Page 6, 2nd November 1951

2nd November 1951
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Page 6, 2nd November 1951 — HARD WORDS!
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Organisations: Divine Office
People: JAMES CRICHTON

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HARD WORDS!

for priests BY A BISHOP

IF it, is true that the spiritual state and moral standing in ' society of the secular clergy are a test of the spiritual vitality of the Church at any given moment it is disturbing to realise that in most ages of the Church's history, the clergy have been only little better than the laity, and sometimes worse. It is not surprising, then, that in ages of reform, such as the 16th century, there has always been a deter-SHOP HEE mined I31

effort to raise the level of spiritual achievement among the clergy.

That seems to be happening again now although there is probably no professional body in the world whose reputation is so sound as that of the Catholic clergy. Yet, we are the first to be critkal of ourselves and we realise that respeetability, professional integrity, and the like are not enough,

* *

IIN recent months two or Wee books on the secular priesthood have been published but none—perhaps ever -has been so devastatingly, almost brutally frank, as Mgr. Heenan's The People's Priest (Sheed and Ward, 12s, 6d.). It is too much to hope that he has banished from literature those curious figments of the novelist's imagination that have done service for Catholic priests and have been inflicted on us in recent years. At any rate, his picture is refreshingly different from theirs. If one counted up the number of times Mgr. Heenan mentions clerical anger, one would hazard the guess that that more than anything else is the priest' besetting sin, and the author is almost certainly right. Another effect of the book is to blow sky-high the pious Catholic's idealised picture of the priest. Whether this is likely to justify the perhaps startling results that may follow, it is difficult to say. Mgr. Heenan evidently thought the risk was worth taking.

ee

IT is necessary to state clearly that

Mgr, Heenan is writing about the secular clergy from a practical, perhaps to&practical, standpoint; his intention was " to give younger priests the results of twenty years' experience in the ministry."

So we are conducted through the duties, personal and pastoral, that fall to the lot of almost every secular priest: prayer (with but one brief paragraph on the Divine Office), Mass, with admonitions how not to say it, visiting, the care of the sick and the poor, behaviour (the priest's!) in church, church services (two good chapters on the administration of baptism and matrimony), the priest in the school, preeching, relaxation, and the work and art of convereion. A pretty full programme, and we are conducted at a vigorous pare while a ehower of acute observations, frank criticisms, opinions (almost all of which some will dispute), and lots of sensible advice fall upon our unprotected heads. Mgr. Heenan has avoided professional clericalism himself almost entirely (though there are one or two unfortunate expressions in the Smoke but he remains always and unmistakably the Catholic priest. His own zeal, his kindliness, his understanding of human nature, take out the

sting of many of his remarks. No priest, I think, can rightly be offended by them.

OCCASIONALLY a somewhat grim epigram leaps from the page:

From time to time most priests appear before their superiors. They se se

may be dumb before the shearers. For a variety of reasons they may riot open their mouths. But this in itself is no test of humility." No doubt the NA N'S BOORauthor did not think that the roles would be reversed before his book ap

peered. In a very different key is this: "' There is nothing left except prayer,' say many Christians. They do their best and then leave it to God, It does not occur to them that they should first leave it to God in order to be able to do their best." Yes, there is much practical wisdom in the book, thrown off almost casually, and it will repay many a reading. Perhaps it will serve best as an examination of the clerical conscience.

is reviewed by FR. JAMES CRICHTON

*

AND yet, with my head battered and, it must be confessed, bowed, I finished the book with a vague feeling of depression. The priesthood is a Mystery and perhaps we may hope that Mgr. Heenan will one day write another book, on the lines of Manning's Eternal Priesthood, in which he will explore the

Mystery of the Priesthood. For some problems, that of love for instance, can only be comprehended in the context of the Mystery.

It is not that the priest may not love but that he may not love humanwise, for he is wholly dedicated to God. The priesthood is a Mystery. enshrined in what St. Paul called "earthen vessels." The paradox and part of the mystery Of the priesthood is that, thus carried, it is a sharing in the redeeming love of Christ from Whom all priesthood is derived. Christ's love was wholly towards His Father, yet so great that it overflows eternally on men. The priesthood shared by men is thus first bent towards God and thence receives its stupendous power to succour men. The priesthood is a sharing in the pity of Christ, in the mission of Christ, and that (although the canonists will want to put in the proper modifications) is why the whole world is his parish. The priest cannot not be missionary. As wide as is the love of Christ, as wide as is the mission of Christ, so must he the love of the priest. It is surely because the priest enshrines the Mystery of Christ that he is so much attacked. so often assaulted, by Satan. "There is no richer prize for the devil than the soul of A priest. It is odd but true to say that if the. priest valued the life of grace in his soul as highly as his adversary the devil, he would guard it with extreme caution." I think of the Cure d'Ars standing by his bed burnt by the devil, or of Bernanos' clumsy young priest in Sous le Soleil de Satan, wandering in the dark, fighting Satan with the only thing he had, his priesthood.




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