Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

31 October 2013

The Stuff of Saints, Part the Second

Before resuming my "summary" of Monday's Theology on Tap, I want to add a point from the first segment regarding one of the characteristics of this age of information: the obsolescence of books and the proliferation of websites. While I own hundreds of books, nowadays my intellectual, spiritual, and human formation rides in the vehicle of my Facebook news feed. The sidebar on the right side of my blog has two Catholic clearinghouses, New Advent and Big Pulpit. (I am happy to promote them because they are intrinsically good sources, and yes, because they occasionally promote my blog posts!) NA and BP and many other sites offer daily dozens of articles with sound teaching and guidance, entertainment, consolation, and challenge. On the web pages of most of these authors and organizations you will find the FB "like" and Twitter "follow" buttons that will subscribe you to their latest offerings.
A week or so before this gathering I asked the Diocesan Youth Ministry Coordinator what she as a young adult would like to hear about in a presentation on holiness. She mentioned the "Three Ways of the Spiritual Life"--to my mind, a worthy topic, though likely a new one for most of my audience--at least anyone who wasn't a theology major! A topic worth its own three-credit course, but one that I ended up giving about ten minutes. I will further summarize it in this post, while offering the original expositions of Dan Burke via the National Catholic Register.

Since medieval times, theologians have categorized spiritual progress into three stages: beginner, progressing, and perfect; also known as the three "ways": the purgative, illuminative, and unitive.

These ways are marked by

  • Deepening fidelity to Mass, Confession, and personal prayer, moving from vocal to mental to affective contemplative prayer;
  • Increasing detachment from sin, first mortal and soon venial, and even imperfections;
  • Increasing freedom from fear, suspicion, and whatever else may qualify as "drama";
  • Acceptance--even an embrace--of suffering, in order to identify most deeply with Christ and participate in His efforts in others' souls;
  • Experiences of God's presence likened to nuptial union.
Burke's articles present them in a more delineated manner, while my four-point summary aims at a continuum along which we may find ourselves at various points in various respects, and our weak discipline may cause us to lose and gain ground.

If we're still contending with serious sins and persistent, glaring imperfections...if we're happy to squeeze in a few minutes or seconds of distracted prayer between obligations...if the onset of a cold ticks us off for the rest of the day and sometimes makes us unbearable to ourselves, let alone our family and co-workers...we may wonder whether we're even on the on-ramp to the Purgative Way!

Fine: that's where we are, and the whole point of this talk was to emphasize that the Lord loves us wherever we are. The greater part of the spiritual life is becoming more receptive to the love of God. It's not about us needing to become squeaky clean for Jesus; the harder we apply our egos in that direction, the more ground we lose. "Could you be loved?" sang Bob Marley, himself no saint (although some may posit a kind of mysticism in him, more attributable to cannabis than anything else).

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in an interview with a journalist (see? he wasn't the first to do this!), said that there are as many ways to God as there are people. While that doesn't make every way equally valid or effective, it reminds us that each soul must make that journey for herself...though never in isolation! Hence the doctrine of the Communion of Saints: the Church currently relishing the Presence of the Triune God, the Church slogging it out here on earth, the Church being purified of the dross of sin and attachment to sin--we're in this together! We cannot neglect the spiritual legacy of the canonized saints, the Church Fathers and Mothers of East and West, and the snippets of wisdom we can glean from websites, cubicle mates, children, grandparents, and recovering addicts.

Paragraphs 2725ff of the Catechism of the Catholic Church present a rich exposition of the Church's teaching on prayer. Some major points follow.

Prayer is:

  • “A friendly conversation with the God by whom we know we are loved.” (St. Teresa of Avila)
  • “A surge of the heart; a simple look turned toward heaven, a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” (St. Therese of Lisieux)
  • A realization of our poverty (“Man is a beggar before God”) in the presence of one who thirsts for us (cf. woman at well). God’s prior, consuming thirst for us meets ours for God
  • An engagement of the “heart,” biblically speaking, the seat of understanding, decision, and identity, known fully by the Spirit who “searches hearts” (cf. Rom 8:27)
  • The bulk of Sacred Scripture, especially the Psalms. All the heavy-hitters of the Bible engage God with alarming frankness, especially Moses, David, Jeremiah, and Jesus Himself.

Prayer is not:
  • An exercise in self-perfection
  • A merely mental or psychological exercise
  • An effort to attain a void ("nirvana")
  • Limited to the ritual words and phrases, as Jesus noted on one occasion (cf. Mt 5)
We are also well advised to avoid the worldly, production-oriented mentality that eschews prayer as a waste of time. Then again, it is a waste, but of the most beneficial sort! More often among praying persons there is the temptation to consider one's prayer wasted if it is riddled with distractions and dryness. These realities show us that intelligent, loving agents cannot depend on their feelings as a basis for acting or not acting.

Distraction purifies our prayer by becoming a constant invitation to return, gently but mindfully, to our Subject. Dryness reminds us to check our motives: we pray simply because God is, and because God is worthy of our love; we do not pray in order to glorify ourselves or even to "convince" God of our worth, or the worth of our petitions. By our perseverance we grow in the relationship that is faith. Things may not change, but we do--we gain the divine perspective on people and situations.

To be a saint in this or any century involves certain constant conditions rooted in divine and human nature, but the variables--human persons--all must enter the experiment of our own accord.

The Stuff of Saints, Part the First

In an earlier post, patient reader (or should I call you Theophilus?), I mentioned that, on Monday the 28th, I would be speaking to young adults on the subject of "Becoming a Saint in the 21st Century." Only since Monday did I recognize that Friday is "All Saints Day." The topic of presentation was apropos of the upcoming Holy Day, so the timing is Godly!
(The Diocese of Allentown had something to do with it, I grant. The Diocese works for God...though, in a certain sense, God works for the Diocese!)
I broke the topic into two major segments: "Becoming a Saint" and "In the 21st Century," and I began with the latter. Everyone in the room was a resident of the 21st century for the same amount of time, which is more than I could say for some of the venues I work (e.g. our elementary school)!

The most important things I noted about being a resident in the 21st century were:

  • Technology, as evidenced by the "smartphone." The sheer inescapability of it, the overwhelmingness, the thrill, the headaches of it! The instant access to information, true or false, helpful or baneful. The ability to connect with people through social media (or, perhaps, the ability to fabricate a profile by which one can "interact" with a similarly-fabricated profile).
  • The importance of education, for purposes beyond the mere content, and the pressure to continue education beyond the high school and undergraduate levels.
  • Openness to new ideas: "searching," viz. experimenting with and "sharing" philosophies, religions, relationships, in the hopes of furthering self-discovery.
  • Mobility, local, social, occupational, et-ceteral.
  • Fluidity that extends even to ideas, even to the point that what one person holds as true, another may not, without recrimination or scrutiny, which derives in part from
  • Relativism, the idea that any idea (especially my idea) is as valid as others. Substitute "faith/religious practice" if you wish.
What to do, in this marketplace of ideas? Is there a manual? Is there any sort of standardization to us "seekers"? Catholicism and Orthodoxy persist in positing a human nature that is universal, with its faculties of intellect and will that God made to understand truth and pursue goodness. We aren't actualized unless we are intent on understanding truth and pursuing goodness.

There is a big emphasis today on uniqueness. Cherished Catholic figures have relevant quotations:
  • "Be who you are and be that well." (St. Francis deSales)
  • "Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire." (St. Catharine of Siena)
  • To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory, but a man with a dungfork in his hand, a woman with a slop pail, give Him glory, too. God is so great that all things give Him glory if you mean that they should." (Gerard Manley Hopkins), whose entire poetic corpus is relevant. Special emphasis on "As Kingfishers Draw Fire, Dragonflies Draw Flame," which I quoted in the talk. Hopkins reflected the post-Scholastic philosophical stress on the individuality, or "this-ness," of each created entity.
As for becoming a saint, I don't know if everyone gathered that evening had aspirations for sanctity. Sometimes I don't know if I do. The aggregate of saints, canonized and not, speaks to us about the desire for God that is written on the human heart. You may also call it the desire for self-transcendence--with which conscientious human persons of any or no religious persuasion will identify, though perhaps with a little bit of help.

It is crucial to admit the existence and relevance of anything outside of the self. The failure to do so may well epitomize the human condition. Recovering addicts speak of a God in terms of a "higher power," but is there an "other" power? Note that the Hebrew word for holy, qadosh, at its heart means "other." When the angels were declaring the thrice-holiness of God (cf. Is 6:3), they cried out, "Qadosh, Qadosh, Qadosh!" "Other, Other, Other!" To be holy, then, is to be set apart...unique!

Since this talk was intended for Catholic Christians of this or any century, we needed to cite certain transcendent characteristics of holiness:

Obedience to the Commandments. Stipulated by the Lord as a proof of one's love for Him (cf. Jn 14:15). Nobody likes to be told what to do and what to avoid, so maybe it would mollify us to hear the commandments described as "enshrinements of positive conduct that fosters a well-ordered society, a communion of persons like unto the Trinity."

Virtues: Stable dispositions to choose the good amid the various circumstances of life. Temperance, patience, kindness, humility, diligence, chastity, and charity: these are seven contraries to the “deadly sins."

Prayertraditionally understood as “lifting heart and mind to God” (St. John Chrysostom). St. Teresa of Avila: “a friendly way of dealing, in which we find ourselves talking in private, with Him whom we know loves us." Dr. Ralph Martin recently defined prayer as “paying attention to God." Referring everyone and everything in our lives to God—in real time, when possible (and when isn’t it?). This, however, doesn’t preclude fixed, regular “sessions” of prayer, in which we engage the Lord through the Liturgy, the Scriptures, the Rosary, worthy reading, the events of the day, etc.

More later.

27 October 2013

Appreciation is a Many-Splendored Thing

It didn't occur to me until the commentator announced it at my Saturday vigil Mass: this weekend was Priesthood Sunday! I spoke about Priest Appreciation Sunday last year in a theological exposition upon the threefold munera (gifts/offices) of Christ's Priesthood as the ordained and, indeed, all the baptized exemplify them.

Since my return to Facebook I have "liked" Fr. James Martin, S.J., who offers a different take on this celebration:
"As I see it, this means that priests can show their appreciation today! This priest appreciates all the hard-working, talented, and faithful men and women who keep our church alive!"
Well, if that isn't the mark of a good writer/speaker: to help people see things a different way! Yes, the official title is "Priesthood Sunday," which seems pointedly to direct  the recognition to the ordained; but then again, as I noted in the above post, all the baptized share in the priesthood. This day, then, recognizes all the baptized, from whom the Lord has chosen a relatively small number of men to be "poured out like a libation" (to quote today's second reading, 2 Tim 4:6-8, 16-18) as preachers of the Gospel, ministers of the Sacraments, and providers of Pastoral Care.

The Gospel reading (Lk 18:9-14) also pertains to the current topic, specifically as an admonition to clergy against hypocrisy, to which I think we are particularly prone.

The more I read these diatribes against the Pharisees, the more I must admit that I probably don't surpass many people in terms of prayer, fasting, or charity. People unwittingly remind me that I don't know much, and I know less and less as I get older. And I've barely cleared the age range of "young adults" to whom I'll be speaking tomorrow at "Theology On Tap"!

In bygone days many people placed priests on a pedestal, picking up restaurant checks and opening doors not considered for the laity. Some priests undoubtedly took advantage of that privilege, and some have abused their power for purposes of influence, property, or libido. If the Church is a Mother, are we "Momma's Boys"? Only if we aren't as grateful, considerate, and generous with our resources as our good people are! Only if we don't intend as often as possible to be a good example to everyone in our path! That's a choice that each priest must make, many times daily.

If you insist on showing appreciation to your priests on this or any other day, that is to say, if you want to "keep the Church alive," I simply ask that you strive to observe the precepts of the Church:

  • Attend Mass on Sundays and other Holy Days of Obligation;
  • Receive the Eucharist as often and as worthily as possible;
  • Confess your sins (definitely the mortal, and why not? the venial) at least once a year, but more often if you want to become a clearer beacon of holiness and virtue;
  • Observe the Church's penitential practices regarding abstinence from meat and fasting;
  • Dedicate appropriate, even sacrificial, amounts of time, abilities, and finances to the spiritual and temporal services that your parish community provides.
Anything you do outside of striving to follow the Precepts is certainly appreciated; but nothing you do outside of striving to follow the precepts will excuse you from doing so. 

Be assured that I hold myself to the same standards as I'd hold you--and just as imperfectly--because I am one of you.

26 October 2013

"Would You Date You?": Review and Application

Last year I was in a near occasion of sin Catholic goods shop, where I spotted Would You Date You? by Anthony Buono, founder of Ave Maria Singles and writer at the blog 6StoneJars. The sight of this book filled me with delight. It sits at my right hand, arrayed in the gold of the autumn sun.

I met Anthony through a mutual friend, a priest and mentor who was kind enough to employ me as an organist at his parishes when I was a child of twelve (good enough for government work). I can't recall how Anthony met Fr. Connolly, but the two later collaborated on Road to Cana, a marriage series that aired on EWTN and is available on DVD. I was honored to serve for Mr. and Mrs. Buono's wedding twenty years ago. It's been a few years since we last spoke, but God knows whether and how our paths may cross.

While I have miles to go before the last page (138) of WYDY, because I've enjoyed what I've read thus far I am tempted to write a rash review. Now I don't expect the book to go sour at any point, but knowing that I might once again misplace it or place it down in favor of something else (not necessarily better), I will assure you that Mr. Buono's Opus is worth buying, reading, assimilating, and implementing.

I am not dating anyone--the Diocese and countless others will be glad to know--but I come into regular contact with people who are dating or who likely will be dating "before you know it." WYDY would make a fine gift for any such person. Content and delivery are appropriate for any high schooler or college student, perhaps as suggested or required reading, a stocking stuffer, etc.

Any human beings who exist in any sort of community--would profit from devouring this book. If the reader is moved to make necessary changes of attitude and action, WYDY will have fulfilled its purpose, and, please God, the divorce statistics will change for the better, because the reader's conversion will have prevented, or even saved, an unhappy, unhealthy or unholy relationship.

Arthur Porter wrote and Frank Sinatra sang that "love, like youth, is wasted on the young," but the young are understandably drawn to it. Unfortunately, and often tragically, many teenagers and adults lack the wherewithal to approach authentic love appropriately. They and their prospective spouses would profit from a formation in virtue

Buono treats several virtues that are particularly relevant to prospective spouses, such as humility, purity, charity, detachment, self-awareness, and practicality. He writes with a balance of directness and gentleness that invites the reader to a like consideration of his or her own ways. WYDY concludes with "A Meditation on the Crucifix for Singles," which amounts to an incisive examination of conscience that works just as well for persons who have already consecrated themselves in a vocation.

This take-away passage is relevant to the weekend's Scripture readings, for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C:
[Jesus' judgment on the Pharisee] should make us all tremble, because there is a little bit of the Pharisee in all of us that has to constantly be recognized and worked on. We hold others up to very high standards and even recoil when someone falls short of those expectations (maybe even cut someone off for their failure). Yet, we have an incredible capacity for justifying our own actions and even blinding ourselves to the hypocritical approach to the life we lead. (p. 21)
And he concludes the chapter with a practical suggestion:
Dating couples need to work at making each other feel relaxed so that authentic love has a chance to develop and blossom. They should be quick to see the best in each other, and assume any fault within themselves..." (p. 23)
Previous Lucan texts remind us that Martha and Mary were sisters, the Prodigal and the Elder were brothers, and today, the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector are praying in the same Temple...though not to the same person: while both pray-ers address God, the Pharisee "took up his position and prayed to himself" (Lk 18:11).
Two interesting points: (1) The Pharisee "took up his position": statheis literally means "stood," but the word can admit a sense of firmness. (2) He "prayed to himself" (pros heauton), which suggests a monologue.
When it feels like we're talking to ourselves in prayer, it should prompt us to consider our motives for praying. Are we trying to ingratiate ourselves with God, as if our prayer intends to "convince" Him of our virtues, or that we've been "good enough" to deserve what we seek? Are we pharisaically promoting ourselves to ourselves, as though God didn't even need to be around for it?

What kind of prospective mate, or friend (for the former ought first, and always, be the latter), could possibly "feel relaxed" in our presence--another egotist like us?

23 October 2013

Family Matters, But So Do I

Yesterday--or perhaps it was two years ago--a rather devout parishioner told me that she has a few people in her family who are priests. I know that several of her relatives, also registered parishioners, do not attend Mass regularly. I do not know for certain the effect of this woman's example on the other family members; that may be something to find out in the next life. On another occasion a woman (also of the Christmas/Easter/family event variety) mentioned by name the priest to whom she is related. I also know a fellow who has told me a relative of his "goes to church enough for all of  [her children]."

I don't know if other priests encounter this sort of situation. I suspect they do.

Unfortunately one person's Mass attendance, standing in the Church, relation to a priest or consecrated religious, or whatever, can't "count for" another person's expected fidelity.

The practice of a priest giving his Chrism-soaked manutergium to his mother, or the first-Confession stole to his father, is sweet and sentimental. As my class was approaching ordination, I knew of the former custom but not the latter. Now that my father is dead and buried, and I didn't happen to have a stole on me when my first penitent requested Confession (I wasn't in a confessional), that possibility is forever lost. But I did give Mom the manutergium (manus, hand + tergere, to wipe off). To be technical, my classmate and I used a purificatory (used to clean the chalice after reception of Holy Communion); an actual manutergium is long enough to bind the hands.

As the story goes, the mother of a priest is buried with the manutergium in her hands so that, when she meets her Maker, she can say to Him, "See, I have given You a priest." It's kinda like, "See, I have made [one] more!" (cf. Mt 25:20,22) She did have a lot to do with me--as a human being and as a priest.
The Proof is in the Putting
My mother worked for nearly 40 years as a Licensed Practical Nurse. Not long after my ordination she told me that some of her coworkers said that she should have no problem getting into heaven now that she has a son who is a priest. She quickly refuted that claim: "It doesn't work that way."

Didn't Jesus have something to say about this fantasy?

  • "While [Jesus] was speaking, a woman from the crowd called out and said to him, 'Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.' 'Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.'" (Lk 11:27-28) (One of my favorite Gospels du jour, because of the punch it packs)
  • Oops--this was John the Baptist, but no matter: "And do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones." (Mt 3:9) (I admit that I have fantasized about using an extremely earthy variation of this line on those who would ride another's coattails to heaven--a line that I doubt nobody else would take credit for. If it ever seems! I still can't use it!)
My ordination to the priesthood is a boon to Christ our Savior and Holy Mother Church, whom I am honored to serve. In a way it is also an honor to my family. For this reason I have preferred people to address me as "Father Zelonis." I have oft said that most of my family are surprised enough that a Zelonis should have become a priest. To my knowledge, neither side is banking their salvation on the fact that I am a priest. I can't even do that! 

Likewise, no believer can continue to live freely and consciously as he or she pleases and figure that Nana's or Uncle Henry's faith will take care of them. Now it may, as in the case of Saint Monica, be the necessary intercession that could move a child, grandchild, parent, niece or nephew to repentance and conversion; it could be the good example that always comes back to haunt or intrigue, or perchance inspire.

21 October 2013

Persons, Persistent and Persecuted

As a "verbivore," I devour words. In this respect I am not unlike the prophet Jeremiah, who said:
"When I found your words, I devoured them; they became my joy and the happiness of my heart, because I bore your name, Lord God of hosts" (15:16)
Scanning the Scripture readings from this past Sunday, I noticed two words: persistence and persecution. They share the prefix per, which means “through” or “thorough.” The base words are sistere, “to stand,” and sequi, “to follow.” As far as I know, they do not exist by themselves; that is to say, we don’t just “sist” or “secute.” Why stand, if you don’t stand firm, and why follow, if you don’t follow all the way, or follow through? 

Another meaning of sequi is "to pursue," which intensifies the action of following. In the famous 23rd psalm, the line "Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life" could also be rendered, "Only goodness and kindness pursue me." Uh oh--look out for goodness--it's on your tail!" It reminds me of a quote from the author J. D. Salinger: "I am a kind of paranoid in reverse. I suspect people of plotting to make me happy."

But that’s not how a great many of us look at this life. “When’s the next shoe gonna drop?” “I can’t handle this!” “Won’t these people just leave me alone?” “It’s so hard to shake this bad habit.” And where is God in it all? Life oftentimes feels like a persecution.

There are parts of the world where Catholics and other followers of Christ are still being persecuted to the shedding of their blood; but the more prevalent form of persecution consists in pesky temptations and thoughts of how awful we’re doing, of how much better off he has it, how much holier she is. If persecutions are persistent, we must be, too.

Such is the example of the Gospel widow who obtains a favorable judgment, and of Moses who secures the Israelites’ victory over Amalek in the first reading. We must be careful not to treat prayer as a tool for getting God to smooth out our lives and give us what we want, even when we are kind enough to pray for other people’s needs. The importance of these passages, and therefore the importance of prayer, lies not in the outcome but in the attitude; and not even so much in the attitude as in the Power Source.

With every technological advance in the world we have not witnessed the end of disease or mishap. We have not been able to pray sin out of existence. Our own lives can testify to these facts, both in terms of what we have done and what we have experienced.

The life of faith urges us not to abandon the efforts of prayer and service, because every prayerful word and work is an investment in a personal relationship. More than an exercise in interpersonal communication, our prayer may rather resemble a visit to a vending machine. You don’t enter into a relationship with a vending machine! 

Well, maybe this vending machine.
Person: a third "per" word, added this time onto sonare, "to sound." In olden theatre, actors wore masks, through which they expressed ("sounded") the characters they played. Persons know and are known, love and are loved—and the Holy Trinity is a communion of Persons who have chosen to share their life and love with the human race. By entering freely and consciously into prayer, it’s as if we are “charging and syncing our device” with the mind, heart, and will of our God. This results in a deepening of our personhood (understanding and freedom), in a greater sense of our value in our Father’s world and in the lives of others.

Like Moses, we must remember that we do not and cannot pray alone. In the Church’s communal prayer and personal prayer, we are united with the saints and angels in heaven. We are united with the Sacred Scriptures and the Holy Sacraments. Aaron and Hur were there to lift up their persistent leader’s weary arms. For our part, we ought never be ashamed to seek help from others. We ought never be ashamed to need help; whether we want to need it or not, we do, so why fight it? And if we need it, then it stands to reason that others do, as well, and through our openness to God’s power we may find ourselves in the position to offer that help. What a blessing!

15 October 2013

The Clericalism Clash

The latest strife to surface online is clericalism. Quite a frenzy has erupted in the Catholic blogosphere, all catalyzed by a newly-ordained Franciscan friar, Fr. Daniel P. Horan. He testifies that people distinguish him from other young priests because he is approachable and unpretentious, and not trapped in trappings like fancy vestments and such.

Knowing that my sparse yet benevolent readers are champing at the bit, waiting for me to weigh in on this issue, I cannot disappoint them – even if it is five minutes late. You see, I was just about to go out for a run when somebody brought another yet another post to my attention. I wasn't going to be disturbed on my day off, even though I still have the emergency beeper for hospital coverage and can't really go too far out of the territory. (Was I being clericalist by mentioning this, or just prideful? Or are they one and the same?)

After about three years of blogging, I have learned that where you get the real news and commentary is not in the articles, but in the comment boxes, on the blogs and the Facebook feed. These are the "fireside chats" where persons of every doctrinal, liturgical, and moral stripe gather like vultures around the carcass.
Ubicumque fuerit corpus, illuc congregabuntur aquilae (Mt 24:28): When a word is spoken or written (cf. Pilate: "What I have written, I have written"), it is "dead"--finished, irretrievable--and thus its author is liable to be picked apart. That's an apt saying; I shall make it my episcopal motto!
If you're interested...
(1) Haughtiness and unapproachability are not the exclusive property of the young. Neither is the preference for high-church vessels and vestments. (2) The preference for high-church vessels and vestments is not to be equated with haughtiness and unapproachability. (3) The preference for low-church vessels and vestments is not to be equated with the demeanor of a servant of God. 

A priest for twenty-five years, Fr. John Trigilio responds to Fr. Horan on the supposed relationship of attire to demeanor, branching out from there. Newly-ordained Father Michael Duffy offers another response. From his pastoral activity, especially in Confession, he acknowledges that a great many people are holier than he.  Also Father William Grimm highlights the importance of service for clergy, noting the peculiar "normalcy" of clergy who are not above washing dishes, shopping for groceries, waiting in lines, or shoveling snow--"menial" activities that our good people discharge while managing their households and performing secular jobs that many priests would bungle in a heartbeat!

Wikipedia has it that the term clericalism "has...been applied in a pejorative manner to describe the cronyism and cloistered political environs of the Church, mainly in reference to the Roman Catholic Church." I found this nuance interesting: "The phenomenon of clericalism is not restricted to the ordained, as it occurs in purely secular guilds, such as academia, the legal and medical establishments, and the public-safety clergy: the police and military." 

Clericalism involves a two-tier approach that separates (as opposed to "distinguishes") clergy from laity (although there might be a variation that separates clergy from vowed religious). The phrase being bandied about in the readings I've encountered is "putting on a pedestal." When people are put on a pedestal, I've found, it's so they can be knocked down from it.

Who performs the idolatry, and what might it resemble?

For the clergy, clerical idolatry involves the sense of being beyond scrutiny or reproach. "What we do and how we speak is none of the people's business to judge," and often this self-defense attempts to withstand the critique of fellow priests and bishops. According to texts of yore (I think of the era of Fulton Sheen), the priesthood is a "higher calling." While this bears some validity when properly understood, idolators among the clergy will (consciously or not) co-opt this notion to justify their behaviors, especially the spending of money and time. "I can't be bothered with them." Someone once suggested that a kind of clericalism can prompt confessors to tell penitents that they may violate a teaching of the Church (e.g. to get a tubal ligation), effectively to say, "I can speak for Jesus here." Priests who refuse to recognize the talents and opinions of the laity in parish decision-making also exhibit a clericalist mentality.

For the laity, clerical idolatry likewise involves the sense of being beyond scrutiny or reproach. The priest is not to be questioned. We must cover for, excuse, his behaviors and attitudes. "He has to let off some steam somehow. We must have done or said something to irritate him. He doesn't have a wife." People may even question their own motives and refrain from calling out their priest on egregious errors. But according to Fr. Dwight Longenecker, some laity will take the opposite approach to those who fawn over their priests: instead they will pay him lip-service but passively defy and defame him in his absence. Another example: people keep an unhealthy distance from their priests, fearing that they are "always so busy," and feeling unworthy to seek help with their sins and personal problems. "He can't be bothered with me."

Clergy and laity unwittingly can feed off each other in the promotion of clericalist mindsets and practices. It is a vicious cycle found among households where addiction is present. This is not surprising, as addiction thrives on secrecy, on making exemptions for oneself, rationalizing and justifying, ego-boosting and ego-deflating.

The fallout from the clergy abuse scandal accounts for much of the recent conversation about clericalism, notwithstanding the articles authored by, or concerning, the clericalism observed in young priests. As one who was ordained deacon in the year when the scandals began to unravel (2002), I can say that priests ordained since ca. 2000 are aware of the clericalism that led to the scandal, but we must guard against newer iterations; and who's to say that the sexually scandalous sort is altogether dead?

We are learning from our elder brothers in the priesthood that "priests need priests"--we profit from fraternal companionship and camaraderie. But we must also ask ourselves what we need each other for.   "Set, O Lord, a guard over my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lips" (Ps 141:3): we can run the risk of wasting opportunities for fraternal interaction on unworthy topics just as much as our people may waste them at water coolers, in locker rooms, or other roadsides where carcasses lie. In the past nineteen years (nine as a seminarian, ten as a priest) I have very much appreciated the company of the priests of our diocese. It affords many opportunities to learn and grow, when I am open to them. I hope I am contributing in kind to the positive climate, not putting the "bitter" in the presbyterate.

While priests are unique in terms of our identity and mission in the Church and society, this uniqueness does not ipso facto render us holier or more virtuous than our non-ordained counterparts. (Not that we want to go out of our way to prove that!) If anything--and we've heard this before--it makes us accountable to our people. If they desire or expect from us the Church's doctrinal and moral teachings, reverent liturgical offering (ordinary, extraordinary, St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil, whatever), sound guidance on prayer, or upright personal conduct, this seems eminently faithful and reasonable!

People must "settle for" priests who are human beings, who have bad days and make bad choices (because that's what we are, and what we often do), but this fact does not absolve us from the constant impetus to grow alongside our people. Frequent association with them, inside and outside of the expected parish context, is absolutely necessary. Ideally that contact makes us appropriately vulnerable: we become open to critique as well as praise, teaching us how to process feedback and make salutary adjustments. As Fr. Grimm notes that priests are "normal," we don't have to consider that normalcy an impediment to the Gospel, but rather a conduit. Nothing genuinely priestly need be sacrificed or even compromised by being in mundo conversatus ("moving about in the world"; cf. St. Thomas' hymn Pange Lingua).

I often tell people that I went through seminary with more interest in becoming a "theological practitioner" than a "community organizer," but especially since ordination I have been learning more skills well suited to the latter. (Life has a way of redirecting and reshaping our interests and aptitudes.) As the above-cited Wikipedia article mentioned, a kind of clericalism can exist among the medical profession, sometimes evident in a doctor's lack of "bedside manner." No seminary can adequately teach what our bishop calls "pastoral finesse," though they do their best. Our people can teach us a great deal, if we let them. That, it seems, is the antidote to clericalism.