October 18, 2011

Priesthood and Praise

On my way to the Poor Clare monastery for Mass yesterday, I remembered that it had been a year since I started going there on Mondays. So at the end of Mass I mentioned it, intending to thank the sisters and the people who assist there for the opportunity to pray with them. As I tried to do so, I was interrupted by applause. I felt funny. I didn't announce that I had been going there for a year in order to be praised, but to express my own gratitude.

There's a lot of praise to be had in the priesthood. On the one hand, there's nothing wrong with it; people are grateful for your work and your sacrifices on behalf of the Church and the world and want to express it. Folks want to support their priests, and the priest must also remember that the unwillingness to accept thanks and praise is also a failure in humility.

On the other hand, there are dangers. It's easy to begin, in subtle ways, to start working for the praise and recognition, seeking ministerial moments and making pastoral decisions to vainglorious purposes. It's not a negligible proportion of the clergy who have a touch of narcissism, and sometimes people have learned to manipulate their priests by making use of it to get what they think they want. It always amazes me, given the obvious fact that God doesn't just give us whatever we think we want, that people on all sides still think that this is how ministry is supposed to work.

These dangers are less present in religious life as such. Most people, including many Catholics, don't really know what a religious is, so they don't know what to say about it. Out in public in my habit, I have been called or asked if I am any number of things: a Buddhist, a Mormon, a Lutheran, a Jedi, a member of the KKK, even a ninja.

For me, the praise gets to feel funny. The longer I go in my religious life and priesthood the more I realize that my vocation is an expression of God's mercy for me, rather than any sort of extraordinary grace or special privilege. This life was God's best opportunity to save me from misery and damnation, and so here I am, a religious and a priest, a not a very good one at that.


Lee Gilbert said...

This post brought back memories of a Trappist lay brother I met at Holy Cross Abbey many years ago when I was looking at the life. If someone criticized him for something, he would say evenly and without rancor, "Praise and blame, praise and blame." If someone praised him for something, he would say evenly, "Praise and blame, praise and blame."

Over the years I realized that the unspoken conclusion to this proverb is, "It's all the same" -i.e. human opinion.

Greg said...

Sometimes I imagine Francis comes at night while you are sleeping and walks around in your sandals, so that you may know the feel of his steps, though you remain unaware of his humble formation.

Brother Charles said...

I don't know; I tend to lock my door.