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A New Kind of Priest Print E-mail
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI   
Sunday, 01 September 2013

When the priest is ordained he is told: “imitate what you handle.” The reference, of course, is to Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus Christ is THE Priest. Priests simply participate in his priesthood. What would we get if we consider the priesthood starting with Jesus Christ and dropping the cultural baggage?

In a culture obsessed with leisure you will notice that Jesus never took time off to go fishing or meet with the guys over some wine. This was because Jesus is Priest. It was not a job like the men at the Temple had. He simply is priest as the total description of his existence. The ongoing inner sacrifice of the spirit and the external sacrifice of the Mass and of one’s own life happen continually and not on a schedule.

This is the priesthood the way that it shines out of Christ rather than being a job like filling teeth or selling shares. The sacrificial way of life does not shine through a meal of lobster and twenty-year-old brandy. It does shine through being with people and talking about Jesus Christ and sharing a simple meal with them. This is a horse of a different color – an informal life WITH people much like Pope Francis is living.

In a culture that is made up of what can only be called low-information people, the priest today has to be with people almost all of his day helping them to struggle with Catholicism, not so that people get their doctorates but so that they can learn to read their lives through the lens of Christ. Packaged catechetics for one hour a week, which ceases once the individual is confirmed, cannot serve such people.  

Priests will have to passionately want to share Catholicism and not just do sacramental ministry. Training has to change because candidates cannot necessarily do this merely by going to lectures. Seminaries have tried to copy Enlightenment-style universities that are not very effective in what they do anyway. These universities are agnostic and not a good model.

The other side of being in a low-information culture is that people generally are not logical. The Zimmerman trial was a classic illustration – many with definite opinions on the “guilt” of Zimmerman do not know the exculpatory forensic evidence that was presented. The case instead became a vehicle for their prejudices. This is sick in general culture, but imagine what it does when people try to approach being Catholic in the same way.


       The Last Supper by Joan de Joanes (c. 1562)

For them Catholicism is some collection of isolated ideas padded out with what they get from the pagan culture. So the priest has got to be able to spend hours with them to show that he is Christ, loves people and can take the abuse that often comes from helping them to think as a Catholic should. This does not come without lots of practice. A seminary does not offer this. It requires total immersion in being Christlike to even begin to see what it feels like and what it means.

Today’s priest has inherited a real problem. He is the heir to over a hundred years of priestly culture that has reified the priesthood, making it like being doctor who leaves work and the rest of the day is “his.” Further, the rest of the day is for “neutral” non-Christian activities. Living, as we do, in a Protestant culture means that clergy will be likely to unconsciously cast their own priesthood in terms of a protestant minister – hired by the community and so concerned not to upset them by teaching anything they won’t already accept.

Some priests do realize that they have to live the life of Christ as closely as possible. I am not speaking about them. The issue comes up when you have one priest who knows this and twenty others who are of the 9-to-5 variety. Where is the chance for collegial growth as priests in Christ?

There’s more. In a unisex culture, the priest is still supposed to be a male leading a parish that is spiritually receptive, that is spiritually feminine. He has to know and live out what true maleness is from Christ, the epitome of being male in this world. Then he can learn from Christ how to lead a Christian community. Of course, this depends on whether we believe in the Incarnation. Was Jesus truly a man? Or do we take the culture with its inevitable cloak of sin and the corresponding distortion of gender as the source of meaning?

Lastly, we live in a distraction-based culture. Every one of us is susceptible to the next shiny thing that comes along – a TV show, a new phone, a movie star’s wardrobe malfunction. You name it. Yet the priest still has to be Christ who is more attractive and more constant than any created thing.

This constancy, which translates into constant Christlike presence, is good for the priest and the people. Constancy in prayer and availability is Christlike. It is a great time to be a priest!

 
Fr. Bevil Bramwell is retired, a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the former Undergraduate Dean at Catholic Distance University. He has published Laity: Beautiful, Good and True and The World of the Sacraments.
 
 
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Comments (23)Add Comment
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written by Jack,CT, September 01, 2013
Father,Thanks for a gem of a article another
article of truth
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written by Howard Kainz, September 01, 2013
It's interesting, though, that the model of priesthood given to us by St. Paul -- plying a trade during the day, and ministering to the flock also -- has more or less disappeared in our day.
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written by Louise, September 01, 2013
Father, you truly nailed it with this article. I think the idea of the priesthood as a "job" has had a greater effect on the rest of us than we realize.
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written by Ray, September 01, 2013
Of course Jesus was Priest. He exemplified a dual being--
Priest and Victim. Do a bit of research from some of Bishop Sheen's writings on this topic. He had it right and he states that all priest must be both to truly carry out their mission of being Other Christ's.
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written by Fr. Bramwell, September 01, 2013
Thank you Jack. Good point Howard but as you know there are two possible historical influences: one is the drawing of the clergy into the state bureaucracy and the other is the influence of the linking of the clergy to the landed gentry. One also has to consider the increasingly larger groups of the faithful. Paul was not dealing thousands. A priest can barely serve them all if he is working full-time.
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written by jenny, September 01, 2013
How does a priest prepare himself to deal with women/ families in the church ? He, the priest experiences God through his "masculine" activities. I am wondering if a priest would be willing to go to a "pre-confession" to a woman; I mean, to friendly present his list of sins to a woman, prior to going to confession to a priest. This way , the priest will prepare himself to better understand a woman's confession.

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written by Mike McLaren, September 01, 2013
I don't know if you had this in mind, but this piece really makes the case for priests remaining single. I recently had a discussion with someone in regards to priests having families, maybe I'll pass this along to them.
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written by ZuzanaM, September 01, 2013
Jenny, you are thinking like most women of your generation, raised in a postmodern Western culture. I was married for thirty years to a Lutheran pastor. While Lutheranism no longer has the practice of confession, women, in particular, go to their male pastors for counseling. My husband, married and father of four daughters, doesn't understand women any better than a Catholic priest, of his own merit, would. BUT unlike the Protestant churches, the Catholic Church has the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Our priests when ordained receive the specific grace from God to serve in persona Christi when they administer the Sacraments. Not all priests will remain obedient to their vows and not all will surrender to the graces necessary to minister to their flock. However, the vast majority of priests will. It is a reflection of our trust in God and His power to accomplish His Will through the priesthood, therefore, that sends a woman into the Confessional, fully given to the Sacrament of Repentance and the priest who absolves her, 'in the name of The Father, Son and Holy Spirit',
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written by FR Pastor, September 01, 2013
I am not sure I totally agree. Jesus actually spent much time with his disciples, not working in the fields, but at wedding receptions and other events. He even occasionally said, "Come and rest awhile." I also do not find a lot of people who have a healthy understanding of leisure or a focus on it. Instead, I see people having the need to stay busy and work seven days a week. Also, what about priests who are assigned work in universities? Is their work less than priests in parishes? Of course priests can be lazy, lock themselves off from others, but staying busy just by itself is not the answer either. A better way to describe it is an orderly life in which a priest pours his life out for his flock. This can include time for personal prayer, a yearly retreat and even vacation in accord with Canon Law.
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written by Fr. Bramwell, September 01, 2013
Hi FR Pastor thank you. The real point of the column was to beg for someone in the parish who spend hours and hours helping people with their Catholicism. I have never seen anyone do this in my entire life yet I perceive that it is more needed now than ever before. I am painfully aware that perhaps one or two percent of people are being helped to develop their Catholic lives. My concern is the other 99%.
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written by PewSitter88, September 01, 2013
I posit that it is too late for Catholicism here in Amerika. Waaaay too many parishes are, for all practical purposes, Protestant. When confronted with a priest who actually follows Rome, the flock revolts and goes to the Methodist church down the street.
Better for the church to start pulling priests, nuns, and bishops out of Amerika and send them to Africa and South America. They need and want to follow Rome.
Wait a few centuries for the barbaric culture here to burn itself out, then reseed with the faithful of the day.
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written by Bangwell Putt, September 01, 2013
I have been thinking about this very subject as it affects those of us who are members of the laity. In these times when religious faith is being actively repressed, one finds oneself living a separate reality; one's primary frame of reference is regarded as an oddity.

As in the life of a priest, so in the lives of the laity. Now, on this day and every day, there can be no "taking for granted" of anything at all. One's life is sharply focused on God, on the Catholic faith and the sacraments, on the Church's charitable works, on the needs of one's neighbors, on Christianity and Bible teaching as it was once woven into the very fabric of American life.

It should always been that way. To some extent, it was but not enough.
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written by Deacon Ed Peitler, September 01, 2013
Father, you say what many of us have only been thinking for quite some time. Thanks go out to you.

#1 I have seen promotional material from some diocesan vocations departments that extol the "perks" that go along with being a priest. I have often thought that if you want to increase vocations, you will have to say something like this: "long hours, sleep regularly interrupted by sick and death bed calls in the middle of the night, vilification for speaking the truth boldly, little pay, having to serve thousands of souls, continuous sacrificing of one's life so that others' souls might be saved, etc etc. Now those are the kinds of things that someone would be willing to give their life for. After all, if you promise a life of luxury, the "world" can provide this and more.

#2 I have often thought that the diaconate is a wasted waystation for far too many priests. It is time used to prepare for the "big day." Besides making a mockery out of the charism of the deacon, it also is poor preparation for the priesthood. Being configured to Christ as servant is central to the ministry of the deacon. Far better preparation for the priesthood would be for "transitional deacons" (I loathe that term) to spend one year in ministry to the poorest of the poor. This would mean full time work in a soup kitchen or work among the poor in Central America or Africa. There is no better way to understand that the priesthood is about sacrifice.

#3 I had a physician-friend some years back tell me the story of how on a particular Wednesday he picked up a hitchhiker (this was back in the good old days). The hitchhiker looked in the back seat of the MD's car and saw golf clubs and said to my friend: "Are you a doctor?" Let's hope the same stereotype never applies to our priests.
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written by TomD, September 01, 2013
@jenny: "How does a priest prepare himself to deal with women/families in the church?"

A good place to start, for priests and for laymen, is through the life and faith of Our Lady, The Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the quintessential Christian. There can be no patriarchy, and no predominately masculine focus, where there is The Blessed Virgin.

She must be the model for us all, of how to live the life of faith.
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written by profling, September 01, 2013
I can see why being a priest is so easy now: he doesn't need to study Latin for mass or chant, and he has the women in the parish do all the work, from reading to ushering to distributing Eucharist.
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written by Bruno, September 01, 2013
Father, a very good article with very good insights. First one has to have a concept before one can have action. Your's definitely deserves full support especially what the seminary does not provide. Outstanding!
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written by Fr. G, September 01, 2013
Father -- I agree overall. We are to be Priests/Victims in imitation of Christ. All the time. Not just 9-5. I can honestly say that in my seminary formation we were not at all prepared in a clerical culture you describe: "Today’s priest has inherited a real problem. He is the heir to over a hundred years of priestly culture that has reified the priesthood, making it like being doctor who leaves work and the rest of the day is “his.” Further, the rest of the day is for “neutral” non-Christian activities. Living, as we do, in a Protestant culture means that clergy will be likely to unconsciously cast their own priesthood in terms of a protestant minister – hired by the community and so concerned not to upset them by teaching anything they won’t already accept." There's another reality: the sacramental/catechetical/counseling demands of those who still do come to Mass (with whatever understanding of being Catholic) is enough to keep one busy morning till night (this in a parish of some 1100 or so registered folks. Of course, the parish consists of all the souls in the counties in the parish boundaries - but that is just theory at this point). I was ordained in June. I have never been busier in my life. I love my parish and my people. But we have to start focusing our energies as well ... and we have to ask ourselves: what is the parish for? What is all this activity oriented to? Are people actually falling in love with Christ? Are they becoming disciples? Is Christ really the center of the lives of all? The honest answer has to be that this is not true for many, maybe very many of our people. So. Forming disciples. Who live for Christ and seek to follow His will first. This too is the task of the priest, the spiritual father. Taking the vocation of the laity seriously, to be holy, and missionaries, in the world. And forming them for this task. I think forming mature Christian disciples has to be our central task. Else our vanishing Catholic identity will not withstand the corrosive tides of secularism.
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written by Greg, September 01, 2013
A good place to start, for priests and for laymen, is through the life and faith of Our Lady, The Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the quintessential Christian. There can be no patriarchy, and no predominately masculine focus, where there is The Blessed Virgin.

How can that be given that our Lady lived her whole life in patriarchy and the Church has been patriarchal from the beginning.
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written by John, September 01, 2013
Priests know how to present the Blessed Virgin Mary as an inspiration for us men to protect our women from rape and domestic violence. A good homily about Virgin Mary would also teach us men to be responsible for the children we men procreate and then lovingly place in the womb of our wives.
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written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, September 02, 2013
Fr G wrote " Of course, the parish consists of all the souls in the counties in the parish boundaries - but that is just theory at this point"

There is a great debate going on in France, at the moment over what they call "the territorial ministry." Put shortly, is a parish priest's primary duty to his congregation or to his parishioners? Put another way, is the Catholic Church a sect, ministering to its own members, or is it, since it has been since the baptism of Clovis the church of the nation?
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written by TeaPot562, September 02, 2013
A priest today should also fill the role of a Prophet, preaching against sins present in the wider culture and calling for observance of morality. Consider the widespread tolerance for sex-outside-of-marriage (aka fornication), abortion and contraception. A common sin in our anglophone culture (US, Canada and UK) has been the failure of many bishops to speak to these issues, and to support those priests who faithfully present Church teachings.
The decades since Humanae Vitae was published (1968?) have been marked as a swamp of apparent tolerance for sins on the part of many Catholic clergy and laity who rejected HV; and have caused bad decisions and evil in millions of lives.
May God forgive us.
TeaPot562
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written by Paulo, September 03, 2013
Who were the "men at the Temple" referred to by the author in the second paragraph? Jews? Roman authorities? Other pagan worshippers (the greeks met by St. Paul)? What's the biblical source for that?
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written by Fr. Bramwell, September 03, 2013
Paulo, there were priests in the Temple!

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