ROME, MARCH 16, 2010 ( There is a "lack of spiritual content" in some priests, because they put their social work before their spiritual life, according to a Dutch archbishop who addressed a conference on the priesthood.

Archbishop Willem Jacobus Eijk of Utrecht, Netherlands, voiced his concern about priests' spiritual lives when he gave an address titled "Between the Spiritual Vocation and the Social Role" at a conference held this month in the Pontifical Lateran University on the occasion of the Year for Priests.

The prelate considered the historical context of priesthood today, and emphasized that what is most valuable in the priestly vocation is the "intrinsic, sacramental identity of a man that represents Christ in person."

He lamented that priests often fall into the error of stressing an "extrinsic identity," that is, their role as leaders of functions in society and Catholic organizations.

One of the causes of this "must be sought in the growing difficulty to dedicate themselves to the care of souls, an activity threatened by secularization," Archbishop Eijk reflected.

Changing times
The Dutch bishop recalled how the Second Vatican Council emphasized the priest's vocation to be another Christ.

"The council did not introduce a discontinuity in the identity of the priest," he said.

Nevertheless, Archbishop Eijk suggested, a discontinuity could be seen in two phases.

There was a "gradual modification of the way priests lived their intrinsic identity, a phenomenon that manifested itself at least in northwestern Europe, in the '40s," he said. And in a second phase, "the social image that the priest had until the end of the 50s declined rapidly in the revolutionary period of the 60s."

Archbishop Eijk said the council came just in time to avoid an even graver undermining of priestly identity.

Caring for Christ
In any case, though, the bishop affirmed that priests will always face the challenge of having to find a balance between the social role and spiritual life.

In this context, it is important to avoid "forcing" priestly vocations, focusing only on function, he suggested.

And the prelate alerted that the daily life of a priest can easily bring him to fall into activism, since he faces "the pressure, tensions and disillusions linked to the proclamation of the Gospel in our society little open to the Christian faith."
Archbishop Eijk concluded by saying that to remain faithful to the principal aspect of their vocation, it is necessary that priests "take care as much as possible of their relationship with Christ, priest, teacher and pastor."