CS reaches the end of this analysis of Presbyterorum Ordinis with the document’s own conclusion and exhortation to priests worldwide. The entire 22nd section is presented here, with commentary interspersed. PO 22 begins with a frank admission of the problem all believers face in an increasingly secular world. The optimism attributed to the Second Vatican Council is tempered with a realistic assessment that the Church lives in more difficult times now than in the past. But note this last sentence in thos quote: the Church is always outward looking, not dwelling on its own problems so much as holding in the forefront the desire for dialogue, and by implication, conversion as an end result to that dialogue.
Having before our eyes the joys of the priestly life, this holy synod cannot at the same time overlook the difficulties which priests experience in the circumstances of contemporary life. For we know how much economic and social conditions are transformed, and even more how much the customs of men are changed, how much the scale of values is changed in the estimation of men. As a result, the ministers of the Church and sometimes the faithful themselves feel like strangers in this world, anxiously looking for the ways and words with which to communicate with it.
I much prefer the confident optimism of this tone than much of the current muddle coming from the worst of the retrenchment Catholics. The Catholic faith has something valuable to give to the world. The Council was sure of that. They also knew that given the grace of Christ and an effort of faithfulness by its members, the Church is not in any real danger, so long as we remain loyal to the mission which Christ entrusted to us.
For there are new obstacles which have arisen to the faith: the seeming unproductivity of work done, and also the bitter loneliness which men experience can lead them to the danger of becoming spiritually depressed. The world which today is entrusted to the loving ministry of the pastors of the Church is that which God so loved that he would give his only Son for it. Truly this world, indeed weighed down with many sins but also endowed with many talents, provides the Church with the living stones which are built up into the dwelling place of God in the Spirit. This same Holy Spirit, while impelling the Church to open new ways to go to the world of today, suggests and favors the growth of fitting adaptations in the ministry of priests.
The admission of the problems of the modern presbyterate: discouragement, loneliness, and depression, all give rise to the many addictions which have entrapped many priests. Having worked with clergy up close for nearly twenty years, I’ve seen the demands and dangers they face. Most of them are up to the challenge, but a significant fraction have landed themselves over their heads. Sadly, the shadow side of the clerical culture: silence, blind obedience, isolation from the laity and from brother priests–these all can exacerbate the serious problems and blow up little peccadillos into major character flaws.
Trust God, the Council advises:
Priests should remember that in performing their office they are never alone,
but strengthened by the power of Almighty God, and believing in Christ who
called them to share in his Priesthood, they should devote themselves to their
ministry with complete trust, knowing that God can cause charity to grow in
Stick together, priests are urged, and don’t overlook the support the laity provide:
Let them be mindful of their brothers in the priesthood as well, and also of the faithful of the entire world who are associated with them.
I love this passage:
For all priests cooperate in carrying out the saving plan of God, that is, the
Mystery of Christ, the sacrament hidden from the ages in God, which is only
brought to fulfillment little by little through the collaboration of many
ministries in building up the Body of Christ until it grows to the fullness of
time. All this, hidden with Christ in God, can be uniquely perceived by faith.
Lots of time, lots of patience, much is hidden from view.
For the leaders of the People of God must walk by faith, following the
example of faithful Abraham, who in faith “obeyed by going out into a place
which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out not knowing where he was going” (Heb 11:8). Indeed, the dispenser of the mysteries of God can see himself in the man who sowed his field, of whom the Lord said: “then sleep and rise, night and day, and the seed should sprout without his knowing” (Mk 4:27). As for the rest, the Lord Jesus, who said: “Take courage, I have overcome the world,” (Jn 16:33) did not by these words promise his Church a perfect victory in this world.
Are we tied up looking for a “perfect victory?” Do we look for a victory “in” the world, as opposed to “over” the world? At times, yes. This is near the heart of the problem retrenchment supporters have brought to the fore these past several years: a convenient idealization of the pre-conciliar Church, a Body which had no problems or significant challenges. It seems clear from reading this second tier document that the bishops were quite aware of the problems the Church faced. They were open to the Holy Spirit, whom they saw as “impelling the Church to open new ways to go to the world of today.” More than that, they discerned God “suggest(ing) and favor(ing) the growth of fitting adaptations in the ministry of priests.” Reform is more than a nice option; it is the path favored by the Spirit. They were able to read the positive indicators:
Certainly this holy synod rejoices that the earth has been sown with the seed of the Gospel which now bears fruit in many places, under the direction of the Holy Spirit who fills the whole earth and who has stirred up a missionary spirit in the hearts of many priests and faithful.
And they were able to express gratitude for the good work which preceded the Council:
Concerning all this, this holy synod gives fervent thanks to the priests of the
entire world. “Now to him who is able to accomplish all things in a measure far
beyond what we ask or conceive in keeping with the power that is at work in
us-to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus” (Eph 3:20-21).
How to read the document after forty years? These would be some of my conclusions:
1. The document reinforces the notion of teamwork, collaborative ministry, if you will. Priests are closely identified with Christ, but more importantly, they serve in a community of clergy and laity, and are urged to join with others to discern and follow Christ’s will in the context of an increasingly secular world.
2. The document embraces the notion of reform, and encourages a thorough and critical look at the ministry of priests. The spread of the Gospel and the universal call to holiness are the primary considerations, over and above the cultural particulars of the Church’s cadre of priests.
3. Collaboration with the laity is not just a convenience, but an important part of the Vatican II vision for a more effective Church able to tap the full range of its competencies to be an evangelizing force in the world.
4. The document seems a bit weak on the particulars of priestly ministry, though the implication is that the local bishop would have something to say. The Council called for reform, but gave few specifics. Were the bishops waiting for it when they got home?
5. Presbyterorum Ordinis gives the parish priest lots of food for thought. Yet how familiar are Catholic clergy with the document? Do you think any seminary time is devoted to Presbyterorum Ordinis or the other two documents dealing with the clergy?