Friday, September 05, 2003

That letter, the media, and the blogosphere: more reason to pray for our priests

A couple of weeks ago, almost two hundred of the priests of my diocese signed a letter asking the powers-that-be in our Church to consider the possibility of ordaining certain tested and mature married men to the priesthood, to allow all the faithful to be served in all those ways that only a priest can serve.

To read the secular press, you'd have thunk that our priests were the vanguard of some sort of glorious revolution. But, not so; the Church already ordains some few married men, who serve with as much holiness and distinction as their single brothers do.

In some of the noisier neighborhoods of the Catholic blogosphere, one could get the impression that there'd been a threat to the faith, a proposal to descend into the depths of depravity. Even shouts of "Suspend them all! What _could_ that bishop mean, keeping them all?" But there's not even a hint of depravity, or even self-interest --- unless getting, a decade or so from now, to serve only one parish at a time instead of circuit-riding, is considered inappropriate self-interest. If the Journal-Sentinel and Relevant Radio are to be believed, even the Archbishop is getting in on the act, ordering the priests to work on other things as if they had not already been doing so for decades already. I doubt that the J-S and Relevant have their nuances straight; J-S looks for exciting stories and ratings, and Relevant could well be indulging wishful thinking. There are many many words by +Timothy in yesterday's Catholic Herald about this, and not a hint of that kind of condemnation, though he obviously disagrees.

We are a Eucharistic people. For all Catholics, the Blessed Sacrament grounds and centers our lives. Yet even now, in this urban area where half the population is Catholic, there are parishes that do not have daily Mass, because our priests cannot bilocate and should not trinate (church-speak for celebrating Mass three times in one day).

There are many things that parish volunteers or lay ecclesial servants can do, but there are things that only a priest can do. We need a priest if we are going to have Eucharist, we need a priest to reconcile us when we have strayed, to anoint us when we are ill, to give us wise counsel when we are in crisis, to pray in vigil with us when we are Called and bring us Viaticum, food for the journey.

Our priests have been working very hard to encourage young men to consider whether they might be called to the holy priesthood, and some have listened, heard, and answered. Yet they work with great opposition from our society and culture. Parents are so desirous and eager to see their children become financially successful, which a parish priest never will be. Parents pine for grandchildren and descendants, and are half-hearted, even when they try not to be, about supporting their son who is choosing a way that precludes ever having those longed-for grandchildren, a side-effect of these day's much smaller families. And, our society is in thrall to the abysmal false trinity of money, sex, and power, rather than in submission to the true Triune God. Even our faithful Catholic people have difficulty renouncing the pomps and works of that fake trinity with strength and consistency.

But we still need priests now, yesterday, asap, stat, soon and very soon. Without the sacraments, can we ever keep the strength we most especially need in these days?

All of us who have bothered to look know that our Lord does not always give the gifts and call to priesthood and the gifts and call to singleness to Him as a matched pair. Not all the men he calls to be priests are young and single. Some have holy wives and children. Some are widowed. Some have learned many lessons in the unforgiving school of experience and have the scars to prove it, and yet have found and kept the faith. Also, not all men who are called to singleness to the Lord are also called to ordination; if the tradition can be trusted, very few are. The abbas and ammas of the desert always warned young men in monastic life to flee women and bishops, lest they fall into fornication or ordination!

Until we again have enough priests, what can we do? Just what our bishops and our priests have been encouraging us to do for all these years. Pray for our priests, for their strength and courage. Pray that the Lord call many men, and that they hear and answer. We can have larger families, and not be so concerned about our childrens' financial success or about our future grandchildren, so our spirits are free to give our sons to the Lord's service. We should do ourselves, as parish volunteers or professional eccelsial lay servants, those things that we can do, so the priests we do have are freed to do those things that only a priest can do, and those things for which priests, by their charism of office, are more well-fitted to do. There's no reason for the priest to do the banking, or the plumbing repairs, or the landscaping, or the parish hall scheduling; we layfolk can do that, so the priest can hear confessions, visit the sick and the elders and the prisoners, counsel the troubled in their trials, pray beside the dying, and do all the other things we cannot, but only he can.

And, the curial powers might think and pray about that uncomfortable request, also.

May they pray for us:
Mary, Mother of the Church and Mother of all priests.
Zachary, holy priest of God, and his beloved Elizabeth.
Peter, the Rock, who honored his mother-in-law.
Patrick, apostle to Ireland, son of a priest, grandson of a bishop.
Poor Father Alexis Toth, rejected by Bishop Ireland for being a widower.
Eddie Doherty, holy husband, holy priest, and the venerable Catherine his presbytera.
And all the holy saints in heaven who see us struggle in this world.
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