March 4, 2006
This week's Parish World has an article in it taken from "The Enterprise", a local newspaper from South Boston, Massachusetts. The featured individual is a man who has, at the age of 27, decided to become a priest. He will live and work at a local parish before going back to the seminary to finish his last four years of study. The article states that he "is convinced that the priesthood is attracting higher quality candidates in the aftermath of the abuse crisis."
I smile when I read assertions like this. I wonder what baseline people use when they make claims of this nature. I ask myself, "higher quality than whom? Than when? Better than John Bosco? Better than Jean Marie Vianney? Better than John Carroll? Better than Maximilian Kolbe? Better than Isaac Jogues? Better than Vincent de Paul? I could go on and on, but you get the point.
Better quality of what? All the individuals above are saints. That must mean that they had a very solid spiritual life. That was a must. Their education was focused on becoming apostles, fearless disciples of Jesus Christ, true zealous sons of the Church. Their spirituality was wrought in the crucible of traditional monasticism topped off by hard driving missionary ferocity in obedience to Jesus' commissioning in Matthew 28. The success of their lives was measured by the final judgement described in Matthew 25.
It is impossible to judge the quality of the priest until he dies. The priests of today, while alive and working, have to be brave souls indeed. They are sent to minister to communities of people who outrank them in life-style comforts; who outrank them in large part by the quality of their educational credentials; who outrank them by their knowledge of people management; who are far better than the priests are in the management of business operations; who have a world view that encompasses a broader exposure to the various cultures found in the world. Are the candidates who are preparing for the priesthood going to be better priests than what we already have? Why?
Will it be because they have better educational credentials? Will it be because they have gone through co-ed colleges and universities? Will it be because they will have law degrees? Business degrees? Accounting degrees? Psychology degrees? or will it be because they will be better taught in Theology? Philosophy? Will they understand ancient Greek better? Will their ancient Hebrew be stronger? Will they be fluent in Latin? Will they be better prepared to face the onslaught of the Chinese economic machine? Will they be better Church Pharisees, keepers and purveyors of the Law? Or finally, and, I might add, most importantly, will they be able to be better disciples? Better Fishers of People? Will they love Jesus more? Will they pray better?
This article doesn't address any of these questions. It makes a gratuitous statement that it doesn't back up. My opinion is that the candidates for the priesthood are today of the same quality as seminarians have always been. They may be better educated and they may have more "real life" experience, but they are no better than the spiritual life of the disciple that they will lead. To be a true disciple, means that the follower has no baggage and no desire to acquire any. When today's seminarians prove tomorrow that the priesthood that they have lived was the life of a true disciple of the light, then we will rejoice at their funeral and there will be cause for celebrating, not for crying.
But for now they should focus on their rebirth in the Spirit and the constant conversion and reconversion that true discipleship requires. We call it, the search for perfection. Go for it, guys.
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