God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

Reflections / Gedanken

11.07.2009 The main task of priesthood…

What is actually the main task of a priest? Prayer? Celebrating the Eucharist? Managing a parish? Running some institutions like kindergarten etc.? Being a representative of the institution “church”?

I guess as one goes along in his life as a priest, some focus points are shifting again and again. When you are a young priest, then obviously you tend to fall into activism and you feel, that you can change the church and the world for a better place. If you grower older in your profession, you realise how little you can do to save the world. And depending on the parish you are in, you are either a sort of managing director for your parish or, having several parishes, you are more in church celebrating mass, funerals and other occasions then being really with the people.

For me, after 23 years in priesthood, the answer is becoming more and more simple: My main task as a priest is to tell people that they are unconditionally loved by God. That there is nothing, no failure, no mistake, no action, which can a person seperate from God.  And to be able to tell people, there is indeed one condition for us as priests: that we have to experience this unconditional love for ourselves.  I guess here is where the struggle for many priests starts – to accept themselves as they are and with all their weaknesses and to know and to experience, that God’s unconditional love shines day and night on them. We can only hand on, what we have received ourselves..

This unconditional love to each and everybody, this statement, that nobody can fall out of the hand of God is in my opinion one of the biggest gifts we as Christians can give to the world. This is indeed the most powerful message, we have to offer.  Because this at the end makes life so precious and in need of absolute protection.

The question of course is, why also within the church our behaviour does not reflect this unconditional love. How unmerciful are we often dealing with people, falling “out of line” in our parishes, in our dioceses, within the church? How often are we not witness of our gospel but demonstrating the opposite and equalizing us in doing so with the world and its laws.

Being for so many years chaplain to an immigration chaplaincy means also to encounter many people, who have left the church out of such experience – and now, in a foreign country, suddenly get somehow in touch with me as a church representative again. It is sometimes painstaking to listen to their stories, to feel their anger, frustration and how they feel hurt in many ways.  I am sure in most instances, the priest, bishop or who ever it has been, had not intended to hurt or to be harsh, but time restrains, own frustration, the need of staying within the laws of the church and many other reasons  can be put on the table to somehow justify it. If it is justifiable in any way…

Taking the time for the person approaching us and seeing always the background of God’s love might prevent a lot of harm…

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08.07.2009 Sanook and other observations on travel

Travel in Asia – and I could sit long hours in a cafe here in Thailand or in Singapore and just watching people. What a diversity – and still in both countries an interesting unity, despite the recent turmoils in Thailand. Observing people shows how virtually everybody tries to be individual – the way he or she dresses, what kind of make up, what kind of jewellery or the combination of it all..
Everybody is an individual with his or her own charisma and talents – and there are never two the same… This we also teach in our churches but sometimes there comes somewhere deep in my heart the impression up, that church institutions rather keep the diversity at bay and preach uniformity in certain ways. Working in an immigration chaplaincy does also show diversity, which in return needs an openess in pastoral work to succeed.

Sanook – often translated with “having fun” – is a Thai principle and means much more: The ability, to enjoy the moment, even if dark clouds are hanging at the same moment above ones head. To find the niche then to relax, to postpone in a certain sense for some hours the routine, the worries – also that is a reminder of the Christian virtue to live the moment and not to forget, that we all have only one life and it deserves to be lived to the fullest – every second.

Both thoughts apply also, when I think of so many encounters with people living with the virus. They are all individuals – and no “general opinion”  matches their life situation. No sterotype thoughts can do them justice.
And as, especially in South Africa, the perspective of many people living witht he virus is still bleak and dark, because of lack of medical care and other reasons, they have to enjoy their life as long as they can. And they deserve it.

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