December 26, 2009

Priesthood Fail

One thing that really gets me is when someone is evaluated or judged on criteria that have not been articulated or previously agreed upon. It just seems so unjust to me. But am I also guilty, in a way? Here's what I'm thinking about:

One of the most unpleasant duties of my employment as parish priest is when I have to thwart what folks want to do. A couple of examples will illustrate what I'm talking about. Many times in the course of my ministry I have the singularly rotten duty of trying to explain to the recently bereaved that if they choose to cremate their dead, they are still obligated to bury or entomb the remains. Cremated remains are due the same respect, and are to be handled in the same way as a body. On the other side of life, I often have to tell new parents that the persons they have chosen as their child's godparents are ineligible for the role, either because they have not completed their own sacramental initiation, are not (yet) seeking convalidation for marriages contracted outside of canonical form, or are simulating marriage through cohabitation.

To these, and many other similarly combative assertions I have to make, I often receive the very annoyed answer, 'Well, I never heard of that.'

Now I'm not forgiving the voluntary ignorance of Catholics who have not made any effort to be informed about the faith. But have I been complicit with it?

How often have I tried to stir up the eagerness of adults to complete their sacramental initiation through Confirmation? Have I preached that eligibility for joys like sacramental sponsorship presupposes it?

How often have I preached on the expectations of Catholics with regard to marriage? How often have I preached against cohabitation or getting married at city hall? And if I have not preached on the meaning of marriage, should I be surprised when Catholics have such an impoverished sense of what marriage is that they don't automatically see through this nonsense about same-sex marriage being some kind of 'civil right'?

How often have I preached--apart from funerals themselves--on the meaning of Christian death and the destiny of the physical body?

Have I preached against the crime of abortion? Even though the warnings of Humanae vitae have turned out to be uncannily prophetic, am I still afraid to preach against artificial birth control and other so-called 'reproductive technologies' that deny the dignity of the human person?

I say all this because I don't think I've done it, nor is it my experience that priests tend to preach on such things. Most priests want to be nice, so we don't preach in such a way as to make demands, or tell people what they have to do. But if I don't do these things, should I be surprised when folks say, 'Well, I never heard of that.'? If they have never heard of some Catholic teaching or ordinary expectation of Catholic life, it's my fault, and I can expect to be held accountable for it at my judgment, at least in part.

It's not fair for me to call people on their ignorance if I have refused to be their teacher.

May God help me to live up to Presbyterorum ordinis 6:

Priests therefore, as educators in the faith, must see to it either by themselves or through others that the faithful are led individually in the Holy Spirit to a development of their own vocation according to the Gospel, to a sincere and practical charity, and to that freedom with which Christ has made us free. Ceremonies however beautiful, or associations however flourishing, will be of little value if they are not directed toward the education of men to Christian maturity. In furthering this, priests should help men to see what is required and what is God's will in the important and unimportant events of life. Also, Christians should be taught that they live not only for themselves, but, according to the demands of the new law of charity; as every man has received grace, he must administer the same to others. In this way, all will discharge in a Christian manner their duties in the community of men.


Tc said...

Perhaps, in this messed up world, people most need to hear about abstractions like love- and how God is it. The Donahues and Arroyos have the social issues pretty wrapped up, ad nauseum at times. My 2p.

Merry Christmas!

Brother Charles said...

My heart and head agree with you, Thom, and I thank you for your encouragement.

I just feel like I am unfair in my job when I have to say no all the time on issues which I have been loath to bring up in preaching.

Hidden One said...

Father, you have written, in my estimation, a very good post. I have some comments on it and Thom's comment.

1. Most pewdwellers don't know about Arroyo and Donahue et al. If they do, they often don't like 'em.

2. I note, also, that Thom seems to be creating a dichotomy between "abstractions" like God and His Nature and practices (even Sacraments, as if Mysteries are not also abstract) of the Church. Do not the later flow from the former, at the very least?

3. Forgive me, elders, (for you are to me), but I do not see how one could even have a good homily on respecting the human body or Catholic marriage practice without delving into (indeed, basing the homily on) "abstractions". If it's possible, so be it, but why bother?

Unknown said...

Brother Charles,
I can't speak for too many of the issues you mentioned, although here in my corner of the Archdiocese of Newark, NJ, we don't often hear about those things you mentioned either. However if I could offer one humble idea/suggestion: on the topic of abortion, you may want to think about contacting you local Respect Life Office and see if they have anyone who has been through post-abortion healing and is willing to give their witness. I and another woman from this archdiocese have been doing this for some time now and it proves to be quite effective.
Just my 2 cents.
Thanks for your humble honesty in this post.
God bless and Merry Christmas!

Bless said...

Father Charles... these rules that they have never heard of can sometimes be true because they are sometimes too busy to look into the details. It is normal for them to be on denial when things do not go their way. My suggestion is to let answer them "I am glad to be the one to tell you these" there is a little sarcasm but the good Lord will understand, because your mission is to teach them the correct way of being a Catholic.

Anonymous said...

Father Charles, you raise an interesting point when you say that sometimes people react to some less than positive news you have to deliver by saying 'I have never heard of that." Unfortunately, they may not have,
because the quality of their faith education and/or the homilies they hear on Sundays. I also think that in the past these issues were not as pronounced because 1)Catholics tended to be more familiar with the basic tenets of their faith and 2) more accepting of a priest's instructions in those things with which they might not be familiar. So most Catholics knew that you could not have your brother-in law who had received no sacraments since baptism be a godfather to your baby, or cremate a relative and scatter their ashes somewhere. If anyone did believe such things, the word of the priest was final, not a matter for incredulity and debate.

Tina aka Snupnjake said...

Fr. Charles,
the problem isn't necessarily you and your lack of preaching on these topics. My guess is that on a typical Sunday the people who need to hear these topics aren't at Mass. You can find them on Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday and Easter. Not exactly the time to bring up most of these topics. Well Ash Wednesday might. I can see this homily for Easter: have you thought about what will happen to your body when you die, cause you won't be rising in 3 days.

As to the saying no thing, if you are clear and point out the rules and are consistent in applying them, most people will get over it. I was turned down for being a Godmother (although I already was one for her older sister) not because I wasn't a Catholic in Good Standing (I had a letter from my priest) or because I hadn't completed my own Sacramental Initiation (I have) but because I wasn't registered in a territorial parish. Had Father told me I needed to be registered in my territorial parish, I would have registered. I'm still confused as to how that works.

OOO I know! you can make pamphlets and hand them out before Mass for people to read during Mass (;p) or hand them out with the palms...

You are only unfair when you don't apply the rules consistently to everyone.

Have a Merry Christmas season!

A Secular Franciscan said...

You can preach about thise things -over the years. To hit them all at once, echh.

Besides, can you get people to pay attention?

I used to write for and edit a Catholic newspaper. Every year, for example, we'd run articles about the Church's marriage rules in a "Wedding" supplement. Months later, when a Catholic couple or two were about to get married, we'd invariably get complaints about never running articles about the rules regarding marriage. We did, we had, but they were not paying attention until it was important to them. So it is with preaching. You could hit them for weeks on end about the rules, the teachings, and you can bet that months later someone will express ignorance of them or complain that you never talk about such things.

Here's an idea: A catechesis corner in the bulletin. Every week run something about one of those teachings people often forget/neglect/don't know.

Qualis Rex said...

Hello Father Charles! As I have been away for Christmas, please accept my Merry Christmas belatedly. Your post is very insightful and I am so glad you are asking yourself these questions. My short and obscenely opinionated answer is No, you should not feel guilty for having to lay down the law, canonically speaking. And yes, you should take a very proactive role in teaching these canons to your parishoners as often as possible. Maybe add a short "Did you know..." section in the church bulletin that repeats in a very compassionate way the answers to these very troubling questions which seem to come up ad infinitum. And a kind mention here or there during the announcements throughout the year could work. You'll find the right formula that works for your parish and your conscience. On that I am certain.

Kevin F said...

I am glad I am not you. It sounds like you might be glad you're not me. We should go bowling.

I came across your post the other day after I had left mass early because of a homily in which same-sex marriage was presented as attacking the traditional family by a (I now suspect) very nervous new priest who might have been struggling with some of what you seem to be struggling with here; not the teachings themselves but the presentation of the teachings (the disuse of quotation marks might be a start).

As a partnered (civilly married)gay man I am sensitive to the way that issues around gay and lesbian civil rights are presented in church (on those rare occassions when the topic comes up). I have my own experience of what my relationship and life means and when I hear it misrepresented in crass terms it makes things hard for me. As someone trying to live within the Catholic Church I am well aware that I am living in a limit situation in terms of how much acceptance I can expect and those limits includes not being asked to be a godparent for my niece or having people question my "Catholicity" on a regular basis or recommending I become Episcopalian.

I think that gay Catholics and divorced/unmarried Catholics are aware of the Church's position on our lives and our status of looked down upon ousiders. I honestly don's think you can say anything surprising. I sometimes think it is more painful to have religious present a Catholicism that is more inclusive than it actually is. A bit more honesty about how things are can take away some of the sting from things like being excluded from being a godparent, etc, etc.

Anyway, thank you for your perspective.

A Secular Franciscan said...

Kevin - However the priest presents it, the important thing is that he presents the Church's teachings: Sexual activity outside of marriage and homosexual activities are sins. Plain a simple. That's not "crass"; it's stating the reality.

I hope that you will seek a solid, sensitive spiritual advisor to help you to change what you are doing. I will be praying for you.

Kevin F said...


Did you actually read my comment? I don't recall stating that the teachings of the Catholic Church were crass, what I was talking about was that they can be presented in a manner that is crass. Being told from the pulpit that I am waging a selfish war on civilization (refering to a prior homily that I sat through) is crass, being refered to as "silly" or in need of conversion or being told that I can seek some form of reparative therapy is also crass. I imagine there are similar question that arise when presenting the issue of artifical birth control. There is also a line between presenting a teaching of the Church and talking down to someone.

I digress, it isn't the validity of the what the Church teaches that is being discussed here, nor disagreement with that teaching, it is the presentation of those sensitive teachings that is being discussed. These are two different things. I was simply expressing my appreciation to the original post for the insight it granted me into what considerations priests have when presenting ideas from the pulpit. I appreaciate that insight and still do.

A Secular Franciscan said...

Kevin. I read what you said. I did not say the teachings of the Church were crass. I said that stating those teachings is not being crass.

And priest/deacons must present those teachings even if they cause one to feel uncomfortable, or that the preacher is being "crass" (even when he is not).

Preaching is indeed a difficult task. I dont envy the priests and deacons who earnestly work at their message - as I suspect from his posts that Brother Charles does.

Kevin F said...

Dear Lee,

Now this is getting humorous.

I never said that you said that the teachings of the Church were crass. I said that you said that I said the teachings of the church were crass.

Where I think we disagree is that I believe that it is possible to present an idea that is not crass in a manner that is crass (i.e. being intentially offensive, utilizing misinformation or talking down to an audience).

From your comments I am getting the impression that you are arguing that it is impossible to be crass if one is sitting on the truth and that there is no wrong way to present an idea.

Anonymous said...

I would like to add to the discussion between Kevin F and Lee Strong. I think that there are many gay people who have accepted their orientation after much struggle and have found a partner whom they love. Many were raised as devout Catholics and continue to believe in the promise of salvation. They attend Mass regularly and try to lead good Christian lives. They know that, while the Church teaches that their sexual orientation itself is not sinful, sexual acts are, as are all such acts outside of marriage.

As a lay person, I cannot put myself fully in the position of a priest who is required to preach and act at all times as the Church requires. To me, the challenge in preaching about this and other similar topics is to affirm the teaching of the Church in a manner that does not increase the burden on those who may be struggling in their own lives with these very difficult issues, and offer encouragement where possible and appropriate that every person realize the fullness of God's love. In this regards, Jesus said "My house has many rooms"

A Secular Franciscan said...

"I never said that you said that the teachings of the Church were crass. I said that you said that I said the teachings of the church were crass."

Yes, I read and wrote too quickly. That's my fault. Sorry for the mix up.

"From your comments I am getting the impression that you are arguing that it is impossible to be crass if one is sitting on the truth and that there is no wrong way to present an idea."

No, I am not saying that. There are many instances in which the truth is presented in a harsh, unfair, or wrong way.

But I have heard people call comments or other people crass - or other terms - not because they necessarily are, but because the offended parties are sensitive when it comes to an issue, or it's a shorthand way to insult or derail a conversation.

To stick with the topic of homosexuality, for example, I have seen people who say they opposed homosexual marriage - but say nothing attacking homosexuals, do not called them crazy, or sinners, or criminal, or anything hateful - yet they immediately get called "homophobes." That effecftively cuts of discussion of the issue at hand and redirects in into another topic.

Not that I'm saying you did that. But that was what I was in my own clumsy way trying to say.

And now I will be silent before I say something else humorous! (Then again, maybe I already have.)

Ron Legest said...

"As a partnered (civilly married)gay man I am sensitive to the way that issues around gay and lesbian civil rights are presented in church (on those rare occassions when the topic comes up)."

Actually, you have provided an example of what Lee was talking about, Kevin.

He was trying to point out that the way you are living is sinful - indeed, living as you do and going to church becomes an even greater sin if you receive Communion.
But you sidetracked it into a discussion of whether someone pointing out the wrongness of certain activities in the wrong way is "crass." Yes, it can be done in ineffective, even offensive ways, but that does not change the truth being proclaimed.

Moreover, you came to a Cathoic blog written by a Catholic priest, and proudly proclaim your lifestyle with no sense of penitence. That's "crass."

Brother Charles said...

Thank you to everyone for your comments and discussion. These issues can be very difficult, sitting as they do at the intersection of sexuality, natural law, our relationship to the larger society, preaching, and the need to be simultaneously faithful to the Church's teaching and compassionate ministers. I think we have said what can be said well in the comment box already, so I'm closing the comments. If I find that I know how to do it, I'll try to put up a fresh post on the questions that have arisen.