The priest I need

Bishop Jorge Rodriguez

This is the time of year official appointments of pastors and parochial vicars are announced in the Archdiocese of Denver. Expectations are high. Each person has their own ideal of what kind of pastor they want in their parish: “I like him,” “I don’t like him,” “he’s not like the last one,” “the last one was great…” And each person has their own ideal of what kind of pastor their parish needs.

With many expectations, we often await a new priest that preaches like St. Paul, that is entertaining, that knows how to relate to people, that makes miracles with the collection funds, that keeps everything clean and in order, that is always around for when he’s needed, that never gets mad, that is always joyful, that never gets sick, that is a tamer of teenagers…the list can go on.

Yet in reality, the only thing that matters, the only thing that is truly needed, is that he be a holy priest: a priest that we see is in love with Christ when he speaks; that celebrates the sacraments with faith and unction; that teaches us to pray and live a love relationship with God and with our neighbor, and that treats everyone with the same love of God.

A holy priest is a gift from heaven we must ask for. It’s something that can’t be made here on earth or that comes from the human nature of the man called by God to this vocation. Holiness is always a gift from God. Thus, a well-known Spanish prayer for priests ends by saying, “Oh Lord! Send holy and fervent priests to your Church!”

The Church observes the yearly World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests on the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, this year celebrated on June 8.

I think many can concur with the words of the famous film director and actor Mark Wahlberg: “I was married by a priest. My children were baptized by a priest. And whenever somebody in my family passed away, they’ve all been buried by a priest. My sins have been forgiven when I go to confession to a priest. Every time I go to Mass, it’s through a priest’s hands that I receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, which strengthens me to share my Catholic faith with others.”

I ask that you raise a small prayer for your parish priest and all the priests of the archdiocese this June 8 — ask nothing for them except holiness.

COMING UP: Nothing about us without us

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The slogan “Nothing about us without us” was used by Solidarity in the 1980s in Poland, borrowing a royal motto from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the mid-second millennium. Then, it was expressed in Latin: Nihil de nobis sine nobis. Later, it appeared in Polish on the banners of 19th-century Poles fighting their country’s partition by Russia, Prussia, and Austria: Nic o Nas bez Nas. Today, it’s often used by disability activists asserting their claim to be fully participant in society.

“Nothing about us without us” also applies to the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, which will meet in Rome in October.

That Synod will involve seven bishops’ conferences from nine Latin American countries who will consider their pastoral situation under the theme, “Amazonia: new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology.” As is usually the case in these meetings, the bishops at the Synod will work with materials drafted in Rome. Early indicators from the Synod’s preparatory document suggest that the Amazonian Synod will be longer on environmentalism than on theology. International media attention will doubtless focus on the Synod’s discussion of climate change and its relationship to Amazonian deforestation.

Recent synodal history suggests, however, that more will be afoot at the Amazonian Synod than what its announced theme suggests.

The 2014 and 2015 Synods were called to consider the crisis of marriage and the family throughout the world. Yet they became the occasion for powerful churchmen to try to deconstruct Catholic moral theology and sacramental discipline, according to the tried-and-failed theologies and pastoral practices of the 1970s. The 2018 Synod, summoned to discuss youth ministry and vocational discernment, began with an effort by the Synod general secretariat to enshrine the world’s language of sexual plasticity (and the lame understandings of happiness that underwrite that language) into an official Church document. When that failed, Synod-2018 became the occasion for the Synod general secretariat to promote an ill-defined notion of “synodality” that struck more than a few bishops present as a prescription for local-option, choose-your-own-doctrine Catholicism on the model of the (imploding) Anglican Communion.

This pattern seems likely to continue at the Amazonian Synod. There, the deeper agenda will be the ordination of mature married men — viri probati — to the priesthood. Proponents will argue that this dramatic change in the Church’s longstanding tradition of a celibate priesthood (which, contrary to much misinformation, antedates the early Middle Ages by hundreds of years) is necessary because Amazonia is a Catholic area deprived of the Eucharist by a lack of priests. One hopes that the counterclaims — that Amazonia is mission territory requiring wholesale evangelization, and that Amazonia’s lack of priests reflects racial and class divisions in Latin American Catholicism that discourage priests of European pedigree from working with indigenous peoples — get a serious hearing.

Proponents of ordaining viri probati in Amazonia, including retired Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, OFM, have insisted that any such concession there would have no implications for the universal Church. That cannot be, however. Should the Amazonian Synod request the Pope to grant a dispensation from the discipline of celibacy for that region, and should he grant it, it will be just a matter of time before bishops conferences elsewhere — Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Austria come immediately to mind — make similar requests, citing pressing pastoral needs. On what ground would those requests be denied?

In a year-end interview with Vatican News, the Synod’s general secretary, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, insisted that the Amazonian Synod would not discuss environmental issues only, but would also confront “ecclesial themes” — and would do so in a way that Amazonia could be “a model for the whole world.”

We can be grateful to the cardinal for his candor in, however unintentionally, letting the celibacy cat out of the synodal bag. Any decision to ordain viri probati in Amazonia would inevitably have major consequences for the entire Church. A decision of this magnitude cannot be taken by an unrepresentative segment of the Church and then turned into a “model” for everyone else.

That is why the principle of “Nothing about us without us” must apply here. Whatever else “synodality” may mean, it surely must mean that decisions bearing on everyone should involve as broad a consultation and as global a reflection as possible. Bishops who agree should make their concerns known now, not after the Amazonian synod meets.

Featured image by Vatican Media | CNA