A while back, Fr. Kyle Schnippel noted on his blog that some priests do not like the award-winning film Fishers of Men. They object to the heroic presentation of the priest because, they say, it establishes unrealistic expectations. We priests, they say, just can't measure up. It’s a powerful film, and the trailer is embedded below.
I was reminded of Fr. Schnippels comment today when I happened upon an Ignatius Press advertisement promoting books for the Year for Priests. Among the titles were The Cure D’Ars Today by Fr. George Rutler (“this spiritual biography of St. John Vianney, the Cure of Ars, gives us new insights about the Cure’s life and message for today’s Church”), The Priest is Not His Own by Archbishop Fulton Sheen (“Sheen delves deeply into what he considers the main character of the priesthood, that of being a ‘holy victim’, to imitate Christ in His example of sacrifice, offering himself as a victim to make His Incarnation present in the world”), Theology of the Priesthood by Fr. Jean Galot, S.J. (“in this masterful work, Jean Galot, S.J. explains how the Jewish priesthood, the perfect priestly ministry of Jesus, and the role of the Twelve help us understand the ministerial priesthood”), and Christ, the Ideal of the Priest by Fr. Columba Marmion (“Marmion wrote this classic work on the priesthood to show the holiness that priests are called to, and how it can only be attained through close union with, and imitation of, Jesus Christ”).
When we speak of Jesus, we sometimes hear distinctions between a high Christology which emphasizes the divinity of Christ versus a low Christology which emphasizes the humanity of Christ. The Church teaches that Jesus is true God and true man – one divine person with two natures. Overemphasizing the divine nature runs the risk of forgetting the He was “a man like us in all things but sin.” Overemphasizing the human nature runs the risk of forgetting that He is the eternal Word, present at the creation and coeternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Through the Incarnation, we have the mystery of the hypostatic union. The right line to walk is not to split the difference, making Jesus a little less than God and a little more than man (i.e., a sort of demigod), but rather to embrace both the high Christology and the low Christology at the same time.
It seems to me that we can also speak of a high and low presbyterology (I think I just made the word up). The high presbyterology emphasizes the ontological change that transforms a man into an alter Christus. The low presbyterology emphasizes that the priest is still just a man. Just as in Christology, where the right answer is not either/or nor split-the-difference, so the right approach with respect to the priesthood has to be the simultaneous recognition of his mere humanity and the sacred character of the vocation to which he has been called.
There seems to be a low priesthood movement afoot. I see it in complaints that priests have no time for themselves and therefore need homes away from the rectory. I see it in calls for the repeal of priestly celibacy requirements. I see it in priests who prefer to dress in civilian clothes (aka “incognito”) when “off-duty.” In this Year for Priests, Pope Benedict XVI is encouraging priests to rediscover that they were not called to a job, but to a vocation. I suspect that many of those priests who did not like “Fishers of Men” are hoping that nobody is paying attention.