What do we mean by the term "priest" today? That's the question at the heart of what Tom McMahon explores in this commentary today. Has the meaning of priesthood changed down through time? When we use the term "priest" does it conjure up different images in the minds of different people?
Confusing images of the meaning of priesthood...
I took an elderly 91-year-old couple to Kaiser Hospital for routine check-ups. We talk a common language about current affairs even though they were born a decade before me. We had a good laugh as I shared with them an idea that passed my mind as I guided the blind woman into the laboratory for a blood draw, carefully watchful of a frail husband who shuffles behind. Our common laugh was around the reality that here was the Irish kid from 15th Street, San Francisco who happened to become a Catholic priest making sure that a Jewish couple from New Jersey got proper medical treatment. How the archetype pictures of my youth remains in place alongside new awareness? How wonderfully mysterious is this human creature, even before one throws in some religious myths?
Jean-Baptiste Henri-Dominique Lacordaire (1802-1861)
My memory is fading somewhat as to what I have written in the past four years as I post to Catholica (Editor Brian tells us that last week's commentary was #200). I do recall that once I quoted Lacordaire's "Boyhood dreams of long ago saw an altar fair consecrated trembling hands lifted there in prayer. etc."
Jean-Baptiste Henri-Dominique Lacordaire (May 12, 1802 - November 21, 1861), often styled Henri-Dominique Lacordaire, was a French ecclesiastic, preacher, journalist and political activist. He re-established the Dominican Order in post-Revolutionary France. [Source: ]
Most seminarians of my era thought this way as they dreamed of one day saying Mass. My hands really never trembled and I no longer say Mass; boyhood is long a memory and when I look in the mirror I see an evolutionary maturity. I retain a solid grasp of knowledge gained in grade school and seminary while adding book and lecture wisdom absorbed from others over 50+ years. I might say I have a "Buddhist mind enjoying enlightenment". Our book study this morning dialogued around Paul F. Kittner's WITHOUT BUDDHA I COULD NOT BE A CHRISTIAN.
Buddhism (Pali/Sanskrit: बौद्ध धर्म Bauddha Dharma) is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha (Pāli/Sanskrit "the awakened one"). The Buddha lived and taught in the eastern part of Indian subcontinent sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE. He is recognized by Buddhists as an awakened or enlightened teacher who shared his insights to help sentient beings end ignorance (avidyā) of dependent origination, thus escaping what is seen as a cycle of suffering and rebirth. [Source: ]
The apparent duality between an ordained
priesthood and a priesthood of the laity...
I recently viewed an old lecture video of John Bradshaw. I studied Bradshaw's family systems work in the 1980's, as I pursued understanding my own humanity and self-discovery. John encourages each person to understand the duality that exists that demands self-appreciation of the human struggle involved in my need to be an individual and my need to belong to some form of grouping. Your writer Tom here has struggled in his adult years with my need to be a genuine person and a member of an organized rule-governed church — Up until 1980 when the church of my youth dismissed me from their clergy for falling in love and fathering children. The combination is mysteriously puzzling and can lead to crisis involvements. Today I will elaborate on the apparent duality of an ordained Roman Catholic priesthood and a priesthood of the laity.
John Elliot Bradshaw. Image source: Wikia
The concept of a lay priesthood of service dates back nineteen hundred years while the ordained mass priest is a product of the Council of Trent in the 1500's.
John Elliot Bradshaw (born June 29, 1933) is an American educator, counselor, motivational speaker and author who has hosted a number of PBS television programs on topics such as addiction, recovery, codependency and spirituality. Bradshaw is active in the self-help movement, and is credited with popularizing such ideas as the "wounded inner child" and the dysfunctional family. His books are mainly works of popular psychology. In his promotional materials and in interviews and reviews of his work he is often referred to as a theologian.
The power of symbols...
Let's briefly review our understanding of archetypes and the human ability to create instant symbol pictures. If I say the words "GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE" a listener may immediately mentally process SAN FRANCISCO. Or a person seeing the picture at right you will more than likely envision Sydney. Now if I use the word GRACE I may draw a blank as there is no base reality. I then offer the word PRIEST and this word I may follow with a mental picture of a male in a black suit and white roman collar. Even for Tom here saying LAY PRIEST conjures up no stable picture. I may even get a fuzzy notion like a TV screen gone amok. We have much work to do to revive the understanding of a Christian servant priest of the early centuries.
Theologians like Yves Congar, John the 23rd's architect of the Second Vatican Council had clear appreciations of the need and power of the dedicated lay person. By 1942 era of World War Two the Roman Catholic Institutional Church in Europe had virtually collapsed and its Trentan 1500's priesthood was in the shambles of serious trouble. A favorable concept of priest no longer existed except perhaps in America where a false "Bing Crosby picture" dominated the Catholic mind. The clerical sexual scandal has dealt a mortal blow to the symbol priesthood I entered innocently in 1954. Throughout my 26 active institutional years I was always in struggle with being a Jesus priest of service and the faceless Mass-saying priest who appeared at the Sunday altar in robes.
In 1941 Pope Pius the 12th spoke of the Catholic laity as a "sleeping giant" and John the 23rd saw its awakening as he wrote Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth: 1963 ENCYCLICAL OF POPE JOHN XXIII ON ESTABLISHING UNIVERSAL PEACE IN TRUTH, JUSTICE, CHARITY, AND LIBERTY). Pacem in terris was the first encyclical that the Pope did not address to the Catholic faithful only, but also to "all men of good will".
Enough for today ... I'll continue this next week ... It is late Monday night and I have just arrived home from the hospital. I brought my 79-yea-old widow friend of 45 years into emergency as heart fibulations (150 beats per minute) pounded her chest. Dorothy is a charter member of the Community of Jesus Our Brother (JOB) and we members priest ourselves in service to one another and the world. Dorothy will die soon; Dorothy will not die alone as this is the commitment and pledge of the membership of JOB. There will be no sacraments involved; members are the Jesus sacramental presence. This is the Jesus' priesthood I dreamed of in seminary days. I sleep in peace tonight aware that I am a non-clerical member in good standing of the Body of Christ in San Jose. A good night to you all.
Tom McMahon, in San Jose, Ca. 12Dec2011
Tom McMahon, ordained in 1954 and now married, lives a very fulfilled life in San Jose and continues to contribute voraciously to several Catholic discussion lists in the States. He has been an enthusiastic supporter and encourager of the Catholica initiative from the very beginning.
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