24Jun What kind of priest do we want?

The thought behind the following document was as follows: Begin with the situation as it is highlighting the problems and difficulties in the present situation and then move positively to some reflection on what is required.

1. We do not want someone who feels that he/she has a priestly vocation, that they are called by God.
We must not lose sight of the of the community base of priestly ministry – it is the community who calls to service of the community.
2. We do not want someone who has been plucked out of the community and isolated for six years of training.
The appropriate maturation as a leader in the community can happen only within the community – emotional development, the ability to form relationships, the ability to dialogue, communication skills…..
3. We do not want someone parachuted in from outside the community – the ‘Rent a priest system’.
Our theology, our spirituality must be incarnational. It must be allowed to grow in the soil of the appropriate culture, national and local.
4. We do not want a priest who sees himself/herself as ‘in charge’.
The community is in charge of its own life and must be allowed the scope to develop the mechanisms for living and growing that life. Too many of our priests are burdened by a terrible feeling of ‘being responsible’.
5. We do not want a priest who sees himself/herself as being manager of a parish estate.
The appropriate sector of activity is prayer and the spiritual growth of the community members, the priest included, as they live their lives as members of the kingdom of God.
6. We do not want necessarily a highly qualified individual in the realms of dogmatic theology, history or canon law.
We should reflect on what the requirements of a more ‘pastoral’ theology would be: Certainly communication skills and homiletics, educational qualifications……A profound grounding in sacred scripture for the breaking of the word of God at the community Eucharist – how we so often suffer in the pews!
7. We do not want a petrol pump attendant – a priest whose role is simply to say Mass and administer the sacraments.
Therefore, we require many more priests chosen out of the community, perhaps on a part time basis, so that there is time and opportunity to share in all of the varied aspects of the life of the community.
8. We do not want a ‘priestly celibate’.
The priest may be celibate or not but that must not be seen as part of his/her priesthood. Psychologically this cuts him/her off from so much of the community’s life.
9. We do not want a priest who is not representative of the community.
Count the ratio of male to female in the pews and end discrimination.
10. We do not want an obedient priest, a ‘yes person’, hidebound and inflexible under law and episcopal command.
The gospel is a gospel of freedom for service. We need a person of courage, prepared to act according to conscience. The ability to speak out and dialogue, both with the community and with the institution, is essential.
11. We do not want a ‘know it all’ priest.
The priest must be a lifelong learner, able to join with his or her community as, like the householder in Matthew 13, they find ‘things old and things new’ in the storehouse of the kingdom of God.
12. We do not want an individual who wears the symbols of superiority and isolation.
Dress and lifestyle should be that of the community.
13. We do not want a liturgical purist for whom rubrics are more important than content.
Flexibility, experimentation and learning on your feet are the only way to grow together.
14. We do not want a priest whose vision is limited to what we have always done.
Imagination is demanded, thinking outside the box, so that with a sense of history we can grasp the living, changing reality of our community tradition. Vision is demanded as we step boldly into the future.
15. We do not want someone who sees himself/herself as ‘alter Christus’.
This arrogance elevates the priest above the people of God, the body of Christ. The priest merely presides at the altar as representative of the community whose celebration it is.

19 Responses

  1. Darlene Starrs

    I enjoyed reading and processing this entry….but, “we” do not call the shots.

  2. Joe O'Leary

    15 nots are not very helpful — no positive image of ministry emerges

  3. Wanderer

    Once upon a time, a long time ago, in a land of faeries and leprechauns, there was a little boy called Basket Case.

    Basket Case was not, as they say, the full shilling. He’d go frolicking with the lambs and wolves in the shady glens of Gullahooey.

    One sunny afternoon, while Basket Case was playing with a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the wicked Druid Featherstonehaw sauntered by with his big stick.

    “Hey young BC, how’s it hangin’ ? Has lambsie shown you his huge sharp fangs yet ?”

    BC smiled demurely, batting his baby greens and replied, “When was the last time you saw me smile Fanny ?” (wink wink)

    Featherstonehaw sat down and told BC of a wonderful new Mental Institution called the ‘RCC’ where he could go and have a wonderful new procedure, something called a ‘lobotomy.’

    “All your cares, worries and Polly Anna delusions cured in a instant. They zap your frontal lobe with a long sharp shiny thing…. kinda brassy… bang, you’re a Catholic.”

    Basket Case sat down by a little puddle and pondered….

    “Me, a Catholic ? Who’d a thunk it. I’d be one of the tribe. No more to wander alone, to think for myself…. to live life and live it abundantly. A Catholic ? It sounds to good to be true.”

    Forty years later he was found in a ‘religious order’ sucking hard boiled eggs.

    You do have to wonder at times folks that we’re not all ready for the big basket.

    “We do not want someone who sees himself/herself as ‘alter Christus’.
    This arrogance elevates the priest above the people of God, the body of Christ. The priest merely presides at the altar as representative of the community whose celebration it is.”

    I think it might be OK to have someone who sees him/herself as another Christ as long as they can see all others the same way and treat them accordingly.

    Otherwise that’s all you end up with – a basket full of head cases. 🙂

  4. Fr Jim Sheil, CLE, OH, USA

    I think this is well done. A turning point for me came a few years ago at a Catholic Associations conference in Detroit when several different folks asked me “as a representative of the Christian Community” to celebrate with them the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This really helped me to adjust my focus a lot, and I appreciate them helping me to do this. As a retired priest I am a circuit rider. While I am glad to help out, I am not a part of any of the communities I go to. I do to know them or their stories. I am often in a rush to get to the next place for mass and can’t stay around to meet the people. My homilies are generic, they say something to me, but I’m not sure if they are any good or the folks I am celebrating Eucharist. I’m not sure this way of doing things is good.

  5. Mary O Vallely

    Actually, I think this is very gentle criticism, beautifully expressed. There are no demands, just suggestions. It’s an ideal of course, and we all fall short of the ideal but we do need to keep discussing how we can improve and as Wanderer so rightly points out, seeing the alter Christus in others is the no.1 pre-requisite in a priest or indeed in any Christ follower. You have a strong mischievous streak, Wanderer, but there is great wisdom there as always. I can see you as Lear’s Fool on this forum. 🙂
    There are already fine examples of positive ministry. Seamus Ahearne has shared some with us and we all know of many others so I don’t see this article as being negative in tone at all. Mind you, if any poor priest reading this was to try to espouse all these ideals he might find himself ending up in company with the protagonist of Wanderer’s story. Listen, learn and love. That’s what we all need to keep doing.

  6. Michael O'Donovan

    If the kind of priest you want arrived in my parish, I would go elsewhere.

  7. Wanderer

    Fr Jim Sheil, I am sure you are doing your best and none with half a heart could ask more. If one word of one sermon touches one person’s heart, then that’s quite a feat. Don’t be too hard on yourself cause this world is more than happy to do that for you. It’s ridiculous that a man supposedly in retirement has that kind of pressure put upon him.

    God love and bless you.

    Mary, if I seriously thought I’d have to take about ninety percent of this stuff seriously, I would be front of the line for that frontal lobotomy. Might get the corpus callosum done too. ;-)There are a few in el Vaticano need their right and left hemispheres connecting. Cause whatever planet they are on it ain’t planet Earth.

    Isn’t it the goal of Christian life to try and become more Christ like. There is a corner stone and stones. No mention of pedestals. And I am very sure that Jesus loved to laugh too. Not least at the absurdities of human beings, life and religious lunacy.

    Keeps that other part of the ol’ brain healthy. 🙂

  8. Francisca

    Michael @6 Pat Courtney’s list in many particulars describes Jesus – still leaving?

  9. Wanderer

    A priest might be like a prism, knowing many colours make the Light that is Christ.

    God gave a rainbow as a promise that the world would always be itself imbued with the fullest range of colour that makes up the pure Light of Christ.

    The Light shone in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend, could not overcome it.

    This is a hymn to the Body of Christ. Can be a blessed thing to be a few degrees off that full shilling.


  10. Diffal

    “1. We do not want someone who feels that he/she has a priestly vocation, that they are called by God.
    We must not lose sight of the of the community base of priestly ministry – it is the community who calls to service of the community.”

    It is always God who calls, the community might discern the vocation in a definitive way but God, not the community, calls a person to be a priest. I doubt it is your intention, but this list of criteria for your ideal priest is in danger of cutting God out of the picture entirely, and of making the community the sole focus of the community, in a kind of closed circle which leaves no space for openness towards God. Such a christian community will not last very long.

  11. Diffal

    @Francisca (No.8) With respect I don’t see this as descriptive of Jesus. For instance He wasn’t chosen from the community for the community, He was called and sent by the Father and Knew it. He came from the outside(Rent a priest system?) to challange humanity to growth and repentance and to offer them Salvation. His Yes and His obedience is what we should all imitate. He is the ultimate know it all(God is omniscient after all) the ultimate Dogmatic Theologial and Historian.

    I don’t know if Jesus would qualify for priestly ministry under these criteria.

  12. Fr Jim Sheil, CLE, OH, USA

    To Wanderer. Thank you for your kind words.

  13. Wanderer

    You are welcome Fr Jim. You look after you too. 🙂

    I found this on a site and thought to post. How we can all use our ‘priest’hood.

    In Love’s Service, Only the Wounded Can Serve

    Published on Tuesday, 07 May 2013 20:00
    Written by Kansas Monks Lay Writers

    In Thornton Wilder’s short play, The Angel That Troubled the Waters, a physician comes to a magical pool guarded by an angel.

    After watching others enter into the pool and be healed, the physician approaches the water to be healed of a terrible unnamed burden. But the angel prevents him:

    ANGEL: Draw back, Physician, this moment is not for you.

    PHYSICIAN: Angelic visitor, I pray thee, listen to my prayer.

    THE ANGEL: Healing is not for you.

    THE PHYSICIAN: Oh, in such an hour was I born, and doubly fearful to me is the flaw of my heart. Must I drag my shame, prince and singer, all my days more bowed than my neighbor?

    THE ANGEL (Stands a moment in silence): Without your wound where would your power be? It is your very remorse that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In love’s service only wounded soldiers can serve. Draw back.

    Recently, I thought of the angel’s words, when a dear friend of mine shared with me that though she was nearly fifty years old, she was still struggling with the feelings of fear and rejection that she experienced in her childhood. Early on in life, she was the victim of both physical and emotional abuse, and a couple of weeks ago an unpleasant exchange with a co-worker once again aggravated wounds that have never really healed.

    My dear friend sent me an email that asked, “why am I the way I am?” Similar questions would be, “why doesn’t God choose to fully heal our wounds? Can’t he do that if he wants? Isn’t Jesus called the Great Physician?”

    My answer, in part, is that I don’t really know why God often chooses to extend only partial healing in this life. I do know that the ache of lingering wounds reminds us of our weakness, and Saint Paul is clear that God’s grace is sufficient for us, for “[his] power is made perfect in weakness…when we are weak, then we are strong” (1 Corinthians 12).

    I also know, and this is what I told my friend—we’ll call her J—that I can see in her life the beauty that has grown out of her wounds. Of all the people I have known, she is one of the sweetest and most compassionate. Though she also suffers from Fibromyalgia, which is physically debilitating, she loves to work out in her yard, and she has an amazing talent for landscaping. She can transform a featureless lawn into a flowerful paradise. Though she is in constant pain, she still possesses a gift for beauty.

    Why would God choose to inflict such hardship on those who had dedicated their lives to him? Why would the blood of Jesus heal their sins, but not take away their sorrows? It seems that there is a direct connection between suffering and saintliness, wounded-ness and faithfulness.

    So, if you experience pain and suffering, or an ache in your soul or body that simply will not go away, remember the angel’s words to the physician. It seems he was right: in love’s service, only wounded soldier’s can serve.”

  14. Julia

    The following is just my take as a young, lay, Catholic college girl. I might not have phrased things in the clearest way, but I hope you understand what I’m trying to say.

    At the heart of this list is valid, correct, awesome desire to have priests who are humble servants of God, and therefore of their community.That’s fantastic, and I think you’d be hard pressed to find ANYONE who’d disagree.
    However, priests’s vocation IS that they are called by God to serve alter Christus. That’s why a priest, through the sacrament of Holy Orders, is given the grace to perform the sacraments.
    This article seems to confuse having priests that are actually priests with the issues of clericalism. Ending any clericalism is good. Clericalism, or seeing priests as a sort of “upper caste” is wrong. However,insiting that priest’s recieve less theological training won’t fix this. All faithful, especially priests (whose pastoral ministry includes instructing people about the faith) need to learn as much as they can about God. To refuse this training would be to cripple a priest as he tries to go about serving God and the people. Demanding the priesthood as a “right” or “skill” or “power” that people should have equal access to is also misunderstanding the issue (and actually delves into the sort of clericalism that you’re clearly trying to work against). If the priesthood was a “career” or “office of power” then these suggestions would be valid. They’d make sense, as OBVIOUSLY discrimination is wrong. However, the priesthood is not about “power”. It’s not about choosing to be a “leader”. It’s about humbly submitting one’s life to a God given call and allowing yourself to become an imperfect vessel for God’s grace. It’s not the priest that does anything, it is the grace received in the sacrament of Holy Orders that allows him to act in persona Christi.
    If there were no sacraments, if we were protestants and our clergy were just another ministry, then this article might hold true. Fortunately for us, that isn’t the case.

    A better solution to finding humbler, servant-like priests is to make sure that each and every seminarian is given instruction on just what he is to become. He will not be a CEO or a master of ceremonies or a keynote speaker at the Mass. He will be a broken jar filled up with the grace of God and given the mind boggling privilege to allow himself to be used as a tool to stand in for Jesus Christ Himself in a sacramental, grace-transferring way. It takes a lot of humility and complete death to self to accept THAT vocation. Self-interest or wanting “what I deserve” should never have any part.

  15. Wanderer

    “Whatever you do to the least of these you do to Me…. ”

    There’s no ‘act’ing required.

    The good God wants the real Mc Coy or it’s on your bike.

  16. Caroline McCamley

    So you want ??
    1. Someone you does not have a vocation, and is not called by God.
    2. Someone who has never left your community and experienced the world, and has no training.
    3. Someone who shares the narrow views of the isoloated inlooking community.
    4. Some who accepts no responsibilty.
    5. Some who will accept no management role.
    6. Someone unqualified.
    7. We do not want Mass unless it is offered by one of our own.
    8. Someone who is having sex with at least someone in the community.
    9. We want someone just like us, maybe a drunk, a fraudster, and adulterer, (to make us feel good). Good christian living is way too challenging.
    10. Someone who is obedient to the leadership of the ACP, and who will only express ACP leadership views. Disagreeing with the establishment is essential.
    11. Someone who knows nothing.
    12. Someone who will be invisible.
    13. Liturgy, what is that??
    14. Someone who will change everything.
    15. Somone who does not identify with Christ.

  17. Luc Ruy

    You’ve forgotten something :
    “16. We do not want a catholic priest”

  18. Stephen Edward

    The model priest is Saint John Vianney. Can we have more like him, please?

  19. Cindy O'Mahoney

    Caroline you are right. That is exactly what they want. What they forget is that we already have them and most of them are in the ACP. What faithful Catholics hope and pray for is the gift of real priests: men called by God to administer the Sacraments. I am beginning to realise that things can only get better. They certainly can’t get much worse.