Sunday, December 9, 2012

Life as a Priest: Outsmarting the collared man

Since when did everyone become smarter than a priest?

By Fr. Chip Hines
o, I know that there will be no sympathy for me as I write this, but when did people start thinking that they know more about theology, the Catholic faith or even diocesan policy than their parish priest? 

I’m not talking about whether or not people exist who are more faithful than their parish priest or even holier than their parish priest. I’m positive that those people exist in large numbers! What I’m talking about is the constant and evermore present attitude that somehow our six years of studying philosophy and theology and receiving a master’s degree is somehow trumped by the eight years of once-a-week religious education someone received 20 or 30 years ago. 

That somehow coming to Mass once a week makes someone an expert on why eulogies should be as long as someone wants them to be, or that when we schedule a funeral at nine in the morning it is not because we’re mean people who want to make your life hard, it’s because we have more than that funeral happening that day and we need to schedule our day so as to be able to complete all the tasks we have, including celebrating your loved one’s funeral Mass and by the way, going to the cemetery with you to complete the prayers and getting back to the office to begin the next thing, whatever that might be. 

These are but a few of the issues we parish priests are dealing with on a day-to-day basis, but seriously, we have training, we are educated. 

What if your doctor told you that he was going to have to operate and after the requisite second opinion you do indeed need an operation, would you tell him or her how to do the operation because you watched every episode of ER? I don’t think so. You’d respect his education and knowledge and you’d put your very life in their hands. Your parish priest spends just as much time in school and does many hours of field work and is evaluated through the seminary process by teaching faculty AND a spiritual director.

After the initial assignments as a parochial vicar he will be a pastor and by that time may have seen and heard a lot of things that will have formed him even further. Did we lose all sense of being competent because of the abuse crisis? Did we all of a sudden become less capable for some other reason? 

I don’t now what it is but as I talk to my brother priests we all see it in some form or another. I find it a disturbing trend. I really think it would be an interesting study if someone could begin surveying people about all professions, including the priesthood, and see if this is just common amongst us or, as we have a better educated population do they question everyone’s capability and qualifications? 

I know that in the grand scheme of things this may be a small issue and it may even seem petty by some, however, shouldn’t we all respect one another in our respective fields of education and training? My fear is that the less respect we have for our parish priests the less desirable the vocation to the priesthood will seem, and believe me, I fully realize how undesirable it seems to most parents out there now, never mind with a further erosion of our already eroded credibility. 

The vocation to the priesthood is more than just a job or a profession and the uniqueness has been shifted aside in recent years and I think certainly the above mentioned abuse crisis did not help, I think it hurt a lot, but I think there is another factor in this that may be being overlooked. 

I think over the last 40-50 years the specialness of the priesthood, not the individual priest, but the priesthood itself, has been downplayed and marginalized by the Church itself and by her opponents. The rush to make everyone equal has diminished the uniqueness of the vocation to the priesthood making the priest just another guy who happens to get to wear the robes and say the prayers.

Of course as human beings we are equal, but our vocations make us different. Why is being different bad? Well, it appears that over time our media, academic and government types have done a great job in convincing the people that we should all be the same. Uniqueness and achievement are no longer celebrated because one person’s success is seen as another person’s failure. 

Rather than learn from defeat or failure we have raised a few generations of people who think that everyone gets a trophy and everyone deserves a prize. So, is it any wonder that there are people in the Church who think that everyone should be a priest? If we’re all priests than we’re all experts and so it goes that I connect you back to my original point. 

While we all share in the priesthood of the baptized, we do not all share in the ordained priesthood. The ordained priest has been given a gift by God to stand in persona Christi, this gift is not for everyone just as the gift of marriage isn’t for everyone and just like the differences of the male and female human being allow for different strengths and weaknesses. 

Friends, being a priest in no way makes me better than you, as I said at the outset some of the holiest people I know are not priests, they are dedicated lay people who pray and work for the evangelization of the world, some are already saints and some will be some day. 

Being a priest does however give my brothers and me a role that is unique and essential and with God’s grace it will get us to heaven as well. The priest is present with all his knowledge and his faults, with his own holiness and his own sin, but he is present for you and for me and for this we should be thankful. 

I love being a priest, I love celebrating the sacraments, not because I am a glory hound but because I truly believe I was called to this life to help people grow in their faith and become closer to God. I just hope that people believe that, because sometimes it feels like they don’t, and the last thing I or any other priest wants is to be a wedge keeping people from God. 

If we can’t be a bridge to God, we ought to examine our lives and make the change that is necessary. I pray that God continues to bless you and your family.


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