'Priestly' service

Andrew Britz, OSB

It's a myth that Canadian and American values are converging, says Michael Adams in a new book, Fire and Ice. Canadians, he maintains, are becoming more and more like members of the European Union and less and less like Americans.

There need be no truth, Adams insists, to that "myth of inevitability" that it is only a matter of time before we become part of the United States.

The gulf in thinking between us is widening not only about power and its legitimacy, about authority in family matters, and about sexuality and its moral framework; it also is widening about church structures, about how the church is to intersect in the lives of ordinary people, the baptized.

A year ago, the American Fred L. Hofheinz of the Lilly Foundation worried about the relationship between younger priests and the ever-expanding body of lay ministers in the modern church. Finding the more recently ordained men "much less willing" to collaborate with lay pastoral workers, he spoke of "a crisis looming on the horizon."

Unlike older priests, he said, "those ordained in the years after 1980 and shaped almost entirely by the long papacy of Pope John Paul II are much more conscious of their priestly distinctiveness from the laity and much less willing to embrace and enable collaborative ministry."

While most Canadian Catholics have experienced individual instances of a resurgence of pedestal-worshipping clericalism among some of their younger priests, it does not seem to be the universal problem Hofheinz frets about in the United States.

This past week at a diocesan congress of the Saskatoon Diocese Sister Anna Aulie, RNDM, and Rev. Bernard de Margerie presented a new model for parish evangelization. Gone is the terminology of the priest as pastor; they spoke of "priest moderators" who are called to work in close collaboration with lay "parish life directors." Together they are "to provide leadership for the full scope of parish life" (see page 1). De Margerie enfleshed this concept further: "Collaborative ministry means to work together: respecting, sharing, supporting, encouraging, challenging and inspiring each other's ministry in a common concern for the parish."

The warm reception Aulie and de Margerie received certainly indicated that the American findings in the Lilly study did not hold true for this Saskatchewan diocese. Of course, there is a hankering for the old in one way or the other in all of us; change never comes easy, especially among those most affected by it -- in this case, the priests.

We must be careful in espousing this new model for parishes. We must especially be careful to avoid a simplistic interpretation for this developing collaboration with the laity: it is not a laicization of the clergy; nor is it a clericalization of the laity.

To get this model to work we must, indeed, find ways to get the laity to treasure the priestly calling of their baptism; but this will all be for naught if we cannot at the same time instil in new priests an appreciation for their calling to the ministerial priesthood.

In this regard it is valuable to visit once more one of the historic texts of the Catholic Church in Canada. The then-president of the Canadian bishops, Archbishop James Hayes of Halifax, addressed this question of the place of the priest in the church at the 1987 World Synod of Bishops. He noted that "it would be a travesty to focus our discussions on where to build the fences in our garden, when our God loves the whole earth with a love that has no limits."

Though now long retired as Halifax's bishop, Hayes continues to lecture widely. He loves to remind his audience that the conciliar bishops, without batting an eye, taught both that in baptism all believers share fully in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ and, second, that the ministerial priesthood is ontologically distinct from the priesthood of all believers. Perhaps most significantly, he notes, the bishops made no effort to address the seeming contradiction in these two teachings.

No one is privy to how the Saskatoon Diocese, how the Canadian church -- indeed, how the worldwide church -- will come to a new mode of operation for its charisms of baptism and orders. What we do know is that the tendency to find all the charisms in the ministerial priesthood is not the original vision of our church.

There certainly will be growing pains. All are called to patience and charity as the church turns an exciting -- and critically important -- page in its parish life.

Published in the September 17th, 2003 edition of The Prairie Messenger

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