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home : opinion : perspectives

12/6/2012 12:07:00 PM
VOCATIONS HOMILY
Promoting a priesthood stripped of prestige
BY REV. DAVID MICKIEWICZ


(Editor's note: Father Mickiewicz is pastor of St. Mary's parish in Oneonta. He gave this homily during a Called By Name vocations promotion weekend.)

This life is not what I signed on for. But is that ever true?

There was a time in the recent past when the Catholic priesthood was the pride and joy of Catholics. It was celebrated by Bing Crosby, Barry Fitzgerald, Karl Malden and Gregory Peck in movies like the "The Bells of St. Mary's," "Going My Way," "On the Waterfront" and "The Keys of the Kingdom."

Men, who had a sense of humor, could break into song, teach sports to our youth, mission in a foreign country and address social injustices. The priesthood was held in the highest esteem - and a fair amount of fear - by Catholics and people in general.

The parish priest, who was usually a son from a large Catholic family or arrived with his immigrant flock, was most often the physician, lawyer and arbiter, as well as pastor, of his community. Every Catholic boy at some time thought of being a priest.

How times have changed.

We are caught in a vice: judged by conservative Catholics for not toeing the line (in their judgment) regarding liturgical rubrics or Catholic teaching, since their world is black and white and the world of prayer and preaching addresses the gray of life...dismissed by liberals because we are male and they want women and married people ordained...disdained by many in the Church and those who have left the faith because people disagree with the Church, primarily over moral teachings on gender and sexuality, and we represent the institution.

There was a time when a priest's devotion to children would elicit a smile of approval, rather than a shudder of suspicion and dread.

We are aging, graying and diminishing in number. We are stretched in one direction by some bishops who expect more and assign us multiple parishes, and pulled in another direction by factions of laypeople with their anger, agendas, judgments and presumptions. How could I ever have imagined that I would be called a liar, receive hate mail or be slandered?

If men do consider the priesthood, how many do not act on it because of negative public images, the whitewashing of all priests by a few through sexual abuse, and reactions from family and friends?

Understandably, with smaller families, Catholic parents desire grandchildren. Yet the atmosphere is filled with suspicion over sexuality, pedophilia and financial improprieties. In such an environment, who would want to be a Catholic priest today?

Does it make sense to invite men to consider a vocation as a Catholic priest in such a milieu? In this atmosphere, why do I ask you to pray and consider calling forth men you know to be priests of Jesus Christ?

In recent years, I have reflected that the Catholic priesthood is being stripped of honor, esteem, power and respect. But are these qualities that should be sought after as a priest of Jesus Christ?

The priesthood has become the butt of unseemly sexual jokes. Simply do a Google search for "priest jokes." I recall the words of the Psalmist and the prophet Isaiah that we hear on Good Friday: "He was spurned and avoided by [people], a man of suffering, knowing pain, like one from whom you turn your face, spurned, and we held him in no esteem" (Isaiah 53:3). "For all my foes I am an object of reproach, a laughingstock to my neighbors and a dread to my friends" (Psalm 31:12-13).

Many good priests are leaving; many who remain will have nothing to do with youth ministry for fear of suspicion and possible accusations - and in all honesty, how many parents are glad?

No amount of Roman collars, cassocks, titles and the return of a clerical attitude will bring back the prestige of the Roman Catholic priesthood - nor should it. I have come to believe that the priesthood is being reconfigured into the image of the crucified Christ: the Christ who is held in no esteem, who disdained titles and signs of honor; the Christ who is ridiculed, spat upon and abandoned, yet remains faithful to God.

If I am correct, is this not what all Christians are called to live out: a dying for eternal life? If this is what is happening to the priesthood, it is a vocation worth inviting someone into - one that I have lived for 28 years - to be configured into the crucified Christ.

As Christ was faithful to God on the cross, so we priests, in the face of what is happening, have continued to faithfully preach the Word to you, bury your dead, visit your sick, baptize your children (even when their parents don't live out the faith, in hopes that God's grace will touch them), preside over your marriages and, especially, preside over the Eucharist to feed you with the body and blood of Jesus Christ, despite how many of us are treated.

I do it because I love the priesthood - and maybe, just maybe, Jesus calls the weakest among us to be His priests so that the priesthood itself might be our grace for salvation. This fidelity and crucifixion is worth partaking in. What other way is there for those of us who follow Jesus of Nazareth crucified and alive?

The Catholic priesthood: challenging? painful? bewildering? mysterious? Yes - because it belongs to Jesus. So, I ask you to pray and consider encouraging a son, a grandson or family member, a neighbor, a coworker or a parishioner to consider the Catholic priesthood and follow Jesus Christ - at this time in our history, yes, to follow Jesus to Calvary.

The words of German Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner have always given me solace: "The priest is not an angel sent from heaven. He is a person chosen from among the people, a member of the Church, a Christian. Remaining human and Christian, he begins to speak to you the Word of God. This Word is not his own; no, he comes to you because God has told him to proclaim the Word.

"Perhaps he has not entirely understood it himself. Perhaps he even adulterates it. But he believes and, despite his fears, he knows that he must communicate God's Word to you. For must not some one of us say something about God, about eternal life, about the majesty of grace in our sanctified being; must not some one of us speak of sin, the judgment and the mercy of God?"





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