Priesthood should be about service not status
'Time' magazine featured an article on priesthood on June 19. The title of the piece was 'The God Squad', written by Elizabeth Dias. It was about 'millennials' who are studying for priesthood and newly ordained men working in parishes. It concerned itself exclusively with the Catholic Church in the United States.
They say a picture paints a thousand words. Maybe we are slower to say that in the age of Photoshop. Nevertheless, photos communicate powerful messages. The pictures in this article show handsome young men dressed in immaculate black suits and wearing roman collars.
Why would young men want to dress in such a fashion? It certainly singles them out and separates them from their peers. Something about the pictures that says: 'I'm special, I'm different'. This does not fit with any idea or understanding that I have of priesthood. If I remember correctly did Pope Francis not say some time back that priests need to smell like the sheep? I doubt if any of these men could or would tolerate any sort of foul smelling. They look and sound too perfect to have anything out of place.
Dias says that the US 'millennial priests' are moving away from the old stereotypes of priesthood - reserved men, removed and dogmatic. Are they? It's never a good idea to generalise any generation but her analysis seems inaccurate. Is it not the case that many young priests today are moulded in the John Paul II and Benedict XVIstyle'. Is that or was that not couched in a nostalgia that almost prohibited the 'new style' priest from smelling the sheep? The 'millennials' inhabit a different world from the world that Dias portrays of young US priests.
I'm inclined to think that a regimented over-clerical style priesthood finds its origins in a right-wing tendency towards certainty that obscures a basic insecurity. I would have thought an intrinsic aspect of priesthood is service. And that means being there, being present for other people in a quiet and unobtrusive manner. It also means listening to people in their joy and in their pain too.
It might well be that some millennial seminarians and priests consider my generation to have failed the church and they are now harking back to older ways and methods that provided tangible and certain answers in the past. Such a modus vivendi might well attract a select few but honestly, I can't see it reaching out to the wider community. The church is the people of God and the job of the priest is to accompany people on their pilgrimage or journey through life. That means listening to the signs of the times, trying to interpret them in the context of Christian hope.
Those pictures in 'Time' magazine left an impression on me. And it was not one of service or being prophetic. The men looked like male models. Guess what, those types of priests are a far cry from the five men Pope Francis inducted into the college of Cardinals last Wednesday. 'The Tablet' which is an English weekly Catholic magazine, writes: 'Pope Francis is restoring an ancient tradition that the role of a cardinal is about service and not status.'
He is appointing them on their willingness to smell like the sheep.