Tag Archives: priesthood

Catholic priesthood: Beyond the crisis towards renewal

Gerhard Ludwig MüllerIf the Catholic priesthood and its renewal is very important to you, then today’s brief essay by Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller is an extremely important piece to keep in mind. The essay by Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine for the Faith, Archbishop Müller, “Beyond the crisis towards renewal” (L’Osservatore Romano) reveals a point the Church has to attend to with a certain degree of seriousness. Pay close attention to the proposal Müller makes to us. What the archbishop is doing, I think, is opening the door to genuine dialogue on some very important issues, and I think within the purview of the Holy Father.

Müller wants to challenge our “Protestant” conceptions of priesthood that’s found its way into the reality of Catholic priesthood. Some will be offended by the archbishop’s use of the adjective of protestant but in reality there is much to research here to overcome perceived prejudicial reactions. Protestants are not the same as Catholics; they were there wouldn’t be a so-called “Protestant Church.” Catholics ought to be better formed and have certitude in this fact.

Based at least on the level of experience, and not only academic theology, men are ordained Catholic priests to offer the sacrifice of the Mass, to forgive sins, and to concern itself: that is, cult (worship of the One Triune God) and mediatorship, theological points rejected in Lutheranism, Anglicanism and other ecclesial communities. Do we have to remind ourselves that a Catholic priest acts in persona Christi capitis? That he does indeed consecrate, through prayer and the actions of the Holy Spirit, bread and wine into the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ? That the laity consecrate the whole world (marriage, work, play, etc.) to Jesus Christ. The local Lutheran minister does not hold the same, so not teach the distinctions with clarity?

The matter is not centrally located in the question of a married priesthood because the discernment of ordination and celibacy is not the same. The Catholic Church has a married priesthood with former Anglican ministers coming into full communion with the Catholic Church and being ordained, and there are married Eastern Catholic priests. Hence, believe that Catholic priests are not the same as Protestant ministers, even if those of other ecclesial communions use the word “priest” to speak of their ministers.

Additionally, Catholic priests belong to the Royal Priesthood of Jesus Christ, as the laity are, each being anointed priest, prophet and king, yet lived and oriented differently. To refine the point a little more, the global priesthood, that is, the priesthood of the laity, and the ministerial priesthood have their respective vocations given by the Holy Spirit for the good of the world.  Admittedly, the priesthood of the laity (priesthood of the faithful) is still maturing and only now coming into its own but not against the ministerial priesthood.

The Church’s theology is based on sacred Scripture and sacred Tradition. Catholic theology has its own determinative lens and other communities have theirs. In a more precise way, we have a theology prima that’s not found in the protestant communities. I use the plural communities because the what is understood as a priest is different depending which group you follow.

The publication of Müller’s  brief essay today is not to be lost on us: on this date in 1517 Augustinian Father Martin Luther posted his ninety-five theses, in Latin, on the Wittenburg Church door according to custom.

What we have are excerpts from a speech the Prefect delivered on Wednesday in Palermo for the introduction of the 12-volume collected writings of Joseph Ratzinger (scheduled for publication first in Italian). The editor was just given the now-famed Ratzinger prize.

Müller’s point is the Catholic priesthood started to develop a “Protestant” of the image/manner of serving when Catholics uncritically started to use Protestant scripture scholarship since the 1950s without noting essential theological differences. Ratzinger’s phrase “culture of relativism” entered into Catholic teaching dismissing the eschatalogical, soteriological and liturgical facts.

What we’ve inherited, and what we see in the priesthood today, at least here in the USA, is indeed a crisis of priesthood which leads to a “radical disorientation of Christian identity” and a manner of knowing that lacks a “transcendental horizon.”

The following is an excerpt of a longer piece.

If Christ, by his Resurrection, has overcome the greatest crisis of faith  –the pre-Easter crisis of the disciples– and more particularly the crisis of the apostolic mission and authority, and therefore also of the Catholic priesthood, then it is precisely and only by turning our gaze to the Lord that we may also overcome the crises which have befallen the priesthood over the course of history.

By turning our gaze to him, by meeting his gaze as he looks upon us and upon our priesthood, and by fixing our eyes on those of the crucified and risen High Priest, we can overcome every obstacle and difficulty.

I am thinking especially of the crisis of the doctrine on the priesthood that occurred during the protestant Reformation. It was a crisis at the dogmatic level which reduced the priest to a mere representative of the community by eliminating the essential difference between the ordained priest and the common priesthood of the faithful. Then there was the existential and spiritual crisis that occurred during the second half of the 20th century and exploded after the Second Vatican Council, and from whose consequences we are still suffering today.

In Joseph Ratzinger’s extensive work Proclaimers of the Word and Servants of Your Joy – volume XII in his opera omnia – he proposed a way of overcoming these crises by advancing a high-level theological approach, thereby giving us a guide for fostering a renewal of the sacramental priesthood instituted by Christ.

The scientific studies, meditations and homilies on the service of bishops, priests and deacons contained in this volume span almost fifty years, beginning with the years immediately preceding the beginning of Vatican II.

Many people, depending on their respective positions, associate this event, which has marked the recent history of the Church more than any other, with the starting point of a transformation in keeping with the spirit of the times, or rather with the beginning of a profound crisis in the Church and in particular in the priesthood.

Millennials becoming priests and nuns???

Good question. I hope so. We need people to help all people to see the face of Christ in a new and dynamic way. The radical nature of the vocation –following Jesus Christ and serving in the Church– requires of all people the total gift of self until death with eyes fixed on heaven.

Emma Green’s article, “Why Would a Millennial Become a Priest or a Nun?” published by The Atlantic online surfaces some good questions to consider about the current generation, the millennials, the 20-somethings, who are in discernment to serve the Lord as a priest, nun, or sister.

Ms Green’s articles doesn’t do any heavy lifting. Her approach is more of a sociological look at vocations to Catholic religious orders. Nevertheless, she helps frame other questions and concerns.

What Emma Green misses in the article is the fact a person becomes a member of a religious order or joins the secular priesthood because he or she is in love with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; that relationship with Christ reveals the desire of giving of oneself in a singular manner, forever. Social justice concerns, teaching, serving in a hospital, going on mission, etc., all good and necessary things, are but consequences of the relationship one has with Christ.

Early September I will publish my annual survey of random religious orders who accepted newcomers.

Mystery Priest revealed: Father Patrick Dowling responds to Missouri accident

You may heard of the August 4th car accident in which a critically injured woman requested a priest to absolve her of her sin, pray for her as she faced great uncertainty in Missouri. The remarkable story of a priest doing what he was ordained to do has circled the globe in a story of a “mysterious priest.” The priest is not an angel. He is a real person who is conformed to Jesus Christ as a priest. The man, Father Patrick Dowling, is a priest of the Diocese of Jefferson City, MO.

The Mysterious Priest story is a terrific human interest story. BUT more importantly for me it is a true narrative about the work of Grace, especially the Grace of Jesus Christ working through the ministrations of a Catholic priest. What can we say about the Church’s sacramentality at work, the priesthood of Jesus Christ in action, and the power of prayer and human need. It is the beauty of simplicity!

The Father Patrick Dowling story is here.

Why is this important to me? Father Dowling’s approach is what is real to me: a recognition of another’s need, a priest who was motivated to respond and the action of the Holy Spirit sustaining all those at work. What struck me was the simplicity of Grace working for someone in need. It seemed like everything coalesced well: the first responders did their work, people cooperated with authority, and a priest responded to someone’s desire to be comforted with prayer, sacraments and companionship in the face of uncertainty. The love  shown by the priest was concrete. Here I’ll define love not as a sentiment but as the Servant of God Father Giussani taught us, love is to have concern for another’s destiny. Indeed, Father Dowling had this concern for Aaron and Katie.

Additionally, that Father Dowling is not an angel but a human being, is important to me because it was another concrete example of the way God speaks through our humanity and not despite it. One last thing: I was struck that Dowling did not make himself the center of attention spoke –this spoke volumes. It is, hence, an irresistible and concrete example of what it means to be have an alive humanity rooted and grounded in Christ. How could one not be moved to the core???

Thank you, Father Dowling.

Gay men and the priesthood: change in content, or difference in style?

This morning a friend asked me about Pope Francis’ statement on the plane ride to Rome coming from Brazil about gay men and the priesthood: did the pope change the Church’s teaching? No, was my reply. The teaching is not changed as the Pope echoed what the Catechism teaches. What the Pope did, I told Harry, was to emphasize a pastoral approach of mercy and helping each person attain a mature Christian faith, and that the Church has always held this approach but frequently gets forgotten due the subject. The approach of Pope Francis is to speak about the merciful face of Jesus Christ; but I have to say, Benedict also said as much but he was often roundly dismissed because of some people’s ideology. Hence, there is a line of continuity in the teaching and style of Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI. I don’t see the hard differences between the two.

Aaron Taylor wrote the following piece, “Francis and Benedict on gay priests,” for On the Square published online at First Things (7 August 2013). Taylor’s piece is a short but good piece covering the basic matters at hand; gives perspective that can’t be dismissed. I recommend the article.

Given the ruckus over Pope Francis’ comments on homosexuality, one could make the mistake of thinking he had announced a revolutionary change, not restated basic Christian doctrine:

If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person? . . . These persons must never be marginalized, and “they must be integrated into society.” The problem is not that one has this tendency. No, we must be brothers.

While the substance is old as the Gospel, the form is not what we are used to. Secular journalists are likely to see an irreconcilable contradiction between the Pope who made these comments and the Cardinal who warned that same-sex marriage is a “total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts,” a “move by the father of lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

Yet Christians ought to see no contradiction between a robust commitment to defending the dignity of all people, including gays and lesbians, and a robust commitment to opposing sexual sin. In both instances, Francis was simply doing what he does best: stating basic truths in blunt, common-sense words that everyone can understand.

Another alleged contradiction at which many reports are hinting lies in the fact that the Pope’s remarks do nothing to alter the current ban on ordaining homosexual men. Some may ask, if Francis is willing to admit that gays can seek God and be persons of good will, why not allow them to be priests?

Current Vatican policy on the ordination of homosexuals is a disciplinary matter, not a doctrinal one. In theory it could change (though I think it unlikely). But even if it did, there would be no reason to assume that more than a small minority of homosexuals have a genuine vocation. The idea often heard that the priesthood is an “ideal” state of life for homosexual men since they are already compelled to be celibate is woefully misguided.

Rather than focusing on the narrow question of gays and the priesthood, what we need most urgently at the present time are spiritual approaches that help gay Christians to integrate their sexual orientation with their faith in a manner that steers a safe course between the Scylla of indulging in sexual vice and the Charybdis of destroying their sanity through denial about their sexuality.

One such approach, suggested by Cardinal Ratzinger in his Pastoral Letter on the Care of Homosexual Persons, is a spirituality of vicarious redemptive suffering for gay people:

What, then, are homosexual persons to do who seek to follow the Lord? Fundamentally, they are called to enact the will of God in their life by joining whatever sufferings and difficulties they experience in virtue of their condition to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross. That Cross, for the believer, is a fruitful sacrifice since from that death come life and redemption.

The fact that God gives homosexuals a heavy cross means that they have an opportunity to unite their sufferings to those of Christ and become instruments of salvation on behalf of others. It is classic Pauline spirituality: “In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col 1:24).

Ratzinger’s approach will not be appealing to all gay people, nor need it be. The Church has always accommodated a range of spiritualities within the boundaries of orthodoxy, and gay Christians’ own experience of their sexuality is diverse. For some, it is a great struggle bound up with a history of abuse and compulsive sexual behavior. For others, it is a fact of life that does not cause particular suffering.

Elizabeth Scalia suggests that “homosexuals are in fact ‘special and exceptional others,’ . . . created and called to play a specific role in our shared humanity.” And Joshua Gonnerman tells us that, as a celibate gay Christian, there are nevertheless many things in his experience of being gay that he finds valuable. These new approaches complement rather than contradict the spiritual approach outlined by Ratzinger, and are also grounded in the Pauline witness. In his First Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle makes clear that every Christian is given gifts for the building up of the Church. There is no reason whatsoever to assume that gay Christians are an exception to what Paul says.

Aside from the litmus test of orthodoxy, the mark of a healthy spiritual approach to homosexuality should lie in the fact that it empowers gay Christians with a sense of moral agency. Gays are not to be “marginalized,” as the Pope notes, but neither are they to be patronized by well-meaning Christian organizations that portray them as helpless sex addicts who are simply passive recipients of the Church’s pastoral care. With the recognition that one has received gifts from God for active participation in the life of the Church, there comes a grave responsibility to follow the moral law. Christ’s calling restores to people the grace necessary to live in right relationship with God, but this means that gay Christians cannot portray themselves as victims of external forces if they fail to live up to their Christian calling.

Above all, a healthy spiritual approach to homosexuality ought to make clear that gay Christians have a legitimate place within the Body of Christ without having to pretend that they don’t exist by being pressured either into marriage or into becoming closeted priests. Though we should not overstate the innovation in Francis’ off-the-cuff remarks, the Pope has made a significant contribution to the development of a healthy spirituality for gay Christians by speaking of the need to integrate them within society (the Church is a society, too, after all), and by his recognition that many gay Christians already exist within the Church who are of “good will” and wish to “seek the Lord.”

Aaron Taylor, a Ph.D. student in ethics at Boston College, holds degrees from the University of Oxford and from Heythrop College, University of London.

The shared priesthood in a family

stagon.JPGThe are differences in how the Christian churches view priesthood. Generally speaking the priests of the Latin Church are celibate. But there are exceptions made for those who were formerly members of the Anglican Communion as married ministers who come into full communion with the Church of Rome. Then in many of the Eastern Catholic churches there are both married and celibate priests. In the USA, more of the Eastern Catholic priests are celibate due to an implementation of a rule imposed upon because of a strife between a Latin bishop and Eastern Catholics.

Eastern Christianity has had a long and venerable tradition of a married priesthood. Peggy Fletcher of the RNS wrote a very fine story on a family with priests “doing God’s work with sincerity and earnestness” in “Like father like son(s): Boys follow their father’s calling,” (The Washington Post, July 1, 2013). I recommend reading the article.
I am not calling into question the valid spiritual discipline of a celibate priesthood in the Catholic Church; the celibate Catholic priesthood has a valuable spiritual tradition with good reasons for following in this manner. The point here is that among those in the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church a man can validly follow the Lord as being married and being a priest. We have a history of it. Eastern Catholic Christians in the USA have been told by the authorities in Rome that a married priesthood is not possible. Certain biases are evident. American Eastern Catholic bishops say a married priesthood is part of the long, lived theological tradition –and it is part of canonical tradition– and that they ought to be free to ordain married men without issue. There are practical matters that always need to be accounted for, but one can say that both vocations, being married and being a priest, is possible. The article is less about a political statement than it is about the beauty of two vocations cohering well.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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