Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Professional Priests

Earlier this week, I read a Russell Shaw column prompted by the remarks of Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy. The Cardinal spoke to a gathering of priests at the shrine of Fatima in Portugal and cautioned them against turning their ministries into “a kind of ecclesiastical profession.” Shaw then takes both sides, defending the idea that the priesthood is more than just a job, but at the same time defending it as a profession.

My biggest objection to the remark as reported concerns the slighting use of the expression “ecclesiastical profession.” What I suspect the cardinal meant – and what’s true enough – is that the priesthood isn’t just one more job alongside others. In making this perfectly reasonable point, however, it’s a mistake to say or imply that there’s something intrinsically wrong with, or at least inferior about, professions and jobs in general.

He then goes on to point out he need for priests to execute their duties and live out their vocation in a professional manner.

It should come as no surprise that my thinking on the matter of vocations is focused by the lens of my own vocation as husband and father. When the priest is ordained, he undergoes an ontological change. He takes the Church as his bride in the way that I took my wife as my bride. From the beginning, God has revealed that in marriage, the man and the woman become one. The husband, the wife, and their offspring become a living icon of the Trinity. The priest, in taking the Church as his bride, becomes a living icon of Christ.

The idea that I would approach my vocation as a husband and father in the same way that I would approach a profession seems a little inappropriate. Professionalism just doesn’t embody the kind of outpouring of self that is required. I can and should be professional in my job, and in fact, the State of Ohio has given me permission to call myself a Professional Engineer. But the idea that I could get a certificate proclaiming me to be a Professional Husband is a little creepy.

Every priest has a job, whether it’s pastor, professor, or vocations director. They should execute the duties of their job professionally. But the exercise of their priesthood demands something more. Professionalism just doesn’t cut it, for priests or for husbands and dads.

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