The Catholic Moment: What keeps me Catholic? The priesthood
January 27, 2011
By Michael Daley
I know you’ve heard them, maybe even passed them along.
Though we don’t mention them in polite company, stereotypes and caricatures of priests exist: “Yes” men with little self-confidence who always spout back the party line; men who may listen to you in the beginning but in the end believe that “Father knows best;” unimaginative and lifeless pastors who just go through the motions; self-centered individuals who have no idea what it’s like to live in the real world. Suffice to say, given the events of the last decade, it has become easy to be this one-sided.
Yet, I know better. Over the course of my years, in a variety of ways and in a number of different contexts, I have come into contact with numerous priests who defy the above descriptions; who, in fact, prove them wrong.
As a student I met priests of great intellect who, as the saying goes, have forgotten more of the Catholic theological tradition than I’ll ever even know. Truth for them is not something to be avoided but pursued. As a result they not only teach the tradition but question it as well. This leads them to bring theology and Scripture into conversation with the concerns of the day: economics, history, politics, medicine, psychology, law, literature and the like.
In my commitment for a more just world I have worked with priests devoted to the poor and marginalized. We have marched together in Ft. Benning, Ga., at the School of the Americas protesting our nation’s foreign policy, and in Washington, D.C., at the March for Life, questioning our nation’s legality of abortion. Like me, they are persons who seek to protect life in all its forms.
Desiring good liturgy I have worshipped with priests who prayerfully mediate the presence of God through the Eucharist. While celebrating the church’s liturgy and sacraments they make present the person of Christ. At their best, aware of their own weaknesses and limits, they truly become alter Christus — another Christ. Knowledgeable of the rhythms of the Spirit in one’s life, they are insightful spiritual directors. As confessors they are compassionate in the face of one’s admitted, sinful weaknesses. They also have a gift at proclaiming and connecting the word of God to people’s lives.
Perhaps most importantly, at least for me, I have enjoyed the friendship of priests. I have had the opportunity to see them not as persons “up there” and set apart, but companions on this journey. I have laughed and cried with them. We have been at each other’s homes. Ultimately, and this is the basis of friendship, we have shared our lives with one another.
I have to admit some regret at the present unease that exists for many Catholics between priests and laity. The “us” vs. “them” attitude is doing little, if anything, to heal the wounds existing in our church today. I wish more people could have my type of experiences with a priest — where, when the people parted company, they would leave hoping to meet again soon.
It’s what keeps me Catholic.
Daley is a religion teacher at St. Xavier High School and a freelance writer.