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November 15, 1996     The Message
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November 15, 1996
 

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5, 1996 The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana 5 op Pilla: Priests deserve support, confidence, respect Editor&apos;s note:. Bishop Gerald together. In the exciting days of to respond to the many new diocesan curias. The description them daily, one would not is attending the general meeting of the of Catholic in Washington, D.C. are portions of the address M. Pilla of head of the National of Catholic Bishops Conference, at as I begin my address, I would church God for the great which is the John Paul II. ;sacer- lhis "great high speak today of their special church. it has been and as our people not love our they also love so do we. Our and gracious to forgiving us challenging us benefit that people. It share the of their peo- or ents love. Some- that it is not of sorrow. come fail us ce of those who d one or who ring mg why God it is moments that with the with his i, and PaSsionate pres- )t forget that can be with celebrat. after Sun- of chil- Masses on a the daily a Wedding and five Ceremonies in These are not s for our our Priests the reason Priests in We hope that :wit- to Our priests ofconfi. respect for iStry, and of the Second Vatican Council itself, perhaps we were innocent enough to think that renewal would be only full of hope and not at all disorienting. We were forgetful of the freedom of the Spirit who, blowing where the Spirit wills, sometimes blows things down. The shortage of priests Our priests are worried about the shortage of priests and the "greying" of the priestly frater- nity. They worry about i "slow fade-out" for the priesthood, at least as we have known it. Growing out of this worry, the priests experience inner turmoil as they struggle to maintain a level of service to the people which their own sense of duty demands; they experience phys- ical exhaustion brought on by fewer and older priests trying to do what more and younger priests once did; and, for some, there is an experience of a cor- rosive psychological temptation to question the relevance of a vocation which no longer seems to attract as many as it once did. Although they have decreased greatly, departures from the priesthood of fellow priests, some of them dear friends, have also affected attitudes of both priests and people toward the priesthood and its permanent commitment. Without vocations to support the magnificent structure of worship, education and charita- ble service which the church in this country has built, priests can experience a weariness of spirit. They find their personal resources are stretched to the limit by such necessities as one priest sometimes caring for more than one parish. Against this backdrop, God is surely calling us to foster voca- tions with an intense awareness of what a treasure each vocation is. If once we reflected little on the contribution each member of the church can make to God's call being heard by those he seeks out, now we are urging people actively to take up the task of finding new workers to come to the harvest. I hope the priests of our nation understand that this is the purpose of our new vocation strategy, "A Future Full of Hope." Undoubtedly, such efforts will ultimately make the bond between our priests and people even closer as together we search out new priestly leaders. So many of are 31y .t today I a joy n Priests. that we Our fellow and Chal- of us the last a bound. Leadership A second area affecting our priests today is what I choose to call "leadership concerns." The role of the priest in leading the Christian community has become an ambiguous area for many priests. The council's call for the renewal of the laity, to which so many have so eagerly responded, has sometimes been treated like a "zero-sum" game, that is to say, the lay role increases only at the expense of the priest's role decreasing. However, it is the priest to whom the people turn to affirm them in their renewed roles. Consequently, a priest may sometimes feel as if there is less room for him in the church; at the same time he faces criticism mixed  if,Father, is not always present" demands of leadership; and, very capable parish priests often find that the "generalist" is no longer as well respected in this age of the "specialist." Presiding at the Eucharist is a good example of the new demands that priests face as a result of the conciliar renewal. The roots of liturgical reform went back many decades before the council but fewof us fully understood what a challenge the reformed liturgy would be. The new order demands that the priest be a good celebrant and presider; an excellent preacher and exponent of God's word; a man of prayer able to lead oth- ers to pray; someone comfort- able with sharing with religious and laity, liturgical roles which were once his alone. When a priest is unable to fulfill these varied demands, the liturgy then seems bereft of an essen- tial element in its power to touch people and to lift their minds and hearts to God. What I have just said of priests is also true of we bishops. Most of us were not trained to be leaders who are collaborative and authoritative because in for- mer times there was little need to do so. Most of us also are still in the early stages of learning how best to respond to the peo- ple's spiritual hunger through an experience of liturgy in which they are now active participants. These ambiguities also affect the relationship between priests and bishops. Following the call of the council, we have often reaffirmed the closeness of the relationship. As the Decree on the Bishops' Pastoral Office in the Church says, "A bishop should always welcome priests with a special love since they assume in part the bishop's duties and cares and carry the weight of them day by day so zealously. He should regard his priests as sons and friends. . , . Yet . . . I have heard from some priests that, whilwe bish- ops call our priests our closest collaborators, they too often feel themselves to be our most taken-for-granted employees. We need to take the counsel of one another to come to rea- sonable expectations. We bish- ops should ask ourselves about the extent to which we truly empower our priests in their ministry, especially our pastors who so directly participate in our role as shepherds of the flock. Priests, in turn, should ask themselves about the extent to which they truly empower us bishops as their leaders through support and assistance. We share the stresses of adminis- tration and this can and should be a source of unity and under- standing among us. The polarization within the church today is also a factor of parish life. We may think some- times that we are on the front lines of these debates but we take second place to our parish priests who deal with them daily. Twenty-one years ago, a rhem- ber of this conference from my state described the average pas- tor as being at the bottom of a huge funnel out of which is poured onto his shoulders all the programs created by the Holy See, our episcopal conference, national.aa state, and our own is still valid and gives birth to two questions: Do we empower our priests in their pastoral ministry or do we burden them, stifling them with myriad pro- grams and directives? Second, do we tell them they are our closest collaborators and then place a level of bureaucracy between them and us? The challenges of the last 30 years, which I have described, have managed also to unleash a lot of creative energy. Bishops and priests together rejoice in the growing role of the laity, and we affirm our belief that a church made up of active priests, laity and religious is a church better equipped to fulfill the Lord's vocation which he handed on to us: to bring glad tidings to the poor and to all people. The questions to which I have given voice involving the increased role of the laity in gen- eral is also having a good effect of focusing more clearly on who the priest is and what his essen- tial role is as a former of com- munity around word and sacra- ment. Priestly life My third and final group of issues relate to priestly life. Once, large ordination classes of young men close to one another in age and experience and parishes staffed with several priests in urban areas offered natural opportunities for mutu- al spiritual and psychological support. Now these support sys- tems generally no longer are in place. Professional development is an area to which little attention was given in the past. Now, with the age of the "specialist" and the large number of religious and laity who have developed professional skills in areas such as religious education, liturgy and social service, it is all the more imperative for priests to have the opportunity to both update their skills that make them effective "generalists  and also to pursue particular skills and interests of importance to their ministry. As bishops we have encour- aged programs and services to meet this need. But, there is a need not only to offer them pro- grams but also to offer them ourselves, as their fathers, brothers and friends. We must show them that we too are life- long learners. We need to offer them a broad rainbow of experi- ences in their ministry and avoid the easy temptation to fill vacant slots with warm bodies. Priestly celibacy is a concern today. The attention placed on it in our time makes it a stress fac- tor rather than a gift for the kingdom. There is little attempt by the media or others to under- stand the witness of celibacy, and its special charism often takes second place to a malign pleasure at instances of its vio- lation. Sadly, some of our priests must share the blame for this. The painful last few years of instances of inappropriate behavior by a few has called into question the very notion of celibacy itself. While most ofour people do not judge the priest- hood by the behavior of an indi- vidual priest and while the)' still have confidence in the vast majority of priests who serve believe this true if one only read the written or electronic reports. Without minimizing the harm done by these same few, I want to offer some pointed words in response to the condescending and derisive portrayals of priest- ly celibacy which we often see. In this time and in this nation, where the church not only does not suffer persecution and deprivation but even holds a place of prestige and influence, the priest's celibate commitment witnesses to the spirit of sacri- fice which is essential to Chris- tianity; to taking up one's cross daily in imitation of Christ; and to losing oneself in order to find oneself. To sacrifice marriage and a family of one's own is par- ticularly relevant to our age in which sexuality is taken for granted and often debased. Celibacy in our times is a "sign ofcontradiction" and I salute the overwhelming majority of the priests of this nation who loyal- ly and faithfully live their promise of celibate chastity. As Scripture says, there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends. There is no greater sign of hope in the Lord than to believe that serv- ing him is worth sacrificing the most truly human of all joys -- marriage and family. It is also a sign of confidence in the church community for her priests to deprive themselves of the ordi- nary consolation of wife and children. Most people hope it is this consolation which will com- fort them in their final years and ward offthe loneliness that all fear will accompany old age. The priest forgoes this consola- tion, trusting that the commu- nity of the church will be his family and that it is not in vain to cast one's cares upon the Lord. Gentlemen, I can think of no greater witness to their faith and to their sacrificial love for their sisters and brothers than the celibacy of priests and of vowed religious! Conclusion .. Three years ago, one of the nation's influential newspa- pers did a survey of priests and religious around the world .... The results were vastly differ- ent from those expectations and made it clear that, by an over- whelming majority, priests are dedicated to the priesthood and the church. As the newspaper's own report put it, with regard to priests and religious, "Loyalty to the church as an institution is high among both groups and" contrary to popular perceptions, so is their morale.  Let me now close with words from St. Paul's letter to the Christians at Philippi (Phil 1:3- 11) which I think express our feeling for our priests and our prayer for them: "I give thanks to my God each time I remember you. Always, in every prayer of mine for all of you, I make my prayer with joy, so full a part have you taken in the work of the Gospel from the day it first reached you till now. Of this I am certain, that he who began the good work in you will bring it to completion, ready for the day when Jesus Christ comes... May you reap through Jesus Christ the full harvest of your justification to C<I glory ind praise." ..............