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Saturday, September 3, 2011

The nature of priesthood (A far more serious question)

An interesting undercurrent began emerging in recent months, and especially these past days, of an underlying issue far more important than what happens to Fr. Roy Bourgeois, or even the radical and verboten topic of women's ordination (which we Maryknollers, being loyal sons of the church, would not even dare think of discussing, but which Maryknollers might, out of curiosity, just want to check out Knollnews 2.0 on the MK Bulletin Board in a few hours!)

The topic of greater import, and one which as of September 3, 2011 we are still allowed to consider, is the very nature of the Roman Catholic priesthood as it is presently construed.

Needless to say, over the millennia the priesthood has picked up a lot of superfluous baggage. (Although, I suppose, if one did it right, your curate or deacon would carry the baggage for you.)

From the militaristic trappings of the Roman imperial court to the Byzantine (in both senses of the would) accoutrements, today's priests are a far cry from the earliest presbyters of the NT, resembling more the Levitical priesthood ministering in the Temple.

But beyond that, many of us dining al fresco at the Knoll yesterday admitted that our seminary training gave us absolutely no preparation for the things we actually encountered as priests and pastors: preparing and balancing the budgets, dealing with leaking pipes and roofs and obstinate contractors, exercising leadership in an egalitarian rather than authoritarian manner.

Yes, we were well schooled in the art of priestcraft (I thank Fr. Richard Rohr for that phrase!), but unless we quickly learned the prudent practice of delegating to far-more qualified lay people, we bumbled through as best we could. Those who entered the seminary later in life after having successful business careers fared far better.

It seems to me that today's priesthood is comprised of the sacramental ministries, spiritual counseling, preaching, decision-making authority, clericalism and ecclesial power (or the lack thereof, depending on how badly one harbors the illusion of becoming bishop.)

In all this (officially non-existent) talk about ordaining women to the priesthood in the Catholic Church, shouldn't we first stop to ask want kind of priesthood we are ordaining them to?

Case-in-point, back in the day when we still had a School of Theology here at Maryknoll, among our students was a woman Anglican priest. She was refused permission to offer Mass with her classmates in either our main or Lady Chapel (topic for another blog!) but could have an outdoor Mass on our patio behind the Founder's Room.

Things went liturgically well until Communion time when she would allow only consecrated hands to minister the chalice.

See? Gender does not protect against clericalism and a Roman collar alone does not a true priest of Jesus Christ make.

The gospels are quite clear. Jesus wants his apostles to be SERVANTS; and not to lord it over one another, and to be the least if we want to be the greatest, and be willing to wash one another's feet all the time, not just once a liturgical year.

IMHO, Jesus called men and not women precisely because women already were servants. He asked men to do what women were already doing.

Unless we recapture the spirit of service as essential to priesthood, things will only get worse, as first we embrace married male clergy in a vain attempt to hold onto male dominance and then (although highly unlikely), women clerics in order to simply hold onto power.

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