13Sep Priests can be ministers of cultural divinisation

 When I survey the wondrous parochial structure and its contents the outlook is not great- or so it would seem. Yet the future is a lot better than might present itself. A bishop many years ago spoke of the great oak falling down, the church, as we knew it, and discovering many fresh saplings, the emerging church, growing around the old dead trunk. This sums up the church at present, though the saplings could be smothered, in many congregations, but I wish to refer to our catholic heritage.

     There are many parishioners who wish to bring back the old oak tree, hoping and believing that resuscitation is possible, either through fear of God’s wrath, old fashioned piety, or, through extreme orthodoxy of exclusion. Essentially powered by inability to move forward. This group becomes exercised when sexual matters comes up for debate be it contraception, divorce or homosexuality, and the little coteries of repression becomes alerted to react- it is as if the piety pursued depends for its existence upon this sexual repression, which if not overcome is a threat to its personal viability, both created from, and, maintained by this same repression. This culture therefore is a result of that particular repression.[1] 

       How unexercised this little coterie is in areas of the death penalty, genocide and other pro-life issues but these don’t effect a similar reaction. There is a demand for a kind of league table of perfection consisting of those who believe and live their faith, and those who are discovering the sapling. It is a tension between those who want a return to the past, processions, devotions, infallibity, exclusion of women, a deep seated pathology of sexual aversion, basically a return to the womb[2] to a moment when all was well or remembered as such.

       And yet the past while another country, was not that beautiful a place. How many inquiries and tribunals, and investigations, are necessary to highlight the dark side of this imaginary security of the past? This is where the Ministerial Priesthood[3] enters into the discussion as it is caught in this tension between living in the world of today and making the gospel relevant so that it can survive being dragged back by these groups to the past into the museum of nostalgia or into a meaningless future of social engagement without the transcendent. In the words of T.S. Elliot           

       ‘A time for the wind to break the loosened pane

        And to shake the wainscot where the field- mouse trots

        The dahlias sleep in the empty silence.

         Wait for the early Owl’.[4]

So let us await the Owl similarly and not replace the broken pane.

Our schools though Catholic have essentially produced good atheists because the catechetical programme left out sacred mystery and its application in the social encyclicals. Having taught ‘the programme’ for many years it was noticeable that so many encyclicals were ignored, Mater et Magistra, Pacem in Terris, along with others, and thus engagement with the social issues which excite our young minds was left to the secular giving away relevance and the Incarnate Word. Not even Moscow in the old days could have achieved so much. In modern pastoral strategies an ignoring of the Ministerial Priesthood widens this disengagement as it relocates mystery and relevance elsewhere. Notice the rise in New Ageism, a result of this second error, where the find of mystery moves outside the church, the first being the catechetical one now becomes a pastoral one. It will be constantly said that seminaries are overflowing in Asian countries, and that where a diocese is extremely orthodox the vocations to ministerial priesthood is well supplied.

     How much that has to do with other issues, of poverty, and security, and how much has to do with freedom of the Spirit is questionable? Those that are now experiencing this alleged dawn might also quickly arrive at dusk.  Importing trees is never a good idea because the word that is vital is organic or home grown. The famous ground of our Being is cultural, sacred and transcendent.

      It would be a very short term solution to hire a choir, and perform a liturgy, and draw a crowd, but let us leave all that for the theatre where it belongs, and examine the sturdiness of belief and faith, and what lies beneath this faith, and how belief helps the living out, in this world, of our belief. The commitment to the presence of Christ in the Word and the local word is what is real, not the imaginary distraction of importing ideas, vocations, extra cultural methodologies and pieties, which like growing tea or vines in the south of England will be laborious, quaint and a rarity. There are many catholic sects who dream of the catholic Church becoming aligned with pieties and carry a feint regret that Christ was not born in Medjugorje or Garabandal or in other such places of psycho—spiritual inventions.[5] The church is quite rightly sceptical of these inventions and cautions against them being articles of faith.[6]

    The moving statues phenomenon represents more an uncertainty than a faith. To be rooted in the word of God in scripture as a guide to our faith is vital. When John Paul II spoke of the divinisation of culture he was repeating the Gospel of the Incarnation. And yet there are many for whom piety is an escape from this world as they await a reward for ignoring the earth, the front garden of the kingdom, and live in hope of punishment for those not of their opinion. The fact that Christ dined with sinners and welcomed the ‘unclean’ to his table seems to evade these creatures of perfection and avoidance.

Organic only

       In this context the Ministerial priest can become a Christian leader finding, and creating space for Christ in the cultural divinisation that the late Holy Father spoke of. After all the Ministerial priesthood is one of celebrating the sacred mysteries- not those which describe past experiences of this sacred only but of pointing to the manner of what is the sacred of the mystery in the now. Not ‘those’ sacred mysteries but ‘these’ ones. A ministry of relevance is the role of the Priest and by the discovery and celebration of such, then spirituality resumes its place. Drawing together people who believe in Christ being in the present, not the past which itself was another place. The area of justice, ecology and homosexuality, which is the ‘humane vitae’ of this decade, are areas in which the divinisation, if we belief in the words of the late Holy Father, also exists. Pope Benedict writes about loves extension being directed towards mission and having an effect in society.[7] It is what might be called a constructive engagement with the world rather than a pious disengagement. Christ called it being the salt of the earth. To leave the last word with Pope benedict XVI’s encyclical, Deus Caritas Est:

the church must ‘reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice cannot prevail and prosper’.[8]


[Bernard Kennedy is a priest of the Dublin Diocese, a poet and Psychoanalyst. He holds an MA in Psychoanalytic Studies and M.Sc. in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy. He has contributed to theological and Psychoanalytic Journals.]






[1] Freud, S. (1929) Civilization and its Discontents. London. Hogarth Press. P.115.

[2] Many of these groups form alignments and engage in letter writing to the press, reporting clergy, and generally bullying their way within the political world. And like the chameleon operate under as number of titles to pretend popular appeal. Concerning themselves with sexual matters and displaying a personal unease with sexuality rarely engage in the public domain on any other matter. This is pathology.

[3] Decree On The Ministry And life Of Priests. Article 2. Second  Vatican Council Documents.

[4] Eliot.T.S. (1940)  East Coker. (in) The Complete Poems and plays of T.S. Eliot. 2001. London. Faber & Faber.

[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church. (1994)  The Profession of faith. P.22.para.67. Dublin Veritas.

[6] Bishop Ratko Peric. Medjugorje: The Bishop’s Decision. (Maynooth 2004)  (in) The Brandsma Review. (ed.) N. Lowry. Issue 79. Vol. 14. July-august 2005. p. 4-8.

[7] Encyclical Deus Caritas Est.  Pope Benedict XVI. Dublin. Veritas 2006.

[8] Ibid. p.40.

3 Responses

  1. Linda, Derry

    Why refer to Medjugorje in such derogatory terms? Apparitions are still under investigation, fruit borne in terms of conversions, Marian devotion and peace is astounding and at Medjugorje Our Lady incessantly implores prayer for her priests? Not exactly, on a balance of probabilities, indicative of diabolical manifestation is it? What do you mean by ‘pieties’? Hopefully not the Rosary ….

  2. Paddy Ferry

    Fr. Bernard, thank you for sharing that excellent piece above with us. Real food for thought.

  3. Clare Hannigan

    To be rooted in the word of God in scripture as a guide to our faith is vital

    At present Catholic education for children under thirteen consists of the Alive O Program which is taught primarily through the schools with the support of the Parish. Although the coarse is very well resourced it provides minimal resources for parents. Teachers are trained in college to teach religion and there is a substantial teachers manual for each year of the program. The Alive O program starts when the children are of school going age and is not tailored to the needs of individual children. It is parents and not teachers who have primary responsibility for raising our children in the Faith and yet we receive no direct support or formation from the Church. Perhaps the Alive O program could be adapted to give more support to parents both in terms of our own faith development centred in Scripture as well as empowering us to express our faith in a manner appropriate to small children- starting at the preschool stage. Parents could choose material or activities that reflect their individual family circumstance.

Scroll Up