Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Priest speaks on.....the Problem of Silly Priests

In his weekly commentary, Fr. Paul Ward discusses the "Problem of Silly Priests"

If I hadn't known priests on both sides of the spectrum he describes, I would probably think he is off base. As you read this, remember that we should be praying for priests. The Angel of Darkness has the mark of the priesthood set right in his cross hairs. One very holy priest, who leads a holy life, can influence many to holiness just by his example. Likewise, worldly priest will enable others to worldliness.

The way Fr. Paul's website is set up, the work discussed on his front page today will eventually move to an archive. That will change the URL of the document. Therefore, I will post it in full here and provide links to his homepage where you can browse his archives, as well.

The Problem of Silly Priests

by Fr. Paul Ward

In ancient Rome, there was an esteem for a quality of character which the Romans called, in their language, gravitas. The word literally meant “weight,” which any inert thing could have. Yet it was applied to a person’s character, if he was serious, reflexive, dignified or earnest. Such persons were not given to levity, and were impressive and majestic in their speech or in their actions. Cicero, Suetonius, Tacitus, and even the never-serious Ovid all use this word in this way.

It is significant that in English today we don’t have an exactly corresponding word. We are a superficial society, a flippant civilization, and we have enslaved ourselves to entertainment. We call knowledge of rock stars and television programs “culture.” We spend gobs of money and time on being spectators of sports. And anyone who thinks about things is, well, a bit of a rare bird.

This has all affected the model of the priesthood of the 21st century. The quality to end all qualities, sought for in a seminarian and deserving highest praise in a priest, is neither faith nor hope nor charity nor any virtue nor science nor good example. It is the sense of humor. A sense of humor is a good quality, but it varies in individuals according to one’s temperament and background. It does not make one holy or wise, for endless numbers of comedians in our day perpetrate many verbal sins of impurity and slander to make crowds bend over with laughter. Yet used well it can alleviate some of the burden of life, personal or social difficulties, and even put things in perspective.

Gravitas, which for this article I will translate as seriousness, is therefore regularly perceived as a vice. It can be an impediment for a seminarian who wants to be a priest; no faculty member of a seminary would ever admit that, but sadly true it is. Flippant priests slander and hate serious priests, because the flippant ones are shamed by the example of the serious priests’ lives. Flippant priests work every day to be liked, even to the point of sacrificing their principles. They find excuses to omit prayer, to omit the daily Mass, to omit the rosary. They are imprudent in their dealings with women. They neither know nor understand nor observe the norms of the Church in anything, much less the liturgy. Silliness is a shield protecting them from those conversations about the things that matter; after all, they see it better to be silly than “divisive.” They cannot live in silence, and surround themselves with televisions, worldly music, digital toys, alcohol and leisure. In a word, they are superficial.

It is easier to be superficial than to be serious. A serious priest examines his life, disciplines his time, rises early, studies regularly, prays much, offers spiritual direction, hears confessions, obeys the liturgy, recites the breviary, works with method, enjoys silence, fasts, does penance, and engages in spiritual conversation. A superficial priest does not know himself, is a slave to countless vices and passions, sleeps too much, hates prayer, disobeys liturgical norms, never studies, omits his breviary and Mass, surrounds himself with noise and music and television, devotes his time to pleasing himself, and converses about worldly and often scandalous things. But yet Bishops and seminary formators label the serious seminarian “rigid,” following the ever pathetic psychological philosophy of Carl Rogers, and dismiss him from the ranks; and defend and promote the superficial man. (It’s easier for a vicious man to control a superficial man, after all.)

Both in English and in Latin, and we should also say in contemporary America and ancient Rome, gravitas had a pejorative use. In today’s America, someone who is “serious,” as a defect, takes the wrong things too seriously. He has his hierarchy of values either in chaos or completely upside down. To call someone serious is to say he cannot enjoy a good laugh. But in yesterday’s Rome, Gravitas was applied to persons negatively if they were formidable, oppressive or obnoxious. Someone who was flippant, even whose sense of humor got him laughing about things that should be taken seriously, would be called grave. Yes, an excessive sense of humor was something to be ashamed of in ancient Rome. The Romans loved humor and celebrations of all sorts, as literature and history testify. A serious, a gravis Roman enjoyed such things. He just wasn’t obnoxious with his superficiality. Most priests I have ever met, and plenty a bishop, I have found to be obnoxious for their incapacity to converse seriously or spiritually.

A virtuous person has depth. Gravitas is a combination of several virtues. Prudence keeps the serious person reflexive; justice refrains them from disordered speech or action with others; fortitude serves as a solid foundation against all floundering; and temperance moderates the things the serious man enjoys.

If a priest wants to be virtuous, therefore, he has to put an end to the “good mornings” at Mass, the homilies about his latest golf game, the five televisions on all at the same time in his rectory, the layman’s clothing, the endless parties, the stockpiles of alcohol, the lewd language and the endless hugging. If a priest wants to be virtuous, let him rise early, keep his rectory in silence from sunrise to sunset, both pray and study an hour every day, pray the office and Mass daily, converse with the faithful about the virtues and the saints or about the important questions of modern times and society. Let his Mass be austere and divine, and let his advice at the confessions he hears be deep and efficacious. Let him not spend so much energy and concern with pleasing the crowd, and being a slave to certain minorities’ loud opinions.

With greater depth, the Church will be more interested, in these very troubled times for the world and for the Church, in teaching the Ten Commandments given to Moses, rather than the Ten Commandments about driving a car.

Homepage of Fr. Paul Ward

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