CATHOLIC PRIESTHOOD - SHOULD YOUNG MEN JOIN?
Would I advise any young man in 2016 to join the Catholic priesthood?
That is an interesting and complex question.
The first question we need to ask ourselves when answering this question is: "What is the Catholic priesthood meant to be"?
The second question is: "What is the Catholic priesthood like today as things stand"?
And then we can answer that question: "Would I (we) advise a young man of today to join that priesthood"?
1. WHAT IS THE CATHOLIC PRIESTHOOD MEANT TO BE?
The answer to this question is simple. A Catholic priest is meant to be "another Jesus" or as we used to say in the old days - an alter Christus.
By being another Jesus I DO NOT mean that a Catholic priest is meant to be "godly" or indeed "sinless". No purely human being can be this day. Only Jesus, we Christians believe, was 100% God and 100% man.
The rest of us are only 100% human.
But there were some very distinguishing things about Jesus - The Priest - that we human priests must be if we want to be genuine priests.
Jesus was a man of faith - absolute faith in His Heavenly Father. Priests, more than ever before must have a strong faith and a strong belief.
It may surprise some people to know that there are a great number of priests who DO NOT have faith - who are virtual agnostics or atheists. Some of them went into the priesthood for the wrong reasons - to please Mammy; to have a reasonably well paid and secure job with stability; to achieve community status etc.
In the course of my 40 years in the priesthood and 46 years in the Church I have met quite a number of priests who have told me that they have no faith or that they have lost their faith and are only staying in the priesthood because they have nowhere else to go!
This situation leads to a sterile and useless priesthood and such men are doing both themselves and their communities intense harm. Quite simply they do not belong in the priesthood. They are like policemen who no longer believe in the law.
PRAYER: Jesus - The Priest - built his life and ministry around prayer. He would often sneak away from the crowds to be alone with the Father.
Again I have met many priests who have told me that they do not pray. Of course if you no longer believe why would you pray?
COMPASSIONATE SERVICE: A priest - a good priest - should see himself fundamentally as a SERVANT. Essentially a priest is not the centre figure in a community or the leader of the community. He MUST BE a SERVANT of that community.
And that means 24/7 service.
The modern Catholic priesthood has morphed into a "profession" - like law or medicine.
Essentially the priesthood is NOT a profession. It is, as they would say in Downton Abbey - "going into service".
Priests should gravitate to and be surrounded by the world's outcasts - as Jesus was - the poor, the non respectable, the prostitutes, the tax collectors and the "sinners".
I challenge you to call on any modern Catholic presbytery or rectory today and you'll find a distinct lack of outcasts about the place and a real presence pf the blue rinse brigade.
As a retreat master said of many priests: "HE WENT OUT TO DO GOOD - AND HE DID WELL".
2. WHAT HAS CATHOLIC PRIESTHOOD BECOME?
The Catholic priesthood has become in too many respects a middle class "profession".
Over the 20 centuries the Church has moved away from being the Family of God and the Community of Believers to being a multinational with bishops are area managers and priests as branch managers.
What used to be about service has now become about power, control, money and property.
The priest is part of the establishment that controls the people and no longer a servant of the people.
The priesthood has been severely infected with worldliness, cynicism, careerism, capitalism and "professional advancement".
3. PERSON-HOOD AND SEXUALITY:
The modern Catholic priesthood is skewed by the Church's medieval approach to sexuality and by the imposition of a compulsory celibacy that is not working.
This has turned many priests into "deviants" - that is - being one thing in private and pretending to be a totally different thing in public.
This brings its own type of spiritual and psychological schizophrenia with it. Many, if not most priests are sexually and emotionally immature people who are being forced to live double lives. This situation is destructive of mature person-hood.
As a result priests become involved in illicit relationships with women and men. They abuse power. They drink or gamble too much. They become addicted to golf. And a very small percentage of them sexually abuse women, men and children.
The modern Catholic priesthood is like a packet of cigarettes and should carry the following health warning:
"PRIESTHOOD CAN SERIOUSLY DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH".
It would take a very grounded, very mature, very strong young man to resist all the pitfalls of the modern Catholic priesthood.
Maybe, if they are not super strong, they should think of the following:
FIND ANOTHER WAY TO BELIEVE.
FIND ANOTHER WAY TO PRAY.
FIND ANOTHER WAY TO SERVE.