Thursday, June 10, 2010

So Ends The Year Of The Priest--But No End For The Celibate Priest

Pope Benedict's song for the laity: Follow the clerical road; follow the clerical road; follow follow follow follow, follow the clerical road. You're off to hear the wizard, the clerical wizard of Rome.

Pope answers priests' questions on prayer, celibacy and new vocations
CNA/EWTN - Vatican City - 6/10/2010
Priests from around the world gathered at a prayer vigil in St. Peter's Square on Thursday with Pope Benedict, who responded to questions addressed by priests from every continent.The Pope spoke on the importance of prayer and the Eucharist in the life of priests, defended the role of celibacy and emphasized the need to trust that God will bless the Church with new vocations.
The Holy Father recalled the importance of each priest having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ before he can go out and fulfill his calling.
He emphasized the importance of prayer, which he called the “profession of the priest,” pointing to the example of Christ, who is shown in the Gospels taking time to rest during his priestly ministry. If a priest neglects the care of his own soul, Benedict XVI said, he will never be able to love others properly.

Encouraging priests to take the time they need to nourish their own soul through prayer, the Holy Father offered words of encouragement, saying, “The Lord will help us make the right decisions if we are prayerfully attuned to him.”

Priests and the Eucharist

The Pontiff pointed to Mother Teresa as an example of “a love that abandons itself” in order to reach out to the forsaken. He recalled how she would always place a tabernacle at the center of each new community, thus keeping the Eucharist as the center of community life.
Priests must live out the Eucharist, said the Holy Father, reminding those present that “the Eucharist is not a closure to the rest of the world,” but rather, is open to the world's needs.

Priests in the Modern World

The Pope encouraged theologians to “be brave” in the midst of a world that excludes the Gospel.
Drawing on a distinction made by St. Bonaventure, he warned against a “theology of arrogance” that makes God a mere object rather than a subject speaking to us. Instead, the Pope said, priests must engage in a “theology stimulated by love” that seeks to dialogue with Love and come to a better knowledge of the Beloved.

He called on priests to have the “courage to go beyond positivism” and be “humble enough not to follow fads,” but instead to “live by the great faith of the Church at all times.”

“The true majority in the Church are the saints,” he said. “We must draw nourishment from them.”

The Pope explained that the faithful must “have faith in the life of the Church” while at the same time exercising critical thought. Emphasizing fidelity to the Church, he added that “the Catechism is the criterion by which we can judge whether a given theology is acceptable or not.”

Priestly Celibacy

One question directed to the Pontiff asked about “the true meaning and depth of ecclesiastical celibacy.”
The Pope began by emphasizing that the foundation of the priesthood is the celebration of the Eucharist. “Christ is drawing us into himself, allowing us to speak for him and with him,” he said. “He is at all times the only real priest, yet he is very present to the world today because he draws us into himself.”

Priestly celibacy must be understood in light of this unity with Christ, he continued. “We are going forth towards the life of Resurrection,” he said, a life in which “we will be beyond marriage.”

Therefore, he explained, “Celibacy is simply an anticipation, a foretaste, made possible by the grace of the Lord, that pulls us towards the risen world and helps us transcend ourselves.” In a world where people think only about the present and forget the future and eternity, priestly celibacy is a living witness and reminder of that reality to the world, the Pope remarked.

The Holy Father went on to discuss the ways in which priestly celibacy differs from the “increasingly fashionable” trend of simply “not getting married.” While the avoidance of marriage is based on a selfish rejection of commitment, celibacy means “saying that final yes,” he stated. “It is an act of trust, an act of fidelity.” In this way, “celibacy confirms the yes of marriage.”

The world does not understand this, the Holy Father observed, because in a world where there is no room for God, “celibacy is a scandal.” The Pope encouraged priests to let “the scandal of our faith” shine forth in their lives. (I'm pretty sure I would have done everything possible to avoid the language in this sentence--especially the word scandal in relation to the priesthood.)

Encouraging Priestly Vocations

Asked what priests can do to help “generate new vocations,” the Pope warned against the temptation to transform the priestly vocation into a mere job in order to attract larger numbers to the priesthood.
He recalled the Scripture story of how King Saul had been awaiting the necessary sacrifice before a battle, but when Samuel did not arrive, he tried to perform the sacrifice himself. Because Saul was not a priest, he had taken on a role that was not rightfully his.

In the same way, said the Pontiff, we must remember that a vocation is a calling that comes from God, not from our own doing. “We must avoid taking things into our own hands,” he said. Rather, we should “pray insistently for vocations” and wait with trust and humility for the Lord to answer our prayers. (The real question is what if you don't like the asnwer to your prayers? Do you continue to let the People of God go without the Eucharist waiting for God to give you the answer you want?)

Pope Benedict called upon priests to live out their priesthood “in a way that is persuasive” so that young people may see an example of the vocation lived fully. He also encouraged priests to speak to young men and help them find environments where they will be surrounded by faith and can be open to their calling.

Concluding the question-and-answer session, the Holy Father reminded those present to stay faithful to the Lord, maintaining the hope that “God will help us.”


Nothing Pope Benedict said in this homily surprises me. It certainly doesn't surprise me that he did not acknowledge the damage his corps of priests has done to the Church. I'm sure it frustrated the protesters who had gathered along with the thousands of priests, but this gathering was intended to serve as a priestly pep rally, not a confession of priestly inadequacy.

For anyone who held even the tiniest bit of hope that Benedict might look into priestly celibacy this homily should put an end to that hope. On the contrary, it looks like the Vatican intends to use priestly celibacy as another prop for the theology of traditional marriage. Priestly celibacy is now to foreshadow our heavenly sexless marriages and stand in direct contrast to all the other unmarried selfish people avoiding commitment. What is a good gay Catholic supposed to think now? Damned if you aren't celibate, and selfish and afraid of commitment if you are celibate? Sure sucks to be a gay Catholic these days. Come to think of it, I guess this means it sucks to be a heterosexual single as well. Maybe it's still OK to be a widow or a widower.

True Catholics can take some pride in Benedict's words, for they are all apparently on the path to be saints. If you don't know who a True Catholic is, just wait, they'll tell you--repeatedly. They also have no compunctions about letting a whole bunch of others know they aren't True Catholics. That's how I learned I was not a True Catholic. I guess I'm not a saint either, in spite of what it says on my jacket emblazoned with the Fighting Saint logo of my alma mater. Well, at least I got the fighting part right.

As to all those True Catholics who use the catechism as the rule book of life, I better stop making fun of that because according to Pope Benedict even the thoughts of theologians should be bounded by the catechism. But then why bother with theologians--other than him I mean. Might just as well stick with catechists. Oh wait a minute, maybe that's the whole idea. No more theologians except those who agree with Benedict. (Silly me. I knew that.)

I'm not sure I think using Mother Theresa as an example of the effect of the Eucharist on a religious life was a very good idea. While it is true that she had a tabernacle in all her centers, it's also true that it didn't turn on any light in the fifty year dark night of her soul. I might have used another example. Maybe someone like Padre Pio. Well maybe not. Pio actually did as Jesus did. You know actually healing people and looking into people's souls and levitating and talking to angels and all that kind of thing. That might be too much to expect for alot of today's priests. Besides a lot of them are perfectly content considering themselves ontologically higher up the spiritual food chain than the laity. They have the right to the Eucharistic miracle and don't need to bother with any of the rest of that stuff Jesus talked about and did, and the Apostles talked about and did, and the current Church talks about but hardly ever does.

The part that really confused me, at least at first, is when Benedict says laity must have faith in the life of the Church while at the same time exercising critical thought. Then I realized he must have meant exercising critical thought about the aspects of secular society that fail to meet the criterion of the catechism. Benedict doesn't really believe one can be critical of the church and maintain fidelity. He believes one demonstrates fidelity to the life of the Church by being critical of society. Jesus on the other hand was highly critical of religious authority while maintaining fidelity to His relationship with His Father. It appears a True Catholic must now stick fidelity to priestly religious authority smack dab in the middle of their relationship to Jesus. That's good for the continuance of the current priestly system, but not so good for Jesus's relationship with His people.

But let's face it, Benedict's version of Catholicism is not about Jesus. It's about the Catholic priesthood. In his system we Catholics really don't need Jesus to get in the way. We need celibate male priests to control our access to Jesus, and the Vatican to control the expression of the Holy Spirit, and the Blessed Virgin to hold our hands and assure this is all the way it's supposed to be, and God the Father to bless it.

Oh yea, and one pope to rule us all and in his darkness bind us. (oops, wrong movie)


  1. Hmm-I wonder if the priests gathering in Rome were mostly associated with the groups that made up the Pope's lay cheering section recently. In that context, I wonder whether the priests, like the lay folks, were associated with Opus Dei, Focolare, Neocatechumenate Way, Communion & Liberation, Legionaries of Christ, and similar groups?

  2. Padre Pio was a genuine & true saint.

    Mother Teresa was NOT a saint by ANY sane definition. For starters, a firm belief in God (which she did NOT have) is a necessary criterion.....

    ...unless of course 'saint' means:

    1. being a living example of the Leaven of Escriva
    2. self-BDSM (wearing a cilice)
    3. using the poor as a talking point - while treating them worse then sh*t while in your care.
    4. being constantly photo-oped in an attitude of prayer, brandishing a Rosary, & mouthing sweet pious sayings......while not believing in God, personally.
    5. committing massive, global charity fraud - by diverting monies contributed to the care of the Opus Dei projects.

    Shall I continue? :)

    Padre Pio was very much human & had very real personal faults. All true saints do. Yet he served God faithfully, helping countless souls by word & example. The gifts of healing & bilocation were given by God to him - NOT because he was 'good'- but as he served God well, IN SPITE OF his personal failings. God Willed these gifts neccessary to Pio's function.

    ...while Mother Teresa wallowed in unfaith.

    Anon Y. Mouse

  3. It's comforting to know saints have "very real personal faults" - gives us all hopes!

  4. Mother Teresa is the patron saint of doubt - the most profound doubt and the most profound faith in the face of that doubt. A great woman with many flaws and blind spots, who allowed herself to be used by ecclesiastical power. I met her once briefly in Calcutta for a private chat, supposedly when she was in the depths of despair and darkness, and myself and my friend were both struck by the extraordinary serenity and peace the woman exuded. And to see her in prayer before the Eucharist was an extraordinarily moving experience! Speaking as a drama teacher, there was nothing 'put on' about her attitude of profound reverence and heartfelt devotion. Utter simplicity and faith. When one later learns this was taking place in the midst of the deepest spiritual despair, well, that is sanctity of the highest order. A woman of many contradictions, whose fallibility is part of her witness. Don't rely on external authority or sacred cows (Popes) or great saints for any absolute and infallible guidance. We need fallible leaders and fallible saints. Padre Pio, another towering figure of Christian holiness, was outraged when his sister (for very good reasons) left the convent and he also felt women should not wear dresses above the ankles. And...what has not been well publicized but can be seen clearly in his letters, he spend most of his adult spiritual life in the depths of the dark night, devoid of consolation, very much like Mother teresa, doubting God and God's love for him, while giving the most extraordinary spiritual witness.

  5. Ruth Burrows, a Carmelite, in her spiritual autobiography, has also acknowledged a sense of the complete absence of God through her entire life - though no less a mystic than Sister Wendy - placed herself in the hands of Ruth Burrows in terms of obedience (she lives on the grounds of the same Carmelite monastery, as hermit) and it's very clear she is certain Ruth Burrows is a mystic as well.

    I've read Ruth Burrows for a long time and it's obvious she has "burrowed" to the depths of an authentic spirituality. She strongly believes there are two types of mystics. She calls them "light on" and "light off" mystics. The former powerfully experience the presence of God - sometimes in ways that also powerfully interfere with their ability to function well in the external world (at times). These "light on" mystics, according to Ruth Burrows, are thus able to explain the action of God, the developmental steps as it were. And Ruth Burrows believes that this ability to translate that into words is God's gift to them so they can give that to us. For mystics she calls "light off" - these are the persons who lack a sense of God's presence, who deeply experience the absence of God - and who thus may not know the depths to which they have arrived, unless someone with a "light on" experience can reflect that back to them.

    I do believe "it takes one to know one" - and we can't deny that God is present - irregardless of how anyone may feel - and that a sense of absence or doubt is no obstacle to the grace of God.

    It's more bothersome to me that "saints" are nearly always assumed to be "religious" and "celibate" and there is hardly any focus on the kinds of persons we might run into in normal life.

    The Orthodox Churches believe it is possible for anyone to attain to being a "God-bearer". So no focus on celibacy as a precondition, so to speak.

    Re priesthood and the Eucharist: Seems to me the focus of the pope is one as if "Eucharist" is between the priest and God rather than a focus on a Eucharistic community.

    So rather than a priest contenting himself with a devotion to the "Eucharist" - and it's "Dwelling Place" in the Tabernacle, as the pope mentioned, wouldn't it be better if the priest focused on "community" and Eucharist as a celebration of the transformation of persons, not just "species" to be placed in Tabernacles? Thus, the "United Living Body" of Eucharistic Christians as the "dwelling place" of Jesus and the focal point of the Eucharist. If community is the focus - which if you read John's Gospel (especially his farewell discourses) - then I suspect you'd get to a married priesthood as a "witness of community" focus.

    If priests came to reverence PEOPLE as God's dwelling place - however humble, however flawed, that just might make for a very different priesthood! Boy would they then be willing to wash feet!

    Bishops, take note.

    Then again... all of that may not be in the Catechism!

  6. "While the avoidance of marriage is based on a selfish rejection of commitment, celibacy means “saying that final yes,” he stated. “It is an act of trust, an act of fidelity.” In this way, “celibacy confirms the yes of marriage.”

    So now a priest who is celibate and avoids marriage and having children and having to obey the Catechism like the laity, confirms the yes of marriage.

    Pope Benedict uses a very broad brush, as usual, to explain his version of "reality" for the reality of millions of people. Some people should reject commitment because they are not capable or willing to make a commitment. Priests are quite capable of breaking their vows as well as the laity. Truthfully, one's status of celibate or not celibate has nothing to do with one's relationship with God.

    Interesting phrase here "final yes." Even though conversion is a process and always in process he forbids ever questioning one's initial decisions when they were younger and quite immature & all other factors. He says this final yes "is an act of trust, an act of fidelity." Pope Benedict's view of trust and fidelity. It's a marriage to the catechism whether you are a priest or married. This is really the "final yes" that the Pope recognizes and it is the final solution managed, produced and encouraged by Pope Bene upon everyone.

    There are many kinds of celibacy and not all are avoiding commitment. Celibacy in itself does not create Saints, and we know for sure that religion in itself has more a tendency to not create Saints but it creates hostility, doubt & tension and lack of commitment to love one another, love thy neighbor as thyself. Religions have more a record of creating hell for people on earth than they do in creating the circumstances for peace and love to thrive in the world. It seems to create more demons than saints in my opinion.

    When the Pope talks about "the world" he excludes himself. But he is very much a Chief spokesman of This World and makes sure that the world hears him and sees him and obeys him.

    He is the Pope of Law and Order and blind Obedience, a trait he inherited from his parents & his homeland in two World Wars. I wish that He knew Our Father and would focus on Jesus and the example He gave us with His life. Teaching priests and laity to be automatons for the Cathechism only breeds priests like Olmsted and laity like Deal Hudson.

    I believe that anyone who is truly a Christian becomes more like the Christ they are following. It is the world of the Vatican that has lost the Gospel's message to all people.

  7. There are a lot of great comments. I think the phenomenon of the dark night of the soul might be a product of having your innate definition of God blown out of the water, and not being able to replace it.

    One of the hardest things to deal with on a spiritual path is having to let go of what you think you know and the relational metaphors those assumptions engender. How do you relate to God when you've been brought to know that God is not what you think, or how do you relate to Jesus when you've been brought to know that Jesus is not just like those people you are most comfortable with, that He is far more. When you lose your moorings you can drift, sometimes for a very long time. The trick is to find certainty in uncertainty, to be comfortable with an inability to articulate your experiences, and then to realize you will be propelled to seek more of those experiences and not be afraid of that.

    Sometimes this does indeed make one indifferent to how one functions in the external reality, which is why community can be so critical, even if that community is just one other person.

    The thing I've noticed about seeking out spiritual mentors is how futile it is if those people have not had their view of reality rocked to it's core. I suppose that's why I wound up with Native mentors. To a person they had their view of how things worked blown sky high. Whether that was maintaining the traditional secrecy and initiation rituals or having to study quantum physics to understand what they were being shown, they were challenged to go beyond their religious assumptions.

    There are many many paths converging on a single center. You can fight that or you can accept it and move on. I think what happened with Mother Theresa is she went too far to be able to go back, but she couldn't move forward either. Her spiritual mentors were too solidly entrenched in the spirituality she had actually moved beyond. It's kind of ironic that she spent much of her life in India where the pursuit of non ordinary states of spirituality is most pronounced. She essentially made a desert of what could have been a spiritual oasis.