Lance Patrick Enad .
IN the battle of ideas between so-called “conservative” and “liberal” Catholics, I am inclined to think that most points of disagreement are questions on emphasis and that the fundamental and mutually exclusive points of disagreement are very few.
If some of you were born and raised during or before the ’60s, you might notice that there is a big difference in how priests behaved then and now. Many would perhaps recall that they always ran around in the sotana and that they were rather somehow austere. It would be rare to find a priest today running around in the sotana or even the clerical shirt and seem to behave like everyone else.
It is, I suppose, providential that the sex abuse controversy in the US exploded during the year for the clergy and the consecrated life. This event seemed to be cataclysmic enough to evoke reaction from the Church –which I hope is one of troubleshooting and purging. This invites us to review our theology of the priesthood.
In my conversations with a local theologian with an international caliber, we spoke of the theologies on the priesthood –sacerdos and presbyter, St. Alphonsus de Ligouri, St. John Chrysostom, Vatican II. He mentioned how lofty Chrysostom’s theology on the priesthood is – set-apart, sacred, special- and how these ideas can be dangerous since they foster clericalism. He also noted the shift on the theology on the priesthood after Vatican 2.
He noted that there are things that are not necessarily mutually exclusive and how some seemingly disagreeing thoughts are matters of emphasis.
Here, I would like to note that the theology of the priesthood before Vat. 2 has been widely influenced by the thoughts of Chrysostom or similar to his. To my liking, this school of thought seems to emphasize in the priestly life a deep kind sanctity necessary for priests –which I believe, take its roots from the Old Testament, from the demands of the priestly life imposed on Aaron and his sons. Hence the 1917 canon law powerfully insists that “Both the interior and exterior life of clerics must be superior to the laity and excel them by the example of virtue and good deeds.” “The rite of ordination before the liturgical reforms then would also emphasize phrases like “imitate what you handle (the sacred).” We can see here that this kind of the theology of the priesthood somehow emphasizes this necessity of the sanctification of the priests and that this kind of thought, although with some disadvantages, disciplined priests back then, gave them a solid spiritual and ascetical program.
It is not my intention to discuss and convince you, dear reader, to adhere to the same thoughts on the priesthood I am seem to prefer since I am still praying and studying about that. Nor do I wish to present a comparison and contrast between one school of thought and another. What I do wish to tell you is that no matter which wing you wish to side, provided that it has nothing against the Faith, there are things which need to be emphasized if we wish to reform priestly life.
Prayer, penance, a solid ascetical life, etc. need to be emphasized. St. Pius X, the first pope to be canonized since the council of Trent, after St. Pius V, used to say that the two necessary qualities of a good priest are outstanding holiness and solid doctrine –these need to be engraved on rock.
No matter if you want to emphasize that the priest is a shepherd, or that a he must smell like his sheep, or that a he is so special since only he can transubstantiate, only he can act in the person of Christ –not mutually exclusive- we need to emphasize the need for priests to be holy, very holy. A priest preaching a retreat to us seminarians once told us: “better a holy husband than a bad priest.” A nun giving a talk to seminarians once said: “being just a priest and a holy priest are two different things.”
For the six years of my seminary life, to my despair, these things are not really emphasized. To my despair, I hear seminarians openly and pleasurably having impure conversations. To my frustration, I have heard that some seminarians were living in mortal sin for months, that they had no regard for the spiritual life. To my sadness, I hear of priests keeping mistresses or boyfriends –hopefully false. Sadly, it seems that some priests pray the office no more, do not do mental prayer, and do not studying. Sanctity and Solid doctrine need to be emphasized no matter which camp you are in.
If we want to avoid sex abuse scandals and anything that may disfigure the Church, we have to continually remind ourselves of these things.