Sunday, June 27, 2010

Petrine Musings

No, not on the papacy. Musing with Peter, Peter Murphy that is. But the theme is sacerdotal.

So sad to see my friends go today after so short a visit. Our Lady of the Highways, pray for them!

Anyway, on the steps of St. Hedwig's Church, Barry's Bay, last night, before the mosquitoes came out, we revisited a number of topics that we have discussed many a-time. The thing you must know about Peter and I is that we have every reason in the world to be anti-clerical, but we are not. The Church in this world is not a meritocracy, it is easy to see - do you see it? So, two very committed, very well-educated Catholics have had to eat much humble pie in our professional service to the Church over the years. Liberals we are not, although having every reason to be! And, don't try to convince me otherwise. I was a seminarian once, I know what it is like to receive that kind of adulation, and I know what is it to have it evaporate so quickly the moment you say, 'I'm leaving the seminary.' It is humbling to have people run to the priest for his theological opinion when you yourself have twice the education he has. And, sometimes risible when the subject happens to be marriage and sexuality.

Over the years we have seen terrible injustices in the Church. Priests getting away with buffoonery, licence and heresy, never thereupon endangering their pay cheques a lick, while we lay theologians struggle to make ends meet, determined to be faithful to the teaching and discipline of the Church. I won't talk about Peter and his views here, just my own.

Perhaps the one thing most irksome to me as I endured (and still endure) great financial and emotion toll as a result of this weird calling (the lay theologian) is the fact that celibacy, which was meant to be a sacrifice, a bridge to unity with Christ on His Cross, has become a ticket to the good life for those who would so employ it. As a big for instance, do you know how many trips I have taken over the last decade? I went to Washington once. Friends flew us from Toronto to Washington about eight years ago to visit them. Since then, nothing. I know priests who travel to interesting, far away places, places that I have always dreamed of going; and they go yearly, and in some cases, more than yearly - and not for work. Sure, they call them 'pilgrimages' and so on, but it's something that your average layman could not afford to do. (Didn't Thomas a Kempis say something about this?)

And why is it that the clergy in general identify themselves with the middle class? Usually because they are from the middle class. A priest is university-educated - unlike the working class, and to get to be university-educated he is likely not from the working class. He sticks with his own kind. That is what he is comfortable with. He lives in a house, not an apartment. He has a car, he doesn't have to take the bus. He eats in restaurants as it suits him. He is never short of money to pay the phone bill or fix his computer.

- I am sorry I have to say all these things. I never exempt myself from criticism here at Theology of Dad. I question all things here. If I fail to do so, I am no theologian.-

Why does he have a computer?

Why is his TV better than mine?

Why is the house he lives in all by himself much bigger than the one I share with five other people?

Why doesn't he ever have to worry about loosing his job, like I do?

Why can he always pay his credit card bill, while I cannot?

Why has he been to Rome, Lourdes, and the Holy Land six times while I perhaps never will?

Oh, it's because he gave up marriage, and so he deserves all the other good things in life in exchange!

One thing that would ruin the above list of juxtapositions would be for priests to get married. Suddenly he would be able to afford neither the time nor the money for all the luxuries with which he has surrounded himself. Am I recommending it? Far from it! A married clergy would be an even worst blight on the Church than our celibate clergy.

I'm not saying that priest don't have it hard too. I thought I would be eaten-up with loneliness had I not a wife to comfort me - and children. But celibacy is not meant to be freedom from obligation; it is meant to be freedom to serve the People of God and for bringing the Good News to the world. I'm not saying that there are no heroic priests out there whose lives have done so much to inspire me to keep going in my vocation, because they keep going in theirs. I have meet many of that sort of priest. What I'd like to do with these harsh words of mine, though, is to send a message to those self-pitying priests out there who think that they have it so bad because of x, y and z, to let them know that most of their flock is worried about their jobs, their bills, the health of their children, and how they will ever find the courage to keep going amidst a thousand real anxieties that they cannot simply dispel with those all-powerful words: "It's my day off."

But, On the Other Hand, I like Being Poor.

I like not servicing a vast number of possessions. I like knowing that I do not overindulge in certain things. I know it's true, and it's true, even despite my will, simply because I cannot afford to. I like simplicity. I like that my children will not grow up with a high degree of expectation that they themselves may not be able to bankroll. I do not like not being able to pay the bills. I do not like whopping interest accruing on my credit card. I do not like not having gone to the dentist in 12 years. I do not like scowling when my wife takes the kids to the dentist - and thinking to myself - "Yeah, like they need good teeth!" I do not like thinking that I am parcelling out my son's asthma medicine more thinly than he really might need because of thrift. But I like not attending every wedding and event because I cannot afford the gas and the hotel room. I like looking forward to getting a new book, knowing that I have not gotten every new book that my job might possibly require, and cherishing that new book. I like not having a cell phone and cable, knowing that I have said no to some things. I like having the house I have - one of the cheapest ones that was on the market - and loving absolutely everything about it, because, after ten years, I have finally given my wife a house.


So, to sum-up, if you don't like the things that I have said here, know that the Holy Father would agree with me. (I dreamt about him again last night. Why do I dream about him so often?) Recently Pope Benedict said that the priesthood should not be seen as a means for social-climbing (can't find reference!). And you shouldn't just think that these words are meant just for the poorer countries, or even for just those countries where the priesthood is still respected in the wider culture. It is a temptation to all priests everywhere so long as the faithful continue to cherish the priesthood. It is good that people love the priesthood, but this respect also constitutes a grave temptation to priests. Imagine a job that it was almost nearly impossible to be fired from; that having this job meant that there was a group of people that would adore your every move almost no matter what. If this was your job, could you be certain that you'd show up every day and give 100%? Knowing me, I doubt I would.

It's easy for priests to tell themselves that most of their flock is self-indulgent and uncatechized, that most of them use contraception, mow the lawn and buy groceries on Sundays, don't pray as much as they do. It's true: most of his flock are like that. But some are not. And it's these, and these people alone, that the priest should be measuring himself against. He should not be thinking that he's doing his job so long as he's less worldly than the masses.


  1. Ouch, Colin. I don't quite know what to say although I have had all or most of these thoughts myself. The sabbatical after a breakdown has always particuarly bothered me as, God knows, I have needed one a few times in the past eight years. The divide needs to be bridged; I do think that it might be advisable for diocesan priests to take vows of poverty as it is especially hurtful to see priests in PT Cruisers and Minis with a set of golf clubs in the boot. Thank God for Madonna House whose priests wear frayed clerics, use outhouses (in some cases, Fr, Sharkey, build those outhouses) and work manual labour when not providing spiritual direction. Our Bishop is also a great example in his beat-up pick-up truck and vacations to local hunt camps (always careful to depart before 5pm when the drinking starts). Many of the Companions are also fabulous examples as, when we were working for NET and therefore dirt-poor ($15,000/year in Ottawa), our closest friends within the association regularly tried to give us their cars, air conditioners and any money they had in their pockets. Fr. Yves drives 20 year old delapidated cars and gives the good ones to his parents. Fr. Galen has perhaps two sets of civilian clothes and both are meant for farm work. Both of these men come from poor farm families with many children and are keenly aware of the struggles of family life. Perhaps therein lies the difference. I think that this post is the sort of article that should be widely published under the title: Yes, scandal of the non-sexual sort. (Oh, wait, can't forget Fr. hattie who sent you and yours his love in a recent email.)

  2. And the nail in the coffin: my word verification was PRIDE.

  3. I know it's a sore subject.
    Those priests you indicated are amazing models. The one I know the best is Fr. Hattie, of course. He always'got it,' didn't he?
    And I really like your title.
    There's much more I need to say on this subject. I've only dealt with the biggest symptoms, not the spiritual causes of all of this.
    If history teaches us anything, the Church always does its work best when priests are actual living models of holiness, living with and like the poor.