Some thoughts on clergy . . .

Recently I have had some correspondence with clergy of other traditions who were raised catholic but who, for whatever reasons, went to other traditions and married, became ordained clergy, and raised families. This reminded me of the many chaplains I served with on active duty who were on similar journeys. Virtually all of them felt some sense of pain that they could not become priests in the catholic church. Vatican discipline allows married clergy of some traditions to become catholic priests, but prohibits those who were raised catholic and joined other traditions. The system protects itself all all costs, preferring this course of action to one of allowing Eucharist to be available to more folks. As one pastor so eloquently and truly put it, “it is ‘the system’ itself that is bad because it deprives the people of so many good and faithful priests who would love them and serve them with devotion”.

Some might say that authority cannot tolerate their people gaming the system by leaving a church, getting ordained in another church, and then wanting to return to the original church and serve as ordained clergy? Why not? Did Jesus impose such strictures? Every one of us is on a journey. Often we are not sure of our own journey, so where do we get off judging others and their journey? Walking with Jesus and taking up his cross every day and following him is no easy thing. Why should any institution that claims to be acting in his name make folks’ journeys more difficult than they already are? Some institutions instead of pointing out where Jesus is among folks and doing things seem to see themselves as controlling and restricting folks’ access to him.

Any system or institution exists to perpetuate itself, often by whatever means necessary. Churches and religious institutions are no exception. Many seem long since to have laid aside Gospel values and the example of Jesus and replaced them with threats and punishments, fear, and a desperate attempt to return to yesteryear. For some, such examples include, but are not limited to, restoring the use of older vestments (cappa magna, etc), return to Latin, bullying that passes for leadership, loud assertions of authority, abuses of authority that persist until confronted by civil authority, and so on. Always, of course, in the name of the Founder, Jesus, the same Jesus who reached out in compassion to everyone he met. It seems to me there is a disconnect here.

Apropos of absolutely nothing, I was listening to a national security discussion where the panel was talking about the church in Russia and Poland, and some other countries. The point was made that the church, which in recent times was seen to be the victim of oppression, is now coming to be seen as the oppressor  strengthening its power by trying to control how the people think and what they can talk about.  Hmmm  .  .  .

Perhaps a legitimate question is whether clergy serve as ministers of only their particular tradition, or of Christ. I don’t know if there re any studies on this. If we believe clergy are representatives of Christ, then we serve all people, walking together and searching. If we are representatives only of our particular tradition, there might be something missing.

Throughout my time in the Army I had any number of opportunities to celebrate not only Catholic Mass, but also General Protestant Services, especially in Viet Nam where on a number of occasions I also celebrated Jewish Service, courtesy of the XXIV Corps Rabbi who authorized a dispensation from the minyan. I wasn’t too comfortable wearing a white shawl with blue stripes out in the bush. The guys didn’t care who it was as long as it was a chaplain. We took care of our people. My recollection is that every one of these wonderful chaplains had a profound personal faith in, and relationship with, Jesus, which, I think, is the basis for being His disciples.  They were/are as faithful to their understanding of Jesus and church as I am to mine, if not more so. Chaplains from those traditions that are not christian also had a profound dedication to their values. At different times during my adult journey my spiritual directors/confessors have been Orthodox (not Uniate) priests, Episcopal/Anglican priests, Lutheran pastors, and a Buddhist nun. I learned a lot from the female chaplains I served with. In various ways all of us shared together in prayer and liturgy. As I recall these were times of great spiritual growth for me, and I look back on them with fondness and gratitude. As pastors they all brought a dimension to ministry that we celibate males will never have.

Some institutions who claim that Eucharist is the foundation of all they are and do prefer to place their own authority and need to maintain control and order above the need and right of the people to be able to celebrate Eucharist. As the pastor said above, “it is ‘the system’ itself that is bad because it deprives the people of so many good and faithful priests who would love them and serve them with devotion”.  Any system is a good servant and a bad master.  Roger that!

Just sayin   .   .   .

This Post Has One Comment

  1. John Greenleaf

    Your thoughts about clergy echo mine as well. I remain a Roman Catholic but groan deeply about the way the Pope and many of our US bishops are pushing thr Catholic Church back to a nineteenth century theology, ecclesiology, and church discipline. For many years I taught Roman Catholic seminarians. Some of my best students (best in faith, zeal, and theological knowledge) are now married Protestant ordained ministers. The determining factr was celibacy. Yes they are ministers of Christ. I was never ordained but came very close to it, after eleven years in seminary formation. Over the years I have done a lot of “ministry.” If I were twenty years younger I would probably say yes when asked (as I was last autumn) by an Episcopalian bishop to become an Episcopalian ordained minister. Nevertheless in my heart of hearts I would remain Roman Catholic.

    John Greeneaf

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