Monday, June 10, 2013

A Letter to Nice Priests

In a way, I am ashamed to be writing these words.  Who am I to take a few moments to offer counsel to priests, those men who have given their whole lives to offer counsel to their flock.  I am not so bold to say here that I have any more grace or more wisdom than even one of them.  What I do have, however, is one thing which I know they don’t.  I have my own life’s experiences, the life which I alone have lived, and whether they knew it or not, some priests have had a major impact on my life, especially some of the “nice” priests.  And so this letter is addressed to them in particular.

My Dear Fathers and Shepherds:

It is because of you that I learned much about the Catholic Church, and my faith grew accordingly.  You were there for me with the sacraments; you were there for me as teachers, and for some of those Augustinian fathers whose high school classes I acted up in, you were there for me as disciplinarians.  All of you in those roles formed my conscience and help set my goals in life.  You gave me a foundation, a good start for me to begin (and later to continue) living my life in a moral and meaningful way.  But I must counsel you on one weakness that I have perceived:  when I actually began leading my life and sometimes returned to you with hard questions, some of you nice priests counseled me on the “niceness” of the sacraments, and then you implied there was nothing more you could teach me (or I needed learn), so long as I led a “nice” life. And so with this advice you stopped being a disciplinarian for me.  You stopped giving me direction, and let me wander on my own.

In that you did me wrong.

I know it was easier for you to take a leadership role with me when I was younger; that is what elders, including my parents, did.  And then when I got older, you wanted to treat me as an adult, to “discuss” our Catholic faith.  I understand this desire, and in truth I wanted to be treated as such.  And so, unfortunately, you made it your foremost priority to advise me in such a way as to keep me as your friend.  You forgot the side of friendship which many friends forget:  a true friend always tells his friend the truth, especially the hard truth.  Seeking to be first and foremost my friend, you forgot that first and foremost you are my shepherd.  I chose my vocation in life, and you chose yours, but in trying to be “nice” to me, sometimes you were not faithful to your sworn vocation.

And my life was the worse for your “niceness.”

I have sinned against many in my life, and many have sinned against me.  But I perceive some of the largest sins against me were those by “nice” priests, who counseled me that some of my sins were “natural,” and thereby acceptable, or less important.  In my youth, I accepted this advice; I know better now.  No sin, which is an offense against the God who created me, is acceptable.  Some sins are most difficult to avoid for various reasons, they perhaps may be “reluctantly” accepted, but they are never acceptable.  The easier sin becomes, the more it comes.  And the more it comes the less happy is your life. 

Priestly words which excused my initial considerations of sin made it easier for me to accept those sins in my life and then, as is the “real” natural thing about human behavior, I pushed to the limits of rational definition of these and many other sins, which I also then considered “acceptable.”

Opening the door a small crack to sin is like opening it to floodwaters; they are hard to keep out and seep in through the smallest opening, eventually eroding it away and making it ever wider, and the floodwaters unstoppable.  And your life cannot but be impacted.

A priest recently assigned to a local parish announced to his new flock how “I am not here to make waves.”  There will be no tough or “controversial” sermons from him.  He will be a “nice” priest, always beginning a sermon with a joke, and always counseling that any problems are “not that bad.”  And no matter what are the sins confessed, “God understands,” and “We’re all sinners.”  So therefore, “I’m okay; you’re okay."  And the people of his flock will have no worries or guilt, and the priest will be liked by all.  And then everyone will live happily ever after --- not!  From my life’s experience, I know that is a lie.

“Well, if you busy of course you don’t have to attend mass on Sundays.” “Feelings are natural things and okay, as long as you don’t physically hurt anyone.” “Everyone has sexual urges – I do too!! – and so it’s okay if you fall into sin sometimes; everyone does.” All these “nice” words are bad advice.  All these “nice” words of counsel are words which destroy lives.

My dear fathers:  we all want to feel loved.  What you must remember, however, is what love REALLY is:  it is not something primarily to be received, but something primarily to be given.  That is the example Jesus gave us with His life and His parables.  He came to love.  The vocation you chose puts you in the role of persona Christi, in the sacraments and on the altar.  He came to love, not to be loved.  And He was crucified.  Your advice must have as its aim to love, as Christ would love, not to ensure that you yourself are loved.  You can’t always be a “nice” guy.

It is not an easy role you have chosen, my dear priests, but you studied long and hard to prepare yourself for it, to be shepherds for a sometimes reluctant flock.  You need to lead us on right paths, even if sometimes they will be hard for us to follow.  And when we must wander on our own, you must teach us ways to go.  As any army officer knows:  leaders can’t be nice guys.  Lives depend on them.  And lives depend on you also, my dear fathers.

The first 20 years of my adult life were spent with what I might describe as “liberal” thoughts, and thoughts which I understood – with the counsel of some “nice” priests – to be moral and Catholic thoughts.  I really never really pondered any key moral issues, because I thought that ANY sin --- no matter how serious --- could be “acceptable” in some circumstances (and in particular, was “acceptable” when it impacted me.)  It was only after crying out to God in pain that my eyes were opened --- a great blessing and mercy to me.  If I would have known at age 20 what I learned at age 40, my life would have been much more productive for God, and much happier for me.  “Nice” advice let me believe that whatever I wanted was okay, and that my life’s focus should on me and my happiness. 

It was bad advice.   It’s advice that many “nice” Catholic politicians have learned so well.

Thank you Fathers, for all you prayers and the sacrifices you make.  I know you mean well, but PLEASE: do well instead.


A Catholic Re-Vert who, like Augustine, sadly said: “Late have I loved Thee”

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