Should a priest be vulnerable?
31st March 2014 · 0 Comments
By Fr. Jerome LeDoux
Responding to a query by Southern SVD Provincial Superior James Pawlicki, professor/author Father Ronald Rolheiser penned some reflections on the priesthood.
“I suspect it’s because, deep down, we’re all a little afraid of our own complexity and somehow if Father goes through life pretending that he has no shadow, we can also more easily pretend that we haven’t got one either.
“We tend to leave no room for our priests to be weak. I am not speaking here of weak in the moral sense, but weak in the way Jesus was weak and in the way that any truly sensitive person is: vulnerable, not always together, emotionally overwrought, chronically overextended, and prone to cry very needy tears at times. We demand instead someone who projects that all is well all the time and who bleeds only ichor (an ethereal fluid taking the place of blood in the veins of the ancient Greek gods).
“Please don’t, consciously or unconsciously, ask your priest to dress in medieval clothes, to stay in the sanctuary, and to be so timid as to be unable to dare the perilous task of living. Let him be himself: complex, weak, sexed, masculine, involved, needy, and free not to pretend. Priests are tired of being cast in the clothing of senility while everyone is crying to be young, tired of being cast as eunuchs without real blood, sinew and passion.
“Small wonder hardly anyone wants to join us! We need, priests and community together, to risk some new directions. There are risks in this, of course, but, as Goethe once put it; ‘The dangers of life are infinite and safety is among them.’”
Of course, I wholeheartedly agree with Father Rolheiser. From having put their priests on a pedestal for many decades, people have lowered them to a level where they expect priests to be like them and subject to all the vagaries and foibles of their own lives.
As tough as nails, St. Paul puts it all into perspective by espousing what, by any other name, is actually The Little Way of St. Therese of Lisieux. Think about it, folks. The toughest, most-driven missionary of all time spoke and lived the same spirituality that was embraced lock, stock and barrel some 1,800 years later by a contemplative nun. For all their identity in spirituality, a greater mismatch of personalities is hard to find.
In the brief period of 24 years of life, The Little Flower, as she is known, became a saint by doing what all the nuns were doing as well as she could, allowing God to take charge and lead her thoughts, attitudes, desires, words and actions. Admitting openly her littleness, weakness and imperfections, she asked God to supply where she was deficient.
She was bold enough to say that the angels finished her rosary if she fell asleep.
So forceful and assertive in preaching the Gospel of the crucified Christ on land and at sea that numerous men attempted to kill him, 2 Corinthians 12:8-9 paints Paul as a mystic humbled by “a thorn in the flesh” from which God declined to free him, saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
And Paul sounded like Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, when he responded, “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and constraints for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Alpha males that they are, priests are often tempted to think that they must show their mettle and their steely grasp and command of all things. In this they are suffering from the Apostle Complex so annoyingly present in the followers of Jesus who bickered off and on over who was the first, the most important, the greatest, the leader of the band.
The very worst instance of that Complex is recounted in Luke 22:24 where the apostles had just received their First Communion at the Last Supper, “Then an argument broke out among them about which of them should be regarded as the greatest.”
In masterful fashion, Jesus commented, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them and those in authority are addressed as ‘Benefactors’; but among you it shall not be so. Rather, let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as a servant.”
Hence, the official title of the Pope (from the nickname Papa) is “Servant of the Servants Of God.” The same title works for a bishop in his diocese, a pastor in his parish. 1 Corinthians 4:1 says, we are “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”
In Matthew 11:38, all-time Alpha Male Jesus Christ is the template for women, men, religious, priests, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.”
This article originally published in the March 31, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.