One of the number of issues Pope Francis has brought to the forefront of discussion is “Clericalism.” It is a buzz-word for many because it primarily attacks an attitude within the leadership of the Church. Now as a leader within the Church I must say that since I’ve been ordained I’ve become more and more accustom to how people liberally criticize their leaders at the drop of a hat. If they have the wrong expression on their face, they are a bad, evil vile priest. If they don’t smile and say hello to one particular parishioner out of the 300 that are present for mass it’s because, “they hate me.”
If I were to define clericalism simply I’d say it is simply a man ordained who seeks to be served by others rather than to serve. I think every single good-hearted Catholic will agree that this is scandalous, as the priest is chiefly to represent Christ who did not come to be served, but to serve. And the priest who is Christ’s representative (sacramentally), ought to imitate the same virtues lest he give people a false image of who Jesus truly is.
As a result of this definition we must begin to examine Pope Francis’ thinking. One of his first criticisms around Clericalism was pertaining to the laity. He called it the “clericalization of the laity,” whereby the priests have infected the lay-people with their own sickness. That is to say that the laity began to take on the roles and identity of the priest and the line between the laity and the priesthood become blurred unnecessarily. Liturgical roles were extended to the laity after Vatican II, and this was approved and promoted by Vatican II. But as always, an exaggerated sense of importance was added to this new feet when it was explained as if, “You didn’t have dignity before, but now you do, because you can be an extra-ordinary ministry of Holy Communion.”
The Pope (Francis) hoped to stress that the laity should not find their identity in some liturgical function of the liturgy, but rather find their identity in the liturgy of the world, where their true pulpit is found and discovered. The majority of Catholic faithful today do not believe that they have a particular role to play in the promulgation of the Gospel. But they do, and it is incredibly important. They are called to proclaim the Gospel in the political sphere, to become politicians who proclaim the name of Jesus. They are called to evangelize the work-place, be it the coffee shops, schools, factories, and so on. They are to “make a mess” in the world by Christifying every place and corner of civilization. But it is all too easy to consider a job well-done in the “evangelization” when we merely read during Sunday mass and then go home feeling as if our obligation to pass on the faith is complete.
To demand honour and glory as a priest is really to desire hell. But to demand respect for the authority you have for the sake of serving others is to not only ensure heaven for yourself (as a priest) but also to assure heaven to those whom you are leading. Real authority is unknown to people these days because they only operate under two extremes: Tyrant versus Democracy. You have the man who abuses power, like the Bishop recently under fire for spending far too much money on his own residence. Then you have the democratic view which is akin to the parents giving their child a vote as to what time their curfew is. Both are extremes, but what we call priests help us understand where the middle-ground is found: FATHER.
A Father is anything but a tyrant, if he does it correctly. My parents would never let me call them by their first name, and rightfully so, because they demanded that I respect my relationship with them. At one point, as a little stubborn and smart-aleck kid I turned to my mother and said, “You are being condescending.” She swiftly responded: “That is my job, I’m allowed.”
Growing up in the culture I did, to hear that statement from my mom confounded me into silence. I actually began to critically think about what she was saying. I had been so immersed into the assumption that no one should ever be condescending, and yet my mother had said because she is my Mother she has that particular role. The reason I was confounded was because a falsehood was being challenged which was this: to be condescending necessarily means to be unloving.
Here is an analogy for you, to perhaps help you cease to judge me unfairly. A father who is respected by his children is happy because his children will listen to them. Why does the father want that respect? Not because he feels as if he is honoured and glorified by it, but rather because his children will take seriously the message he is setting forth to them. If a father who is not respected tells his children to cross the street by looking both ways first, he may have little confidence that his children are safe since they do not respect his legitimate authority. But if he is respected and seen as a protector and loving father, when he tells them this he can be at peace knowing that they will be safe.
Now most parents probably get this. When I went to World Youth Day in Germany I was shouting with a loud voice (during mass) on the stage with the Pope, his name. He turned around and looked directly at me with a finger to his mouth. I wasn’t embarrassed, even though he singled me out in front of millions of people, I actually found it somewhat funny, and I also took it as a fatherly correction. But woe to those who cannot be corrected, they will never inherit the kingdom of God.
To become a priest to receive glory is also a really ridiculous thing to do these days. As a priest I have been maligned publically as a pedophile, faggot, and religious nut. As a priest you don’t always make friends easily since most label you as judgmental automatically and fear being judged. The best way to avoid all of this is of course to take off the collar. If you take the collar off it means that you are relieving yourself of a symbol read in by many to mean authority. Well, being a priest does have authority, it is an authority that can forgive sins, cast out demons, and bring peace into chaos.
Being a clericalist is an invisible reality: it cannot be directly tied to any external manifestation. A piece of clothing does not prove the motives of a person. This includes those who do not wear their clerics. It doesn’t mean they seek to only serve themselves. I question why they don’t make themselves available to others while in public, but I don’t judge their motives, I’m just left wondering.
Being a clericalist is living in a nice rectory with a plasma flat screen in your bedroom. It is showing up to everything late (including mass) showing everyone that “mass starts when I show up.” It is resenting baptisms on a busy Sunday because giving eternal life to these babies is breaking into your nap-time. Clericalism in the priesthood is not seeing the role of leadership you have been given by demanding the respect that vocation requires. But rather serving yourself by avoiding at all costs the possible interpretation of your words that may lead to someone feeling offended.
What people need are loving fathers, and we all know that sometimes loving fathers have to hear from their children, “You hate me, you don’t love me! I hate you!” As they slam the door in your face after a huge tantrum it can hurt, but you know that they are only pushing your buttons and attempting to justify themselves. Am I suggesting that there aren’t bad-fathers out there? I think there are. They are the absent kind that don’t involve themselves in the lives of their children. They do not take an interest but rather emphasize administrative work (office-work) rather than the personal encounter with Christ in that particular parishioner. They are the tyrannical fathers who see their power as a means to serve themselves.
Spiritually a clericalist probably looks like a priest who never goes to confession. He might begin by demanding others confess their sins, or he likes to hear their confession because it makes him feel powerful to forgive their sins and give them comfort. But rarely does he realize that the work of confession and the forgiveness given is Christ’s not his own, and all the glory goes to God. But perhaps because of his own refusal to go to confession he will agree to himself that asking others to go as well is inconsistent. Therefore he will hold back the sacrament. But his reaction to the door bell when someone interrupts his dinner to seek confession will speak volumes. How about a homily where he brags about his vacation that involved a cruise or a plane trip to somewhere extravagant to a group of families who haven’t the money or time to even dream of such a thing.
There is an outdated notion that clericalism is wrapped up in a cassock. But as my mommy always says, “Don’t judge people based on the clothing they wear.” In scripture it wasn’t that the Pharisees dressed up in long robes that made them proud, it was that they wore them to get attention. What do priests do to bring unhealthy attention to themselves these days? Perhaps it is showing off their “great humility” by taking off the collar and showing how “down-to-earth” they are and “one-with the people.” When in reality it is a show that caters to a cultural value. Perhaps not, we can only discern our own conscience and examine our own motives. I once heard a priest divulge the real reason for why he rarely wears his collar, “It is hard to wear it with all the embarrassment of the scandals.” And I have the utmost respect for this priest for admitting that is the reason he doesn’t wear it. But perhaps read this blog and reflect on what good can be done with it on.
Liturgically, clericalism is best expressed when one thinks he has the authority to change the divine liturgy according to his own preference. This applies to the SSPX as much as it does to those who have a more liberal mindset. Both are liturgical abuses when they are not celebrated in communion with our Holy Father and the mind of the Church. Taking such authority as to rip out or change the wording of Sacred Scripture and the words of consecration. Here the priest has asserted that he knows better than the Holy Spirit and this will serve him to be accepted by many in his parish. Or even his own judgment, he asserts, is greater than that of Holy Mother Church. Humility.
Perhaps real clericalism today is expressed in personal expensive clothing that most of the laity themselves cannot afford, eating food that people don’t get to eat on a regular basis…the list goes on, but at the end of the day the question is simple: are we living to serve ourselves or others. And this is not wrapped up in externals it is wrapped up in “me.”