Month: April 2019




The author is a member of St John of the Cross Carmelite community, Ibadan, Oyo State – the Vicariate of Nigeria House of Studies. In this article, drawing on his experience, he takes a clear and honest look at the crises affecting the priesthood today, and writes of the urgent and necessary need of renewal – which, as he says, can only be achieved by those priests who take seriously the true nature of the priestly ministry and its spirituality.




The need for renewal


From the years after the Second Vatican Council and up to the present day, the Catholic priesthood has faced many crises, which have shaken the Church to its very foundations. The effects and consequences of these crises (such as the crisis of identity and the sexual abuse crises) on the priesthood as an institution are simply unprecedented in the history of the Catholic Church. Some of these effects and consequences include loss of faith and of confidence in priests, in the priesthood and even in the Church; the loss of many priests; and a terribly diminished interest in the priestly vocation, which has resulted in a severe shortage of vocations, especially in Europe and America.


Crises, problems and challenges are, however, part and parcel of life. No life is without its difficulties and challenges; and the Catholic priesthood, as a specific vocation in the Church, is no exception. The success or failure of any life depends greatly upon the way in which challenges are encountered and managed, and how lessons are learned from them, especially for the future. Thus, not to learn from the ongoing crises in the priesthood, or to act accordingly, will not only be asking for more trouble in the Church but will guarantee imminent failure in the life and ministry of priests. To achieve the renewal that the Church so much desires at present and for the future is dependent, to a very great extent, on the renewal of its priests. Only those priests who take seriously the true nature of the priestly ministry and its spirituality will enable the Church to achieve this renewal. Such priests will emerge strong from the present crises and will exist, with relevance, in the future.


Of the utmost importance


It is obvious, from the above, that much depends on the individual priest. He acts in the person of Christ (in persona Christi) and in the person of the Church (in persona Ecclesiae). Ordained to offer the sacrifice of the Holy Mass and to forgive sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he participates in Christ’s threefold mission of sanctifying, teaching and governing. Yet, although the priesthood is a divine institution, priests are mere men of flesh and blood, and so must cooperate with grace in order to ensure the continued relevance and existence of this divine institution. Unfortunately, a good number of priests do not have a deep grasp of the theology of the priesthood. Some of them are now in crisis and have even abandoned the priesthood because they did not understand their own identity, mission and vocation. A proper understanding of the ontological character and nature of the priesthood is of the utmost importance. Priests who have a clear understanding of this doctrine are more likely to be content in their ministry, joyful in their vocation, and fruitful in their service of the Church and of society.


In this regard, not only is initial formation of potential priests to be properly carried out; ongoing formation of priests has to be taken very seriously. Pope St John Paul II wrote: ‘Ongoing formation helps the priest to be and act as a priest in the spirit and style of Jesus the Good Shepherd.’[1] With ongoing formation, the priest is continually learning and being fashioned into God’s worthy instrument. Reading the signs of the times, we can see that ongoing formation enables the priest, through creative fidelity, to respond to the diverse challenges and problems of our changing times with the unchanging truths of our Christian faith. Besides according ongoing formation the seriousness it deserves, the renewal of the priesthood would also require discipline on the part of priests in giving heed to what the Church, in her wisdom over the years, teaches about the priestly life and ministry.


The danger of activism


In choosing his apostles (his first priests), Jesus wanted them to be with him before they were sent out (cf. Mk 3:14). In another instance, Jesus asked them to come away to a lonely place (cf. Mk 6:31): this was firstly for the silence and solitude that would enable introspection, reflection and evaluation; and secondly for rest, refreshment and renewal.


To remain focused and strong, priests must avoid the trap of functionalism or activism. Activism, in its various shapes and forms (such as an excess of pastoral and apostolic work) is not the essence of the priesthood. Priests are certainly to engage in the pastoral care of souls, but they must also disengage from it, from time to time, so as to spend time with the Lord. Priests who are constantly taken up with the work of the Lord, and have no time to spend with the Lord of the work to be nourished and strengthened, do not as a rule go far; and even if they do, they are most probably moving in the wrong direction. Pastoral work and people in need will always be there, creating demands. Priests must, in the midst of these, withdraw at times to reflect, evaluate and rest. They have to foster a balanced lifestyle in which they get the proper amount of sleep, a healthy diet, exercise and recreation.


‘When I am weak, then I am strong’


It is indeed of paramount importance to emphasise the need for priests to strike a balance between giving and receiving, emptying and refilling. While engaging in various pastoral activities in which they act in favour of the poor, the oppressed and the marginalised, priests are never to neglect being faithful to prayer (the Liturgy of the Hours, the Mass, silent prayer); spiritual reading and direction; recollections and retreats; and regular confession. And then, they must also give some time to rest and recreation, for they are human – and not pretend to be superhuman. Everyone knows, of course, that priests are human beings, yet no one seems to accept the fact. Kennedy and Heckler have said, of the life of priests: ‘Many of their conflicts and challenges arise precisely because they are ordinary men who may have to live as though they were not ordinary at all.’[2]


As the suffering servant, Jesus was seen to be weak, bruised, mocked and humiliated. This personality of the suffering servant is one that many priests seem to be afraid of, or ashamed to emulate or assume. Society teaches us from a very early age to be strong, powerful, successful, always on top of things; it almost expects us to be superhuman, but certainly not weak. It would require a lot of humility – in the Teresian sense of walking in the truth – for a priest to accept his weakness and limitations; and thus, striking the required balance, to meet the many challenges of our modern day and age.


Furthermore, the priesthood of the future will consist of priests who continue to be prophetic, preaching the word and speaking the truths of the gospel openly, firmly and fearlessly. The fact that it is no longer fashionable in our society to speak about sin and its dire consequences has unfortunately crept into the priesthood. It seems to have become the norm that many priests are concerned with making politically correct statements and so shy away from condemning sin in the strongest possible terms. This could be because they have sold their prophetic voices for material benefits or favours; or, being guilty of certain things, they lack the moral authority to speak out against sin. Like the prophets of old who spoke fearlessly, priests, in order to be faithful to their calling, must swim against the negative tides of our times by being counter-cultural and counter-oriented, in their proclamation of the Good News to the world.


Brothers in unity


Lastly, the priests of the future are those priests who will continue to work and bear witness to the gospel as a group – not as individuals. Sadly, individualism is common among priests today. For greater support and effectiveness, Jesus sent out his apostles and disciples in pairs (cf. Mk 6:7; Lk 10:1). St Luke makes it clear (cf. Acts 4:32-35) that the early Christians witnessed to the gospel as a community of believers. The Vatican II document on the ministry and life of priests, Presbyterorum Ordinis, insists on the necessity of priests being united with their bishop (cf. PO, # 7). This is because no priest on his own can accomplish his mission in a satisfactory way; he can only do this if he joins forces with other priests, and in obedience to his bishop and superiors.


The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council encouraged some form of common living among priests, one reason being for the sake of an enhanced ministry: ‘And further, in order that priests may find mutual assistance in the development of their spiritual and intellectual life, that they may be able to cooperate more effectively in their ministry and be saved from the dangers of loneliness which may arise, it is necessary that some kind of common life or some sharing of common life be encouraged among priests’ (PO, # 8). For protection, support and effectiveness, then, it is important for the priest to stay connected to his brother priests. Just as it is easier for a lone sheep to be attacked and devoured by a wild animal, so a lone-ranger priest is exposed to a whole lot of dangers. Besides, it is lovely when brothers live together in unity (cf. Ps 132:1) – for their witnessing is much more resplendent.




The crisis in the priesthood, which is actually a reflection of a wider social crisis, has ultimately led to the decline in priestly vocations in Europe and America. Presently, the Church’s hope for the supply of priests lies heavily in Africa and Asia. However, an examination of recent incidences in these continents indicates that the stage is being set, slowly but surely, for the same or a similar fate to befall Africa and Asia. It is, of course, true that even in our changing world the priesthood is changeless, since it is a sharing in the eternal priesthood of Christ. Nevertheless, the way to be a priest today in any part of the world, with the hope of surviving the present storm and remaining relevant in the future, calls for a genuine change in the life and ministry of priests.[3]

[1] Pastores Dabo Vobis (Apostolic Exhortation on the Formation of Priests in the Circumstances of the Present Day), March 25, 1992, # 73.

[2] E C Kennedy & V J Heckler, The Catholic Priest in the United States: Psychological Investigations, Washington, DC: USCC Publications, 1972, p. 2.

[3] I would like to list here some relevant sources. From Vatican II: Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church); Presbyterorum Ordinis (Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests); and Optatam Totius (Decree on the Training of Priests). From John Paul II: Pastores Dabo Vobis (Apostolic Exhortation on the Formation of Priests in the Circumstances of the Present Day). Two helpful books: Kennedy & Heckler, quoted earlier; and Sebastian Kizhakkeyil, The Priest: Theological Reflection on Priesthood and Priestly Spirituality in the Light of Church Teachings, Bangalore: Asian Trading Corporation, 2010. Finally, three articles: ‘“Crisis of identity” in Priesthood Reflects a Wider Social Crisis’,;

‘The Identity of the Priest: A Participation in the Priesthood of Christ’,; and ‘Priestly Identity: Crisis and Renewal’,



[1] I would like to list here some relevant sources. From Vatican II: Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church); Presbyterorum Ordinis (Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests); and Optatam Totius (Decree on the Training of Priests). From John Paul II: Pastores Dabo Vobis (Apostolic Exhortation on the Formation of Priests in the Circumstances of the Present Day). Two helpful books: Kennedy & Heckler, quoted earlier; and Sebastian Kizhakkeyil, The Priest: Theological Reflection on Priesthood and Priestly Spirituality in the Light of Church Teachings, Bangalore: Asian Trading Corporation, 2010. Finally, three articles: ‘“Crisis of identity” in Priesthood Reflects a Wider Social Crisis’,;

‘The Identity of the Priest: A Participation in the Priesthood of Christ’,; and ‘Priestly Identity: Crisis and Renewal’,




We long to know your fulness, your life of risen power, for you alone can answer the challenge of this hour.

Even as we look towards Easter, these words of Margaret Clarkson express what I believe are the deepest sentiments of many in the Church at this hour: a Church broken and wounded by the painful reality of abuse and of the institutional failures around it; a Church crying out for healing and wholeness. Of its four defining marks – one, holy, catholic and apostolic – none seems to hang in the balance more than any other, in the eyes of believers and unbelievers alike, than the Church’s claim to holiness; and especially, its holiness as represented by the institution of the priesthood ordained by Christ for the sanctification of God’s people. Given the challenge of this hour of the Church, many solutions are proffered. Yet, only the restoration of the Church in holiness and as a truly priestly people can begin to heal the wounded and mend what is broken.


Holiness as the goal of Carmelite spirituality finds its confirmation in Scripture wherein God’s ardent desire for us is revealed: ‘Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy’ (cf. Lv 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7, 26; Dt 7:6; 1Pt 1:15-16). It is amazing that God desires nothing more or less than this radical equality in holiness. But why? St John of the Cross, with penetrating insight, comments that ‘the property of love is to make the lover equal to the object loved’ (SCb 28:1). And he would draw, throughout his writings, on the image of a ‘log of wood’ that gradually becomes transformed through being immersed in fire, and ultimately takes up the properties of the fire itself, to illustrate that this involves a process of transformation (cf. 2DN 10:1; LF 1:4). In this transformation in love, it is the Holy Spirit that is the principal agent. It is the Spirit that kindles the flame of love within us, and thus enables the transforming union between the lover and the Beloved to be attained. In other words, our holiness is, in the first place, God’s desire; and its accomplishment is also his.


Carmelite spirituality also identifies this process of transformation as an affair of the heart, and shows the absolute necessity of a heartful embrace of the process if we are to allow God to achieve his desire for us. But browsing through the pages of Scripture, we quickly discover that this has always proven a challenge to God’s people. Hence, the many prophetic voices in Scripture that highlight the need for a heart that constantly seeks the face of the Lord (cf. Ps 26/27:8). In his prayer on Mount Carmel, that the hearts of the people of Israel may turn back to the Lord (cf. 1Kgs 18:37), Elijah is a symbol of that ardent desire of a heart devoted to the Lord and transformed by that experience. This is what Carmelite spirituality helps us to achieve. This, too, is the purpose of the priesthood: the transformation in holiness of God’s people, which confirms them in their identity as a holy and priestly people.


In this issue, therefore, Mount Carmel reflects on the priesthood: an institution which is not just at the core of Christian identity but, in a particular way, at the heart of Carmelite identity. The essence of the Christian priesthood derives from the identity and work of Christ. Christ the priest is the eternal Son who is eternally oriented towards the Father in the bond of love which unites them. This is what the opening of the Gospel of John testifies to, with the magisterial declaration: ὁ Λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν (ho Logos en pròs tòn Theón) – that is, the Word was towards God (cf. Jn 1:1). This orientation and stance characterised Jesus’ entire life and mission and is perfectly captured in his High Priestly Prayer in John 17, that great intercessory prayer which Jesus makes for the Church before returning to the Father, having accomplished his task in the world (cf. Jn 17:11, 4). Indeed, while Jesus was with his disciples, they would always see him rapt in prayer to the Father (cf. Mk 1:35; Lk 5:16; 11:1-13). And as Jesus himself would affirm: ‘Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son does also’ (Jn 5:19). Fr David Charters, in his very fine article in this issue, shares the same insight from John’s prologue and highlights for us where our priestly mission – both as priests and as a priestly people – ought to begin: to be ‘turned towards the Father’ in imitation of Jesus, for this is the secret of any fruitful apostolic activity.


Christ’s own work bears its ultimate fruitfulness in our salvation and sanctification. His priestly ministry finds its ultimate realisation in his sacrifice of atonement, of which the author of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us in Chapters 9 to 10. Christ as our great priest, through his flawless sacrifice, has achieved our salvation even as the work of our sanctification continues. Indeed, as a priest forever in the Order of Melchizedek (cf. Hb 5:5-10), Jesus continues to exercise his priesthood by advocating for us in the presence of the Father (cf. Rm 8:34; Hb 9:24), in order to sanctify the Church, to make holy the people who have been called to become members of God’s family (cf. Eph 2:19; 5:25-27). This intercessory role is at the heart of priestly ministry and of the Carmelite vocation.


We see this clearly in the person of St Elijah, the archetype of Carmelite identity. Elijah is known to us, perhaps most of all, through his encounter with Baal’s prophets on Mount Carmel and his, Elijah’s, challenge to Israel to reorient their lives towards God. This is narrated in the eighteenth chapter of the First Book of Kings. It was a moment in Israel’s history when many had lost the sense of their primary vocation as a people holy to the Lord God (cf. Dt 7:6), but instead had turned their hearts away from God. On Mount Carmel, Elijah became for Israel a voice of witness. Carmelites, drawing inspiration from this man of prayer, can also be, for the Church today, voices that remind us of our primary vocation which is the same as that of Israel.


The events on Mount Carmel also reveal something of Elijah’s priestly identity, which invites us to reflection and surely proves an inspiration for priests. In the first place, Elijah finds his identity in his relationship with God, as his name makes plain: for ‘Elijah’ means ‘the Lord is my God’. Remaining in this relationship through a fervent spiritual life, that constantly seeks the face of the Lord in prayer, is essential for a faithful priestly ministry and for awakening a desire for holiness – intimacy with the divine – in those to whom priests minister. It goes without saying that it is in such daily experience of the loving and merciful gaze of God in prayer that the priest, conscious of his own weaknesses and failings, learns the true meaning of compassionate love. This experience enables him to extend to others in his ministry, in tenderness and empathy, the compassion and love which he himself has received.


Very significantly also, Elijah constantly affirms his identity by his orientation towards God: ‘As the Lord lives, before whom I stand…’ (cf. 1Kgs 17:1; 18:15; 19:11-13). It is worth noting that standing is a very common biblical posture of prayer (cf. 2Chr 20:5, 13; 1Sm 1:26; Jb 30:20; Mt 6:5; Mk 11:25; Lk 18:13). In fact, in ancient Near Eastern cultures, which provide a context for our understanding, the posture of standing is a position of privilege since it was those who were allowed audience with a king that would stand before him and make their requests (cf. Esth 5:2). Again, all of us who partake of the Eucharistic sacrifice know well that, despite our failings, God in his love continues to invite us to come into the divine presence. And for this we give thanks, which is the very meaning of ‘Eucharist’.


There is also something to learn from the episode on Mount Carmel in that it points to Christ’s priestly ministry. After the prophets of Baal have failed the contest – when no fire descends on their sacrifice, though they have called on Baal for hours – Elijah takes his stance before the Living God. First, we are told that he prepared the altar of the Lord. Then, as if reminding his audience, the author of the First Book of Kings notes that it was about the same time – that is, early evening  – when the usual Temple sacrifice of a lamb without blemish, together with bread and wine (cf. Ex 29:38-42; Nb 28:3-4; 2Chr 13:11; Ez 9:4; Ps 140/141:2), is offered by the Temple priests that Elijah offers his prayers to the God of Israel and then performs the sacrifice. In more ways than one, this event on Mount Carmel points to the sacrifice of Christ, who is both priest and lamb of God (cf. Jn 1:29), on Mount Calvary. The narrative concludes with Elijah’s sacrifice being acceptable to God. He wins back the people to the faith of their ancestors, and he is the hero of the day.


It might offer us some consolation to know that, for all his zeal, Elijah had his moments of weakness, of self-doubt, and indeed of fear for his life (cf. 1Kgs 19:1-4). However, he found support through those whom God placed on his path, and so was able to continue on his mission. This highlights for us the need priests have today for support in their vocation. St Thérèse of Lisieux was acutely aware of this. She saw priests as ‘weak and fragile men’ and, echoing St Teresa of Avila (cf. WP 1:2; 3:2-6), she identified the Carmelite vocation as sharing profoundly in their ministry through a life dedicated to upholding the ministry of priests in prayer before the Father. ‘How beautiful,’ she exclaims, ‘is the vocation…which has as its aim the preservation of the salt [cf. Mt 5:13] destined for souls! This is Carmel’s vocation since the sole purpose of our prayers and sacrifices is to be the apostle of the apostles. We are to pray for them while they are preaching to souls through their words and especially their example.’


The present crisis in the Church accentuates this need for a prayerful support for priests, all the more. Priests need our prayer. In praying for priests, we as Christians and as Carmelites exercise our priestly vocation – both as priests, and as a priestly people – and so live according to our truest orientation. The urgency of this need moves me to invite you, our loyal readers, to join us in the campaign to put this issue of Mount Carmel in the hands of as many priests as possible. It might require mentioning this issue to priest friends or indeed giving it as a gift to a priest or priests you may know. It will be our modest way of providing what one reader has referred to as ‘the gourmet food of Carmelite spirituality’, so as to fortify priests in their ministry and enable them to assuage the spiritual hunger of our times.


Some of the articles in the present issue reflect on how Carmelite spirituality enhances priestly ministry. Two in particular are both from new contributors: Juliette Bordes and Baptiste of the Assumption. Juliette reflects on how, in her experience, the Carmelite contemplative life gives depth to the priesthood. She sees this playing out in John of the Cross’s poetry, which was a reflection of his interior life, as well as in the ministry of many Carmelite priests with whom she is acquainted, especially with regard to their ministry of enlightening souls and awakening them to spiritual life. Baptiste sees in Blessed Francisco Palau the perfect integration of the priestly and the religious life. The mystical space which Carmel offers made this possible for Blessed Francisco. This space allowed for the deepening encounter with the divine to happen, thus enabling his priestly life, expressed both liturgically and sacramentally in the Eucharistic sacrifice, to flourish.


In this issue also, we celebrate the priestly ministry of some of our Carmelite friars of the Anglo-Irish Province and salute their continued dedication to the call. Annetta Maguire shares her experience working with them at our Avila Carmelite Centre in Dublin. We also remember especially, with much fondness, our beloved Fr Peter Cryan who went to his eternal reward this time last year. We present once again his insights into parish ministry from a Carmelite perspective. These contributions and more, as you will discover, make this a very meaty issue indeed.


We have chosen for the cover of this issue a stained-glass window of Elijah. It depicts the prophet holding in his left hand two tablets upon which are written the Ten Commandments. These were to be a guide in the way of holiness for the people of Israel. Elijah, in this depiction, is the prophet who reminds Israel of their covenant with God and, through this covenant, of their identity as a holy people consecrated to God. His right hand is raised, giving a priestly blessing. He seems totally un-self-conscious as he stands oriented and gazing towards the light that illumines his face. Indeed, this image of Elijah captures this definition of prayer by Edith Stein: ‘Prayer is looking up into the face of the Eternal.’


I began by noting that in the light of the ‘dark night’, which the Church is passing through at this time, only Christ by his risen power can answer the challenge of this hour – and he is. Paradoxically, I should add, the present hour of challenge is also, at the same time, an opportune hour when the love of Christ compels us to rediscover our identity as a priestly people, a holy people. In God’s providence, the Carmelite tradition offers us, in the person of Elijah, a figure of inspiration whom we find at the origins of our Order. This going back to our origins, to find inspiration once again for fidelity to our identity, is already suggested by our being called Discalced Carmelites. No doubt, the word ‘discalced’ suggests ‘not wearing shoes’. This practice of walking barefoot was a common symbol of the Carmelite reform movement within the Church of the sixteenth century. However, the meaning of the symbolism goes further than any external expression. To be without shoes is to have direct contact with the earth, the ground. It is to be grounded. We are thus invited to reground ourselves in the truth of our identity as persons oriented towards the Living God, like Elijah, and to reclaim our authentic way of being in the world as a holy and priestly people to the praise of God’s glory (cf. Eph 1:6).


This, I believe, will be Carmel’s contribution to the Church today, as we strive towards holiness of life, sharing in the brokenness of our world while reaching out in tenderness and compassion to fellow travellers on the journey of life, in the sure hope that – despite the ‘scanty triumphs’ grace may win, the ‘broken vow’, the ‘frequent fall’ – the gentle light of the Risen Christ may continue to lead us through the darkness into the light of eternal glory which we celebrate each year at Easter.


Happy Easter!


Alexander of Mary Queen Beauty of Carmel, OCD

From the hymn ‘Lord Jesus, we must know you’ by Margaret Clarkson.

Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1996, p. 122.

Edith Stein, The Hidden Life, Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1992, p. 3.