Josemaría Escrivá Obras

Some sectors of the clergy are concerned about the presence of the priest in society. Taking their cue from the Council (Constitution 'Lumen Gentium', 31; Decree 'Presbyterorum Ordinis', 8) they propose that priests undertake a professional or manual activity in civil life: 'priests in the factory', etc. We would like to know your opinion on this.

Let me first say that, even though I consider it mistaken for many reasons, I respect the opinion contrary to my own, and recognise the apostolic zeal of its proponents who can count on my prayers and affection.

A priest's ministry may be encumbered by timidity and complexes, which usually indicate human immaturity, or by clerical tendencies which denote supernatural immaturity. But when the priesthood is exercised properly, without those obstacles, I think it is sufficient in itself to ensure a legitimate, simple and authentic presence of the priest-man among the other members of the human community to whom he addresses himself. Usually nothing more will be needed in order to be in living communion with the world of work, to understand its problems and to share its fortunes. Recourse to the ingenuous 'passport' of 'amateur lay' activities can offend, for all sorts of reasons, the average layman's good sense and will rarely be effective, because its very lack of authenticity condemns it to failure from the outset.

The priestly ministry, especially in these times of great scarcity of clergy, is a terribly absorbing task which leaves no time for 'double-jobbing'. Men need us so much (though many do not realise it) that there will never be a surplus of priests. We need more helping hands, more time, more energy. This is why I often say to my sons who are priests that the day one of them noticed that he had time on his hands, he could be quite sure he had not lived his priesthood well that day.

And bear in mind that in the case of these priests of Opus Dei, we are dealing with men who before receiving Holy Orders usually have worked for years in some intellectual or manual activity in civil life. They are priest-engineers, priest-doctors, priest-workers etc. Nevertheless, as far as I know none of them has thought it necessary to approach men with a slide-rule, a stethoscope or a pneumatic drill, in order to make himself heard or win the esteem of civil society and his former colleagues and companions. It is true that at times they exercise their professions or trades, in a way compatible with the obligations of the clerical state. But they never feel impelled to do so in order to be 'present in civil life'. Their motives are different: social charity, for example; or absolute financial need, in order to initiate some apostolic undertaking. Paul too had occasion to return to his trade as a tent maker. But not because Ananias told him in Damascus that he should learn to make tents in order to be able to preach Christ's gospel to the Gentiles in a fitting manner.

To sum up — and may I make it clear that with this I am not prejudging the legitimacy nor the rectitude of intention of any apostolic activity — I see the professional man or worker who becomes a priest as more authentic and more in accordance with the doctrine of Vatican II than the figure of the worker-priest. Except in the field of specialised pastoral work, which will always be necessary, the 'classical' figure of the worker-priest already belongs to the past: a past in which the marvellous potential of the lay apostolate was hidden to many eyes.

Previous View chapter Next