ministry, ministry, everywhere… but not a priest in sight

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is a case study in the confusion of roles that is becoming more and more a part of the Church in the United States. In many cases, there seems to be an earnest effort to blur the distinctions between the ordained ministry / priesthood and the lay apostolate.

I remember the ecclesial PC-speech I encountered a decade ago in the seminary, in an environment in which lay people and seminarians studied side by side. I enjoyed having lay people in class with me. What I did not enjoy was the political environment that came along with it, fostered primarily by administrators and faculty, I would have to say. The lay students had a “commuter lounge” in the seminary administration building, and documents made the distinction not between lay students and seminarians, but between “commuter” and “resident” students. Please.

Faculty members in American seminaries may claim that this is a concern that belongs only to people with a hyper-clerical view of leadership in the Church. Some snicker at the mention of Vatican documents such as this one. But how do they explain the way that lay “pastoral directors” in Los Angeles understand themselves and their roles? If this isn’t confusion, I don’t know what is.

On the national level, I notice that the USCCB is drafting a document entitled, Co-workers in the Vineyard of the Lord: Resource for Guiding Development of Lay Ecclesial Ministry (see the agenda for the bishop’s meeting in November). What is lay ecclesial ministry, anyway? The latest form of clericalism, I fear.

Ultimately, I think, the effort to blur distinctions between priests and lay people stems from a nervousness about distinctions in general. Everyone must be the same to be okay. According to this world view, distinctions and difference are not okay, and the shrill persistence of Diversity Training is an ironic witness to the fact.

The same nervousness about distinctions sometimes arises in discussions of human sexuality. While the book of Genesis unapologetically declares in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them, I remember several discussions in my seminary years with individuals who believed in not only the equivalence, but also the essential sameness of men and women… that anything a man can do, a woman can do, and vice versa. This sort of ideology is, I think, rather destructive to the dignity of the person, and to the life of the Church. More on this another time.

5 thoughts on “ministry, ministry, everywhere… but not a priest in sight

  1. One possible contributory reason why the number of men entering Catholic priesthood has fallen: the priesthood requires a very high price for entry, namely, lifelong celibacy, but returns increasingly little status. Being matched with “lay eccesial ministers” who can date and marry doesn’t make the cost of ordination worth the outcome. This may seem crass, but I think there’s merit it it. (To say nothing of being subjected to the class hatred of lay men and and the androphobia of lay women of the “ecclesial minister” type and being unable to tell them to drop dead).If you want people to put in long years of preparation and a lifetime of asceticism to achieve a certain profession which requires long hours, terrible money, and endless mindnumbing trivia, that profession’s perks in status had better damn well be worth the cost. Otherwise, men will stay away in droves. And they do.

  2. Anonymous,Celibacy is not the “price” of admission to the priesthood. It is a call, a vocation, to be freely embraced as a discipline by men who present themselves as candidates for priesthood in the Latin Church.Also, I’m pretty sure a desire for status would be a problematic attitude for a seminarian. Of course, everyone has legitimate needs for affirmation, etc, but a desire for status is a counter-indicator of holiness. Remember the Pharisees? Cardinal Ratzinger implied as much when he noted that the large number of vocations emerging in Africa is not an unqualified bit of good news. He said it was important to discern if the vocations there are genuine, because, as a cultural reality, some seek the priesthood as a way to gain status.However, I agree with you on one thing. The call to priesthood is one that requires some very real and very personal sacrifices. So what in the vocation is attractive to a young man? Certainly not chapels laced with macrame, or liturgical music composed by Unitarian Universalists. I don’t know any men ready to make heroic sacrifices for that sort of thing.I do know of young men who have had a personal encounter with Christ in the Eucharist, and, as a result of their zeal for His real presence in the Blessed Sacarment, are willing to lay down their lives in service of the Divine Master. Here is a vocation worthy of great sacrifices, patterned on the life of Him who sacrificed all for love of us.

  3. Yes, Shelray, I was being serious. However, I began my comments very consciously with the phrase “one. possible. contributory”. Both you and Clayton take a rather “High” supernatural view of this process, but that is not the whole picture. Neither the Church nor the priesthood is an extra-terrestrial phenomenon. Aquinas, I think, wrote that grace does not obviate nature. And the sociology and psychology of these things is part of that. Human motivation is not unitary, nor is it fully conscious. And in a Church which is essentially hierarchical, which is in fact one of the outstanding examples of hierarcy, sacred order, it would be disingenous to ignore the role that social status plays in the workings of a vocation. At the extremes, you have clerics who are clerics primarily for the power. We’ve all met them. And we have saintly men who find almost any kind of personal privilege uncomfortable. But the mass of men, priests included, do factor in status among many other things when they make choices, I think. Priests are, after all, human. And they are male. And males have an innate connection to rank that is different from women’s. Men are often willing to make great sacrifices in the service of an ideal, to set out on a heroic path, but if that sacrifice is simultaneously demanded and devalued, the incentive, on the level of nature, lessens greatly. And that may be one. possible. contributory. factor to the decline of vocations to the priesthood. (If you check out the changing demographics among clergy in the liberal/mainline Protestant churches, males are declining in droves, while women overtake the clerical role. Believe me, there is a connection there, too).

  4. Anon,I am not sure if you are being serious or not? If anyone considers the reasons you listed for not entering the vocation of the Priesthood, than it is safe to say, they are not spiritually qualified. The last 40 years has been a period of turmoil with some trying to re-define Catholic doctrine. Consequently, many young men have been poorly catechized and have also seen a “water downed role” of the Priest. I thank God for our Priests and I am confident that the vocation will grow with quality young men as our Church begins to heal from the last 40 years.

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