Sunday, April 09, 2006

Expectations of Priests

Back in November, I posted an entry, "what-do-we-expect-of-our-priests?," which received a number of comments. Some of them took me to task in a friendly way, for perhaps supposing the faithful have more demanding expectations than is really the case.

An email, reacting to some comments I offered (here and here) at The Cafeteria is Closed, brought that post back to me.

In the context of discussing clerical dress, and specifically, wearing a cassock (which I do, some but not all the time), my correspondent accused me of comments "unbecoming an alter Christi, and berated me for the following "embarrassing lapses":

1. I went on vacation.

2. Late on the evening of my return (after midnight), I was in my room at the rectory, still awake, and wearing a golf shirt and shorts; and as I had been traveling, it happened I hadn't shaved that day, so I was a little scruffy. A call came from the nearby hospital. The lay chaplain there was very urgent in asking me to come. "Do I have time to change my clothes," I asked. "It'd be better if you came right away," she responded. So I went right away, as I was. When I arrived, I immediately apologized to the family for my appearance.

My correspondent went on to remonstrate me for saying that, when I visited a nearby Protestant church, for an anniversary celebration, I would go in a clerical suit, rather than a cassock, which I thought would be a little showy. My correspondent called that "ecumenical face-saving."
My correspondent also complained about the presence of a zodiac sign on my profile. I plead guilty; Blogger put it there, and I have no idea how to delete it (if anyone knows, I'd like to know).

Now, my correspondent described his situation as "distraught" over the state of the Church, so I can understand some of these comments as arising from that.

Understand, this is one email; the number of comments such as this I've received, either via the blogosphere, or in my parish, are extremely few. I don't expect to please everyone, and am rather sure I don't! But I thought you might find interesting what expectations some folks do have.


Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

"the presence of a zodiac sign on my profile. I plead guilty; Blogger put it there, and I have no idea how to delete it (if anyone knows, I'd like to know)"

Father, go to your own "Edit User Profile" and delete your birthdate.

Anonymous said...

The emailer said that he was 'distraught' over the state of the Church and so any erroding of the periphery e.g. how you dress is seen as the beginning of an attack on the core for him.

Having said that, how long would it have taken you to put on some trousers and a shirt to go to the hospital? You know that you wouldn't wear that attire normally but remember a picture is worth a thousand words and father arriving at the hospital in shorts and top,even though you explained to the people present, will stay in the mind and maybe on the tongue.

I am sure that Pre V II priests went on holiday but people didn't notice because there were so many priests in the parish and the priests of that day didn't share personal information as priests do today. It surprises me when people criticise priests for having some down time when we all know these days about burnout.

Priests in the second half of this century wouldn't have worn their soutanes (cassocks) in public and so I think clerical attire was perfectly appropriate for your meeting with the Protestant clergy. These days clergy usually have to tell people that they are priests because one has to get up close before seeing the tiny cross on the golf shirt.

Say what you want about the time after VII I don't think that this extreme 'more Catholic than the pope' type of person would have been around before VII because the laity knew that they could trustwhat their priests said theologically and it wouldn't have entered any one's mind to wonder 'I wonder what personal touches he will introduce today in the Mass'. I realise that there musthave been some dissent and some poorly said Masses (otherwise the whole thing wouldn't have fallen over so quickly) but because the dissent was kept in house and the Mass appeared to be said reverently with a sense of transcendence the laity was not scandalised.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Father Stephanos:

That worked! Thanks!


I agree, and maybe with more experience, I would have done that; however, I can tell you this: I have arrived just 5, and even 2, minutes after someone died. That feels pretty awful.

Also, in fairness to myself, that night I'm recalling, even though I was still awake, I was rather sleepy. In fact, I was just heading to bed when the phone rang.

Anyway, my point was never to scorn wearing clerics; only to tell a story.

Anonymous said...

my point was never to scorn wearing clerics; only to tell a story.

If my post appeared to imply that you scorned wearing clerical garb, I apologise.

Anonymous said...

"father arriving at the hospital in shorts and top,even though you explained to the people present, will stay in the mind and maybe on the tongue"

I think what will stay in the mind might be that father arrived immediately, after having been called in the middle of the night and just after having returned from a journey.

Anonymous said...


- John Cardinal O'Connor

Lord Jesus, we your people pray to You for our priests. You have given them to us for OUR needs. We pray for them in THEIR needs.

We know that You have made them priests in the likeness of your own priesthood. You have consecrated them, set them aside, annointed them, filled them with the Holy Spirit, appointed them to teach, to preach, to minister, to console, to forgive, and to feed us with Your Body and Blood.

Yet we know, too, that they are one with us and share our human weaknesses. We know too that they are tempted to sin and discouragement as are we, needing to be ministered to, as do we, to be consoled and forgiven, as do we. Indeed, we thank You for choosing them from among us, so that they understand us as we understand them, suffer with us and rejoice with us, worry with us and trust with us, share our beings, our lives, our faith.

We ask that You give them this day the gift You gave Your chosen ones on the way to Emmaus: Your presence in their hearts, Your holiness in their souls, Your joy in their spirits. And let them see You face to face in the breaking of the Eucharistic bread.

We pray to You, O Lord, through Mary the mother of all priests, for Your priests and for ours. Amen.

-- Thank you, Father!

Tom said...

Cassocks v. clerical suits? Sounds like some people, in their anxiety over the state of the Church, may be putting their trust in mortal men in whom there is no help, no matter how they dress.

I mean, as long as your tonsure is freshly shaved, does it really matter what you wear?

Fr Martin Fox said...


Not at all; I just wanted to avoid any unclarity on my part.

Ellen said...

You know, it's not the clothes that make the man... I say it's what's in his heart and it sounds to me like your heart was in the right place. It was definitely more important that you were there than what you wore.