughout the history of the Church it has always been clear that a person’s perfection is measured not by the information or knowledge they possess, but by the depth of their charity” (GE, n. 37).

Let us be frank, the people desire not the wisdom of a theologian in time of need, but the compassion and love of a father or a genuine brother. It is an intense desire on their part, and it is desire that comes from a most genuine and humble faith, a faith that tells them that we, the priests, have this fragrant oil. They sense the transforming power of our ordination, because the oil that flows from us, is oil that made us priests, with that indelible character, which marks us as another Christ in today’s world. And that is precisely what they want us to be, another Christ among them

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