Future Priests of the Third Millennium

A little insight into the life of seminarians from various dioceses preparing for ministry as Roman Catholic priests, including daily activities, personal interests, special events, the spiritual life, news from the seminary, and almost whatever comes to our minds!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Difficult Questions

Recently, I've had some questions come my way that were not the usual questions and were a bit more difficult to answer. After speaking with each of my interlocutors, I ended up feeling what C. S. Lewis tried to describe in his essay, The Weight of Glory. The weight, for Lewis, is the duty to attempt to uphold the truth, while making it accessible to others and bearing with their weaknesses all at the same time. In saying this, I don't mean to demean my interlocutors, but it's only natural when someone is trying to learn something new or understand something that is familiar but which they've never understood.

The first was a conversation with my eight year-old niece over the phone. She called when she was talking with her folks. You see, she is disgusted by blood and guts. So, she cringes at the idea of drinking someone's blood, and therefore at the idea of communion. So, I had to find a way to explain to her that it really is blood, but what is in the chalice doesn't look, taste, feel, smell, or sound like blood. For some reason, that never consoled her. And here's the difficulty, and maybe some of you parents are very familiar with this situation: You want them to receive communion and the consequent graces, you don't want to turn them away from it, but you also want them to understand the truth of the matter. So, when my niece kept coming back to, "So, is it really blood?" I didn't want to say something which she may later discover is a lie, yet I had to find a way of carefully answering, "Yes, it really is blood."

The best I could do was only slightly abate her disgust by saying that this is a one-in-a-kind miracle. With other things, they always look and feel like what they actually are, but the Eucharist is different. Jesus knows that it is not good to drink another's blood, except for this one time when we eat his body or drink his blood. So, he doesn't have it look like his real body or his real blood. He wants to give us his body and blood like he did when he gave himself totally for us on the cross. But the cross was only once, and it is in the past. So, for us to share in his total gift of himself, he gave us his gift of the cross in the Eucharist. I don't think that took away all her problems, but it did enough that she yet received communion the next day on Sunday.

The other came from someone asking about whether "for you Catholics," do you think the pope will ever let women have more responsibility in ministry or let priests be married? To a certain extent, I was foolish not to see what lay behind these, and I was even more foolish not to ask why she wanted to know. Yet, if we always only ask, "What is at stake for you in this question?" we might avoid ever having to answer the question, and then we avoid ever coming to the truth, or at least presenting the truth such that the other person might encounter it (Him).

Anyhow. I answered both questions: "Women already have a greater share in the work of the hierarchical church, but they will never be able to exercise that ministry which is specific to priests. John Paul II finally made explicit what Catholics had always believed, and he made it clear that this belief was a definitive belief which will never change. Insofar as married priests go, it's possible. In fact, it exists already in the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church. Yet, bishops have almost always been celibate and are celibate everywhere today. The tradition of celibate clergy is an ancient one. In Protestant communities (where they have married ministers and female ministers) they are experiencing a shortage of ministers. Celibacy itself is praiseworthy. So, do I think it will it change? No." Her response was long and elaborate, but eventually it became clear what the real issue was: the sexual abuse crisis.

Looking back at the conversation, it was difficult. The media, in general, has rightly portrayed some of what happened. Yet, the coverage gave (and yet gives) impressions which are flatly untrue. First, this is a widespread problem among most priests. Second, the cause is the law of celibacy. Third, it would all be solved by "new models of ministry," i.e., married clergy and female priests. Fourth, the problem of sexual abuse is a problem almost solely for Catholic clergy. And on and on. In the end, I discovered the best thing I could do was simply listen, uphold the integrity of the Catholic Faith and attempt to witness with my own devotion to the goodness and the truth of what it is I am committing my life to. Assuredly, God will take care of the rest.


Adoro te Devote said...

Those questions are always difficult. The one with the children...yeah..parents struggle to answer that, too. And I don't feel real equipped to answer how to best answer...all children are different in what they can understand.

The celibacy issue, the "women priest" issue...those are more complicated. They involve theology that goes into history, that gets into the supernatural in a world that is shaped by political models of leadership. The fact that the Church and our beliefs transcend the physical and political world is alien to even cradle Catholics.

I recently learned of a book, cant' remember the author, but the title is something like, "All Doctrine (or Dogma) is Political."

(Sorry, unsure of the title.) It makes me cringe...because that's a snapshot of what so many people believe. So not only do we as educated Catholics (um...forever being educated) have to get the Truth out there, we have to deprogram people from all the bad stuff they've learned and that has shaped them.

It takes more than a conversation.

Adoro te Devote said...

I've had to try to address those questions, too, and they aren't easy.

The celibacy/women priest issues are more difficult because they involve addressing a world view that is so politicized it can't see that the Church and our leadership transcends man-made designs. And pre-dates it.

Not only do we have to teach the Faith truly, but we have to deprogram people who have been raised in a culture that colors everything as "political" and "democratic" in nature.

Anonymous said...

Celibacy is an amazing witness to the faith. In our sex-obsessed culture, nothing could seem like a greater sacrifice to those who don't understand it. As I've said before, hooray for our priests!

Adoro te Devote said...

Oh, sorry about the two posts saying the same thing, basically. I'd gotten an error message and so thought it hadn't posted at all!

And I second what anon said...celibacy IS an incredible witness, and one DESPERATELY needed in our society!

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