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

04 January 2014

Mon-"See Ya Later"

Anytime a story about Pope Francis is released, I get suspicious. The Church now needs a BS detector, along the lines of snopes.com. Writers of books and pamphlets once had to acquire an imprimatur (Latin for "let it be printed") from a bishop or his designate in order to assure that the reader would not be misled in matters of faith and morals. When it comes to the Internet, however, anything is fair game.

The Vatican Insider: La Stampa reports that Pope Francis has decided to restrict future bestowals of the honorary title "Monsignor" (Italian for "my lord") to priests age 65 and older. Since the reforms of Pope Paul VI, there were three ranks of monsignori; now the title will be limited to the first rank, "Chaplain of His Holiness." For the sartorially-inclined, that's the black cassock with purple buttons and sash. (Our pastor was named a Chaplain of His Holiness John Paul II in 2005.) All current monsignori are "grandfathered" regardless of age, and will retain their rank and attire.

Somewhere--most recently, here--I read that no more than ten percent of a diocesan presbyterate should be monsignori. Our diocese would need to have almost double the current number of diocesan priests in order to observe that rule! A friend spoke of a diocese where "you couldn't shake the tail of a dead cat without hitting a monsignor." By contrast, some dioceses have "bled" purple and fuchsia very sparsely.

As a kid I was always impressed by the cavalcade of colors in Forty Hours processions. To me it was the closest thing to parades of military, emergency personnel, or marching bands, which still induce goose bumps and tears. The processions for diocesan-wide Masses (where we are, of course, "fully clothed" in chasuble and stole) continue to make my hairs stand on end, more so because I get to be a part of them.

The title, too, tickled my young ears. It seemed like a kind of hot commodity, reserved for the "big cities" like Allentown, Reading, or...Pottsville. For years Saint Clair never had one, until the present pastor in town, Msgr. Glosser, who, like many monsignori I've known, are just as happy to refer to themselves, and be called, "Father [Bill]."

I've always appreciated the vesture of the "Domestic Prelate" (fuchsia cassock with red buttons and sash, or black cassock with red buttons and fuchsia sash), but henceforth it will be restricted to bishops. Fortunately we'll still have a couple dozen of Domestic Prelates in our diocese for some time. The purple-speckled "monjuniors" will be with us for quite a while, and their ranks will be fortified in time. The ambitious need not lose heart!

Well, perhaps they should, as disillusionment can set the heart right.

The theme of clerical ambition has been prominent in Francis' addresses, as it was for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. I'm sure it has been an issue since the mother of two apostles jockeyed for her sons to be seated alongside the King (cf. Mt 20:21). The priesthood is not an avenue to career advancement, and diocesan offices are not status symbols. As a friend posted in his link to the La Stampa article, "We are but unprofitable servants, who have merely done our duty" (Lk 17:10).

The aforementioned monsignor in my hometown and others wear their cassock with humility, just as they might wear the black "witness shirt" most days. We cannot at all conclude that whoever is or will be a monsignor, has received the title for being a sycophant.

While I can admit to tinges of ambition and interest in trappings, it truly is enough for me to be a Catholic priest who is, for the moment, still in good standing. The discharge of daily responsibilities can be enough of a challenge. When people call me "Father," it still astounds and humbles me. May it always be so!

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