The prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Cardinal Francis Arinze, has written a new book entitled, “Letter to a Young Priest,” in which he presents a way of life for priests to assist them in living out obedience, chastity and poverty.
In extracts from the book published by L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Arinze says, “The obedience that the priest gives to the Holy Father, the bishop and his representatives is based on faith. Through this obedience, the priest gives God the possibility of making complete use of him in carrying out the mission of the Church. The purpose of obedience is not to diminish the role of the priest, or to treat him as inferior or keep him from adequate personal growth.”
Cardinal Arinze warned that priests “should not try to introduce a sort of secular democracy that is not in accord with the divine nature of the hierarchical institution of the Church. The virtue of humility is one thing, it’s another thing to seek to clericalize the laity or laicize the clergy. The Church has nothing to gain by this, and everything to lose with similar initiatives.”
The cardinal went on to note that priests should always obey their bishops, “even when in the worst of scenarios the bishop assigns a task that surpasses the capacity of the priest or could make him suffer or harm him. God will not cease to protect the priest who is obedient. The judgment of God with regard to the bishop is a different question!”
Even when this obedience implies adversities for the priest, “in the end God protects the priest who respects and obeys the Bishop with firm fidelity and nobility of character. The intervention of God can appear after months or even years, but it does finally come. Some saints were only done justice after death,” he added.
Speaking about poverty, Cardinal Arinze said that “every priest should cultivate” this virtue which also has to do with “the personal use of his own money. Avoiding anything that can make him appear trapped in earthly goods or inclined towards excessive spending, the priest should remember the poor, the sick, the elderly, and in general all those in need. The means of transportation, the home, the furniture, the clothing should not give the impression that he is rich or powerful.”
Next, Cardinal Arinze said, “The priest should not identity poverty with lack of cleanliness or order in his own home, nor should he put it in practice with the ornaments or vestments at the altar. God should be given the best in order to praise Him. In his home, everything should be a sign of good taste and order, based on simplicity and sobriety.”
In reference to chastity, the cardinal recalled how this virtue in the priestly life “expresses and stimulates pastoral charity. It is a special source of fruitfulness in the world,” and he stressed that it constitutes “a testimony that shines before the world as an effective way of following Christ.”
“In today’s world,” he continued, “immersed in an exaggerated preoccupation with sex and its desacralization, a priest who lives joy, fidelity and his own vow of chastity positively is a testimony that cannot be ignored.”
“Through priestly celibacy, the priest is more closely consecrated to Christ in the exercise of spiritual fatherhood. With greater promptness he shows himself as a minister of Christ, spouse of the Church, and he can truly present himself as a living sign of the future world, which is already present through faith and charity.”
“The priest should not doubt the value or the possibility of celibacy because of the threat of loneliness,” Cardinal Arinze said. “A certain dose of loneliness is present in every state of life, even in the marital life. It would be an error if he sought to avoid loneliness by filling himself always with activities and always organizing new meetings, travels or visits.”
What the priest needs, says Cardinal Arinze, “is silence, quiet, and reflection to be in the presence of God, to give greater attention to God and to encounter Christ in personal prayer before the tabernacle. Only then will he be capable of seeing Christ in every person whom he encounters in his ministry.”