Spiritual Reflection on Priests
As I mentioned last week, this weekend the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will celebrate the ordination of several new priests. Please continue to pray:
- For new men to “Heed The Call” and to consider the priesthood,
- For new priests to live out that call,
- For next year’s priests, who were just ordained Deacons last Saturday.
Priests and deacons are at different stages in their vocations. It certainly reflects the varied types of men who answer the call to the priesthood. Providentially, God has placed different priests with different talents at the service of the Church (See St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 12). Nevertheless, as we see fewer men answering the call, and fewer men asked to do more, the vocation of priesthood has correspondingly become more complex. In addition, there seems to be an expectation that priests can, and should be able to perform more and different tasks.
In the February 25 issues of Philly.Com, Rabbi Michael Uram addressed this saying that, in a world that is becoming more specialized, a “one size fits all” expectation of the clergy is unrealistic. He writes,
Rather than imagining that there is one ideal set of skills and passions for a clergy person, let’s apply the same model we use for doctors and lawyers. We need both well-rounded clergy and experts in more narrow areas of religious life. In the long run, this diversity of skill actually builds a stronger and more multifaceted religious community.
This is also reflected in parishioners’ expectations of their pastors. The rectory of my first assignment housed 5 priests and it would be close to 25 years before you received a call to be appointed a pastor. Meanwhile, my classmates in the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska could expect to be named pastors soon after 5 years (2 – 3 years in a parish; 2 – 3 years in high school then pastorate). More and more, the clergy demographics within Philadelphia are causing the Archdiocese to move closer to this type of situation.
What are the types of challenges facing pastors today? This year the Catholic analysis center, CARA (“Center for Applied Research of the Apostolate”) wanted to know what pastors worry about? CARA asked a random sample of pastors in a national survey. To answer the following question: “What is the greatest challenge facing your parish in the next five years?” Each pastor could respond in his own words. These were then examined for common themes and content and a report generated (Go to http://cara.georgetown.edu. Scroll down to the bottom and click on the button for CARA’s blog site: “1964” The results can be seen in the 4.25.2014 report). The results can be seen in the following graphic:
So what’s next? What does the future look like? Combine the last three articles on “priesthood” with the three previous articles on “formation” and you can begin to get a picture of the future of the Catholic Church in America. It will be:
- A smaller church with far fewer members.
- A restructured church forced to let go of many places of worship and less use of structures it worked so hard to build over centuries of prosperity.
- A minority Catholic Church with little influence over political decisions, that seems socially irrelevant, left humiliated and forced to “start over.”
- A church that will suffer.But also…
- A simpler church.
- A poorer church. A church that identifies, and comes in to closer communion, with the destitute.
- A Church that will find itself again and be reborn a “simpler and more spiritual” entity thanks to the “enormous confusion” of the past few decades.
- A church built upon a closer and more personal relationship with Christ as the center of the faith life.
- An optimistic church of hope.
- A church much more oriented to calling forth, nurturing, celebrating and implementing the gifts of the laity rather than those of charismatic priests or nuns/sisters.
By the way, I can’t take credit for the prophetic ideas above. The credit goes to a teacher named Joe Ratzinger who gave five little known radio speeches in 1969, which were later published by Ignatius Press in the volume “Faith and the Future.”
They later made him a “Pastor” of a somewhat larger church. No ordinary Joe – no ordinary pastor.