26 August 2023

Father (doesn't) always know best

20th Week OT (S)

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

While serving as a priest-formator at NDS in NOLA, I had many opportunities to talk to seminarians about the dangers of clericalism. It was The Topic after the Cardinal McCarrick scandal broke in 2019. Power, authority, influence, money, and people were grievously abused for the jollies of one man. That this man was aided and abetted by dozens of other clerics (from cardinals to deacons) over several decades reveals the ugly, infectious nature of sin. The sin reigning at the rotten center of this scandal was Pride, “I am a god.” Surely, greed, lust, envy all played their part. But Pride gave them their marching orders. Talking to the seminarians, the formators spent a lot of time defining clericalism for them. It boils down to this: clergy are better than the laity. How clericalism manifests differs from age to age, but the basics never change: “I am a priest/bishop (etc) and b/c I am the priest/bishop I am always right.” Therefore, the cleric's will is the single, stable measure of what counts as true, good, and beautiful in any situation. To make matters worse, clericalism is almost always nurtured by some portion of the laity who say, “Father knows best.” Jesus says, The greatest among you must be your servant.”

Humility is no easy virtue. It requires the death of Pride, the submission of one's will to the Father. At minimum, it means confessing one's total dependence on God alone and then living a life of gratitude for His abundant gifts. It means refusing the serpent's temptation to Eve: “You can be a god w/o God.” Practically, for the cleric, it means never confusing legitimate authority with naked power. Righteousness with popularity. Truth with personal preference. For all of us, humility is about knowing and deeply understanding that we are – at our very root – unnecessary creatures. Made beings brought to perfection in the loving sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. Our creation is a gift. Our re-creation is also a gift. Everything we have and are is a gift. When we serve one another, we are gifts serving other gifts for the glory of God. When we serve for self-satisfaction, to puff up our ego, we serve another Master entirely. His name is Pride. So, Jesus warns us, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” 

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