“You Are a Priest Forever”

Yesterday we celebrated the Tenth Anniversary of priesthood of my friend Fr. Dan Griffith, with an anniversary Mass, over which he presided, at our Lady or Lourdes Catholic Church (where Dan will take over a pastor on July 1), followed by a lunch. In attendance were members of Dan’s family as well as friends from various walks of his life and it was an honor to be included among them.

I thought afterwards of the number of priests I am privileged to call my friends. Some, like John, Aidan and Tim, are Vincentians. Some, like Joe, Bill, Damian and Greg, are Jesuits. Some, like Reggie, are Dominicans. And some, like Dan, Dale, and another Joe, are diocesan priests. Some I have known for years and other have only recently become a part of my life. They all, in one way or another, enrich my life and I am profoundly grateful for their presence and friendship.

Many people are unhappy that the Catholic Church won’t ordain women. And many are unhappy with the hierarchy for one reason or another. (Take your choice among any number of issues.) And, of course, we all know that some priests have taken advantage of their position and acted in sinful ways. I fear sometimes that one or another of those three things causes people to refrain from recognizing and celebrating the wonderful work done in the name of Christ by many men who have chosen to live their lives as ordained priests. That is a mistake.

Blessings and gratitude to my friend Dan on the 10th anniversary of his ordination. I pray that he will have many more.


Participating in the Priestly, Prophetic and Kingly Mission of Christ

I spent the past two days at a seminar on Woman in the Church and in the World, sponsored by the Siena Symposium for Women, Family, and Culture. The seminar included some wonderful sessions on the problems confronting women, the Marian Dimension of the Church, the family as “domestic Church,” the mission of the laity, among others.

Near the end of the first day, we talked about an important subject not unique to women – the role of the laity. We looked at some beautiful language in Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation, Christifideles Laici (The Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and the World) addressing a subject we don’t often think about: “the priestly, prophetic and kingly dignity of the entire People of God.”

When we receive the sacrament of Baptism, we are anointed with oil as a sign that we are joined to Christ and share in his threefold mission as prophet, priest, and king. One of the aims of Christifideles Laici is to remind us of this charge, to encourage us to take seriously our role in this mission.

What does it mean for us to share in the priestly, prophetic and kingly mission of Christ? (Do we even think about that question?)

To be a prophet in the Christian sense means to “accept the Gospel in faith and to proclaim it in word and deed.”

To participate in the kingly mission means to “seek to overcome in [ourselves] the kingdom of sin.” Someone suggested in our discussion that for us to act kingly means for us to exercise sovereignty over ourself to that we may then make a gift of ourself to others.

To share in Jesus priestly mission, which for Jesus meant sacrificing himself on the cross, means for us to let all of our activities become spiritual sacrifices, that is, to carry out all of our deeds in the Spirit and with love.

It is a tall order. But that is what we are called to by our baptism.

Archbishop Hannon’s Extraordinary Life

Before reading The Archbishop Wore Combat Boots, the memoir of Archbishop Philip Hannon, I knew nothing about this man. Chaplain to a paratrooper unit during World War II, close friends with the Kennedy’s (he delivered the eulogy at President Kennedy’s funeral mass), participant in the Second Vatican Council (coordinating the Vatican press panels), Archbishop of New Orleans during times of racial strife – Archbishop Hannon has led, in the words of the subtitle of the book, “an extraordinary life.”

As a lens through which to view historical events, the book is wonderfully engaging. For example, reading it conveyed a sense of what it was like to be in Italy before the beginning of World War II, a sense of the texture of Europe there. It equally effectively painted a picture of France and Germany during World War II. The same is true for descriptions of other events (albeit ones of my lifetime) – DC in the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination or New Orleans after Katrina.

The Archbishop also effectively conveys what it means to be a priest and something of his own growth over the years. Perhaps he could have been more self-reflective about some issues – I felt myself pausing at some of the advice and answers he gave to soldiers who came to him for counsel – but always I had the sense of a spiritual person who was living out his calling to serve God.

I was less enthralled with the last forty or fifty pages of the book, which treat a number of subjects in fairly short order. For example, Hannon’s brief treatment of the sexual abuse crisis sounds more aimed at conveying his sense of what a good job he did in New Orleans (and defending his handling of a particular priest over which he received some criticism) than anything else. That is just not a subject that can be usefully addressed in two and a half pages. On another matter, I suspect part of my negative reaction to his discussion of the liturgical changes following Vatican II is that I see a number of things very differently from the way he does. Nonetheless, it seems to me difficult to claim so breezily as he does that it was the change from Latin to English that is responsible for emptying the pews in Catholic churches. I also found some lack of balance in his unadulterated praise of Pope John Paul II.

Despite my reaction to the last pages of the book, it is a really good read and I was happy to learn what I did about the life of Archbishop Hannon.

I reviewed this book as part of the Catholic Company reviewer program,