NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part II
Writer's preface: the following is a bit out of place in this series on priesthood; without changing a word it speaks from nine years ago of my appreciation of a changing priesthood and I have a sense that it outdates itself annually. We speak herein of the Roman Catholic Priest of today with a promise of more papers to come on how we got here and the hidden baggage that the word priest carries.
THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK
On the chat room-e/mail sponsored by the Association for the Right of Catholics a person asked "what is a priest?"
This opened a flood of responses; I copied and studied all. I reread CHRIST THE IDEAL OF THE PRIEST by Abbot Marmion O.S.B., 1952, WHY PRIESTS by Hans Kung, 1972 and PRIESTHOOD IMPERILED by Bernard Haring, 1996 and Vatican Two's DECREE ON THE MINISTRY AND LIFE OF PRIESTS, 1965.
THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK is my response to the original question. Every candidate for priesthood in my ordination year 1954, all good men wanting to be Christ-like priests, read Marmion and the abbot gave us the ideal. Kung after Vatican Two made us aware of the void that existed between seminary training and the life and work of a clergyman in the real world. Haring, protected from Vatican sanction by his exemplary life style as servant priest, blew the whistle on world wide clericalism and made clear the crisis. Vatican Two's document is shoddy, a silent plea for priests to conform and not make their bishops look bad; it speaks little to reality yet does charge a priest to form community.
In world-wide seminary we were not grounded in Jesus…
The thirty-four years since Vatican Two have been for many an in-the-world seminary and a retooling of the concept of priest in modern society. At present the vision is blurred by politics, clerical fear of becoming powerless, and a grave misunderstanding of what Jesus might seek in one who serves in his name. Many present-day institutional priests have abandoned service and have victimized themselves with greed and materialism. Confused by change many of the institutional priests have given up bringing Jesus into the picture; as quoted from Congar they have become "priests of Hera" — heavenly sorcerers. In world-wide seminary we were not grounded in Jesus.
We are dealing with three epochs of Christianity, the Jerusalem church and the early home communities; the Constantinian Church; and the post Vatican Two experience. Both Kung and Haring address the fear the early communities had of the "sacerdos", the sacred man, based on their knowledge of the corrupted Jewish temple priesthood. That era might well have been in touch with priesthoods of the Roman Empire, elite, secretive, powerful, and often abusive to ordinary people. Early Christian Elders were chosen for availability and wisdom (the Greek work "presbyteroi" means "senior citizen"). In Crete Paul leaves behind Titus "so that you should put in order what remained to be done and should appoint elders in every town". Service (diakonia or service at table ) was the core of the commission, based on Jesus' washing feet. During the persecutions a need arose for protective leadership which, male in keeping with the then political culture, appears to be the beginning of church bishopric; in the Constantinian Church "the highborn, new and shocking paradigm of a monarchical Church materialized which was made visible by those bishops who gladly accepted the spoils of privilege and class. Freed of poverty, persecution, and martyrdom, tragically they lost in large part, the freedom for which Christ had liberated us all." (Haring, pg. 69)
Marmion speaks to the priest who is the product of middle ages episcopacy, the bishop made priest. The bishop's miter is a 12th century land owner's hat and the priest, in return for the power to say Mass, is serf property of the church; a good priest is obedient to his bishop, faithful at prayer, "is death to sin", his love is ethereal and unbodied,, and he must be a man of faith in his bishop. I know from my 12 years in seminary that personal faith was an unknown factor in the choosing of men for ordination and Jesus was rarely mentioned. Keeping the rules and external ritual were the criterion for worthiness. I look back and realize that a number of my seminary professors never served people and had little faith in the great commandment of love for others, in particular women. Women were just not part of creation. The priest of the 14th century onward was the "other Christ" and thus deserved respect which was duly and blindly given by the people. (Early Christian community was familiar with "the Christian is another Christ".) The 17th century seminary trained priest got part of the fullness of the priesthood from the bishop at ordination; the bishop claiming direct power from Jesus at the Last Supper — a highly suspect transfer. Like dominoes when one falls the others follow; question the power of the bishop and there goes the power of the priest. The whole, for me (tmc), is in-house protectionism, 4th century roman church based on the nuts and bolts of the Roman Empire and has virtually no connection to Jesus.
Early on most people priests were rural, as contrasted to the monks.The secular (worldly) priest trained a son to take his place in the community in which they lived. The people knew them well and approved of their continuing presence and ministry. A seventh century priest would gather the community of believers on Sunday (Mass once a week) with the stipulation from the virginity cult pushers that he refrain from intercourse the evening before the celebration; no problem, and one of the duties of Christian women was to occupy the priest's wife on Saturday. The First Lateran Council, 1123, declares all priestly marriages invalid and a four hundred year external chaos envelopes the church; contrary to law untold numbers of sons of priests (bastard meant priest's son) were ordained to keep alive the system, until the formation of seminaries. The priests were rounded up, forced to live together and given a semblance of education. By the 1600's the system from which I was ordained was in progress, twelve years of seminary and "take them in when they are very young." (I was 13 and many European priests started at age 5, especially Italians.)
The historical Jesus would not lay claim to them…
The iron mask had been fashioned and every priest must wear such; the whole world would know this man without external emotions, immortalized centuries later in "Going My Way". Priestly chaos now went underground and the secret sexual life of the clergy was underway. (Cf. Richard Sipe's SEX, PRIEST, AND POWER ('95) and SECRET WORLD ('90), also David Rice's SHATTERED VOWS ('90)). American clerical scandals recently have become front page whereas they had been known for years in pre-WW2 Europe; the bishops of Vatican Two well knew the real problems and continue to this day to deny them. A conspiracy of silence has ruled the church and its clergy for hundreds of years.
In the 1840's horror of the Potato Famine Cardinal Paul Cullen, who lived in the luxury of a Roman castle, chastised the Irish people for bringing this curse upon themselves for their infidelity; he skillfully removed the clergy from the hovels of the famished where they had had their simple home Masses and built huge churches (in which God could be found). My great grandparents who came to San Francisco in the 1860's passed on this dread of God; it is no wonder that they feared so deeply the eternal fires and accepted in their humbleness that the priest alone had the power to save their souls. As Cardinal Roger Mahoney builds his 163 million dollar Los Angeles cathedral he will find few to clericalize it; of the four ordained in 1998 for the largest archdiocese in America only one was born in the U.S. I view almost all the theologies of propitiatory sacrifice, Jesus as high priest, efficacy of the Mass, etc. as post-resurrection concepts, complex human ideas not easily connected to Emmaus or understood in light of the simplicity of Jesus the teacher. They are triumphal and of little service in today's world. The historical Jesus would not lay claim to them.
With the publication of the Vatican Document on RELIGIOUS FREEDOM (1965) the closet door was opened; women have emerged as persons, equal in creation. Fear and ignorance have been replaced with good science and appreciation of the human body and we stand in awe at the present world. We have an understanding of myth and the spiritual. 23,500 American priests have married, now out-numbering the secular priests who are active in the institution. The bishops continue to view the clergy as possession, necessary to supply cheap labor for the worldwide colonialism that is the roman church. When the pope kisses the ground of a foreign country he is saying that this is roman territory, all contained within the ancient Constantinian church, which is being replaced by the third epoch of Vatican Two. God is now sought in creation and the human is seen as of God; "the glory of God is the human fully alive" (Iraneus, bishop of Lyons 178-200 c.e.)
The iron mask has been taken off and only a few in seminary today are willing to wear it; they continue the illusion that with the mask goes power. The era of the magic priest is over. The cloak of celibacy has become a gossamer shroud. The institutional church may externally go on, meaningless without the Christ; I am sad that members of the old-time priesthood need die to arrive at reform. It is difficult to teach an old dog new tricks. The bishops have badly used those good men of my youth; the goodness of these priests of old was genetic from their wonderful parents. We will write later about the anger in many priests which may be the unconscious base of clerical sexual abuse.
Who then will be "anointed"? What will it mean to be ordained? What is essential for priesthood? Will the community have choice? Will the community sanction those imposed by outside authority? Hans Kung suggests a person with charisms, gifts and talents discernible to and by the people; "the roles of the magician and soothsayer and that of the sacrificial priest, considered as a consecretor set apart from the congregation are rejected along with the concept of automatic sacrament". He suggests the possibility of part-time priest — a person with talent to understand the Gospel, while working in a business. There will be no rank, nor social status, no sacred person (sacerdos), free in choice of sexual preference, wise, and learned (presbyteroi); the person must know the territory and the personnel of the community to tap talent and be open to continue to grow through dialogue with all humankind. The talent of theologian, preacher, psychologist, financial expert, educator, etc. are to be sought in the rank and file of the community. Like the early church all must be equal; there are no experts. All creation is sacred. Jesus alone is Lord! (Kung: Shape of Church Leadership). Theologian-priest Michael Drumm in an exciting and scholarly address to the National Conference of Priests of Ireland, September '99, speaks of the "end of the one man show" and the numbered days of the "lone ranger", as well as priests living in neighborhoods, unknown and with no title.
In 1966 a group of young priests traveled to ski in Squaw Valley, Ca.; on our way home, hurrying to hear John Courtney Murray, we discussed what the Church would look like after Vatican Two. One was astute enough to remark that the church and priesthood would be unrecognizable. (we had been chaplains to the Winter Olympics of 1960, enjoying privilege because we skied in roman collars; in the opening ceremony standing next to Jean Claude Keelee along with the Olympic participants I had my skis blessed by Cardinal McIntryre of Los Angeles; there were perks to the old clerical system.) 33 years later, on this marvelous invention called e-mail, a person asks "what is a priest?" and my response is that the man in the iron mask is forever gone and the person with the human heart is being interviewed by future communities. S/he must remind people of the Master; only the Christ of community can be the expert in these judgments. We must look in the future, be grateful to the priests of Abbot Marmion, and use the past only to learn. If we are people of the Gospel we "fear not"; we are experiencing massive change.
Christ has died; Christ has risen; Christ will come again. The body of Christ dies and rises hourly. Will we meet him "on the road", our Emmaus journey of faith in Him, and shall we break bread with this human whom we first do not recognize and shall we know Him and the value of His message when we have had much dialogue concerning "these things that have recently taken place"? Jesus the only priest, the priest of service, will teach us and show us the Way! Have we faith in Him, with Him, and through Him for the glory of the Creator? It is our privilege to be the priests of today and tomorrow and to write in our own flesh the Gospel of epoch four. The servant priest Christ Jesus is risen, living on in those who share His Spirit, calling each to be a priest of her/his life in service of all creation and one another.
Tom McMahon, San Jose, Ca, 23/01/08.
NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part II
What are your thoughts on this commentary?