Tuesday, November 04, 2014

The Reductive Priest


Imagine for a moment that all priests were faithful to the Church's teaching and traditions; or if that is too far-fetched, imagine at least that the majority of them were. If this were the case, what would our definition of a "good" priest be? It certainly would not be orthodoxy, since this would be a sine qua non of all the ordained. What would a "good" priest be in those happy circumstances?

I'd imagine a "good" priest would be characterized by his well-rounded character, his patience, or courage in the face of adversity. Probably his skill at homiletics, prudence in dealing with the parish's financial resources, manner of offering the Mass, management of volunteers, or quality of his confessions would all play a part as well. All of these things are important to one degree or another, and they all go in to making a great pastor.

Unfortunately, is this what we are getting at when we talk about a "good" priest? Usually not. In a situation where the vast majority of priests are heterodox, we do not have the luxury of discussing "good" priests in terms of the criteria mentioned above. In a given diocese where, say, 80% of the priests are heterodox or progressive, it is inevitable that a "good" priest is simply one who is orthodox and says a decent Mass,

This is a shame, for two reasons. One is that it is an extraordinarily reductive view of what makes a good pastor. Orthodoxy was never meant to be a quality that makes a particular priest good or better than any other; it is simply supposed to be a sine qua non of the priesthood. To speak of a priest being a "good" priest because he is orthodox is like saying a fireman is a good fireman because he has legs, or that a chef is a good chef because his food is edible. These things are not meant to be measurements of goodness or skill, but rather are very general attributes that make the vocation possible. So to speak of a priest as "good" because he is merely orthodox contributes to a greatly reductive view of the priesthood.

Second, this means that all sort of other faults and problems must simply fade into the background. Suppose Father is orthodox and his Mass is fairly reverent. But also suppose Father is terrible with money Suppose he is arrogant and rude to people. Suppose he is an alcoholic. Suppose he is socially awkward and cannot maintain professional relationships. Suppose, though his homilies are orthodox, they are still awful. Suppose he is a bully. Suppose he is greedy. Suppose he is a terrible confessor. Suppose his character is horribly out of balance. Suppose he has all or many of these problems in such a way that they present tremendous obstacles to the efficacy of his ministry and the good of the parish's life.

Well, so what? Where else will one go? "You alone have the words of eternal life." It's either deal with Father's occasional drunkenness and endure a crappy - but orthodox - homily once a week, or else go off to the parish where the priest is a heretic. Of course, I would never go to a parish where heresy is being preached. But because there are so few parishes where heresy is not being preached, our choices are extraordinarily limited, and whatever orthodox remnant we are left with we have to deal with, regardless of all the other problems that might be simmering there.

And who would ever complain? If we nitpick about these sorts of problems, why would an orthodox priest want to serve us? I should just shut up and be happy that Father is not preaching heresy; who cares if a couple million here and there gets frittered away? Who cares if he is a bully? I should just be thankful that he's not a heretic!

You see the dire straits the situation with the priesthood has placed us in. I understand that traditionally laity did not "choose" their priests. But modern transportation has made that inevitable, and realistically, we all do it. Territorial parish boundaries are practically meaningless. We all search around for the orthodox, home-school friendly parish to call our own. The fact that these things have to be actual criteria upon which we choose where to worship - as opposed to characteristics common to all Catholic parishes - is very unfortunate.

Please note that I am not writing about any particular priest. I am writing to try to put words to something I have noticed over the years where good Catholic families are willing to "trade" putting up with a priest's (sometimes serious) personal problems in exchange for getting someone who is not a heretic. It is just a sad thing that Catholic families have to be in that dilemma. It'd be great if priestly orthodoxy was as common as arms and legs on a fireman. But we live in dark times and we must make do with what we can.

Measuring a priest as "good" by his orthodoxy is like measuring a doctor or lawyer by the fact he is licensed to practice. That should not be a measure of how "good" he is; it is merely the bare minimum. Unfortunately, circumstances are such that we have to search just to find that bare minimum, and it shouldn't be so. If you have a priest who is both completely orthodox, traditional and has a well-formed personality with no major character flaws, you are extremely blessed.

9 comments:

Mighty Joe Young said...

Kudos, Boniface. Complete agreement from M.J., who does want to add that even a good priest can be brought along if a friendship is developed.

M.J. can rarely make it to the Real Mass so he goes to the local franchise of the shadow church where he has befriended a good priest and he gave this priest a copy of a critique of the book of blessings and this priest responded by telling me he uses the old book of blessings and he will bless myy Holy water from now on.

Bye, bye Wholly Water, hello Holy Water.

O M.J. has offered to serve Mass if he decides to learn the Real Mass and he is interested

Anonymous said...

I agree that orthodoxy should be the basic component of every priest. However, please remember that God uses the weak to shame the proud. There is no such thing as a perfect priest, except in Jesus Christ Himself. The Apostles were all weak sinful men but they (except Judas) persevered. We are human beings with faults of our own. We have to recognize our faults and struggle to over come them like everyone else.
Some of us who are orthodox priests are beat down on a daily basis by the heterodox within the church, including many Bishops. We need to be supported for the good that we try to do. That will help us to overcome our faults. That and the Grace of God.

Anonymous said...

Very thought-provoking post. For me, it's all about the Mass. Latin Mass almost always says something about the priest. He is usually more serious about doing things for God in a 'correct' way, and he preaches perennial Truth because he doesn't have to waste his sermon time on trivialities.

In my parish we have a pastor who is totally orthodox and doesn't pull any punches, as he is committed to helping us save our souls. (Fraternity of St. Peter)

As it happens I don't particularly like his 'personality.' He's a bit harsh in dealings with some parishioners, and it's his way or the highway. Some of this is the way it should be, but his style doesn't suit me.

Do I complain? Heck NO!!!! He is In Persona Christi to me. He brings me the Mass, Holy Communion, Confession etc. That's what's important to me. How good God is to provide us with Traditional priests! Pray for vocations.
Barbara

Boniface said...

I feel like some of you are misunderstanding what I am saying; I am not talking about a parishioner disagreeing with a priest's "style" or some of his "quirks." I'm talking about priests with massive problems, either personal or otherwise, whose behavior is actually destructive and impedes the exercise of their ministry effectively. One priest I knew years ago (now deceased) had such problems when dealing with certain issues and the parish was torn apart by it. We all knew he had these problems, but he was the only one around who offered a Mass in Latin and had a semblance or orthodoxy so we all shut up and put up with even though we could see the writing on the wall.

Boniface said...

I feel like some of you are misunderstanding what I am saying; I am not talking about a parishioner disagreeing with a priest's "style" or some of his "quirks." I'm talking about priests with massive problems, either personal or otherwise, whose behavior is actually destructive and impedes the exercise of their ministry effectively. One priest I knew years ago (now deceased) had such problems when dealing with certain issues and the parish was torn apart by it. We all knew he had these problems, but he was the only one around who offered a Mass in Latin and had a semblance or orthodoxy so we all shut up and put up with even though we could see the writing on the wall.

Anonymous said...

I think we all know that when we say "good" priest, what we really mean to say might include: relatively good, better than no priest, not too heterodox, at least he hears confessions, not much worse than the last guy, still acts like he believes in the Real Presence, is not gay, and so on, up to and including he is a GOOD priest.

Of course, "he is a HOLY priest" is not a phrase often used these days. But priests come from the laity, and I do not know any holy laity either.

I wish I did...might help me a bit.

Konstantin said...

Great article. That's why I like to read old books from the 19th or early 20th century when a "good priest" was just that, a really good priest. Today they would call them saints.

I have never run into a priest that even comes close to one of the "good" priests from back in the days, most of whom have never even been considered for beatification.

c matt said...

I think you are saying that measuring a priest as "good" by his orthodoxy is like measuring a doctor or lawyer by the fact he is licensed to practice. That should not be a measure of how "good" he is, it is merely the bare minimum. Unfortunately, circumstances are such that we have to search just to find that bare minimum, and it shouldn't be so. I agree.

Boniface said...

That is EXACTLY what I am saying. I am going to copy that comment and put it right into the article. Thanks for helping me be concise!