The Year of the Priest ends

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I must admit that this Year of the Priest left me rather cold. I could not connect with it. I’m not sure why. Was it that most of the talk of priesthood was from a diocesan point of view? Was it because it highlighted the vocation of the priest in contrast to other vocations? No, I don’t think so. That’s all good. I guess it felt like there was a return to a certain elitism or clericalism associated with this year. As well, with the abuse scandal the timing may not have been right. I also wonder if the direction of the priesthood in certain circles is focusing more and more on “externals” that really don’t matter so much. Recently in the NCR, Eugene Kennedy goes off on the whole crusade against gay seminarians and blames a poor theology of priesthood for the current challenges.

Such preposterous theologizing is far more responsible for the sex abuse crisis than permitting homosexuals to serve as priests. Thousands of mature gay men possess the one true qualification for the priesthood and it transcends sex, gender, or wacky theological ideas — the ability to make healthy relationships with other people.

Ask lay people who pick this up right away. Turn all recruitment over to them immediately. They know who is healthy and who is not and they would quickly replace the question of whether we should keep gays out of the priesthood with a better one — Who let so many immature, self-centered lovers of Vatican I vestments and clerical privilege into the priesthood?

Well, the year has come to an end and Pope Benedict in his homily this morning for the conclusion of the Year of the Priest preached about its meaning. Rightly so, the Holy Father warns about a “functional” approach to priesthood. It’s not a job… it’s a life.. it’s a love life. In that sense Kennedy and B16 are pretty much on the same page. However I fear that some of the “spiritual” focus on priesthood’s nature will lead people to fail to be human enough to be good priests. But as the Pope mentioned in his homily… the gift of God’s vocation comes to earthen vessels. Let’s pray for our priests that they might truly be honest vessels, human fully, and open to God’s grace.

We too insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again; and that in admitting men to priestly ministry and in their formation we will do everything we can to weigh the authenticity of their vocation and make every effort to accompany priests along their journey, so that the Lord will protect them and watch over them in troubled situations and amid life’s dangers. Had the Year for Priests been a glorification of our individual human performance, it would have been ruined by these events. But for us what happened was precisely the opposite: we grew in gratitude for God’s gift, a gift concealed in “earthen vessels” which ever anew, even amid human weakness, makes his love concretely present in this world. So let us look upon all that happened as a summons to purification, as a task which we bring to the future and which makes us acknowledge and love all the more the great gift we have received from God. In this way, his gift becomes a commitment to respond to God’s courage and humility by our own courage and our own humility. The word of God, which we have sung in the Entrance Antiphon of today’s liturgy, can speak to us, at this hour, of what it means to become and to be a priest: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29).