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.