Last week, I mentioned that canon law attaches obligations to every ecclesiastical office, which the officeholder should fulfil. When the law defines an obligation, it connotes an expectation that is punishable if the obligation is not fulfilled.
Canon 1389 states:
§1. A person who abuses an ecclesiastical power or function is to be punished according to the gravity of the act or omission, not excluding privation of office, unless a law or precept has already established the penalty for this abuse.
§2. A person who through culpable negligence illegitimately places or omits an act of ecclesiastical power, ministry, or function with harm to another is to be punished with a just penalty.
Therefore, should fulfilling one’s obligations elicit special honour? I consider two points, namely, the perception of the people and the perception of the ecclesiastical officeholder.
First, we largely cannot control what people think about us. Praise singing is intrinsic to our culture. Just consider the number of titles we have for God and how we use those titles in prayer. Consider how we flaunt our titles or academic degrees and the negative reaction when one of them is omitted. Hence, people can praise us for carrying out our obligations. It is their choice, and they have a right to do so.
On the other hand, the perception of the ecclesiastical officeholder matters. Jesus is explicit on how he wants us to perceive functions we carry out in the Church. He said to his disciples:
When you have done all that is commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’ (Luke 17:10).
The Church is the body of Christ, and all authority comes from Christ. The pope is the servant of the servants of God (servus servorum Dei) (Matthew 20:26-27). Therefore, it is Christ, through the agency of our competent superior, that calls us to duty for his flock.
Of course, human and animal nature are wired to expect commendations for good things done—they improve one’s self-esteem and motivate one to do more. No doubt too, the uniqueness of each person and how one carries out his or her obligations influences the degree of commendation from people. Nevertheless, the Church is wise in establishing an ecclesiastical office in a stable way—setting the minimum standard of service and expectation from every ecclesiastical office holder.
While it is not to promote mediocrity, it follows the admonition of Jesus (Luke 17:10) geared towards mitigating the mentality of fulfilling our duties only when we expect commendation—the major cause of vocation crisis among priests and religious. In other words, if my service as a minister depends on people’s commendation or reception of gifts, it means that I will be disappointed when I do not get them. Of course, I can never get them always.
Therefore, ours is a vocation and not a profession where we are paid for every service we render.
Fr. Anselm Ekhelar, one of my formators while in the seminary, used to say:
“Happy are those who do not expect, for they shall not be disappointed”.
May God continue to help us.🙏🏾