How appropriate that the Church today places before us two countersigns for what a priest is supposed to be—examples of the bad priest. I hope you have never met them, but I suspect that you probably have.
The first is from the Epistle of Saint James the Apostle. He speaks of the boastful apostle who plans a career for himself…going into a town not to preach the Gospel, but “to make a profit.” Saint James calls him “a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears,” a man “boasting in [his] arrogance,” who does not know what the right thing is anymore.
Priests who have given into such careerism have been condemned by Pope Francis on numerous occasions. He says of them, “They are victims of careerism and opportunism; they honor persons and not God (cf. Mt 23:8-12). They serve thinking only of what they can get and not of what they should give. Small-minded persons, unhappy and inspired only by their own lethal selfishness (cf. Gal 5:16-25).” (1)
The second countersign is the jealous Apostle, who seeing a rival disciple successfully driving out demons in the Lord’s name is jealous of him. Why? Because he is “not of our company,” one of them! Such jealousy is born of a deep insecurity and a need by the priest to build himself up at the expense of others.
Pope Francis describes jealous priests as those who “flay each other alive” with gossip and resentment. He goes on: “I want to tell you that this is so common, so very common. I too have fallen into this. I have often done it, often! And I am ashamed of myself!” (2)
Why is this such a scandal? Because the priest, is called to be like Christ, who from the Altar of the cross pours out every drop of blood and gives every breath unto death for us. He gives all in a perfect sacrifice of kenotic love.
The is why we prayed the antiphon in today’s Responsorial Psalm: Blessed are the poor in spirit. In that antiphon, the Church provides a model of who the Priest is supposed to be. Motivated neither by self-interest or self-aggrandizement, he is to seek the last place, wash feet and lay down his life in the model of his Lord and Savior.
That is the kind of priest you need in your parish and the kind of priest any Seminary worth its salt is trying to produce.
1 - Pope Francis to the Roman Curia, 22 December 2014.
2 - Pope Francis to Seminarians and Novices, 6 July 2013.