A MOST HUMBLE BIRTH - Rector’s Message for Christmas 2022
On the face of it, it looks like nothing less than a caricature: the only begotten Son of God comes to earth and is born in a lowly hill-side cave, in the lowly town of Bethlehem, in a lowly manger meant for animal feed, surrounded by a host of lowly animals! It is only with the eyes of faith that one can pierce through this apparent caricature in order to realize its deeper lesson in humility.
Pope Francis, in a meeting with the Seminarians of Latin America on 10th November 2022, exhorted them to be humble, although as priests they will be in the vanguard as leaders of communities. The Pope said to them: “The mission of a seminary is not to form ‘supermen’ who pretend to know and control everything, but to help seminarians become priests who are humble servants of the communities they continue to belong to.”
One of the secrets for growing in humility for priests and seminarians, according to the Pope, is for them to be deeply in communion with the baptized from among whom they are chosen by Jesus for ordination. On the same occasion the Pope said: “The Lord calls some of his disciples to be priests, that is, he chooses some of the sheep from his flock and invites them to be shepherds of their brothers and sisters… As priests, we are fellow disciples of the rest of the Christian faithful and, therefore, we share the same human and spiritual needs, just as we are subject to the same frailties, limitations and errors.” This foundation of the ministerial priesthood in the ordained minister’s baptism, has also been very well explained in the Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis, No. 12: “The vocation to the ministerial priesthood occurs within the wider realm of the baptismal vocation of the Christian, through which the people of God, established by Christ as a communion of life, charity and truth … is also used by Him as an instrument for the redemption of all, and is sent forth into the whole world as the light of the world and the salt of the earth.”
It is therefore very important to deepen the roots of the ministerial priesthood in the sacrament of Baptism. At a meeting of the Indian Association of Rectors of Major Seminaries (ARMS) in Kolkata from 22nd to 25th November 2022, deliberating on how to apply the paradigm of synodality (journeying together) to seminary formation, one of the insights that emerged strongly was to rethink the traditional concept of a Seminary as an institution totally segregated from the hustle and bustle of the lives of ordinary baptized Christians. Rather, the seminary could be seen as an environment that is immersed into the lives of the faithful so that the seminarians can more easily experience “the smell of the sheep”.
More specifically, this immersion of the seminarians into the lives of the faithful, right during the time of their training for the priesthood, has to be designed not only as a pastoral involvement with the faithful, but also as the involvement of a team of lay faithful, particularly religious women, who are roped in as permanent formators! It is only then that the seminarians will get the benefit of a formation that will ensure that, having journeyed with them during the time of formation, they will journey closely with them even after ordination. The lowly birth of Jesus in the crib of Bethlehem in which we see Jesus, who has come to fulfill his Father’s mission, begin it by pitching his tent along with Mary and Joseph, in a lowly stable surrounded by animals, by shepherds and by unknown magi, becomes a sublime lesson of a synodal journey well begun, leading to its culmination in the via crucis!
Fr Aniceto PEREIRA