Thoughts After a Post-Meditation Get together with Priests: During the Lock-down via “Zoom”

All 6 of them were working hard at being priests during the Covid 19 pandemic. Their mission continued to be saying Mass, administering the sacraments and hearing confessions, walking around the church, confession from separate cars, anointing as people are carried out/by on stretchers, etc. The get together with them sounded, in part, like triage. And it was totally correct and good.

However, I had preached on the positive effect of the virus – like the exterminating Angel of the Passover – driving everybody into the home where an interpersonal intensity that is always relegated to the margins can find its true source – the family. They were mumbling and chagrined by the limits the bishops were imposing by closing the churches and making access to the sacraments scarce in conformity with the cautionary protocol of civil government. I couldn’t help but admire them and feel that way myself but I found myself (and am) a broken down conformist in a world of future champions for Christ on the battle line. One of the priests voiced the shibboleth: “We still have a mission.” And they fulfill that mission  by making  the Mass and sacraments available. And I believe that heartily. I spend most of my priestly time, and will spend the non quarantined time allotted to me in the car doing the same. But there was something bothering me about the get together. On waking this morning, I understood what was bothering me.

 

This may not be fair, but I had the impression that the priests saw their priestly mission as functional and minimalist as in administering the sacraments as the whole point. In  the meditation, I was preaching as a priest to priests, but I understood my mission as accompanying the laymen I live with, loving them, living with them, affirming them, yes, preaching the Word and the spirit of the Work, the Magisterium of the Church and making the Mass and the sacraments (especially penance) available to them at all times. Basically, to be wide open and notoriously available for friendship, consultation or spiritual advice.  My mission as priest is to serve but with particular emphasis on doing and disappearing, not as charismatic religious leader. I am deathly afraid of the spiritual worldliness of clericalism in the priest. I understand my mission to be clear and  straight forward for the laity to be very good in their professional work which is the litmus test of their putting their heart into it for Christ, and this by finishing it well (sanctifying it). As Escriva heard it in a Mass he celebrated on August 7, 1931, Christ wanted to be ensconced at the top of all human activities. That’s the mission, and you do that only by finishing work well, and you do that only with heart. Nay that is done by Christ in you and you in Christ.

 

That’s my mission as a priest, and, to be honest, I think it is the mission of every priest, religious or secular, who works with people who live and work in the middle of the world. I p reached a meditation to priests yesterday with a short get together afterwards with some give and take. What I got in the take bothered me but I couldn’t  immediately put my finger on it. I asked for light last night and when I got up this morning my finger was on it.

 

To explain this let me use an example of Cardinal Ratzinger when he speaks on the topic of authority and infallibility in the Church.

 

“The Study Guild makes its own ‘all those declarations of the Magisterium issued under the prerogative of infallibility, which belongs to the Church as Christ ‘s gift,’ whereas in all of her judgments, the decision would depend on the weight of argument. Initially, this sounds very illuminating, but on closer examination it proves to be quite problematical, since it means for all intents and purposes that doctrinal decisions can exists – if at all – solely in  situations where the Church may lay claim to infallibility; outside of this sphere, only argument would hold weight. The result is that there could be no certainty shared by the whole community of the Church. It seems to me that we have before us a typically Western restriction and legalistic reduction of the notion of faith which radicalizes certain one-sided developments  which begin to make their  appearance around the High Middle Ages, A parallel may render the issue clearer: from about the thirteenth century on, interest in t he conditions necessary for validity begins to push every other consideration to the margin of sacramental theology. Increasingly, everything ceases to matter except the alternative between valid and invalid. Those elements which do not affect validity appear to be ultimately trivial and interchangeable. Thus, in the case of the Eucharist, for example, this is expressed in an ever-stronger fixation on the words of consecration; that which is actually constitutive for validity becomes more and more strictly limited. Meanwhile, the eye for the living structure of te Church’s liturgy is progressively lost. Everything other than the words of consecration appears to be mere ceremony, which happens to have evolved into its present form but in principle might just as easily have been omitted. The characteristic nature of liturgy and the irreplaceable liturgical sense cease to be regarded as important, falling as they do outside the narrow limits of a legally defined minimalism. But the truth that this juridically necessary factor retains its meaning solely when it remains within the living totality of the liturgy had to be relearned only with great labor. A good part of the liturgical crisis of the Reformation was due to these constrictive tendencies, which are also the key to understanding the liturgical crisis of the present. If today the entire liturgy has become the playground of private ‘creativity,’ which can romp at will just as long as the words of consecration are kept in place, at work is the same reduction of a vision whose origin lies in an erroneous development typical of the West but quite unthinkable in the Eastern Church.”[1]

            I fear the same minimalism and clericalism may be at work in the priets.

[1]  J. Ratzinger, “The Ecclesial vocation of the Theologian,’ a. Authority only in the case of infallibility?’ in “The  Nature and Mission of Theology,” Ignatius (1995) 111-112.

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