Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Time to Man up! What we need in our priests present and future.
Almost 20 years ago I was ordained to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church. This decision was not easy and challenged every fiber of my being. I remember the weeks before I was ordained as a deacon, when I would have to officially commit to a life of celibacy, asking myself that if I knew for certain that the Pope (John Paul II) would make celibacy optional for everyone ordained the week after I was ordained, would I still make the commitment. I figured if I could not say yes then I had no business going forward. It was an acknowledgement that I was doing more than signing up for a career; I was signing up for a way of life.
I belong to the Gen-X generation. I would suppose the same thing that motivates those who parent in my generation, motivate me. I want to get my hands dirty in the lives of my flock. I am not comfortable with leaving essential parts of the shepherding to others. It is why I have taught classes for all 20 years of my priesthood. It is why I take homilies so seriously. It is why I try to get out to see my sick, my home bound, and those in hospitals. It is why I am not comfortable with merely talking about what needs to be done, but getting about the business of what needs to be done. It is why the kerygma of the Church is so important to me. There are things that help this and there are things that hurt this.
Certainly my own pride gets in the way. Satan knows this and hammers on what frustrates me. Heaven knows there is a whole lot there. Wisdom, I suppose, is knowing when to speak and challenge and when to salve a wound. I will admit there are things that frustrate me greatly and to these I wish to issue challenges.
First, as a priest, my job is to shepherd and intercede. I did not commit to celibacy and simplicity to be a entertainer/social worker. My task at Mass isn't to be Barney in liturgically appropriate colored vestments. My task is to be one part prophet and one part priest. My task is to speak honestly and give a compelling reason for the listener to surrender their lives to Christ; to model their lives on Christ. I can't preach that if I am not doing that. My job is to call them to holiness, not to mere goodness or vapid niceness. My job is to stir up disciples fiery with the Holy Spirit, not numbed from banality. My task is to intercede for them. When we come to Mass, I am not coming to meet you, you are not coming to meet me, you are not coming to meet others...no.. we are coming to meet God! We are coming to give thanks. We are coming to be nourished with the Body and Blood of Christ! My job is to focus there. The prophets in the Old Testament who tickled the people's ears were false prophets. True prophets challenged and made known the love of God.
Second, as a man, my job is to model manhood. I am sick unto death of the banal and juvenile definition of masculinity the world provides. Ohhh, you can drink beer, throw a ball, and manipulate the ladies...color me unimpressed. I would hope actual manhood would resemble something a little higher functioning than what my dogs are capable of. For those who follow a juvenile definition of manhood, the defense mechanism is to proclaim that religion is for the weak and simple. Really? Controlling one's passions is easier than giving way to them? Putting others first is easier that being selfish? Recognizing the challenge of truth is easier than catering to one's most base instincts? The real issue is that Catholicism preached and taught correctly is in your face; it is the drill sergeant pressing you to be better, it is the teacher who expects more of you, it is the doctor who wants you to get off the couch, drop the game console, and get moving before you waste away. Catholicism isn't the weasel who pelts you with the tyranny of low expectations.
Catholicism presses us to be better human beings, better sons and daughters of God. It demands we get up, enter into a relationship with God, and look radically different than the world. I know that doesn't get preached from every pulpit...and shame on those clerics who substitute real food with strychnine laced cotton candy! Shame on those who emasculate Christ and Catholicism to make it more palatable to those searching for the low road! Shame on those who degenerate the Eucharist, turning it into a milksop play or theatrical Hallmark card! We priests cannot believe for a second we can poison the flock, lose large parts of the flock, and still stand well with God. I don't imagine things will go well when we stand before God and say 'Oops.'
When I got ordained, it wasn't to renounce my masculinity. In fact, it was to be more profound about it. I am a Catholic man and a catholic priest. I am not a finished product. I know I need to grow, to challenge myself on all fronts of my life. I know to be the man and priest my flock needs to me to be, that I must man up on all levels every day. My hero and role model as I was formed was St John Paul II. He was scared of nothing. He was John Wayne in a white robe. He showed me that being a priest of God meant you better be a man too. This was a man who defied the Nazis and then the Soviet Empire. This was man who stood up to theological usurpers and charlatans. This was a man who looked at those who wished him ill and did not back down. He was like Christ. Christ flew in the face of earthly and demonic power...he was deemed so dangerous that most wanted Him dead and wanted what He started dead. That internal constitution of bravery and wisdom is the watermark right there for any male of the species who claims to be a Catholic man.
We struggle nowadays with vocations to the priesthood. Surprise, surprise, surprise! What young man wants to be a entertainer/ social worker who has to stay single and never will get rich? Why be bold and stand up when they see milquetoast in their clerical leaders? I, personally, want to appeal to that strongest and boldest heart that stirs within the bodies and souls of men. Our weasel quota is filled! We need bold warriors who will be priests and men of God.
In the Scriptures, we are told 365 times, "Do not be afraid." Not once are we told, "Play it safe." I am not interested in a safe church or a tidy nice gospel. I am not interested in compromise with the worldly or lukewarm. I am interested in calling people out of such lukewarmness and timidity. I want this because this is what the Church wants...it is what Christ wants! We are at war with worldly and demonic forces and be better well suit up for battle. Men, that means we best be men in the most noble and strongest way. My brother priests, we better well know the tools and weapons we are given and the courage we need to muster ourselves to engage the enemy and protect our flocks. Being a priest has NEVER been for the faint of heart. Encourage timidity and you will at best get timidity. Encourage lukewarmness and at best you'll get lukewarmness. Encourage holiness and greatness and at best holiness and greatness is what you will get. No more hand wringing. No more weasel excuses. No more lukewarmness. It is time to suit up and get about the business of the Kingdom of God! It is time for all Catholic men to man up and to train the next generation of men to man up! It is time for us priests to model boldly and courageously what it mean a man of God!