Monday, June 22, 2009

Priests, Spiritual Authority, and Culture

When I was a younger girl, my father would often critique television shows, complaining about their subtle (and not so subtle) attacks on authority figures. At first I thought he was exaggerating. Now I know he wasn't. He was right. During the 60's and 70's, Hollywood jumped on the bandwagon of the "Woodstock Generation" to mock or belittle authoritative figures. Police officers, priests, and even the role of a husband were often castigated as being too domineering or totalitarian. If the young people were rebelling against any type of authority, why not bring the whole country along with them?

Feminism played no small part. As children, I remember watching cartoon Wilma constantly berate Fred for being stupid on "The Flintstones." Darin, the hapless husband was a dope on "Bewitched." Ralph was going to send Alice "to the moon" in "The Honeymooners." The television sitcoms were slowing showing women who were smarter and stronger than men. It was a relentless erosion of the roles of men and women in our society until today, where we often have female heroines kicking a bad guy's rear end from here to eternity, and saving the clueless man.

This wacky pop-psychology soup has brought about two interesting things: 1) The traditional role of men as having any authority was attacked and crushed wherever and whenever possible and 2) Authority was seized by feminism.

So it seemed that if authority was bad or misused, then it was to be rejected. But this didn't happen. Authority, once wrested from the stereotypes, was then claimed by those who supposedly "didn't believe in authority." In other words, the godless declared themselves God. (This kind of behavior has always baffled me. We see it in the militant atheists of today. If a person 'hates' or rejects a certain belief system or trait - then why pursue it? If one doesn't believe in God, why attack those who do? If one rejects the Bible and the institution of the church, why is it so important to be recognized by it? Strange.)

All of the cultural upheavals of the 60's and 70's have left their mark upon the Catholic Church. We've already witnessed the damages done in the name of Vatican II. But what has been truly regrettable has been the minimization of a priest's spiritual authority. The philosophy of egalitarianism has infiltrated the church, where proponents of it want "everyone on a level playing field," asserting that in the church, "we are all priests."

This is totally un-Biblical. There was a pattern of authority in the Old Testament which was continued in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, there was the Levitical priesthood, which was the bridge between God and man. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is our High Priest, going before His Father and offering Himself as the ultimate sacrifice, to atone for the sin of Adam. The priesthood was continued in the New Testament and clear definitions for who could be a priest and who couldn't followed.

Today we see a lack of distinction and respect for the spiritual authority of a Catholic priest. The lackadaisical, laid-back attitude of the 60's and 70's now permeates our churches, both Catholic and Protestant. High standards have been replaced by "feel good" theology. The understanding of suffering and sacrifice has been replaced by a focus on "saving" others from suffering; instead of encouraging them to view their situation as an opportunity for God's purification to complete its purpose.

An ongoing process has been taking place over these past 40 years to recreate a priest into a therapist instead of acknowledging his role for what it truly is, in persona Christi: Acting in place of Christ to distribute the Sacraments, and to guide and challenge us to become saints.

The sexual abuse, women ordained as priests, acceptance and celebration of homosexuality, an elevation of laity over the priesthood - all have been attacks of the enemy to destroy the Church of Jesus Christ. If you can weaken the understanding of authority within a structure, then half the battle is won.

I am greatly encouraged, though, by some of our younger people. They have been raised in the squishy 'feel good' era and know that something greater exists. They are now exploring orthodoxy and finding it surprisingly satisfying. They understand that in order to reach the level of spiritual excellence God asks of all of His children, they need a strong teacher. A liberal priest isn't going to cut it. Many of us already know the enemy plays for keeps and is intent upon eradicating Christianity any way he can. This is no time for unnecessary coddling. We need to be 'toughened up.'

Babies love to be held close and nuzzled by their mothers. But they also seem to enjoy being thrown into the air by their fathers. I've likened this to the church. We need our "spiritual mothers" to nurture us, but we also need our "spiritual fathers," priests - to help us embrace uncertainty and risk. A healthy child needs the love and guidance of both parents. Emphasis on one or the other can result in a child that ends up being spoiled by an indulgent mother or a child who becomes harsh by a demanding father.

One of the things that surprised me when I returned to the Catholic Church was a feeling of balance. For years, I had been a member of a non-denominational church that was extremely nurturing. Then I transferred to a more demanding non-denominational church that I called more "fatherly." But when I returned to Catholicism, I realized it had the best of both: nurturing and discipline.

I am hoping that this "Year for Priests" will remind us to honor and respect our priests for who God called them to be. I anticipate the enemy's attacks and unfortunately, they will come from within the Catholic Church from our more "progressive" brothers and sisters. I pray the Holy Spirit will guide them, as well as I, into truth.


Adrienne said...

Unfortunately, Mary Rose, many of the priests are getting exactly what they asked for. Sort of an unintended consequence of the post Vat II world.

It was the bishops and priests who subverted the true meaning of Vat II and made the mess we live with now.

But, I do see the worm turning with some of our newer priests and we should continue to always pray for our priests.

Mary Rose said...

Amen, Adrienne. I understand what you mean. I think there are still some of those priests who think nothing is wrong and welcome the laity taking over everything.

I'll continue to pray for our priests and especially rejoice for those who embrace their calling.

Adrienne said...

Did I mention how much I like this new picture of you? Well, if I didn't, I do...Your smile is magnificent!