JULY 27, 2015
Let’s end clericalism in the Church
July 7, 2015
Clergy caught up in clericalism are incapable of seeing that it freezes their humanity—their ability to simply connect on a human level with the various sorts of God’s holy people.
By Father Donald Cozzens, a writer in residence at John Carroll University, where he teaches in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies. His most recent books are Notes from the Underground: The Spiritual Journal of a Secular Priest (Orbis) and Master of Ceremonies (ACTA), a novel.
Finally, there appears an issue that our divided church can agree on. Catholics of all stripes—conservatives and liberals and in-betweens—are declaring a pox on clericalism. From Pope Francis to the back pew widow, from seminary rectors to lay ecclesial ministers, it’s agreed that clericalism is crippling the pastoral mission of the church. At the same time it is strengthening the secularists’ claim that Catholic clergy are nothing more than papal agents bent on enforcing rigid moral controls which smother our human instinct for pleasure and freedom. So let’s end clericalism in the church.
Yes, of course, let’s end clericalism. It’s just plain right to heed the growing consensus that clericalism must go. But something tells me, “not so fast.”
This cancer crippling the Catholic world—from local communities to Vatican offices—is so deeply embedded in our past and present church fabric that a careful pre-surgery examination is called for. So, pull on your surgical gloves and join me in the pre-op room.
We know clericalism when we encounter it, whether on the parish level or in the media’s caricaturist portrayal of priests and bishops. But although we know clericalism when we see it, it’s not so easy to define it.
Here’s how I see it: Clericalism is an attitude found in many (but not all) clergy who have put their status as priests and bishops above their status as baptized disciples of Jesus Christ. In doing so, a sense of privilege and entitlement emerges in their individual and collective psyches. This, in turn, breeds a corps of ecclesiastical elites who think they’re not like other men.
Clergy caught up in this kind of purple-hewed seduction are incapable of seeing that it freezes their humanity—their ability to simply connect on a human level with the various sorts of God’s holy people. Of all the sour fruits of clericalism, this inability to connect with others might be the most damaging. When the ordained come across as somehow superior to their parishioners and people they encounter, the playing field is tilted. This kind of disconnect can be fatal to a priest’s efforts to build a sense of community in his parish.
It’s often difficult for parishioners to feel comfortable with a clerical priest. They simple don’t find “Father” approachable. The same can be said of bishops who are all too comfortable thinking of themselves as princes by divine selection. They connect neither with their priests nor with the people they’re meant to shepherd. And you won’t find the smell of the sheep on them.
Often that’s exactly what clergy caught up in clericalism want: They believe a certain distance from the non-ordained is fitting and right. Of course, priests need not be chummy with their parishioners, and the pastor-parishioner relationship requires maturity and prudence on the part of the ordained.
Most pastors are all too aware of the smothering demands of some of their flock. Without question, they need to safeguard their privacy and find time when they are, so to speak, “off the clock.”
But clericalism by its nature exaggerates this need. Without fail, it breeds artificiality and superficiality between pastors and parishioners. Though often unnamed, something real is missing.
Clerical priests and bishops (and yes, clerical deacons) come to see their power to confer sacraments, to preach, and to teach and administer as the bedrock of their identity. When this happens, they lose sight of the truth that the church’s power is ultimately the power of the Holy Spirit. Without words, they seem to say “We are clergy… and you’re not.”
Years ago, when I served as my diocese’s vicar for priests, I spoke with a highly placed lay diocesan official who related his fear that he was being co-opted by the system—that he was becoming “clerical.” I told him not to worry. The very fact that he sensed the danger was his deliverance. We agreed that a number of his lay colleagues apparently didn’t see the danger. These lay chancery workers thought of themselves as insiders. And in a real sense they were. And like many of their ordained colleagues, their first loyalty was now to the church as institution rather than to the gospel and to the faithful they served. So the cancer of clericalism, in its broadest sense, is not restricted to deacons, priests, and bishops.
Clerical culture, it should be clear, is the breeding ground for the disease of clericalism. The two, however, are distinct. We must understand this before any attempts to surgically excise the cancer of clericalism. Most professionals, skilled workers, and artisans develop a culture, a pattern of behavior and language and image that shape the identity of those who belong. Such cultures can foster a healthy esprit de corp. So clerical culture itself isn’t the culprit here. Priests regularly speak of the “brotherhood of the ordained.” They share a similar seminary training. They understand the joys and sorrows of parish ministry, the freedom and loneliness of celibacy, and the frightening responsibility of preaching God’s word. But a healthy clerical culture fosters a spirit of humility and gratitude in the hearts of deacons, priests, and bishops. It leads a priest to say to himself, “By the grace of God I’m a priest. But I’m first a baptized disciple in need of ministry myself, in need of mercy and the fellowship of lay men and women.” However, a clerical culture that exaggerates the role and scope of the ordained minister in the life of the church becomes fertile soil for the cancer of clericalism.
So, what can we do to end clericalism? The following steps should excise the disease, or at least put clericalism into remission:
1. Bishops, priests, and deacons are called by the gospel—and by Pope Francis—to see discipleship and service as foundational to ordained ministry. Baptism confers all the dignity they need. Many clergy get this. Many still do not. So let our seminaries teach candidates for the priesthood that baptismal discipleship rooted in prayer is the foundation of priestly ministry.
2. Some clergy insist on being addressed with their title, Father or Monsignor. And some prelates insist on their courtly honorifics, Excellency or Eminence. Titles have their place, but we shouldn’t insist on them. We might smile at a lay person who insists on being called Mister, Doctor, Professor or Judge. Calling a physician Doctor is appropriate in the consulting room or hospital, and addressing a pastor as Father is likewise appropriate in parish settings. But most people wince when an individual insists on always being addressed by his or her title.
3. Mandated celibacy needs to be revisited. It’s true that we find clericalism in the married clergy of Eastern rite Catholic and Orthodox churches. But the inherent burdens of celibacy lead some clergy to a sense of entitlement and privilege, hallmarks of clericalism.
But, some will argue, isn’t the critique of clericalism an attack on the priesthood? The logic behind this question goes something like this: It’s difficult to exaggerate the dignity and spiritual power of the priesthood.
Think of how many, if not most, of the laity perceive the priest primarily in terms of offering Mass and forgiving sins. So great a vocation, it’s concluded, requires that a priest be someone “set apart.” And with being set apart comes responsibility and privilege. In other words, this line of thinking accepts as natural a certain clericalism in Catholic priests because they belong to a kind of noble spiritual class. And while nobility has its obligations, it also has its perks.
But Pope Francis has answered this way of thinking by saying the priest is not so much a man set apart as a servant-pastor placed in the center of the community. The pope believes a priest and bishop should have a missionary heart, the antithesis of a clerical heart. In “The Joy of the Gospel,” Francis writes that “a missionary heart never closes itself off, never retreats into its own security, never opts for rigidity and defensiveness. It realizes that it has to grow in its own understanding of the gospel and in discerning the paths of the Spirit, and so it always does what good it can, even if in the process, its shoes get soiled by the mud of the street.”
So, yes, let’s end clericalism and follow the example of our non-clerical pope. He keeps reminding his bishops, priests, and deacons that they are trail guides for a pilgrim people. They are ministers of mercy—with muddy shoes.
Top of Form
1. Clericalism is a serious problem among today’s priests.
2. Of the author’s suggestions to reduce clericalism, the most effective would be:
Better seminary training.
Not using titles like “Father” to address priests.
Ending mandatory celibacy.
None of these.
3. Allowing priests to marry would help to reduce clericalism.
4. I wouldn’t feel comfortable calling a priest by his first name without using a title like “Father.”
5. Most laity perceive the priest primarily in terms of offering Mass and forgiving sins.
6. Clericalism is crippling the pastoral mission of the church.
7. I find that most members of clergy are approachable.
8. I think it is important to be able to relate to your parish priest.
9. Clericalism makes it harder for priests to relate to laypeople.
10. At least some level of clericalism is necessary for a priest to be an effective pastor or administrator.
11. Most priests I know are:
Down-to-earth and in touch with people’s needs.
Somewhat set apart from laity, but still approachable.
Nice guys, but clearly believe the priesthood makes them superior.
Classic examples of clericalism at its worst.
12. Attacking clericalism is just a veiled attack on the priesthood itself.
13. The biggest danger of clerical culture is…
14. An example of a good relationship between a priest and his congregation is…
15. The main cause of clericalism is…
And I thought that clericalism was a problem that we encounter only in India (more especially in the southern States)!
uscatholic.org is a liberal “Catholic” site.
I have analysed a few of the erroneous issues that it propagates:
U.S. CATHOLIC MAGAZINE ENDORSES NEW AGE-REIKI, YOGA AND ZEN
25 MAY/JULY 2014
So why then did I decide to put up this article on my conservative web site?
Because clericalism is a serious problem, though the solutions proposed by uscatholic.org are to be rejected by us.
uscatholic.org proposes that Catholic priests not be addressed as “Father” and that “mandatory celibacy be lifted”. We firmly reject that.
I believe that every priest should be addressed as “Father” (if not Reverend”) so-and-so. Not to do so would be a form of “laicizing” him.
I am surprised that uscatholic.org did not bring in the issue of the priest’s clerical dress and clerical collar and suggest that they attire themselves like lay men.
Just this week, one of my former parish priests, a Jesuit, was found lying dead on the road. Passersby, unable to identify his body, shifted him to the government morgue. He was carrying no id. That sorry situation could have been avoided had he been wearing his cassock or Roman collar.
uscatholic.org drops the name of Pope Francis a couple of times, but Pope Francis has been seen to defend the liberal camp (Cardinal Walter Kasper and cohorts) during the proceedings at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in October 2014!
Clericalism is a problem and must be ended, but not the uscatholic.org way.
I didn’t think that it was worthwhile submitting the filled-in Survey form to uscatholic.org.
The Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, #66 Obligation of Ecclesiastical Attire
[Dressing otherwise would show a lack of reverence for his vocation- comment on LifeSiteNews]:
“Outside of entirely exceptional cases, a cleric’s failure to use this proper ecclesiastical attire could manifest a weak sense of his identity as one consecrated to God. (215)”
Why a priest should wear his Roman collar
By Fr. Charles M. Mangan and Fr. Gerald E. Murray
The Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests, prepared by the Congregation for the Clergy and approved by Pope John Paul II on January 31, 1994, says:
In a secularized and tendentiously materialistic society, where even the external signs of sacred and supernatural realities tend to be disappearing, the necessity is particularly felt that the priest-man of God, dispenser of His mysteries – should be recognizable in the sight of the community, even through the clothing he wears, as an unmistakable sign of his dedication and of his identity as a recipient of a public ministry. The priest should be recognizable above all through his behavior, but also through his dressing in a way that renders immediately perceptible to all the faithful, even to all men, his identity and his belonging to God and to the Church.
For this reason, the cleric should wear “suitable clerical clothing, according to the norms issued by the Episcopal Conference and according to legitimate local customs.” (Canon 284) This means that such clothing, when it is not the cassock, should be distinct from the manner in which laymen dress, and in conformity with the dignity and sacredness of the ministry.
Apart from entirely exceptional circumstances, the non-use of clerical clothing on the part of the cleric can manifest a weak sense of his own identity as a pastor completely dedicated to the service of the Church (# 66).
Given this timely reminder from the Holy See about the importance of clerical attire for the priest, we thought it might be useful to examine some of the underlying reasons for this discipline. We also want to examine some of the common arguments used to justify the non-wearing of the Roman collar.
It is our contention that the rather widespread practice of priests neglecting to wear their collar when they should is both a sign and a cause of malaise in the Church. Such casualness about being publicly identified as a priest of the Catholic Church may signify a desire to distance himself from his priestly vocation. The collar becomes “work clothes,” which are put away when one is not “on duty.” The functionalistic notion of the priesthood revealed by this attitude is
in contradiction to the ontological configuration to Christ the High Priest conferred by priestly ordination.
Lay people depend on their priests for spiritual support and strength. They feel that something is not right when their priests try to blend into the crowd and, as it were, disappear. The purpose of this article is to encourage our fellow priests to wear their collars (and, by analogy, religious to wear their habits).
It goes without saying that there are reasonable and legitimate exceptions to this rule, such as during sports and recreation, during one’s vacation (in general), while at home with family or in one’s private quarters in the rectory. And, of course, the obligation to wear clerical clothing ceases during times of violent persecution.
During such a crisis, the guidance of the bishops should be followed.
It is incorrect to say that a priest who refuses to wear his collar is a bad priest. We are afraid that some of our brother priests have simply slipped into a bad habit. They may have convinced themselves that they are serving the greater good of the Church by putting aside clerical clothing. We would like to call such priests to reconsider their decision to dress as laymen, and to re-examine their motives.
Part 1: Reasons for wearing the Roman collar
1) The Roman collar is a sign of priestly consecration to the Lord.
As a wedding ring distinguishes husband and wife and symbolizes the union they enjoy, so the Roman collar identifies bishops and priests (and often deacons and seminarians) and manifests their proximity to the Divine Master by virtue of their free consent to the ordained ministry to which they have been (or may be) called.
2) By wearing clerical clothing and not possessing excess clothes, the priest demonstrates adherence to the Lord’s example of material poverty. The priest does not choose his clothes-the Church has, thanks to her accumulated wisdom over the past two millennia. Humble acceptance of the Church’s desire that the priest wear the Roman collar illustrates a healthy submission to authority and conformity to the will of Christ as expressed through his Church.
3) Church Law requires clerics to wear clerical clothing. We have cited above number 66 of the Directory for priests, which itself quotes canon 284.
4) The wearing of the Roman collar is the repeated, ardent desire of Pope John Paul 11. The Holy Father’s wish in this regard cannot be summarily dismissed; he speaks with a special charism. He frequently reminds priests of the value of wearing the Roman collar.
In a September 8, 1982 letter to Ugo Cardinal Poletti, his Vicar for the Diocese of Rome, instructing him to promulgate norms concerning the use of the Roman collar and religious habit, the Pontiff observed that clerical dress is valuable “not only because it contributes to the propriety of the priest in his external behavior or in the exercise of his ministry, but above all because it gives evidence within the ecclesiastical community of the public witness that each priest is held to give of his own identity and special belonging to God.”
In a homily on November 8, 1982 the Pope addressed a group of transitional deacons whom he was about to ordain to the priesthood. He said that if they tried to be just like everyone else in their “style of life” and “manner of dress,” then their mission as priests of Jesus Christ would not be fully realized.
5) The Roman collar prevents “mixed messages”; other people will recognize the priest’s intentions when he finds himself in what might appear to be compromising circumstances. Let’s suppose that a priest is required to make pastoral visits to different apartment houses in an area where drug dealing or prostitution is prevalent. The Roman
collar sends a clear message to everyone that the priest has come to minister to the sick and needy in Christ’s name. Idle speculation might be triggered by a priest known to neighborhood residents visiting various apartment houses dressed as a layman.
6) The Roman collar inspires others to avoid immodesty in dress, words and actions and reminds them of the need for public decorum. A cheerful but diligent and serious priest can compel others to take stock of the manner in which they conduct themselves. The Roman collar serves as a necessary challenge to an age drowning in impurity, exhibited by suggestive dress, blasphemous speech and scandalous actions.
7) The Roman collar is a protection for one’s vocation when dealing with young, attractive women. A priest out of his collar (and, naturally, not wearing a wedding ring) can appear to be an attractive target for the affections of an unmarried woman looking for a husband, or for a married woman tempted to infidelity.
8) The Roman collar offers a kind of “safeguard “for oneself. The Roman collar provides a reminder to the priest himself of his mission and identity: to witness to Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest, as one of his brother-priests.
9) A priest in a Roman collar is an inspiration to others who think:
“Here is a modern disciple of Jesus.” The Roman collar speaks of the possibility of making a sincere, lasting commitment to God. Believers of diverse ages, nationalities and temperaments will note the virtuous, other-centered life of the man who gladly and proudly wears the garb of a Catholic priest, and perhaps will realize that they too can consecrate themselves anew, or for the first time, to the loving Good Shepherd.
10) The Roman collar is a source of beneficial intrigue to non-Catholics. Most non- Catholics do not have experience with ministers who wear clerical garb. Therefore, Catholic priests by virtue of their dress can cause them to reflect- even if only a cursory fashion-on the Church and what she entails.
11) A priest dressed as the Church wants is a reminder of God and of the sacred. The prevailing secular morass is not kind to images which connote the Almighty, the Church, etc. When one wears the Roman collar, the hearts and minds of others are refreshingly raised to the “Higher Being” who is usually relegated to a tiny footnote in the agenda of contemporary culture.
12) The Roman collar is also a reminder to the priest that he is “never not a priest.” With so much confusion prevalent today, the Roman collar can help the priest avoid internal doubt as to who he is. Two wardrobes can easily lead-and often does-to two lifestyles, or even two personalities.
13) A priest in a Roman collar is a walking vocation message. The sight of a cheerful, happy priest confidently walking down the street can be a magnet drawing young men to consider the possibility that God is calling them to the priesthood. God does the calling; the priest is simply a visible sign God will use to draw men unto himself.
14) The Roman collar makes the priest available for the Sacraments, especially Confession and the Anointing of the Sick, and for crisis situations. Because the Roman collar gives instant recognition, priests who wear it make themselves more apt to be approached, particularly when seriously needed. The authors can testify to being asked for the Sacraments and summoned for assistance in airports, crowded cities and isolated villages because they were immediately recognized as Catholic priests.
15) The Roman collar is a sign that the priest is striving to become holy by living out his vocation always. It is a sacrifice to make oneself constantly available to souls by being publicly identifiable as a priest, but a sacrifice pleasing to Our Divine Lord. We are reminded of how the people came to him, and how he never turned them away. There are so many people who will benefit by our sacrifice of striving to be holy priests without interruption.
16) The Roman collar serves as a reminder to “alienated” Catholics not to forget their irregular situation and their
responsibilities to the Lord. The priest is a witness-for good or ill-to Christ and his Holy Church. When a “fallen-away” sees a priest, he is encouraged to recall that the Church continues to exist. A cheerful priest provides a salutary reminder of the Church.
17) The wearing of clerical clothing is a sacrifice at times, especially in hot weather. The best mortifications are the ones we do not look for. Putting up with the discomforts of heat and humidity can be a wonderful reparation for our own sins, and a means of obtaining graces for our parishioners.
18) The Roman collar serves as a “sign of contradiction” to a world lost in sin and rebellion against the Creator. The Roman collar makes a powerful statement: the priest as an <alter Christus> has accepted the Redeemer’s mandate to take the Gospel into the public square, regardless of personal cost.
19) The Roman collar helps priests to avoid the on duty/off duty mentality of priestly service. The numbers 24 and 7 should be our special numbers: we are priests 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We are priests, not men who engage in the “priest profession.” On or off duty, we should be available to whomever God may send our way. The “lost sheep” do not make appointments.
20) The “officers” in Christ’s army should be identifiable as such.
Traditionally, we have remarked that those who receive the Sacrament of Confirmation become “soldiers” of Christ, adult Catholics ready and willing to defend his name and his Church. Those who are ordained as deacons, priests and bishops must also be prepared-whatever the stakes – to shepherd the flock of the Lord. Those priests who wear the Roman collar show forth their role unmistakably as leaders in the Church.
21) The saints have never approved of a lackadaisical approach concerning priestly vesture. For example, Saint Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787), Patron Saint of Moral Theologians and Confessors, in his esteemed treatise The Dignity and Duties of the Priest, urges the wearing of the appropriate clerical dress, asserting that the Roman collar helps both priest and faithful to recall the sublime splendor of the sacerdotal state instituted by the God-Man.
22) Most Catholics expect their priests to dress accordingly. Priests have long provided a great measure of comfort and security to their people. As youths, Catholics are taught that the priest is God’s representative-someone they can trust. Hence, the People of God want to know who these representatives are and what they stand for. The cherished custom of wearing distinguishable dress has been for centuries sanctioned by the Church; it is not an arbitrary imposition. Catholics expect their priests to dress as priests and to behave in harmony with Church teaching and practice. As we have painfully observed over the last few years, the faithful are especially bothered and harmed when priests defy the legitimate authority of the Church, and teach and act in inappropriate and even sinful ways.
Your life is not your own; you belong to God in a special way,
you are sent out to serve him with your life. When we wake each morning, we should turn our thoughts to our loving God, and ask for the grace to serve him well that day. We remind ourselves of our status as His chosen servants by putting on the attire that proclaims for all to see that God is still working in this world through the ministry of poor and sinful men.
Part 2: Arguments advanced against the wearing of clerical clothing
There is a host of reasons advanced for the position that priests should not be required to wear the Roman collar. What follows is a sampling of these opinions, along with our comments.
1) “I need time for myself.” Priests, of course, need time for themselves, especially for prayer. Yet, a priest is a priest- always. Apart from the times noted in the introduction (recreation, vacation, etc.), there is no need to dress as a layman. The priest should take his personal time as a priest and nothing else.
2) “I want to relax.” We make a big mistake when we equate wearing the collar with not being relaxed, and relaxing with being out of the collar. The naturalness of the priest should include wearing the collar without constantly averting to it. We should go about our daily duties, which include relaxing, without feeling uncomfortable about our priestly garb. It should become second nature to us.
3) “My ministerial and personal lives are separate.” To have a “split personality” is never healthy. No priest can temporarily put his priesthood on the shelf. To hide one’s priesthood may often be symptomatic of a desire to engage in something sinful, or-at the very least-disedifying.
4) “I need diversion.” If you mean the type of diversion that you would be ashamed to be seen enjoying while in a collar, then forget the diversion, not the collar.
5) “Those who always wear their collars are insecure and seek to hide behind their uniforms.” The Roman collar is hardly a work uniform which is removed at the end of one’s day. Rather, the tried and-true wisdom of the Church has determined that such garb best represents who the priest is. The collar is the established manner in which ordained ministers live out their ecclesial vocations both in the private and public spheres. True, some may think themselves better because of what they wear. But the collar and habit should not be dismissed out-of-hand on that basis. Priests and religious are weak and tempted. Wearing the appropriate clothing can strengthen those who totter on the brink of grave sin. On the other hand, those who do not want to appear in public as they really are seem to be suffering
from a type of insecurity.
6) “I do not want to stand out in a crowd.” This is part of the glory and at times the sacrifice of being God’s chosen servant: priests stand out not because of their own accomplishments or merits, but because they represent Jesus Christ. Priests are different, but not thereby strange.
7) “The Roman collar erects a barrier between me and my people.” Some priests have publicly stated such. (For example, a priest-tribunal official and another priest involved in ecumenical work both asserted the necessity of not wearing the Roman collar for fear that they would insult non-Catholics and those hostile to Church teaching.)
Could it be that some think that what the collar signifies-Jesus Christ, the Catholic Church, the priesthood-are obstacles? Priests must relate to others as priests, never in spite of being priests.
8) “I can’t be one of the guys when I am ‘dressed up.”‘ To which we answer, “Good, because a priest is never just one of the guys.” Furthermore, wearing the collar is not “dressing up.” Rather, a priest wearing lay clothing (apart from legitimate exceptions) is himself constantly dressing up as someone he is not.
9) “I don’t want to offend non-Catholics or be provocative in our pluralistic society.” Some took offense at Jesus as he walked the streets of Palestine. Are we trying to be “nicer” than he? Are we perhaps afraid to suffer for the sake of his name?
10) “Clerical clothing is for a clerical Church-I believe in the radical equality of all believers.” There is no such thing as a
clerical Church which will pass away.
There is just one Church, and the priesthood is a constitutive part of the Church which cannot be abolished. The equality of all believers does not contradict the diversity of vocations and states of life in the Church. For priests to self-exempt themselves from one of the duties of priestly life-the wearing of the Roman collar-is a form of clericalism which denies the faithful their right to know who their priests are in order to call upon them for priestly ministrations whenever necessary.
11) “My work with young people is hampered by the collar. “Many priests attest that their ministry to youth is enhanced, not hindered, by the wearing of the collar. Young men and women cannot help but detect the priest’s love for and dedication to the Lord and the Church. Since there is no reason for the priest to demonstrate that “I’m just like you” (because he is not) the priest can be content to wear his collar when around young people, knowing that he has nothing to prove or hide. He need only show the love and compassion of the Savior.
12) “Clothes do not make the man- the people of God can see my priesthood by the way I live, not by the way I dress.” This statement as it stands is true. But the legitimate, Church-sanctioned vesture of the priest does not somehow mask who he is; instead, it highlights that he is indeed a priest who is required by the Church to dress accordingly as he seeks to imitate the First Priest.
13) “External symbols are not my thing-I am who I am, not what other people want me to be.” Exactly. As priests, we should be priests and happily, humbly give that clear message to others. When collars were quickly taken off a few decades ago, the common argument proclaimed was: “What’s really important is what’s inside me.. I don’t need an article of clothing to define my priesthood.” Our lives should unabashedly display these characteristics; otherwise, we might be simply seeking our own interests and not Christ’s. We use symbols all the time, and need not be embarrassed by them. To obediently and humbly wear the collar expresses one’s submission to the authority of God and his Holy Church.
14) “Priests who always wear the Roman collar are rigid, arch-conservative, inflexible, elitist, vain and selfish
attention-seekers. I am not one of them.” The assertion is made that priests who dress as priests possess an unhealthy desire to be continually needed and recognized; they only wear the collar for adulation and to “lord it over” the laity; they are looking for “clergy discounts” and “freebies” at stores and restaurants. That is an unfair assessment of men who are trying to live as the Church mandates. The collar should mean a simplicity of life and a corresponding humility before Almighty God. For a priest to say, “I’m not like those poor guys who wear this Tridentine-imposed relic of clericalism,” is perhaps a means of easing his conscience when it rebukes him for not doing what the Church demands of her ministers.
Inarguably, much of Western society revels in a far-reaching decadence aimed at obliterating any sign of the transcendent.
To counter such a reality, priests-emboldened by the Holy Spirit with a strong faith and a genuine missionary spirit- must seek to cooperate with the Creator in re-invigorating the world with a sense of awe for and responsibility to God.
The Roman collar, far from being a nasty reminder of the Church’s requirement of clerical dress for her priests, is a sorely-needed reference to the ever-present Paraclete who beckons all men and women to recognize the selfless love and eternal grandeur of the Most Blessed Trinity.
Priests who don the collar may be met with a barrage of objections. “We are the Church … we are all priests … there’s no room for class distinctions in the Church of the twenty-first century…” Even some brother priests may look askance at one of their own, convinced that he is suffering from what could be fatal imprudence. “Wearing the collar will only make you a target and eventually a victim … you’ll be sorry.”
But priests who wear the Roman collar, in addition to obeying the law of the Church and the heartfelt plea of the Holy Father, display the desire to manifest the presence of the Savior to a world gone mad. No matter the abuse which may be heaped upon a collar-wearing priest, he knows full well that the reward is significant: to be able to lead others to Christ despite one’s own personal failings.
To priests who always wear the Roman collar we say: keep it up! To those who do not we say: take stock of the value which this seemingly insignificant piece of vesture possesses. Be aware that the priestly work you now do will not suffer but will be enhanced when you dress according to the venerable custom of the Church.
Reverend Gerald E. Murray is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College and was ordained in 1984 after completing studies at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, N. Y. Currently he is studying canon law at the Gregorian University in Rome.
Reverend Charles M. Mangan is a pastor of two rural parishes and is vice-chancellor of the Diocese of Sioux Falls, S.D. He attended Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., and was ordained in 1989. He received the J.C.L. from the Gregorian University in Rome.
This article appeared in the June 1995 issue of “The Homiletic & Pastoral Review”.
The Paternal Order of priests
There is a famous homily of St. Augustine in which he refers to the fathers in his audience as “my fellow bishops.” He startles his congregation, which certainly included many busy fathers of families, by telling them to be faithful to the duties of the priesthood.
“Fulfill my office in your own homes,” he says. The word “bishop” means supervisor, and since “a man is called a bishop because he supervises and takes care of others, every man who heads a household also holds the office of bishop—supervising the way his people believe, and seeing that none of them fall into heresy, not his wife, or son, or daughter, or even his servant.”
Augustine spoke these words as the Church faced its first real wave of clericalism. Christianity had been legal for almost a century and compulsory for almost a generation. The clergy, who had once been reviled and persecuted in the empire, were now respected and even exalted. This newfound respect was welcome, of course, and it was their due as priests of Jesus Christ. But clerical exaltation had a downside, too. In fact, the empire so revered the clergy that the lay state seemed insignificant by contrast. As great a churchman as St. Jerome once quipped that he approved of marriage, but mostly because it was the breeding ground for future celibates. So it’s little wonder that ordinary Christians began to lose sight of the sacramentality of marriage and the sacred vocation to family life. Imagine, then, the shock when Augustine addressed those overworked and under-appreciated married men as “my fellow bishops.” In an age of rising clericalism, such words must have seemed so exaggerated as to be scandalous.
Today, we live in a different sort of world. It’s almost an inversion of Augustine’s world. While he faced a budding clericalism, we’re looking at a full-grown anti-clericalism. While his contemporaries felt free to sneer at marriage and treat it as an occasion of sin, our contemporaries miss no opportunity to sneer at priestly celibacy and treat it as an occasion of sin. Our world is Augustine’s world turned upside-down. Yet I think we can learn much from Augustine’s approach. He could speak so truly of priesthood and fatherhood because he could see a reality beyond the visible. That is the very definition of a Catholic worldview, a sacramental worldview. And so, in the spirit of Augustine, I want to address priests and seminarians as men who are “my fellow fathers.”
One of the marvels of God’s plan is that He has given fathers a priesthood and priests a fatherhood. Within the family, the father stands before God as a priest and mediator. Within the Church, the priest stands before his parish as a father. A priest’s fatherhood is not merely metaphorical, it is something metaphysical. It is a supernatural participation in God’s fatherhood and in Christ’s high priesthood. How did Christ exercise His high priesthood? He became the New Adam, the father of a new human family in the Church. He thereby became the perfect image of the Father on earth.
Priests of the New Covenant conformed to Christ in a unique and powerful way. Christian tradition speaks of ordination in the most astonishing terms. We commonly say that the priest is alter Christus, another Christ. The Catechism tells us further that the priest acts “in the person of Christ” and, like Christ, he is a “living image of God the Father” (nos. 1548- 49). Through the ministry of ordained priests, the presence of Jesus Christ “is made visible in the midst of the community of believers” (ibid.).
Theologians refer to the ontological change—a change in the man’s very being—that occurs with the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Ordination “confers an indelible spiritual character” that is permanent and “imprinted . . . for ever” (Catechism, nos. 1582-83; cf. Heb. 5:6; Ps. 110:4). The great Cappadocian Father Gregory of Nyssa compared this change to the transubstantiation that occurs in the Eucharist. “The bread,” he explains, “is at first common bread. But when the sacramental action consecrates it, it is called the Body of Christ, for it becomes the Body of Christ. . . . The same power of the Word makes the priest worthy of veneration and honor. The new blessing separates him from common, ordinary life. Yesterday he was one of the crowd, one of the people. Now, suddenly, he has become a guide, a leader, a teacher of righteousness, an instructor in hidden mysteries. And this he does without any change in body or form. But, while he appears to be the man he was before, his invisible soul has really been transformed to a higher condition by some invisible power and grace.”
This permanent character, this communion with Christ, this share of God’s fatherhood, is not merely metaphorical. Indeed, it would be more accurate to say that my fatherhood is metaphorical. The truth is that both priests and dads are fathers. In different ways, their fatherhood is a metaphysical and theological reality. It is something sacramental, a living sign of God’s presence and power.
If this comes as news today, it’s only because so many of us have unwittingly become religious empiricists. Since a sacramental character is invisible, we may be tempted think of it as less real, less permanent, merely propositional. But because it is sacramental, it is more real, more permanent, and much more than propositional.
This demands of us a deep faith, an act of faith sustained over a lifetime. St. Thomas Aquinas said: “We do not believe in formulas, but in those realities they express, which faith allows us to touch. The believer’s act of faith does not terminate in the propositions, but in the realities which they express” (Catechism, no. 170). We do not put our faith in theories or abstractions, but in realities.
The Buck Stops Here
The New Covenant is itself a sacramental economy of the supernatural order that is more real than the world we see around us. The reality of a priest’s fatherhood, like the reality of my fatherhood, should be more real than an oncoming tractor-trailer. Such realities are powerful. They demand our attention. We ignore them at our peril.
Priests are called to put faith in their fatherhood. Pope John Paul II has written: “[T]he great family which is the Church . . . finds concrete expression in the diocesan and the parish family. . . . No one is without a family in this world: The Church is a home and family for everyone” (Familiaris Consortio, no. 85). Priests must be fathers to that “great family”—what an overwhelming task!
To my six children, I am a father. What that means is that I provide for them. I give them a name, a home, and food to sustain them. I teach them, guide them, and discipline them. I love them unconditionally; I forgive them for the trouble they cause. I pray for them daily. And all that is true of my fatherhood must be much truer—not less—for ordained priests. Philosophers through the centuries have always understood paternity as the highest degree of causality, the very communication of one’s own nature and life.
If this is true of natural fatherhood, it is truer of a priest’s supernatural fatherhood. As a natural father, I’ve communicated biological human life—but by administering the Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, priests communicate divine life, the very supernatural grace of Christ’s own divine sonship.
Priests must be fathers to a much larger family than mine. And this fatherhood, like mine, means far more than mere begetting. Like any father, priests must take responsibility for thousands of souls in hundreds of households. They must provide for them, teach them, exhort them, discipline them, guide them, correct them, and forgive them. They are their fathers. Spiritually speaking, the buck stops with them. In my home, I expect my children to assume responsibilities as they grow older; but as their father, I am the one who has to assume ultimate responsibility for them and for my household.
Building on Nature
We will be called to account for the guidance we’ve given. The thought of that makes me tremble for my fatherhood. It should make priests tremble for theirs. The time in the seminary is so important to their priesthood and fatherhood. I cannot be a good father unless I make a constant effort to learn, to study. As head of a household, I have had to educate myself in many remote and obscure corners of unfamiliar academic disciplines. To take on a mortgage responsibly, I had to become something of an economist. To stand responsibly by a child’s sickbed, I had to become an amateur physician. To keep it all together, day after day, I’ve had to read as deeply as I could in the doctors of prayer and morals.
Tomorrow’s priests need to prepare today for a lifetime of learning. The time they have in the seminary is probably the best opportunity they’ll ever have to immerse themselves in study. And priests cannot be good fathers without such preparation. If a seminarian hasn’t made the most of his time up till now, he should make an Act of Contrition and start his life over tomorrow. He needs to roll up his sleeves, open his books, get down on his knees and pray. Priesthood and fatherhood demand a wealth of knowledge and wisdom that takes a lifetime to build up. In prayer, we draw on the infinite wisdom of God—and that’s indispensable, but it’s not everything. God expects us to correspond to His grace in an active way, with our work and our study. Grace does not destroy nature, but builds on it, to perfect and elevate it. Priests need prayer; but they also need to study. God has given each of us a mind. Priests must put it to good use, and give Him something to build on. I beg seminarians and priests to heed the words of an experienced teacher and a former student: If you’re not studying right, you can’t be praying well. If you’re praying right, you’re going to study better. And if you’re studying right, you’re going to pray better.
So I urge seminarians to pray and study well. One will help to fortify the other.
The Secret of Fatherhood
The secret of fatherhood is this: One should strive to fall more in love with his bride every day, and with the children she has given him. We’ve all known many married couples who have “fallen out of love.” We’ve also known workaholic or self-absorbed fathers who live lives detached from the cares of their children. There are no newlyweds, no new parents, who plan for this to happen. No couple embarks upon marriage with the hope that they can make each other miserable and share that misery with many others. But misery descends upon a staggering number of families daily. Some of them we can tally up in divorce statistics; others stay together, though in separate and distant orbits. The analogy applies just as well to the priestly fathers who abandon their bride, the Church, and her children— and to those who stay with her, grudgingly and in misery. Falling in love is usually involuntary. Staying in love, however, demands will and work and help from almighty God. But the rewards are well worth the effort. As the years go by, I find myself falling more in love with my wife Kimberly. We’re coming close to a quarter century together, and I suppose I know her faults better than anyone alive. But I’ve come to know that I never go wrong in trusting her. I always go wrong in distrusting her. My bride is lovely, but the Church is still a lovelier bride. My bride is trustworthy and faithful, but the Church is ever more so. Priests are called to gaze upon the Church supernaturally, to walk beside her, by faith and not by sight.
For priesthood, like my fatherhood, is not a job; it’s not an administrative role. It’s a vocation from God. There’s a big difference between a job and a vocation, and it manifests itself in countless ways. Every year I take a vacation from my job, but I never take leave of my family. In fact, when I go on vacation, my family goes with me. Though priests will often take their restful time away from parish life, they must always take their priesthood and fatherhood with them. For a priest’s family is larger than mine. A priest’s family is everywhere. Wherever priests go, they must always be a father to the great family of the Church.
True priestly fatherhood is the only sure antidote to the recurring ecclesiastical illness called clericalism. We must always remember—priests and fathers—that we are not bosses, not managers, and not administrators. We are fathers. So what’s the difference? A boss can be threatened by the achievements of his subordinates. But a father finds only fulfillment in the successes of his sons and daughters.
I often tell my kids that I’m not just raising children; I’m raising up brothers and sisters. I am a rung in the ladder that they must climb in order to reach the one true Father of us all. If a fellow’s priesthood is fatherly, he will raise up sons and daughters to be his brothers and sisters in Christ. As fathers, we must not create and sustain dependency in our children.
We must be dependable so that they can depend ever more on the Lord. For it is from Him that all fatherhood in heaven and earth receives its name (cf. Eph. 3:15). Our fatherhood is great, but it is only an image of His, only a share He has granted us by grace.
Like Augustine, like Gregory of Nyssa, one must strive to be a realist. A priest must be a man who knows he is a father, and knows that his fatherhood is something real, something metaphysical, something theological, and something permanent.
The world needs priesthood and fatherhood as never before.
In his heart, the priest must hear the call that is as old as the Old Testament. For the priesthood of the New Covenant is not an innovation. It stands in continuity with the priesthood of the Jerusalem Temple, the priesthood of the tabernacle in the desert, and, most importantly, the priestly fatherhood of every household in the time of the patriarchs. Priestly fatherhood and fatherly priesthood are timeless covenant structures of the Family of God. Yet they are ever in need of renewal; for we do not father as we should.
In the Book of Judges, we read that, when a Levite appeared at the door of Micah, Micah pleaded, “Stay with me, and be to me a father and a priest” (Judg. 17:10). A chapter later, Micah’s plea was echoed, almost verbatim, by the Danites as they invited the Levite to be priest for their entire tribe: “[C]ome with us, and be to us a father and a priest” (Judg. 18:19). That call echoes still today, in our hometowns and in distant mission lands.
 Adapted from Sermon 94 , NPNF I:VI.
 Adapted from On the Baptism of Christ, NPNFII:V.
Source: May/Jun 2012 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine
ABOUT: Dr. Scott Hahn (born in 1957) is a contemporary author, Catholic theologian and apologist who currently teaches at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. Hahn is also the Founder and current President of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and the chairman of the CUF’s board of directors. A formerly Presbyterian minister and theologian, he entered the Catholic Church in Easter 1986. He is married to Kimberly Hahn and is the father of six children.
Priestly Identity: Crisis and Renewal (Part 1)
Interview with Father David Toups by Annamarie Adkins
Washington, D.C., March 19, 2008 (Zenit.org)
A general crisis of authentic masculinity in society has also affected the priesthood as only “real men” can adequately fulfill the role of priest and pastor, says Father David Toups.
Father Toups, the associate director of the Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations of the U.S. episcopal conference, is the author of “Reclaiming Our Priestly Character.” In this interview with ZENIT, Father Toups comments on the identity and character of the priesthood, and the various challenges it faces today.
Q: Your book focuses on recovering what you call the “doctrine of the priestly character.” Can you describe this “doctrine” in a nutshell?
Father Toups: The “doctrine of the priestly character” is about the permanent relationship the priest enters into with Christ the High Priest on the day of his ordination.
The priest is always a priest; he is not a simple functionary who performs ritual actions, but rather he is configured to Christ in the depths of his being by what is called an ontological change. Christ is working through him at the altar, “This is my Body,” and in the confessional, “I absolve you of your sins,” but also in his daily actions outside the sanctuary.
The character that the priest receives is a comfort to the faithful inasmuch as they realize that their faith is not based in the personality of the priest, but rather the Person of Christ working through the priest.
On the other hand, the priest is called, like all of the faithful, to a life of holiness. The character received at ordination is actually a dynamism for priestly holiness. The more he can assimilate his life to Christ and submit to the gift he received at ordination, the more he will be a credible witness to the faithful and edify the Body of Christ.
Q: Is it your view that the nature of the priesthood is unknown or misunderstood by many priests? Is mandatory “continuing priestly education” the answer?
Father Toups: Studies show that there has been confusion regarding the exact nature of the priesthood among priests themselves depending on the timing of their seminary training.
Immediately following the Second Vatican Council, there was confusion among priests and laity alike about the difference between the priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial priesthood. Vatican II’s intention was not to suppress one in order to highlight the other, but rather to recognize the universal call to holiness and the dignity of both.
The ministerial priesthood is a specific vocation within the Church in which a man is called by Christ in the apostolic line to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Priests are different by virtue of ordination, as confirmed by the council itself in paragraph 10 of “Lumen Gentium,” which emphasized that the baptized and the ordained share in the one and the same priesthood of Christ, but in a way that differs “in essence and not only in degree.”
This difference certainly does not mean better or even holier — that would be a major error — but it does mean that there is a distinction.
Cardinal Avery Dulles points out that, if anything, the priesthood of the faithful is more exalted because the ministerial priesthood is ordered to its service. Hence, a recovery from the confusion lies in the need to understand the balance a priest is to find; he is both a servant and one who has been set aside by Christ and the Church to stand “in persona Christi” — not as a personal honor, but as “one who has come to serve and not be served.”
The priest need not be embarrassed about this high calling, but should boldly live it out in the midst of the world. Pope John Paul the Great regularly reminded priests: “Do not be afraid to be who you are!”
This brings us to the second part of your question, namely, is mandatory “continuing priestly education” the answer?
In the book, I use the term “formation,” not education — though learning is an important, component part.
Ongoing formation is essential for every Christian vocation. In the midst of full liturgical schedules, parish councils, leaking roofs and hospital visits, the priest must continually open his heart and mind to Christ in prayer and study, annual retreats and seminars, as well as times of recreation and vacation, if he is to thrive as an individual and as a man of faith.
Ongoing formation is about deepening one’s interiority and fostering a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is about an ongoing conversion that reminds the priest who he is as a minister of the Gospel and whose he is as a son of God.
So is ongoing formation the answer? It is certainly a part of the solution to a happier, healthier presbyterate. Pope John Paul II wrote, “Ongoing formation helps the priest to be and act as a priest in the spirit and style of Jesus the Good Shepherd” (“Pastores Dabo Vobis,” 73).
Q: Some observers fear that encouraging young priests — many of who are already attempting to recover traditional liturgical and devotional practices — to rediscover their priestly character will only foster a new form of clericalism. Others believe giving prominence to the ministerial priesthood will diminish the common priesthood of the faithful — a development that many see as one of the hallmarks of Vatican II. How would you respond to critics of your proposal?
Father Toups: Highlighting both the priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial priesthood should actually strengthen both; they are not mutually exclusive or in any way opposed to one another.
When our particular calls within the Church are not given their proper distinctions, the Church suffers. St. Paul rightly reminds us of this with his beautiful analogy of how the Body of Christ is made up of diverse members working together for the good of the whole. The laity and the priest are not in competition but complement each other’s particular calling.
There is a danger of what John Paul II called the “clericalization of the laity and the laicization of the clergy” when distinctions are not made in the life of the Church — again, different does not mean better. Clericalism is not what happens when one has a clear identity of who they are, but rather when it is lived in such a way that is not in the service of the faithful.
The priest should not be embarrassed to wear the roman collar and be called “father,” for this is not clericalism, but he is to do so in charity and humility as a true disciple of Jesus Christ.
So in response to your remark about younger clergy — especially those who, in their youthful zeal, may come across too strong — let us be patient with them as they mature in the priesthood. It takes a while for the ontology to catch up with the psychology.
To young priests who may fall into this category, I would simply say, be men of prayer with the love of Christ as your guiding light, and pray for your own deepening conversion. One can have all of the right answers, but if they are presented “without love, you are a noisy gong or a clanging symbol” as St. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13.
Thus we do not deny the ministerial priesthood; we live it inside and out. If the priest lives his calling with humility and service as the driving force, it is more a form of asceticism than of clericalism. He is a visible sign of the radical commitment of the priestly life.
Proper knowledge and integration of the sacramental character into the priestly life and ministry are fundamental for priests to be the men the Church needs them to be.
Q: Is there a crisis of authentic masculinity in the priesthood? Could this be a source of the vocation shortage, especially among Latinos?
Father Toups: Allow me to rephrase the first question to be more all-embracing: Is there a crisis of authentic masculinity in the world? I would say yes.
There is a crisis of commitment, fidelity and fatherhood all rooted in men not living up to their call to be “real men” — men who model their lives on Christ, who lay down their lives out of love, and who learn what it is to be a father from our Father in heaven.
So in the context of the priesthood, which flows out of society, there is a particular challenge to help men grow in manly virtue. The priesthood is not for the faint of heart, but for men who are up to the challenge of living as Christ in laying down their life on a daily basis.
As the priest says the words of consecration, “This is my Body,” Christ is not only speaking through him, but the priest is offering his own life as well for the people to whom he is called to serve.
If a seminarian does not have a deep desire to get married and have children, he might need to rethink his vocation, for these are the natural and healthy manly desires of the heart. He needs to recognize that; in actuality, the priest truly is a married man and a father.
As the priest stands “in persona Christi,” he is called to embrace the Bride of Christ, the Church, as his own spouse. A great danger is for the priest to fall into a “bachelor mentality,” which can become a selfish, disembodied and non-relational life.
Instead, if he sees himself in a permanent commitment to the people of God, his life of sacrifice will have great meaning as he lives the nuptial imagery of Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church and laid down his life for her.”
When the notions of love, sacrifice and relationship are taken out of the vocation, it becomes sterile and unattractive to young men. For this reason the DVD “Fishers of Men,” developed by the USCCB office in which I work, has been so well received; it shows the priestly vocation as heroic and manly in the best sense of the word. To paraphrase the old Marine slogan: God is looking for a few good men!
Q: What role does the concept of “fatherhood” play in the priestly life? Is there a fear of this term because of political correctness?
Father Toups: Spiritual fatherhood in the priesthood flows from the understanding of being a chaste spouse of the Church.
Just as an earthly father feeds, comforts and nurtures his family, so too do our spiritual fathers feed us in the Eucharist, comfort us in reconciliation and the anointing of the sick, and nurture us throughout our lives of faith.
For me, spiritual fatherhood is one of the great joys of my vocation — to be invited into the hearts and homes of people is such a place of privilege and great responsibility.
Think about your own life. Priests have — hopefully — played an important role in all of the key moments of life: birth, death, triumphs, struggles, graduations and marriage.
By living out spiritual fatherhood, the priest experiences the great fruitfulness and generative fecundity of his vocation. For the priest, this should be life-giving; just as parents will make incredible sacrifices for their children, so too priests do radical things — renounce family and possessions — to be available to their family of faith.
Where there is love, sacrifice is easy.
Benedict XVI, speaking of the kind of mature manhood needed to be a spiritual father, said: “In reality, we grow in affective maturity when our hearts adhere to God. Christ needs priests who are mature, virile, and capable of cultivating an authentic spiritual paternity. For this to happen, priests need to be honest with themselves, open with their spiritual director and trusting in divine mercy.”
We need to move beyond the fear of being “politically incorrect” to being more worried about embracing the truth of who we are; hence the title of my book focuses on reclaiming our priestly character.
Priestly Identity: Crisis and Renewal
Interview with Father David Toups by Annamarie Adkins
Washington, D.C., March 19, 2008 (Zenit.org)
Prayer and a deep spiritual life are necessary elements for priests facing the challenges of being overworked, discouraged or alone, says Father David Toups.
Father Toups, the associate director of the Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations of the U.S. episcopal conference, is the author of “Reclaiming Our Priestly Character.”
In this interview with ZENIT, Father Toups comments on the challenges of the priesthood, along with the six principles of priestly renewal.
Q: “Reclaiming Our Priestly Character” lays out six principles for renewing the priesthood in general, as well as the life of each priest. Can you briefly describe each principle?
Father Toups: The first principle is the permanence of the priesthood, namely the reminder that the priest has entered into a permanent relationship with Jesus Christ and the Church by virtue of ordination.
He receives, in ordination, an ontological character that cannot be removed or erased. This reality affects the way he prepares for the priesthood in the seminary, the way he understands himself as a chaste spouse of the Church and spiritual father of the faithful.
The second principle is that the priest acts “in persona Christi,” assuring both himself and the faithful that the sacraments are efficacious “ex opere operato.”
The flip side of this is that, although he has received the sacerdotal character, he is obliged to keep working on his own personal character development as a man striving for holiness in his daily life.
The third principle is a reminder that the priest is not his own, but rather he belongs to and represents the Church “in persona Ecclesiae.” Thus, he prays the Liturgy of the Hours, as he promised at ordination, for the needs of the whole Church.
Likewise, he embraces and hands on the teachings of the Church as the steward, not the master, of her truths. He is also proud — in the best sense — to be visibly recognizable as a priest, knowing he is called to courageously be a sign and symbol pointing beyond himself to Christ.
The fourth principle is priestly presence, namely that everything the priest does is priestly and has immense value, as Christ desires to work through him at all times. This happens in a particular way when preaching, shepherding, and healing God’s people as their spiritual father.
The fifth principle is the caution for priests to avoid the trap of functionalism or activism. The priest can get so busy that he can forget who he is or for whom he is doing the work.
He must be supernaturally sensitive, grounding himself by being a man of prayer who encounters God through daily, silent meditation, desiring an ever more intimate relationship with him.
Finally, the sixth principle, which has already been discussed, is ongoing formation. These principles all find their basis in the priestly character and serve as a foundation for a priestly life lived joyfully, bearing abundant fruit.
Q: Do your recommendations apply equally to diocesan priests and those priests in religious orders?
Father Toups: Absolutely. In fact, the studies done by Dean Hoge of Catholic University reveal that a larger percentage of religious have greater confusion regarding the exact nature of the ontological character of the priesthood.
For all priests, diocesan or religious, a proper understanding of the character of orders grounds them in an ever more fruitful life of ministry and service.
The studies mentioned above confirm that priests who have a clear understanding of this doctrine are more likely to be content in their ministry and joyful in their vocation.
The Thomistic axiom, “agere sequitur esse” — doing follows being — is true for all priests; the more they understand their priestly identity, the more they will be able to act and serve in the manner Christ has called them. This proper understanding does not guarantee fidelity or holiness, but it certainly is a strong foundation to build upon.
Q: What are some of the biggest difficulties priests face today?
Father Toups: The greatest challenges today lie in the amount of work required of the parish priest, as well as a sense of discouragement and, at times, loneliness. If these are the challenges, the answer rests in learning how to bring these concerns and frustrations before the Lord in deep, relational prayer.
A lack of interiority allows the burdens of the office to take hold of the heart and obscure the truth of his identity which serves to keep him grounded. The new Fifth Edition of the Program of Priestly Formation — 115– states that spirituality is the necessary core and governing principle of the whole priestly life. The other aspects of his life remain focused in as much as the priest is grounded in prayer.
Also, with fewer priests, it is all the more important for him to stay connected with his brother priests. Fraternal groups, such as the Jesus Caritas movement, allow him to express himself and be gently challenged to greater holiness by his brothers who truly understand what is happening in his life; the need for spiritual direction and frequent confession must also be attended to.
Further, healthy relationships with family and friends are a genuine joy for the priest; it is a grave danger to be a “lone-ranger” in the world today.
Q: What are, or have been, some of the major impediments to fostering the “doctrine of the priestly character”? How can seminaries and bishops remove these impediments and help priests foster happy and healthy lives?
Father Toups: The greatest impediment has been “bad” theology.
In the wake of the Council, there were a number of well-known theologians who taught that this doctrine was simply a medieval invention. Because of this, many priests, unwittingly, were simply not given the tools to properly understand the theology of the priesthood.
This has adversely affected a generation in the Church, both priest and laity alike. This is precisely why I go to such pains to show the foundation of this teaching from the sacred Scriptures, the Fathers of the Church, and the Magisterium.
Correcting this misperception was a priority during the pontificate of John Paul II. The priest is not a mere functionary who represents the community but a man called by Christ and consecrated in order to consecrate on behalf of the whole Church. Role clarity has proven to be crucial for the happiness of priests.
Bishops and seminary rectors can foster this by ensuring the teachings of the Church are being faithfully handed on to their men in formation. Likewise, dioceses should foster ongoing formation of the presbyterate so priests are being fed spiritually and intellectually with the mind of the Church.
Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, said that orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy; well-grounded men are more likely to lead happy and healthy lives.
Q: How might existing priests cope with the stresses of the priest shortage? Do you see the trend of diocesan priests living in community and sharing responsibilities as a positive development?
Father Toups: As previously mentioned, the spiritual life is of the utmost importance, as well as fostering a balanced lifestyle in which the priest gets the proper amount of sleep, healthy diet, exercise, and recreation.
Priests actually foster their own vocation as they promote vocations in general. There is nothing more life-giving than to pass on one’s own vocation to another. Every priest is called to be a “fisher of men” with regards to vocations.
Eighty percent of the newly ordained said it was a priest’s direct contact that fostered their vocation, but unfortunately only thirty percent of our priests are actively promoting vocations.
Jesus told the apostles, his first priests, “I will make you fishers of men;” the Church Fathers confirm that this apostolic gift was given to those men that stand in persona Christi in order to revitalize and regenerate the priesthood.
If every priest took a little time to foster vocations, we would be well on our way to greater numbers in the seminaries, and the priests themselves would find greater satisfaction and contentment, decreasing their stress and frustration as they see the presbyterate being renewed.
To answer your final question, let me begin by stating that whether priests live together in rectories, the presbyterate as a whole must grow in cooperation, love, and respect for one another. Again, the priesthood is attractive only if lived in communion with others.
I do believe that there are future opportunities for priests to work together in a more communal setting, where multiple parishes might need to be clustered and a number of priests could cooperate in the ministries of these communities. This kind of arrangement cannot be forced, but many priests yearn for a more fraternal life of prayer and communion with their brothers. It will be interesting to see how this develops in the years to come. Jesus sent the disciples out in twos; there is greater support and effectiveness “when brothers live in unity.”
Priests too secular says Cardinal
February 18, 2008
Priests are becoming less obedient and more worldly, a top Vatican Cardinal lamented, adding they are neglecting their duties under the pressures of secular values. Catholic News Agency and Catholic World News reports Prefect of Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life Cardinal Franc Rode says more responsive to the world, citing a reluctance to wear clerical dress as a symptom of this trend. “A drift towards bourgeois values and moral relativism are the two great dangers that weaken religious life,” Cardinal Rode said. “The biggest problem today is the climate of secularisation, present not only in Western society but also within the Church itself.”
Cardinal Rode said while young people are hearing God’s call to a vocation in the priesthood or religious life, he suggests that a lax model of priestly or religious life is unlikely to encourage vocations. “Young Catholics who are attracted to contemplative life in highly disciplined religious orders are attracted because it is a radical life choice,” he said.
During the almost 27 years of the Pontificate of Pope John Paul II, the number of religious dropped 25%, expanding the gap between men and women religious, with male religious orders being the most affected by the decline.
According to official statistics from 2006, there are 196,473 members of male religious congregations, out of which 137,058 are priests and 55,030 are religious brothers. Female religious make up a much larger group with 836,091 in their ranks.
Priests becoming too worldly, Vatican prelate says Catholic World News (15/02/08)
Cardinal complains of worldly values in religious life Catholic News Agency (15/02/08)
Priests becoming ‘disobedient’: Cardinal complains of worldly values in Church
A top Vatican cardinal complained on Thursday, February 14, that Catholic priests are becoming worldlier, less obedient and increasingly reluctant to wear a cassock.
Absorbing the values of Western society, priests are also less interested in prayer and community living and more interested in personal freedom, said Cardinal Franc Rode in a conversation with ANSA. “A drift towards bourgeois values and moral relativism are the two great dangers that weaken religious life,” said Rode, who heads the Vatican department which governs monks, nuns and priests not attached to parishes.
The often-cited fall in vocations to the priesthood was actually not the main worry, the Slovenian priest continued, noting that in 2006 vocations fell by only 0.7%. “The biggest problem today is the climate of secularization present not only in western society but also within the Church itself,” he said. Without citing any names or specific episodes, Rode listed a number of ways in which this change was visible among priests and members of religious communities. They were: “Freedom without constraints, a weak sense of the family, a worldly spirit, low visibility of religious clothing, a devaluation of prayer, insufficient community life and a weak sense of obedience.”
To the clergy: do not limit yourselves to merely acting as priests – “be” priests
Vatican Information Service, Vatican City, October 3, 2014
This morning in the Clementine Hall the Holy Father received in audience the participants in the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for the Clergy.
He concluded by emphasising that it is necessary for the clergy to “be priests … free of every spiritual worldliness, aware that it is their lives that evangelise rather than their works”
Second General Congregation
Vatican City, 7 October 2014 (VIS) – The second general Congregation, held yesterday afternoon, opened the discussions of the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. The theme, according to the agenda set forth in the Instrumentum Laboris, was: “God’s Plan for Marriage and the Family” (Part I, Chapter 1), and “The Knowledge and Acceptance of the Teachings on Marriage and the Family from Sacred Scripture and Church Documents” (Part I, Ch. 2)…
Another essential point is the rejection of clericalism: at times the Church seems more concerned with power than with service, and for this reason she does not inspire the hearts of men and women. It is therefore necessary to return to the imitation of Christ, and to rediscover humility: the reform of the Church must begin with the reform of the clergy. If the faithful see pastors who imitate Christ they will therefore draw close to the Church once more, enabling her to proceed from the act of evangelising to being inherently evangelical.
Debate in the KonkaniCatholics (KC) forum:
I. “Fashion show” aims for religious vocations
Lublin, April 10, 2008
More than 20 male and female religious orders participated in an inaugural “fashion show” of religious habits at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin. The event’s organizer, university chaplain Father Andrzej Batorski, SJ, described the show– which attracted the Jesuit, Capuchin, and Divine Word Fathers as well as Poor Clare nuns– as a “little provocation” meant to draw young people closer to consecrated life.
During the event, organizers explained symbolic aspects of religious apparel. Among the show’s sponsors were the Polish bishops’ committee on vocations, university president Father Stanislaw Wilk, and the Northern Poland Jesuit province.
In related news, the Polish Bishops’ Committee on Vocations reports a 10% drop in new female religious vocations from 2006 to 2007 and a 5% decline in new male religious vocations over the same period.
The same report noted a connection between diocesan priestly vocations and past service as altar boys. In the Katowice archdiocese, 90% of seminarians indicated that they had previously served as altar boys.
II. KC Digest 1436 dated April 12, 2008
Quite recently I was in conversation with a religious brother belonging to a religious congregation of Brothers, i.e., they do not receive the Holy Orders but remain as professed religious brothers. I have never seen him wearing the religious habit and so I decided to casually ask him about it. He told me that they normally don’t wear it. So I asked him when they actually used it. His reply was the last one I expected. He said, they normally use it only when they become principals and heads of institutions!
Hmmm. He was a very simple and nice young man with the innocent face of an angel. I didn’t know where to begin telling him what I wanted to tell. In my next question I asked him how they went about promoting vocations. It was in that context that I pointed out to him the enormous influence of a religious habit in attracting vocations. My little advice fell on him like thunder and he resolved at once to step out of the crowd behaviour and don the religious habit whenever possible starting with his participation at liturgical celebrations.
The religious habit is “an outward mark of consecration to God” (Perfectae Caritatis, 17) of a man or woman religious.
The Brown Scapular of our Lady of Mount Carmel too is a kind of a habit of one’s devotion to Mary and that’s why it is worn over the shoulders in such a manner that one part hangs in front of the body and the other at the back. Concerning the holy Scapular, it is said that Ven. Francis de Yepes, brother of St. John of the Cross was once told by demons “Take off that habit which snatches so many souls from us. All those clothed in it die piously and escape us.”
There are many helps that God gives us to safeguard our own souls. Only that we need to recognize them and make good use of them.
Austine Crasta (moderator), Bangalore
Sent: Sunday, April 13, 2008 11:31 AM Subject: “FASHION SHOW” AIMS FOR RELIGIOUS VOCATIONS
This is a very sore point with me, that our religious do not wear their habits. It is like a police or fire-fighting or armed services officer who avoids wearing his or her uniform when on duty.
The problem in India is exacerbated by the inculturisation that encourages priests to go around in kurta/pyjama or jeans and the nuns in saffron saris. Priests do not at all wear a clerical collar even if in Western attire, and rarely a cross on their lapel or shirt front. Even if they do [the latter] there are many lay persons who dress the same way. So, priests are unidentifiable.
In the North of India, there are even fewer priests who wear cassocks, mortally fearful to flaunt their Faith openly. If the saffron kurta was really so accepted by the Indian Church, they would have done away with the cassock completely. Which they haven’t. So there is no excuse whatsoever for priests not having to wear them all the time.
As you know I covered the Jan/Feb Fatima Crusader World Peace Conference for Priests in Chennai for a report. I was easily mistaken for a priest by other priests. One young priest from Kolkata was permanently dressed in a shirt with tie, a blazer and jeans — even while distributing Holy Communion without a chasuble, stole or alb. He complimented me by saying that I looked like a Jesuit priest. I retorted that priests should be ashamed to dress the way that I did and identify me as a priest from my brown kurta and beard.
A couple of the organizers told me that they were scandalized to see 90% of the priests attending a conference meant for priests dressed like Westerners. They also remarked to me that our priests were conveniently inculturated only in worship but not in their personal tastes for dress, food, entertainment, lifestyle, etc.
I confirm what you said… an ex-Jesuit seminarian from Ranchi told me that they were actually FORBIDDEN to wear their habits. After it was conferred on them, they were asked to put them away. They got to use them only on special occasions once or twice a year. I greatly appreciate the point that you took up regarding vocations and I will always remember you when I raise the issue.
Michael Prabhu, Chennai
IV. KC Digest 1438 dated April 14, 2008
Dear Rupert and Austine,
I have been following your communication about fashion show of Religious habits and many religious congregations have participated in this event to draw young boys and girls to the religious orders and many old orders have been in the forefront in doing so. It may be an in thing in Europe and specially Poland where even today Christianity is very prominent. But in India and especially in the north where the Fundamentalists are just waiting for an opportunity to attack us and religious habit is a sure means of identifying us to target us.
I have been a person who has opted to use Indian garb to be one with the masses of our people. I am the only priest who wears a special white kurta and a white dhoti and a white shawl. I look like a Brahmin priest but when I travel many people have been drawn to me because I wear a cross which is the sign of a Christian guru.
So not just the habit but the sign of our faith is also necessary to be a witness to the people of our country. Many of our priests and sisters have been wearing religious imported habits of Europe but that has not changed our lives at all. Not many have become our followers. What will make to follow us is like the one said by Fr. Pioviasan. I know you had posted his interview yesterday.
Let us be honest and not fundamentalist about the old habits which may attract us for a while but not change our hearts.
Fr. Juze Vaz SVD, Indore
Dear Fr. Juze,
No offense. When I referred to the religious habit I wasn’t singularly referring to ‘European habits’ but to all approved religious habits – past and current – which in the mind of the Church is the sign of the consecration and witness of poverty of all the religious.
The situation you pointed out is very understandable indeed and the Church has often granted some concessions and privileges in many areas to those in mission lands/territories. What is granted to these few should not be treated as an overruling of the Church discipline’s (Canon 669) for all. [It may be interesting to note at this point that in the Church’s “Order of Religious Profession”, published in 1970, veils – the use of which goes back to patristic times – are still assumed to be part of the distinctive garb of religious women.]
It is within the power of religious institutes to draw up proper laws concerning religious habits taking into consideration also, the circumstances of time and place and the needs of the ministry involved (Perfectae Caritatis, 17). The “proper habit” remains strongly recommended, but even otherwise, the emphasis is on the habit as a recognizable sign of consecration as explained by Pope John II in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the consecrated life, ‘Vita Consecrata’ (March 25, 1996):
“Since the habit is a sign of consecration, poverty and membership in a particular Religious family, I join the Fathers of the Synod in strongly recommending to men and women religious that they wear their proper habit, suitably adapted to the conditions of time and place. Where valid reasons of their apostolate call for it, Religious, in conformity with the norms of their Institute, may also dress in a simple and modest manner, with an appropriate symbol, in such a way that their consecration is recognizable. Institutes which from their origin or by provision of their Constitutions do not have a specific habit should ensure that the dress of their members corresponds in dignity and simplicity to the nature of their vocation.” (no.25)
Austine (moderator), Bangalore
Subject: Re: POLAND: “Fashion Show” of Religious Apparel
I greatly appreciate that you took a firm stand with Fr. Juze Vaz’s comments. While I appreciate his position, he must remember why he took his decision to follow Christ, and he is expected to be an alter Christus at whatever cost. Most of the priests and nuns who are being tortured, raped or killed in India are not being targeted because of their Christ-like behavior but simply because they represent Christianity, and they are not martyrs or heroes in the real sense of the words. They might be if they were openly preaching like Peter and Paul and the others did in the NT Church. The Protestant sects on the other hand, unlike Catholics, are openly proselytizing and baptizing, because they are driven to expand their “churches”.
Our religious must be reminded that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”. If they do not want to be persecuted for Christ’s sake, the Church will not grow. The attitude of many of our religious about being Christian strikes me often as being almost apologetic, and they do not want to “convert” or evangelize and baptize, and end up saying like M. Teresa that their job is to ensure that a good Hindu remains a good Hindu which is an indirect way of saying that one religion is as good as another. Sadly this is what is being taught in the seminaries. Preaching the Good News and giving Jesus Christ to those walking in the darkness does not mean what it used to mean a few decades ago. You will also note that almost all Catholic ministries are dedicated to re-evangelizing Catholics. As I was reflecting it struck me that in my ministry I am saying that all religions are not equal, that Jesus Christ is unique, that it is sin to practise meditations and therapies that are based on Taoist or Hindu religious teachings, and in that way, I am wearing my “cassock” and presenting myself for attack not only from Hindus but also from Catholic religious and even other Catholic lay ministries. Let our priests walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh and let them not be ashamed or fearful of donning their habits which have become, praise the Lord, a “sign of contradiction”. Love, Michael
Subject: RE: [KonkaniCatholics] Re: POLAND: “Fashion Show” of Religious Apparel
Dear Fr. Juze, You have said in your email on the subject and I quote:
“I have been a person who has opted to use Indian garb to be one with the masses of our people. i am the only priest who wears a special white kurta and a white dhoti and a white shawl. I look like a Brahmin priest but when i travel many people have been drawn to me because i wear a cross which is the sign of a Christian guru.”
In this small para there is huge “I” and a “me” present. It seems you have forgotten it is not the “I”, “Me” and “Only” that needs to be presented to the people but the “Order” and “Christ” that you belong to. Another thing also seems obvious, you have opted to wear “Special” -“White” kurta, dhoti & shawl and present yourself as a “Brahmin priest”, not a “Catholic Priest”. I am glad to read though, it is not your dress but the “Cross” with a naked, lifeless body of Christ hanging there that draws people. But alas Fr., The Cross draws unto it but you snatch it away saying “drawn to me a Christian guru”.
St John the Baptist said, “I must reduce so that He may increase”. He could say that cause, his food, his clothes, his resemblance was nothing “special”. Nothing that would distract him from his mission of proclaiming “Christ and Christ alone” even if it means ultimately chopping off his head.
Your “habit” is your identity of being a “Catholic Priest” and “The Cross” is your identity that you are for “Christ on the Cross”. Shed your disguise Fr. Juze, shed the “Only-ness”.
With love in Christ
Richard Mascarenhas, Oman