Prayer Comes First

An interesting short piece at Zenit, in which Dutch Archbishop Willem Jacobus Eijk of Utrecht analyzes what he sees as a decline in priestly identity since WWII. A two-stage “discontinuity” (people seem to love that word these days!) he describes:

There was a “gradual modification of the way priests lived their intrinsic identity, a phenomenon that manifested itself at least in northwestern Europe, in the ’40s,” he said. And in a second phase, “the social image that the priest had until the end of the 50s declined rapidly in the revolutionary period of the 60s.”

Discontinuity or not, it’s refreshing to see critical commentary that doesn’t skewer Vatican II.

Western culture has reinforced many materialist notions: the place of a worker as a cog in the industrial machine, the emphasis on what one does rather than on who one is. And in the Christian sphere, it is all too easy to focus one’s tasks. Especially for young people, this is important. It’s only natural to want to find one’s place in society and in one’s chosen community.

Archbishop Eijk is correct that a proper focus is given in the Vatican II documents. Commentators generally concede the council’s documents on holy orders are the most tame of the collection. And even then, many priests and bishops have neglected even the most basic application of many of their principles.

All that said, I wonder what would happen to priest discernment ministry if we focused more broadly on forming the baptized–that committed and engaged portion of them–on cultivating an adult prayer life. I presume that young adult men and women would, in the first years of a profound, lifelong commitment to prayer and spirituality, sort out their first, best place. Such people would be ripe for a vowed religious commitment or holy orders.

It’s one of the reasons I find myself drawn to campus ministry: the opportunity to apprentice young adults in a deeper exploration of being in God.

Image credit: iron fillings , licensed under Creative Commons.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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4 Responses to Prayer Comes First

  1. Todd wrote:

    And even then, many priests and bishops have neglected even the most basic aaplication of many of their principles.

    You and I have tangled from time to time on various issues. Here you are dead-on right. I wrote a paper a while back on the utter failure of most bishops to live up to even the most elementary provisions of the V2 documents regarding their ministry and duties toward their priests. It is as though they had never read Christus Dominus (the V2 document on bishops) or Presbyterorum ordinis (the V2 document on priests).

    I am convinced that, had most of the bishops actually been trying to follow those documents, the abuse crisis (among other things) largely would have been avoided, and the state of the church as a whole would be far healthier.

  2. crystal says:

    My RCIA class and church thereafter didn’t touch at all on a prayer life. It wasn’t until much later, when I took a retreat, that I learned more about that. Wish there was a way for it to be more a part of church.

  3. John says:

    It’s why, using a friend’s materials, I’ve had such fun leading my 8th graders through the Ignatian Exercises. The prayer each week helps them notice someone outside themselves, even as it gets them to notice the deepest parts of themselves, and it’s had an unexpected calming effect through the middle school. As an added benefit, parents see it as a real difference in the curriculum and it’s staving off the middle school flight to the public system.

  4. Rosary Student says:

    Are you Catholic and over the age of 18? Have you said the Rosary Prayer at least once in the past year? If so, please take part in an anonymous research study online that examines the place of the Rosary Prayer in Catholic individuals’ lives. To participate in this doctoral research study, click the following link: Participation is anonymous and free of charge.

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