Father Carota has a beautifully suffering post about the drawbacks of being a good priest. Modern society being what it is, it is nowadays almost impossible to be a good priest without incurring the ire of the self-righteous semi-secular (but entirely arrogant) society; a society full of people expecting their every whim to be complied with, and ready to attack everyone refusing to play the game with the accusation of having “hurt” them. Such a priest will therefore, just for his willingness to be a good priest, accused of being “uncharitable”, variously “judgmental”, and most certainly “hurtful”.
In this case, it seems one or more rather wordly women used their Facebook account to smear the priest, guilty of the horrible crime of – inviting them to dress decently in the Church.
Shocking! I mean, shocking that there are still priests willing to do their job! Not many of those nowadays, I am sure…
Thirty years ago, the woman so addressed might have disagreed with Father's assessment of what is “appropriate dress”, but would then have very probably understood that, well, he is the priest, so that's that.
Not now. Now, a remark or a correction – or in extreme cases, a refusal to enter the Church – gives rise to a Facebook campaign, the idea that in such matters one simply accepts what the priest says being slowly inconceivable.
This is not Father Carota's fault, obviously, but I think the clergy as a category have much to answer for such a mentality. Decades of self-effacing pussyfooting, of non-authoritarian “pastoral” approach, and of ceaseless desire to be the “nice guy” have both emasculated and ridiculed the figure of the priest in the eyes of the populace. The Priest is not seen anymore as a person of authority, but as a low-paid (Germany-speaking Countries excepted) social worker whose only hope of being tolerated is to mingle with the world as much as he can. Therefore, if he tries to tell someone what to do – in matters strictly related to his own authority and sphere of competence, of course – all hell will break loose. Such behaviour must make on the ” occasional” folks (the “marriage and perhaps funeral” types) the same impression as the cleaning lady suddenly lecturing them about the Impending Revolt Of The Oppressed.
The figure of the priest has lost much in authority and, I would say, in manliness. This goes hand in hand with the loss of their function: being a priest, saving souls, admonishing and, when necessary, forbidding and reproaching. Nowadays, many priest go around bearing on their face a big inscription stating: “I apologise for being a Catholic priest and will try to keep your inconvenience to a minimum”. Is it a great surprise, then, that even public dykes feel it appropriate to stage a very public m circus upon being denied communion?
Still, the duties of the priest remain the same even after the category has brought so much harm on itself, though the prevailing winds will take care that many of them accurately avoid to do a proper job. The more grateful must we be to those, fairly rare, priests who tell it like it is and, faced with the choice between Christ or a quiet life, invariably choose Christ.
In the end, it's always this side, or their side.
The Psalmist’s rod and staff are traditionally used images to convey the fact that the faithful will invariably need unpleasant correction. As the shepherd uses the rod and the staff in a way which is not pleasant to the sheep but keeps them away from harm or sudden death, the spiritual shepherd must at times use his spiritual rod and staff to make clear to his sheep that they are headed in the wrong direction and a correction of course is needed. This kind of correction is unpleasant – more so in modern times, where more and more people think that they are the creators of their own moral coördinates – but is nevertheless necessary and salutary.
For too long, we have been led to believe that the good shepherd is the one who is popular among the sheep; the one whom the sheep consider a frightfully nice chap, a smiling tolerant inclusive fellow and, in short, a pleasant bloke all around. For too long, our spiritual shepherds have tried to be our friends rather than our guides, have thought that we would naturally grow out of all our shortcomings instead of charitably but clearly pointing out to them and have in general tried to avoid every occasion of making themselves, well, less popular. The first result of such a shepherd’s behaviour is that many of his sheep start to die; the second, that more and more sheep start to question whether they need a shepherd at all; the third, that an increasing number of sheep lose the sense of why the shepherd was there in the first place other than to entertain them with platitudes abundantly available everywhere.
Thankfully, all this slowly begins to change. As the post-Vatican II (and post Sixty-Eight) generation of priests slowly retires and a new generation of more orthodox priests begins to fill the pulpits, a clear tendency to a more assertive style of spiritual guidance is frequently noticed. The rod and the staff are coming back. You can see here that the Holy Father himself insists on the point.
The Holy Father’s words are particularly important, because they come at a time when the push toward tolerance at all costs is particularly strong within the secularised West; strong, in fact, to the point that such an “inclusiveness” seems to have become the new religion, the moral absolute and the ethical compass of a growing number of secular – or simply not properly instructed – individuals.
We need more of these assertive shepherds. We need more Fulton Sheens and less Roger Mahonys. We want our shepherd to use his rod and his staff to help us to grow instead spoiling us rotten so that he may be popular and have an easy life.