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For Some, an Unfamiliar Perspective on Laity-Clergy Relationship PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Tuesday, 20 October 2009 19:20
I am finishing preparations for a retreat for priests I'll be giving in a week, and was re-reading a very well-written and inspiring article by Rev. Mr. James Keating, Ph.D. titled, Priestly Spirituality, Seminary Formation, and Lay Mission. It was published in Seminary Journal a couple of years ago, and I have not been able to find it online. The good deacon is director of theological formation at the Institute for Priestly Formation, Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska. Here are a few snippets from his article:
The grace of ordination allows the charity that is in everyone’s heart (love of God, love of neighbor) to be specifically the grace of “being with Christ in His spousal love for the Church.” There is something about this new “ordering” in the sacrament that places the priest in relationship to the body of Christ AS A WHOLE. He relates to all the members of the Body, sharing in the prophetic, kingly, and priestly ministry of Christ. The laity relate to the priest out of their own distinctive participation in these same Christological realities. The mode of existing in and among the members of the church is always inter-relationship. The communion between this man, the God who calls him, and the laity constitutes a spirituality—the breath of life between them all—that binds the facets of priestly formation together. The goal of this communion is to form the contemplative heart of the husband-priest. It is this priest who gazes upon the body of Christ, the church, the bride, not with a sense of entitlement or “lust” but with an ever growing pastoral desire, a desire born of this spiritual communion and finding its purpose and rest only in charitable service.
As I was reflecting on the story of the Fall in Genesis 3, I realized that the man Adam and Eve, created to be able to say, "you are bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh," i.e., "so much a part of myself that to be separated from you would be to lose a part of myself," is applicable to the priest - lay person relationship. In fact, the mutual distrust, envy, and power struggles that we sadly see in many of our parishes is a sign of the "original sin" affecting these relationships as well.

Keating continues this imagery,
The seminary, then, must also be fascinated with lay holiness. The paradox of the priest is that the life he gave up physically—wife and children—must become the life that rivets his imagination and love. When Christ calls a man away from marriage he does so only so that such a man is free in Christ to serve all marriages and families. Christ never asks priests not to be husbands and fathers. Instead he asks them to be husband in the same embodied way he does: chastely and in a life of celibacy.
I find this refreshing. I am not some neutered asexual being. It is normal and healthy for a man to want to see some fruitfulness in his life, some generativity. My life as a priest must be about bringing about "new life," albeit new spiritual life, but it is new life - leading to eternal life - nonetheless.

Keating is not afraid to be blunt. He writes - and this is for seminary leaders, mind you - "Any man who loves the idea of priesthood (clericalism) more than his service to the laity ought not to be a priest."

Finally - since my flight's boarding, I'll leave you with this, which has been something Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, and Sherry Weddell have been saying for a dozen years.
These two vocations, priest and lay, are never to be separated or made rivals in any way. Like any husband and wife, having one without the other simply makes the vocation incomprehensible. The bridegroom brings out and supports what the bride is meant to become and the bride brings out and supports what the groom is meant to become. Though the lay vocation and the priestly vocation are held in equal esteem at the level of the human dignity of each individual who receives these callings (Canon 208), a difference that must be celebrated and maintained between both vocations remains. Vocations are incommutable. The laity have an independence from the clergy in many areas of church life by virtue of their baptism (see Canons 204-231), but it is clear that the laity receive their identity from the sacraments, whose ordinary ministers are priests.


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