Friday, 8 March 2013

Papal Priorities? Here's one. The continuing reform of the clergy

One of my hopes during the pontificate of Pope Benedict XV1 was that we would see a new document on the life and ministry of priests. I know we have had things like this in the not too distant past, but I was hoping for something perhaps 'more spiritual' and containing a clear call to theological orthodoxy from the pen of Pope Benedict. Unless he now writes something on this theme, we will only have quotes from his books and the book, "Ministers of our Joy" written when he was Cardinal Prefect. Something more than this is needed.

I do not offer myself as an example of the "saintly priest" but I do present myself as someone who, having lived as a priest in the Post-Conciliar Church for 38 years, knows that he has quite a bit further to go to attain sanctity in the priesthood. For all priests, the ultimate model is Christ. Books, articles, conferences, retreats etc which do not speak about this openly AND clearly are, to my mind, worse than useless. When we look at clergymen saints we are surely reminded of this - that at the heart of their experience of priesthood was a serious attempt to live in union with Christ.

The fact is that ALL priests are called to this kind of holiness. NO priest is called to mediocrity. Michael Voris draws attention to a powerful speech given by an English Catholic priest just before the European Reformation began. It is surely as relevant today as it was then (here);

I remember a lot of hand-wringing and some whingeing around twenty years ago and perhaps more recently than that about the so-called "priestly identity". I confess I did not understand the problem then and I do not understand it now. The orthodox theology of the priesthood in the Catholic Church needs to be restated fearlessly and clearly and the challenges set before us need to be faced squarely, on our knees and in the confessional AND especially before the Blessed Sacrament. The Church needs holy priests, and this does not necessarily involve wearing the full traditional 'kit' (Sadly there can be just as much arrogance and worldliness in those who pride themselves on their "traditionalism"). Clerical dress is part of the deal, but not clerical flamboyance. When I was first interviewed for the priesthood (by a panel including the bishop, the Vicar General and a few canons etc), the VG (afterwards to become famous for his sanctity) said, "You need to be a man to be a priest". I have never forgotten that. It is not just a physical thing, though it is that, but a moral, psychological and spiritual thing. It meant, 'You have to be grown-up, mature, fearless and calm' it also meant, I think, "trustworthy, hard-working and faithful" To these things I would want to add, "compassionate". The kind of manliness expressed by a good priest should reflect the manliness of Christ, and it is time we stopped apologising for this and for the wonderful gift of the priesthood itself and really began to live it, for our own sake and for the sake of those we serve.

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