Priest pushback on Pope letter?

Cure d'Ars.jpgBenedict XVI’s rather pious letter opening the Year for Priests is beginning to elicit some reactions–diplomatic but also clearly stating that the pontiff’s invocation of the Cure’ d’Ars as a model priest may not be terribly relevant for working priests today. The Cure’, a.k.a. St. Jean Marie Vianney, was a nineteenth-century French priest whose quasi-monastic existence hardly compares to that of today’s pastors.

At the CNS blog, a really fine priest and good guy, Father Ken Doyle of Albany, engages the pope’s message but then shows how his frenetic schedule doesn’t really comport with Vianney’s static existence. Not all priests are monks:

I’m not saying that the life of the priest is all work and no play; if you let it be that, you’ll soon be in trouble. Next Tuesday and Wednesday, I’m going to Baltimore with two high school classmates who are also fellow inveterate Red Sox fans to see Boston play two games against the Orioles. (Tickets at Fenway Park are nearly impossible, but at Camden Yards you can walk in off the street.)

What I am saying is that a monastic spirituality, with a large dose of quiet built in, just doesn’t work for today’s parish priest. Instead, how about this as a practical alternative: 10 minutes a day, early in the morning before the craziness begins, 10 minutes to talk things over with God, to measure progress on our journey to heaven. Let’s do it just for a year — the Year for Priests. It could even become a habit.

In the latest Tablet, from London, Father Shaun Middleton, parish priest of St Francis of Assisi Church, Notting Hill, west London, writes:

I often get the feeling that John Vianney was a tortured soul. There is no doubt that he wanted to show those entrusted to his pastoral care the way to God but I wonder if his view of humanity was coloured by the Jansenism that was so prevalent in France at that time.

The Jansenist heresy, it should be remembered, had a contemptuous disregard for human nature, which it saw as fundamentally depraved. The Curé d’Ars was a devoted priest and because of this he was raised to the altars. Yet a retreat into the cultic aspects of priestly ministry, which were so precious to St John Vianney, is perhaps too safe a place to be.

Surely holiness is not only to be found as the priest stands at the altar of sacrifice or ministers in the confessional or brings God’s healing to the sick. It is also to be found in taking a risk: in going to those places and entering into those situations where one is deprived of the comfort and reassurance of that which is sacred and familiar.

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posted July 1, 2009 at 1:25 pm

Not to take away from the very good work that they are doing – but that’s just it isn’t it -they’ve missed the point – what is the work they are supposed to be doing? What is the role of the laity? What are the relationships? business of the priest. As a professional social worker I can tell you–the lines have blurred. What is their role? how centered are they in what they are really called to do?

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posted July 1, 2009 at 2:52 pm

Does anyone really believe that Benny lives in THIS century? He has proven many times that he doesn’t. Thus his example of what a priest should be doing. I hope he reminded them that they are to keep their hands off children!!!!

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Joseph Fromm

posted July 1, 2009 at 4:47 pm

Every priest has his own schedule and pace. The Cure of Ars dedicated his life to his parishioners and most astoundingly was not pushing liberation theology, woman’s ordination, a married priesthood or any other clerical distractions that keep a priest mind from the concerns his parishioners salvation.

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posted July 1, 2009 at 4:58 pm

Father Middleton’s comment,”I often get the feeling that John Vianney was a tortured soul.” From what I have read and reading between the lines, it appears that he saw human sexuality as a curse from the devil. Having a hatred for one’s own sexual nature is not really a healthy place to be in today’s society.

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Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

posted July 1, 2009 at 5:10 pm

Amazing how these priests are willing to scoff and even question Jean Marie Vianney’s sanity while they sit in their upper-middle class comfy existence. Sorry, but I don’t believe that going to Camden Yards from Albany is an essential part of being a priest. The Cure may have had some Jansenist leanings (he was dead set against dancing) but I seriously doubt there are any priests today who have a similar difficulty. I wonder how much time Fathers Doyle and Middleton spend in prayer (10 minutes a day, Father Doyle? And you’re supposed to be someone who stands before God for His people?) or in the confessional. Are their confession schedules like most parishes – 15 minutes on a Saturday afternoon? Do they fast — even during Lent? Have they ever dare to do some other act of penance? Or is their time too taken up by baseball? Was St. John Vianney in “too safe a place”? Let’s see Father Middleton do as much penance as the Cure did and see how ‘safe’ that is.

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Mere Catholic

posted July 1, 2009 at 8:40 pm

I’m frankly confused by the bickering over the Cure of Ars. Yes, he was a rural priest in a country whose Catholic faith had been brought to its knees by persecution by a revolutionary government. And perhaps, for suburban priests who are living their lives of faith in England and America in relative harmony with civil leaders, there isn’t much to find in common with St. John Vianney. But are externals all that we look for to find solidarity in the communion of saints? If so, there is precious little I can find in common even with saints perhaps considered more “lovable”, including my own patron St. Therese of Liseux. St. John Vianney has long been invoked as a patron for parish priests and it was natural of Benedict to have invoked his name. It would have been equally appropriate had he invoked St. Therese, patroness of the missions, had this been a ‘Year for Missions’. If priests have patrons other than the Cure, so be it; from his vantage point I’m sure he won’t take it personally. But the charges of irrelevancy or being a tortured soul are superfluous. They are also misleading. For all the attempts to paint Vianney as an aloof priest, his biographies, including contemporary ones, are replete with accounts of his devotion to his parishioners both in matters of faith and temporal affairs.

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posted July 1, 2009 at 9:09 pm

Thomas S:
So going to a baseball game isn’t allowed for priests? They’re human. They need a break from “being” a priest.

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Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

posted July 1, 2009 at 11:56 pm

Did I say baseball games aren’t allowed for priests? I don’t recall that. I think I said, “Sorry, but I don’t believe that going to Camden Yards from Albany is an essential part of being a priest.” Which if you read my post is exactly what I said. It seems that the apparent priority which Father Doyle places on driving from Albany to Camden Yards to see a baseball game (an 8.5 hour roundtrip drive and around $60 in gas, depending on what SUV one drives) outweighs the priority that caring for his parishioners should have.
As far as taking a break from “being” a priest, sorry, but in my view that’s impossible. A break, a vacation, yes, but not from being who and what he is. The priestly character is indelible; once the bishop’s hands have been laid on his head, there is a new man there which he cannot escape. A priest has married the Church and he can’t take a vacation from that vocation anymore than a married man can vacate from his vocation. I can’t take a break from being married, unless I’m someone like Mark Sanford. Being a faithful husband to my wife and a father to my children is something to be done 24/7/365 (and 366 in leap years) for as long as I am alive. The priestly vocation is exactly the same.

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posted July 2, 2009 at 1:17 pm

Thomas S:
Yes, I tended to misquote a bit. So your objection was his driving to another baseball field, where he could get tickets to the game, since apparently (I don’t know) he couldn’t get tickets closer? Used money from whatever he is paid? As to his always being a priest, and married to the church, since he can’t be married to a woman (or a man) due to regulations, yes, he is always one. However I think his church can do without his physical presence for a few hours. Do you never leave by yourself and not take your wife? Doesn’t mean you’re not faithful to her, just means you’re not glued to her. (unless you are).
Besides, I would think any man who isn’t supposed to have sex due to his job…as a priest…and chooses not to take care of it themselves, need a baseball game or another distraction for a few hours. :o) A priest needs “alone” time like everyone else. It’s 2009…many years after the dude Benny uses for an example.

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posted July 2, 2009 at 9:43 pm

So is the argument that if a Priest takes a sabbatical or a retreat they are not being true to thier vocation? Is it the time away or the activity that is objectionable? My husband takes a five day trip every year, which he rightly needs and earns, I take a two day one (imbalance I know) that I likewise need and earn, at no time are we shirking our vocation or responsibility. But we do have fun and I hope that Fr. Doyle does too.

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