Thursday, January 31, 2008

Priests in this generation

The role priests play for the church is incredibly dynamic and one that I'm constantly trying to figure out. In the early church, the presbyterate was probably a group of intelligentsia advising the bishop to ensure that the church did not get off track. It's my understanding that the bishop would not have initially been chosen from among the priests but among the deacons. I have always assumed that meant that the priests were supposed to stay in the background while the bishop put his life on the line making as close to public statements as an illegal organization can make.

Of course, when the church expanded, it became clear that priests were needed to be more than advisers to the bishop. They needed to be shepherds to small parts of the larger area the bishop led. The bishop turned into a rarely seen (though often prayed for) overseer while the priest was to be on the seen, directly involved.

What I find ironic is that parishes are somewhat being set up in this same pattern in the US. Priests are often "in charge" of large staffs who are to be in more direct contact with the people. They buffer the pastor in some ways who is seen as too busy to meet with people. Other than Sunday liturgy, the pastor is not really expected to come to most meetings or being free to talk with someone who walks in off the street. And, with the number of priests decreasing at a higher rate than the number of parishes, it could be that a "lay leader of prayer" is present at almost every Sunday Celebration (in the absence of a priest) while the priest bounces between as many as ten or twelve different parishes over the course of a month.

Some have said that this means we need to change priesthood to better fit current circumstances. I tend, instead, to think that we may need to ask, from a theological point of view, what do priests need to be for their people. Should the priest merely be an empowerer of other staff members, an overseer like the bishop ended up becoming or does the priest need to be more "in charge"? Is there a point when a diocese should feel justified in telling a parish that they cannot staff them with a priest and so they cannot remain open? If so, what characteristics define when that needs to take place? Is there any precedence for normalizing regular Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest? What effect does that have on a community?

I raise these questions without answers because I feel like they are bigger than my opinions allow for. They deserve some serious reflection, though.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

whoever does the will of my heavenly father

The gospel for today is taken from the gospel of Mark 3:31-35. Catholics often have to defend the charge that this directly points to Jesus "brothers and sisters", thus the perpetual virginity of Mary can't be true since Jesus had brothers and sisters. Over and over again, catholic scholars have pointed out the fluidity of those terms, the tradition that these are actually Jesus' cousins, and (my own personal belief) that these were likely children by Joseph's former marriages. Of course, both sides miss the larger point that this is supposed to be the beginning of people abandoning Jesus, even the 12, at his crucifixion.

What I find fascinating is that Catholics have not pointed out something else that should put Protestants on the defense. Jesus says that in order to be his mother, brother, and sister, we must "DO the will of God". This is an active verb. It's far from the sola fides of Luther. This is much closer to the notion of James, "Show me your faith and I'll show you my works."

Monday, January 28, 2008

Please keep in your prayers...

A good priest friend is battling for his life even as I type these words. Fr. Bob Davies was found Friday in his rectory unconscious. They transported him to two different hospitals and the doctors at the second one which are used to dealing with more critical cases believe it isn't quite the simple diabetic coma he had about a year ago. It seems as though Fr. Bob had a stroke that sent him into this. I haven't heard anything for about a day so please keep this good priest in your prayers.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Feast Day

I've had a strange couple of days. On Thursday, I had a funeral at the funeral home. On Friday, I had a wedding rehearsal in Marshalltown, Iowa and Saturday we had the wedding. Thankfully, our deacon agreed to take the homily for the weekend and he did a great job. He talked about being called in the context of St. Thomas Aquinas. If you've never heard it, St. Thomas was originally supposed to be a Benedictine because (ironically) it was considered more prestigious than the order he ended up joining, the Dominicans. But, he went with where he felt God called him. Deacon Paul then invited people to reflect on their own call. What is the call you feel God is given you.