Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Chaput on Priests and the Public Life

Marvelous essay from His Excellency, Archbishop Chaput, on First Things blog today. Do read it. Of note:
It is the job of Catholic laypeople to change the thinking of their political party and their political leaders with the tools of their Catholic faith. But it is the job of priests to give people those tools—to form Catholic laypeople to think and act as disciples of Jesus Christ, in a manner guided by the teaching of the Church. Just as Catholic laypeople should be the leaven of Jesus Christ in the public square, so we priests need to be the leaven of Jesus Christ in lives of our people.
This is sometimes easier said than done. I've found that I have to fight off two opposite temptations in my priestly life: to do everything myself or to think others have it in hand. The term leaven is deliberate, we priests are dispersed amongst the dough and by the quality of our own lives- as witnessed by prayer, actions, and words- we effect the whole loaf. If yeast is dead, no replacement will be quite the same.
A feature of many priestly lives these days is an attitude toward the Church that could be called “pastoral despair.” In one sense, it’s a good thing to be tempted by despair about the Church, or at least by despondency, because that’s a sign that our hearts are unsettled and longing for something more...We have hope because it is the risen Christ who has willed that his Church be the principal form of his visible presence in the world. We know with confidence that in the Church, God—as in Christ—is reconciling the world to himself. We need to remember this because sometimes we priests become cynical. We know ourselves too well. We sometimes don’t really believe that God can do anything new in us. We accommodate to sin and failure and death.
This cynicism is most insidious and cannot simply be reduced to realism. Cynicism strikes to the heart of priestly identity- are you really an alter Christus, another Christ? If you were in persona Christi capitus then why do these failures and even crimes occur? Because it is Jesus' priesthood that we share, God CAN do something new with us and desires to each day.
[W]e need to think of the Church in America as a missionary church, and each of us priests as a missionary priest. We’ve probably known this all along, but now it has an immediate, practical urgency. Catholic demography is changing. So is our political environment. Additionally, we can’t count on the continued financial health of the Church in our country if our active Catholic base diminishes over the next generation—which is quite possible and already happening.
Sloth is a great enemy- I've done enough, I said my Mass, I did my paperwork, time for TV. I do this all the time. Sloth is a veiled threat, cloaked in morally harmless pursuits- woodworking, hunting, cooking, or exercise- that calls us from those moments of prayer and apostolic work. We must not neglect the spiritual life. We must pray for priests!

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