Friday, June 22, 2018

"Courageous" Ideas from the God of Surprises

Earlier this month it was announced that the Vatican's preparatory document seeking input from South American prelates for the run up to the 2019 Synod of Bishops on the Amazon calls for "courageous, daring, and fearless" to combat the priest shortage in the region. Of course this language is in reference to the ordination of married men, so-called viri probati, to the priesthood. The document also calls for further inclusion of women, not just in a participatory way but in new "official ministries."

So, it looks like the 2019 Synod will dish up a whole smorgasbord of novelties from the God of Surprises. The real ironic thing about the call for "courageous" ideas to combat the priest shortage is that the contemporary Church has failed to try the most courageous idea of all—an aggressive, confident appeal to the traditional ideals and discipline of the priesthood. There are many reasons why the Church does not make this appeal; part of it is simply that the progressive wing of the Church wants Catholics to simply accept the need for married priests as a fait accompli (see "Priestless Parishes as a Fait Accompli", USC, Aug, 2008); they have no interest in stopping the vocations shortage because they want the Church to be forced to adopt married priests. In that sense, the priest shortage is artificial, like a planned famine.

But beyond the "political" policy aspect of this problem, there is an identity problem; the Church by and large has lost the sense of priestly identity. When our perception of the priest has been largely reduced to that of a pious social worker, it's difficult for young men to grasp what transcendent value there is to be found in the priesthood. Why sacrifice marriage and career for something whose identity is so obscured?

It has been proven that when Catholic identity, specifically that of the priest, is made clear, the vocations crisis evaporates immediately. For example, take these two little towns in Michigan, which together have a combined population of only 2,162 but which have produced 80 nuns and 44 priests.

The vocations crisis is contrived. It could be overcome. But the contemporary hierarchy has made no effort to; to quote Ned Flanders' parents, "We've tried nothing and we're all out of ideas."

One thing I have learned in the past few years is that what seems at first to be courageous isn't always courageous; sometimes the truly courageous choice is not what is self-evident. We must choose our cross, yes, but sometimes the cross doesn't look like the cross. Part of learning to carry the cross is learning how to identify it, and it's not always straightforward. 

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