Priest's Mission – Creator of Creative Minorities

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“You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14)

When Priests Move, the Church Moves

The birth and range of influence of these groups trembles in the balance for the pivotal factor is whether or not the leaders of the Church will resolve to become creators of creative minorities.

For the priests by divine institution are the  “cardines” [hinges] of the Church: the priest in the parish, the bishop in the diocese and  the cardinals headed by the Vicar of Christ for the universal Church.

On the priests the birth -or at least the degree of influence – of creative minorities  radically depends. It is they who have the mission and therefore the authority. It is they who are responsible par excellence for the fulfillment of the Church’s mission.

For to each priest on the day of his entry into the order of leaders, teachers and sanctifiers – respecting the different level –  Christ’s voice resonates through the unbroken 2,000 year old line: “On this rock I will build my Church” (Mt.16:18), “I will give  you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt.16:19),  “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven”(Mt.18:18).

The priest also has the power for by virtue of the hierarchical structure of the Church he is not only teacher and sanctifier but is also the man of government:  practically, whether at the level of parish or diocese, he controls the organization,finance and contacts necessary for either the birth or the growth of initiative.

It is a matter of record that although associations and institutions have come into existence founded by the laity, yet even then the growth and progress depended in large degree on whether or not priests gave their approval: only when they decided to support saplings did these grow into robust oaks.

At the end of the day only the priests can mobilize the local church behind a project. Moreover, even when at times creative individuals and groups  have appeared to exist with no obvious involvement by a man in holy orders, one frequently finds upon travelling to the genesis of the inspiration, or to its endurance in the midst of winter…the silhouette of an unknown shepherd.

The priest’s role often continues after a project is born because the priest, as spiritual father, often must nurture the individual or the group  through the teething-problems of infancy, the needs of childhood and the storms of adolescence as far as maturity: on-going formation for the creative minorities is key to their effectiveness. The individuals will always need the attention of the priest as physician of their souls in spiritual direction and they will also need his guidance in acquiring knowledge: catechesis, apologetics, theology, philosophy, history of the Church, great Catholic literature all of which are necessary for the men and women of our day to keep alive the flame of the Catholic vision amid the biting winds of secularism. It is the priest who has the duty to empower the requirements for a mature laity:

“I want a laity”, said Blessed John Henry Newman, “not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold, and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it. I want an intelligent, well-instructed laity.”[1]

THE IMPACT OF A GENUINE PRIESTLY LIFE: THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE CHURCH, THE PRIEST, AND CIVILIZATIONS

Hence to the priests the lay faithful of the Church look for leadership in civilization-building. To start with, they need to receive from them an alertness that they have this mission. For any general knows that if soldiers are reluctant to march into battle it is because more often than not they lack officers marching ahead of them, showing them the way, with a plan and a purpose and a strategy. Any general knows that if an army is purposeless and dispirited, he should normally point the finger first of all at himself.

Such is the role of leaders and what are Catholic priests meant to be if not leaders?

How will the laity rise up if priests do not teach them about their mission, sanctify them for that mission, lead them in the mission?

For where do lay men and women learn the mind of the Church from their childhood onwards if not from the priest in their parish, who week after week stands before them to teach, shepherd  and sanctify?

 If not from the priest, from whom will they learn how to act?

 If not from the pulpit and in the confessional, where?

 When Priests move, the Church moves!

The laity need priests who will form them, launch them as co-workers, accompany them, and strengthen them as only a priest can do! 

Among our Catholic people are men and women of fire who aspire to change the world somehow, some way, by making their contribution to create a new civilization founded on Catholic principles. But they need leaders!

What St. Paul said about the pagans becoming Christians can be said of the laity becoming active builders of a new social order: “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14). The laity today repeats what the Ethiopian said to St. Philip when the latter asked him if he understood what he was reading: “How can I unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:31)

The solution to the evangelization of individuals and to the reconstruction of a Christian civilization hangs on the priest as on no other. Indispensable is his role in forming an apostolic laity because creative Catholics come from creative priests!

When the priest strives to accomplish full-scale his triple mission of teaching, sanctifying and governing, then almost spontaneously, like water cascading  from an overflowing  fountain, creative minorities emerge. Then he will do, inspire others to do, and allow others to do, avoiding any form of clericalism just as much as he avoids any laity distorting their role by resigning themselves solely to liturgical tasks.

We must be clear about the nature of the priestly mission:  although it is not the direct mission of the priest to create a new civilization, it is most definitely his mission to create the creators! 

Even if we spend countless hours in  confessionals located in churches on the fringes of great cities, the priest knows with the certainty of faith confirmed by history that he is in the epicenter of a construction site for Christian civilization: here is where it will or will not begin! 

With eyes made clear and bright by hours gazing on the Crucified One and the tabernacle he has lost any blindness he might have had about who he is as a priest. He knows that he may not ignore the social consequences of his identity without being false to his priestly character and without betraying mankind. He knows that every time he gives spiritual direction in confession he is called to foster an apostolic energy in Catholics; when he speaks from the pulpit, catechizes and teaches apologetics, directs retreats, organizes youth – and goes on his knees –  he knows he can lay the foundations of a Christian society which are found in the foundations of each individual soul.

That is why the priest can never be  status quo, “business as usual”!   How could he  be since his heart must vibrate with the energetic love of the divine life (sanctifying grace) which is never static, always dynamic!  Throughout the ages true priests, each in proportion to his gifts of nature and grace, irrupts onto an unsuspecting world as torrents of vision, daring and enterprise. They become the turbo-engine of the Church’s progress by being resolutely “conservative”in conserving the doctrines of the Faith as proposed by the Tradition of the Church and by being always “liberal”(magnanimous) in their open-mindedness about methods of working.

Because our methods must change with the needs of our people: we cannot be working with methods of the 1950s or the 1970s as if the internet revolution, globalization and the socio-political changes of recent decades had not occurred. Throughout the parishes of the West many Catholic parents would echo the cry for a revolution in parish effectiveness made by  Professor Clemens Cavallin, a university professor, husband and father to six children, in seeking to promote Catholic family life in secularized Sweden:

“Because, it is in the parish  that the guiding principles for the family project should be given; it should be a font of values and a structural counter weight that could help the Catholic family projects to evolve along the line of what I would like to call a highly reflexive tradition, which require an abandonment of tribalism, ritualism and minimalism: that is, the confusion of religious and national identity, mindless performance of ritual gestures and just doing your religious duty and then carry on regardless in society according to its current prevalent values. In order to stay traditional one thus has to be untraditional.”[1]

Priests therefore must be restless men seeing the good as the enemy of the great and unsettling those around them with their “Why can’t things be different, better, more effective?” For this Catholic effectiveness they frequently pay a heavy price, for men who want the greater glory of God are often seen as dangerous men: dangerous to others laziness, ambition and comfort.

The enemies of the Church have never underestimated the social power of a real priest:    

“On the contrary,” wrote the historian Paul Johnson, “Lenin had no real feelings about corrupt priests, because they were easily beaten. The men he really feared and hated, and later persecuted, were the saints. The purer the religion, the more dangerous.  A devoted cleric, he argued, is far more influential than an egotistical and immoral one…..It was as though he recognized in the true man of God the same zeal and spirit which animated himself, and wished to expropriate it and enlist it in his own cause.[2]

[1]JOHN HENRY NEWMAN, Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England, 372-373.

 

[1] PROFESSOR CLEMENS CAVALLIN, The Neo-traditional Catholic family and Leisure ( a lecture delivered privately in Sweden in 2008).

[2] Paul Johnson, Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Eighties, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, 1983, p 50-51.