NO ONE is more sensitive to the present upheavals in the Church than the priest. Like a barometer he registers every change of her mood. Often when layfolk complain that "Father has not visited their home in months" one feels like replying by asking : "When did you invite Father for an informal half hour in your home?"
During these turbulent days, and they are such, the laity should be as sensitive to the spiritual needs of the clergy almost as much as they are to their own If the Church is to evolve successfully then clergy and laity have to build the future together.
In this article I would like to indicate sonic of the sources of stress in the life of the present day priest, then in a further article we might take a glimpse into the life of the future priest.
Priests today are feeling sense of inadequacy and uncertainty in a way not experienced since the introduction of the post-Tridentine seminaries. In the world of 1pre-Vatican II the priest strode through his parish with an air of confidence. Many would suggest with more confidence than was justified.
Nonetheless. he had a sense of position, of mission and of ability to fulfil both. When he visited his parishioners it was with an assurance that he could counsel them in their needs; when he stood in the pulpit, though he may have doubted his rhetorical skill, he never hesitated about the contents of his preaching; in the confessional too he handled his penitents with confidence. For the moment that confidence has been shattered.
His uncertainty begins with the doubts cast upon his education. He looks at his bookshelves and wonders if the contents are worth no more than a place on a reformation bonfire. The.
names of Rahner, Schillebeeckx, Cougar and Co. never figured in his notes.
The concepts of "salvation history," "ecumenism," "priesthood of the laity," "liturgy"' and "People of God" are fine sounding but relatively new to his ears. Even the change of the liturgy into the vernacular has exposed the inadequacy of his speech training.
Now that the Mass is in the vernacular complaints that Father is inaudible or incapable of being understood have increased. It did not seem to matter very much when. apart from the sermon, it was only the blessed mutter of the Latin.
The current birth control issue has come as a climax to. the doubts cast on his authority as a preacher and teacher. The present controversy has made him ask how often has be preached the word of men instead of the Word of God.
I Furthermore. the priest knew exactly his place in society. He knew his relationship to the laity and, in the setting of the parish, his relationship to the whole Church and the community at large. In recent years we have moved out of the paternal society, and we are quickly moving out of the clerical Church.
The priest now finds the layman sharing the sanctuary with him, and on occasions too he finds there the local Minister from another Christian Church. The role of the priest in relation to the laity is no longer the clear-cut issue it appeared to be.
Moreover, doubt is being cast on the adequacy of the present parochial structure as the best means for making the Church most effective in the .modern world. The parish priest finds his parishioners schooling and working outside the parish. His curates specialise In school chaplaincies, ecumenism vocations, liturgy, catechetics. communications and social problems.
Their work takes them across parish boundaries without a thought. Even so, many frustrations remain because authority still lies to a great extent with the parish priest. And strong priests grow old awaiting their parishes, young parish priests find themselves with inadequate parishes whilst tired old men retain parishes toolarge for them to cope with.
.Finally, tiut by no meansleast, there is the delicate problem of celibacy. The training in the old seminaries was of doubtful value for the young man who has to live his celibacy in a free and permissive society. The harsh contrast between t h seclusion of the seminary and the fleshy world puts great strain on the character of the young priest.
At the back of the priest's mind is the theological debate on this subject as well as the comments of "men of the world." The theologians debate whether celibacy should be indissolubly tied to the vocation of priesthood. The two are distinct—should they not therefore be distinct in practice?
And at the practical level, where so much current controversy centes on family life and the true ideals of sexuality, the celibate wonders if he is in the right position from which to preach on this subject.
It is not a question of all priests wanting to burst free of their celibacy, but they do want to be absolutely sure of its significance to the Church and the world. Above all they want to give themselves freely to something they fully understand.
The above are some of the principal pressure-points in the life of the priest in the world of today. What I have written might help the priest to see just why he has the feeling of being in a turbulent wind-pocket.
It might help the laity to gain a better insight into the lives of their priests. In turn through mutual understanding between priest and people the Church will become more perfectly a united People of God in the world of today.