Saturday, July 25, 2009

Yes, Father, No, Father...

Fr Mannes once told me that when he, as a young man, first discovered the Latin Mass, he thought the priests who said it very holy; but came to think them also quite eccentric!

(Given the appalling behaviour, strange beliefs and general rudeness of many self-consciously modern post-Vatican II priests, no wonder. But still...)

As any decent priest will tell you - Fr Terence laughingly agreed, I recall - if a Catholic is not "anti-clerical" in a certain sense, he has not been catechized properly. Of course, as St Francis did, one should kneel down and kiss the hands of a priest, venerating his sacred office as a sacramental icon of Our Lord; but one should also hold a healthy candid attitude toward priestly faults and foibles - after all, much harm has come through excusing, being blind to, and even covering over serious clerical misbehaviour, though I speak not of real sins here.

Bishop McKenna of Bathurst, whom I knew some years back while he was still a priest based in Melbourne, told how he rather liked the somewhat disconcerting way members of the Neocatechumenal Way (when do they ever finish their neo-catechumenate, I wonder?) combine very great respect for the priest qua priest, with a very no-nonsense sense of the unworthy priest qua Christian man. This is a healthy attitude.

One thing that hanging around clerical circles will quickly confirm, is that priests think themselves very hard worked - but (as any layman can testify) would struggle to answer the demands of a full-time job. As my mother once asked me, What do priests do all week? It is proverbial that priests come in two sorts: those who work (too much), and those who don't (work enough). All the balderdash I've heard about clerical burnout! The few priests actually in risk of such would be the last ever to complain of it. As one Dominican always said, when throwing himself down into a chair after dolce far niente, "Exhausted, absolutely exhausted!" - "Oh yes, Father..."

Amusing too is the wry witticism that the social teaching of the Church applies only ad extra: priests can be as Pharaoh to their volunteer labour force, demanding extra work of people who have full time jobs of their own, if not families also... a puissant superior attitude can be painful. What can also give a bad impression is when clergy too quickly withdraw from some parish function for a clergy-only dinner: by all means, priests need to catch up, unwind, and enjoy themselves, but it can be very rude if they rapidly disappear from the parish bring-a-plate potluck lunch only too obviously to attend a rather better-stocked table nearby.

What I am getting to is that no one can escape the spirit of the age, even if one thinks oneself quite counter-cultural... indulging in a neo-Gothic romantic dream is all very well, but then it's off to the restaurant café for a rather good lunch (as I did myself this morning). It is excellent to make great martinis, but with this ought go dedication to one's duties - and some traditionalist priests are curates del mondo, flitting about from one pseudo-recusant chapel to another, while perhaps neglecting day-to-day humdrum matters. People and parishioners begin to talk, to tote up the days of Father's days away, and to wonder what their frequency signifies. If Father has good reason - a sick relative, a call of mercy, his due holiday - then no matter; but if he be touchy and angry about inquiries, is that a sign of an uneasy conscience?

There can be the temptation for traddie clergy to enjoy saying Mass here and there, reliving the derring-do of the intrepid, stubborn few in the dark years of persecution after Vatican II (not yet entirely over), but if they have the cure of souls in a particular place assigned them, then Canon Law does require more than a minimum attendance upon pastoral duties in that locale. As one hard-working parish priest observed about a certain Latin Mass sayer he knew, "Father says Mass - and that's it."

I have great respect and love for priests, true fathers in God, the men who make prayer and sacrifice, Christ's ministers to us sinners: but a true friend has a right also to make known constructive criticisms - just as I try to open my own eyes to my own enormities, and somehow work out my salvation. Pray for priests, and pray for me.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree totally...

Maybe you should:

1. Send this to Oriens as an article for publication,
2. Send it to certain priests, with the reminder that Australia ceased to be a mission country in 1976!

Quasi Seminarian said...

I do remember one priest saying to me once upon a time "You Australians, "being busy" is your national sport."

There are many good Catholic men out there who when they come home just want a beer, a chance to be with their wife and kids and to unwind. Not to be dragged off to some strange thing Father wants them to do.

I spoke once to a priest who went into limbo for a while and started working for the first time in his life. He admitted that his preaching from now on would be different.

In traddie circles it is easy to be an event hunter. But that can be no more now. The parishes must return.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I certainly agree with your sentiment about the foibles of our priests (grateful as we need to be about them).

But when it comes to the missionary mentality, I'm not sure the old days are entirely over yet. And I have a certain sympathy for priests who have no support within their dioceses, so need the occasional traddie event to remember that there are brother priests who do believe...

I would differentiate between a couple of different categories of behaviour:

1. The priest who does little in his own community but say mass (and generally refuses to have anything to do with the diocese as well), a manifestation of the ghetto mentality, laziness and a neglect of his full duties. Still, at least they do say the Mass!

2. The priest as above who then unnecessarily flits around the country as part of the traddie caravan. Worse.

3. The priest who rushes around the country setting up events without the permission of the local ordinary or the invite of the local TLM saying priests (and criticising the same as he goes as engaging in liturgical fetishism or ghettoism). I dare they see this as evangelism. But it reflects the old guerilla mentality that is no longer needed and discredits the movement.

4. The priest who is willing and able to help out communities who don't have their own regular priests, and has at least some form of permission from the ordinary to do so; who sets up special events with permission to bring new people in. I'm not sure what you mean by 'pseudo-recusant' communities - but if a group can't persuade a local priest to offer the TLM regularly for them, are you saying they can't have one at all? There is still a need for this. And the priests who do this should be commended not criticised for their efforts.

Not every traddie priest is in one of the above categories of course! Perhaps none are in some -although names do rather leap to mind.

Pray for our priests.

Dom Prosper

Joshua said...

I accept the above comments, though perhaps the first suggestion would be a little inflammatory if I tried to implement it!

Again, I do in fact greatly value priests, but did need to let off steam about some issues... issues that your comments prove not to be entirely my own personal gripes, or the recycled remarks of concerned others.

I like the phrase - Terra's I think, or quoted by her from a common jargon expression - "traddie caravan". Very People of God in the wilderness forty years and all that.

Of course, it is/would be good if there are priests available to visit far-flung parts of Australia currently without the TLM (Tasmania springs to mind).

I use the term "pseudo-recusant" to highlight the fact that we do not in fact live during the second Elizabethan persecution, and while getting to a bearable Novus Ordo or a preferable Latin Mass can be difficult, our sufferings are as nothing compared to those of the martyrs of old, and we would all do well to remember this.

Do you notice how even traddies can't avoid the Zeitgeist, and must loudly proclaim their own victimhood? (Agreed that they have more basis to such claims than some.)

Terra said...

Can I suggest that you are both being overly critical? I'm no clericalist but while we are not in danger of martyrdom, in many places we are in danger of losing the faith.

Somehow obstructionism and harrassment is worse when it comes from those who should be friends, and at a time when we are looking for solidarity to counter the forces of secularism. So those priests who generously do their best to help support other communities should be commended not criticised. It is hard to change habits and thought patterns built up over time. We all of course have our own views on what their priorities should be. But what makes our opinion better than that of the person concerned, who may be listening for all we know to the inner voice of the Spirit?

It would be nice of course if there was some central body to discuss these kinds of issues - an Ecclesia Dei Society for example. Unfortunately we are too busy criticising and fighting each other to join in common cause, which is why the traddie movement in Australia is probalby doomed to fail.

On workloads, we should remember that prayer and meditation is a pretty important function of the priest as well as getting out and serving his people.

Perhaps in some cases the tactics they are using do belong to a previous era and do need to be changed - but I'm not sure we should be too hasty in assuming everything has changed yet!

As for stamina at parish functions as a criteria of a good priest, I really do think that is stretching it! Could it be not the better plate but the better compnay your unfortunate priest is seeking Joshua? The reality is an awful lot of traddies are shall be say, damaged by past traumas (mind you, that applies to priests too...).

And for the record, good to know my lasting contribution consists of a popularising a contribution to the lexicon, but the original source of the traddie caravan phrase was a cleric...

Joshua said...

Terra - nice to hear from you: I'd feared you'd dropt off the radar. Please resume blogging.

Let's not get sidetracked into the problem of traddies biting and tearing each other: that's for another discussion.

Ditto for the reason why we do struggle: the doubt and disorder all around us.

I refer in my post to the problem of parishioners feeling that their priests are not full time there for them, but all too often off somewhere else: as I say, a count up of days away can be revealing. Of course, there are many perfectly valid reasons for a priest to help out elsewhere, but within reason.

The behaviour at the parish function I referred to caused quite some offence. Some priests need be reminded that their pastoral skills ought improve, lest they continue to alienate parishioners, and continue to find disappointingly low numbers at Mass.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, Joshua: an copy-paste job of this posting as an Oriens article might be too inflammatory. Your posting does, however, raise some serious questions about what Latin Mass Communities should expect of their chaplains. And that is something I think needs to be put out there in the open. Summorum Pontificum has changed the playing field significantly: the Extraordinary Form is no longer something to be done quietly, as a kind of concession to a few wayward fanatics, meaning that Communities can have something closer to a 'normal' parish life. Priests need to understand this apart accordingly. Perhaps, with your skill as a writer, you might be able to pose the question of Extraordinary Form priests and their ministry a little more delicately in Oriens? It's a discussion which needs to be had.

Terra, agreed: there are a LOT of 'damaged' traddies out there. They're not the best advertisement for the Extraodariny Form, especially when new folks go along to try it. To me, however, a priest is in a sense the 'father' of a spiritual community. How his 'children' behave will have at least a little to do with how he lets them behave and what he does to bring the wayward ones back into line. Children grow up healthy and balanced when their parents provide them with support and stability. Ditto for a Latin Mass Community.

As for something ala-Ecclesia Dei... I get your point, but for that to work in Australia would require some strong personalities to show more respect for other points of view, without labelling them 'wrong' or 'liturgically inferior' etc. Sadly, I can't see it happening. You'd think that after 40 years of arguing that the Extraordinary Form can peacefully coexist with the Ordinary Form, they'd be more prepared to tolerate diversity among themselves.

Joshua said...

Hmmm, no, I suspect I've said a little too much already: there are many priests I regard highly, some of whom might be annoyed by my (honestly meant) constructive criticisms.

I think the central point is that priests of whatever stripe can appear to laymen not too hard working... I too know a priest who due to a maze of circumstances had perforce to hold down a full-time job for years, plus say his Mass and Office, and I salute him; but there are others (excluding those ill or aged) who do give scandal through giving the appearance of a comfy, leisurely life.

Joshua said...

As for mutual support - I can be terribly naive: toward the end of Juventutem at WYD, I innocently remarked on the apparent absence of certain Sydney priests and hangers-on from the festivities, and it was as if I'd belched in public by mentioning what mustn't be mentioned.

As Bp Jarrett once told me, "In the old days we all believed the same thing - and we hated each other." Plus ça change...

Terra said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joshua said...

True, Terra, I take your points - priests are indeed meant to sit between the layman and the monk, both active and contemplative (Martha and Mary, so to speak), and furthermore I for one don't begrudge the clergy, secular or regular, their innocent pastimes. The bow cannot always be bent.

Sniping is unfair, and I hope I haven't been too tactless or uncharitable in making general remarks: I thought I did make it clear that I do hold priests in high esteem, and just offer some constructive criticisms - which after all, in my experience, are freely discussed behind their backs, so they may as well hear what the layfolk are saying.

Recall again that the issue of the notorious lack of charity among traddies (e.g. "how dare you wear a biretta / wear Gothic vestments / have a dialogue Mass / call the Holy Ghost 'Spirit'," etc. ad nauseam) is obviously a product of the fear of heresy produced by years of striving to hold onto what is tried and tested, when all others are running after novelties; and people who have held fast tend to be the stubborn ones, whose personalities may jar each other. But this is NOT the place to discuss this.

Terra, you think you're frustrated? Apart from this and some few other posts, I get very few comments on my blog, but I decided from the start to say what I pleased how I pleased, and if it profits anyone at all, thanks be: may my faults in blogging be excused too. In my case, it is a case of "contemplata aliis tradere" - since in a small town quite frankly I have no one to talk to.

Anonymous said...

Joshua, I don't think you've been sniping. You've raised some serious issues which I think need to be addressed. I don't really know how to go about addressing them though.

Your posting raises questions about the pastoral care both by AND for Extraordinary Form priests. Maybe they've all been left to their own devices for too long. One wonders if it would be well for the Australian Bishops Conference to set up a specific committee to deal with their ongoing pastoral care and other needs.

Priests hold a high and distinguished office. They are, however, quite human, just like the rest of us. While we must always respect their office, I think there is ample room for charitable objection to the way that they do some things. Terra, the posting that you mentioned on a certain website is definitely a case in point. Completely unneccessary, utterly divisive as far as I'm concerned. It makes me very angry. I would dearly love to give its author several pieces of my mind.

It's such a shame that the Extraordinary Form gets saddled with all this unneccessary baggage. It's like somebody gaining custody of the Sistine Chapel, and then pasting posters for political rallies and rock concerts on the lower sections of the walls.

Terra said...

Priests, traditional or otherwise, are part of a diocese and the responsibility of their bishop (and superior in the case of FSSP and religious). If there is a problem with a particular priest, tell him, and if doesn't work, take it up with their superior/and or bishop.

Is the problem systemic? Perhaps, in which case taking it up publicly is the right course, but I think the jury is still out on that.

The last thing we need is a committee of the Australian bishops, those well known supporters of the TLM (not)!

And really, take a look at novus ordo land - any issues of lack of engagement, wondering over town and country, inappropriate enmity/inability/unwillingness to forgive past wrongs etc etc are not unique to traddieland - just reflects the general malaise. Its just that traddies for some reason think they are immune from all this - well maybe they should be if the traditional liturgy really is the key to sanctification, but the evidence for the proposition is not strong.

Anonymous said...

Terra, on the one hand you say that priests are the responsibility of their bishops, on the other your indicate that you think bishops are collectively (ie. through the Conference) unsupportive of the TLM. You can't have it both ways. I think a committee might be a way of indicating to the bishops that these priests ARE their responsibility, and that they may have to consider how their needs different from those of OF clergy. Bishops' Conference committees also include priests who are experts in their areas. I don't think that the Conference would be likely to set up a committee to assist TLM clergy without having a few TLM priests on it, somehow!

EF and OF communities are never going to be perfect: both seem to be living proof of our fallen nature. That said, each has their own distinct set of problems. As you have already indicated, there are a lot of 'damaged traddies' out there. What I wouldn't mind seeing is a little research into the main problems encountered across Australia (and beyond) in EF communities. This does mean, however, that problems need to be discussed quite openly. Problems for communities, laity, clergy. It won't be easy.

Terra said...

I don't think I'm having it both ways at all. My comment about bishops being unsupportive was one about the individuals concerned - one only has to look at the historical record in each diocese to see that. True there are a few who have celebrated the TLM over the years, and that number is increasing. But a lot of that 'support' was ambivalent at best, and today looks more like politics than hearts and minds stuff. And it is also a truism that when a group of unsupportive people get together prejudices tend to be amplified.

What exactly are you thinking of in terms of different needs anyway? It isn't obvious to me that there is anything needed beyond a recognition on the part of bishops that traditional priests should be encouraged to attend diocesan events in choir, and, in accordance with canon law, not pressured to concelebrate.

A lot of the problems I think will fix themselves with our co-operation - as the TLM spreads to 'novus ordo' parishes, as it is doing, and as a new generation comes in (on both sides of the fence) who don't carry the wounds of the past.

Anonymous said...

Well, what about their pastoral care for a start? That includes making sure that they get proper breaks and aren't overburdened. Unlike the other clergy in the diocese, TLM priests really have to organise their own replacements and can't rely on 90% of their brother priests for support in this regard. It also includes making sure that they get treated like any other parish or chaplaincy - Complete with visitations, retreat days, inclusion in the deanery meetings etc. At the moment, it seems to me as if traddie clergy are largely treated as a kind of diocesan 'curio', who are left in a corner to do their own thing because they don't fit in with everyone else.

The bishops need to become genuinely interested in the welfare of their EF clergy and communities. I think that most EF priests would be delighted to feel as if their bishops were thinking about them in the same way as virtually all their other clergy.

Ultimately, what am I arguing in favour of? I'd like to see EF communities and clergy function as 'normal' parts of the diocese... at least logistically and juridically... the spirituality and liturgy are another thing altogether. No more ghettos! I'm fed up of people being scared away from the EF by kooky behaviour, unneccessary polemics and obscure private devotions being brought out in public. The EF just needs a nice, NORMAL life. To me, that immediately implies regulation beyond the communities themselves.