Clericalism leads to-and in turn falls victim to—one of the great Catholic heresies which is to confuse the Church with its Lord. This is complicated by the Catholic tendency to limit, at least in practical understanding, the Church to its Institutional manifestation. When Catholics say “The Church…” they tend to mean the hierarchical institution which externally governs the Church, but the Church itself is a far more complex, indeed mysterious, phenomenon. When I say mysterious, I don’t mean puzzling but rather sacred, indeed numinous, reality. The late Avery Dulles in his 1974 book Models of the Church spoke of five key models by which the Church can be understood. The first on he mentioned—and which he thought was grossly overused—is the institutional model. This is the model in which am emphasis is place on hierarchy, magisterium, canon law, juridical authority, etc. Oh, and clericalism! How could I forget. And it is this institutional model that most people mean when they talk about “the Church.”
Cardinal Dulles wrote that the Church is not only, or even fundamentally, an institution but it also has a sacramental character. That is to say that the Church is a visible representation of the Invisible (to the human eye) Master who himself is the fundamental sacrament of God. In other words, Jesus, the Church’s Lord, is himself the visible representation of the Invisible God and the Church, as the visible representation (re-presentation) of Christ, is a sign and means of God’s Grace in the world. Moreover, the Church is also kerygmatic—that is to say the Church has a Divinely ordered mission to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, the ongoing message of its Founder and Lord. Dulles also calls the Church a communio—a covenantal bonding of the faithful into the One Body of Christ. The Church is truly the physical Body of the Risen Christ—as truly (though obviously in a different mode) as is the Eucharist the physical Body of the Risen Christ. Indeed the Catholic Tradition as found in Saint Augustine witnesses to the intrinsic unity between the Eucharistic Body and the Ecclesial Body of the Lord. As Christ is one, the Eucharistic Body and the Ecclesial Body are one and the same, and it can be said that in certain respects each derives its authenticity as the Body of the Lord from the other. Finally, the Church—and according to Dulles this may be the key model of Church for the next millennium—is Servant.
Many people, especially those who hold positions of pompous power (Cardinals Burke, Pell, Castrillon Hoyos, and others who like parading around the world in cappae magnae) or even those who have powerless pomp (monsignors, the pezzi grossi of the Vatican Bureaucracy, members of the Institute of Christ the Sovereign Priest) are having difficulty letting go of the institutional model and embracing the servant model. Can’t say I blame them; washing the feet of disciples is dirty work; it’s much more fun to be bundled up in silk and fur, though I don’t think of that as a “guy thing.” But the Servant Model is the model that can restore credibility to a Church that has squandered its moral leadership in these last three decades. Ah, but the gift of hope tells us that someday soon (and very soon) the Gospel will prevail once more over Gamarelli’s catalogue. (Gamarelli is the “tailor to the popes” and papal wanna-be’s. See blog entry of March 28th 2011 for photo of Gamarelli’s window.) But this is the problem with clericalism –it derives its energy from the institution of the Church and the power the institution has rather than deriving its authority from the Gospel and the authority the Gospel confers.
|Cardinal Burke, center, one of the prelates who represent |
the Institutional Model of Church. Cardinal Burke has not
lately been seen speaking with the homeless outside
Gamarelli's--the Rome tailor shop specializing in retro
It is frightening how much of the negative energy that “former Catholics” have towards the Church is rooted in clericalism. I first noticed this about thirty years ago in Ireland where my relatives—all (at the time) Church-going Catholics—spoke venomously of their Parish Priest because of what they perceived to be (and I think correctly) his abuse of power. The power of an Irish Parish Priest was something to be contended with even thirty years ago—he had veto over the public school teachers and administrators as well as many other decisions that technically pertained to local government. Over the years the antagonism toward the clergy in general seems only to have increased. This is not to say that many individual priests are not very popular with their parishioners. Those priests who mix easily with the people, sit in the pub, go to the cattle shows, and visit the homes of the parishioners without expecting the best china and fancy tea cakes are well liked. Let a priest put on airs, however, and the most devout Irish Catholics become passive aggressive in ways only the Irish can; while many more avoid confrontation and simply walk away from the Church and decided that a “long lie” in bed on Sunday morning will do them as well as a sermon.
The anti-clericialism in the United States manifests itself differently but is growing even faster. The main reason that we have so few vocations today is due, primarily I believe, to the fact that the priesthood is no longer a respectable profession. This is not due only to the sex-abuse crisis; in fact I believe there are other even deeper roots of the decline in respect for priests today. Compared to the parishioners, the priest is no longer better educated—and indeed in suburban or wealthy city parishes, is often less educated than most of the people in the pews. When he speaks, the priest speaks more of what he learned from books than what he has learned from life—his own and his parishioners. He often seems hopelessly out of touch, indeed at times from another planet. Poor preaching, that is to say, irrelevant prattling from the pulpit, is probably the number one reason Mass attendance is falling in the United States. It is absolutely embarrassing to listen when a priest makes a fool of himself speaking of things about which he knows nothing or when he expects his educated parishioners believe pious stories of saints who fly through the air, hosts that bleed, or decapitated bishops who continue to preach as they carry their head to the cemetery. Legends and myths have their place, but it is not in the pulpit. On the other hand when there is sound scriptural preaching that reinforces doctrine and can be related to everyday life, people find a comfort and credibility in their pastors.
The key to good pastoral personality, like the key to all deep spirituality, is self-knowledge. By self-knowledge I mean that one, cleric or lay, needs to know oneself not for one’s role or for whatever sacraments one has received but to know oneself in the unfathomable sea of sin and grace. One has to strip away all pretense, all external trappings, all peripheral roles and deal with one’s own self naked in God’s eyes and naked in one’s own. One has to see all the warts and wrinkles and cellulite and discern who we might have been had it not been for our sinfulness, who we truly are, and who we might be yet in the sight of God and by his grace. And there is nothing more foreign to the clerical psyche as the courage it takes to abandon—totally abandon—role and be naked for who one is and nothing more in the sight of God and one’s own sight. This is why diocesan priests so rarely make good spiritual directors for the spiritual life does not begin until one has so confronted one’s truest self and has been sufficiently humbled to throw oneself on the Divine Mercy, pleading for grace. Once you have done that you find it very difficult to piously parade around in birettas and surplices that look like they come from Victoria’s Secret. Once you have stood naked before God and in your own eyes, you need not title, no robe, no ring or fancy hat. You know who you are and you can be who God wants you to be for others. How rich a Church we would be if more of our clergy did that and fewer were seduced by rank and privilege.