Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Dying Breed

I had lunch with a priest sometime ago, he had been ordained almost 50 years. I asked him if he had enjoyed being a priest, he replied, "I did, I don't now", he moaned about all the administration he had to do. I asked if he would encourage a young man to become a priest, "Certainly not", was his abrupt answer. Fr X is a good priest, he teaches the faith, he is loved by his parishioners and loves them, he is wise and much respected by his fellow priests. He is not a liberal, nor is he a conservative.

I think in many ways he is like many priests, conscious of being a dying breed, likely not to be replaced when he finally retires or dies. What he has built up in his parish over twenty years is likely to be swept away when he dies or retires. I am not sure if he is depressed but like many priests he seemed to lack hope, or a vision for the future. Many priests are conscious of having the baton handed on to them but are not sure whether they will pass it on to anyone.

I think Fr X is not an exception. One of the things that impressed me about Bishop Davies at the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy Colloquium, some had asked a question that should have resulted in criticism of some priests, the Bishop began by saying, "All priests are good!" Obviously he wasn't oblivious to the fact that some priests are plainly not so, there are some priests in prison, some who are great sinners, or heretics, or whatever but it was a delight to hear a bishop suggest it was good just being a priest and all priests are fundamentally good.

So often one gets the impression that bishops see priests a potential problems. One older sick priest said to me of his own bishop, "he sees me as problem and looks forward to me being dead" or another priest, "he is happy to forget I exist until I am dead, then I'll be problem until he replaces me". Death seems to be on the mind many older priests. The relationship between bishops and priests is often far from the vision of Vatican II; that of father and son or Chief Shepherd and Co-workers.

Over the next few years in many dioceses in Europe, the Church is going to see a substantial reduction in the number of priests, most bishops see this as a management problem; managing decline as well as possible. Some have even got in experts to help people "cope with change". It might be common sense to some but to me it seems to be a lack of hope.

Vatican II is often called the Council of the Bishop. It saw a dramatic shift in the understanding of the theology of ministry from "priesthood" to "episkope" oversight. In its crudest interpretation it is a shift from grace to management. One of the reasons for the Year for Priests was about renewing a theology of priesthood, again and again Pope Benedict speaks of the priesthood as belonging and being centred on Christ, serving Christ. Individual priests might be bad, sad or mad but being a priest is good, celebrating the sacraments is good, preaching the Catholic Faith is good.

The sadness that many priests, including Fr X seem to have a loss of hope, it can only be restored when we realise Christ is the answer rather than clever strategies. I don't know what Christ would have done about the crisis that the lack of priests is going to bring about but the Cure D'Ars would have thrown himself on his knees before the Lord, Charles Borromeo would have ordered penance, fasts and processions. Prayer, penance, fasting; child like dependence on Christ have always been the Saints answer to Church's problems. Problems seem to start when we see the Church as ours rather than His.

Of course some bishops and priests would see the reduced number of clergy as an opportunity for lay leadership.


Ximenes said...

Has there not been endless prayer, penance and fasting, Adoration of the Bl. Sacrament, rosaries etc. etc. for more priests? None of it seems to make any difference. The year of priesthood came and went, left not a trace behind, just like the year of Paul and the millennium. Ditto the Pope's visit, the relics of St. Theresa - a lot of ballyhoo, making not much difference to anything. No doubt the same will happen to the year of faith. There is a saying that madness consists in doing the same thing over and over again and getting the same result. If the Church wants more priests it needs to think again and start by recognising that it's not working. One mistake may be thinking that prayer is meant to change God's mind and get him to do something he might not otherwise do. Prayer is more about changing our minds, allowing God to transform us - into new ways of thinking. We cannot just blindly go on praying for a miracle. God helps those who help themselves.

Harbor Star said...

Hi Father - normally I don't comment or make suggestions on your wonderful blog, but I thought the link to a recent publication by Ave Maria Press might be of interest to you and other priests...

Fr Ray Blake said...

Indeed we have to allow God to change us, to convert us, this is the point of these years, if we are just going through the motions without metanoia nothing will happen and they will all be pointless.

!!first, we have to believe in God!!
then that he hears us and is concerned

Fr Ray Blake said...

If we do not believe, then there is no point to anything.

nickbris said...

When Priests and Nuns are forced to walk about in mufti and RI is discouraged in Schools it is no wonder that people are losing interest or are frightened to be seen entering a Place of Worship.

Persecution of Moslems has led to the packing of Mosques on Friday's and when the Mosques have been closed they jam the streets outside.

I sometimes wonder if children are actually taught what being a Catholic is all about.

A traumatic experience like a massive war that our leaders are building up to in the Middle East may bring about some fundamental changes in peoples beliefs

Being a Priest at the moment must be depressing beyond belief and we must all pray very hard for them

Cosmos said...

"Has there not been endless prayer, penance and fasting, Adoration of the Bl. Sacrament, rosaries etc. etc. for more priests?"


Paul, Bedfordshire said...

I sometimes think the Church here would be stronger if all the current issues resulted in it being bankrupted.

Priests would still be priests and without the administrative burden of running a parish be able to offer the sacraments and laity would have to club together and request permission for/hire halls/churches for Mass etc. They would also have to pay generously so that the priests have food and shelter.

It is of course already the case that traditionalist orders in the west are very much in this situation, they are also fast growing.

JBB said...

As a doctor, I hear many similar remarks from the older generation of physicians. There may be a "life stage" issue in play here. I have no doubt that the life of a priest is a hard one. My eldest son has been thinking about it which makes me both proud and frightened. I hated the idea of all he would suffer as a parish priest and hoped he would become a religious priest if he felt the call. He is still discerning. Like Mary, I need to be willing to offer up my fears. And medicine is still a good calling to go into, even if the challenges are different than 50 years ago.

Jonathan Marshall said...


"Ditto the Pope's visit, the relics of St. Theresa - a lot of ballyhoo, making not much difference to anything."

Well, speaking personally, both these events were very significant factors in the recent revitalistion of my own faith over the last few years. How many others may have been similarly affected?

Jonathan said...

@rusticus I agree, the visit of St. Therese and praying in Hyde park were significant moments in my increase in Faith.

Lynda said...

The priest sounds depressed, to have lost faith or the meaning of the priests' vocation. It is not meant to be easy or enjoyable: teaching, preaching and governing in a hostile, atheistic society is not likely to be either. Of course, priests ought to be evangelising and encouraging vocations, including to the priesthood. If not, they are not doing their duty. If that priest had a strong faith, he would be encouraging young men to become priests. It is priests like him that discourage people from becoming priests or religious - and they turn to the holy, orthodox communities. Lynda

Agnes Ainsworth said...

If we encouraged people, especially the young to go to Medjugorje, there would be much more prayer, penance, fasting, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament - together with reading the Bible and attending more Eucharists, there would be more priests revitalised in their ministry and more new vocations. The Vatican commission is investigating 520 priests who have signed up as having received their vocation through the graces of Medjugorje. One such American priest yesterday sent me a draught copy of his book about to be published. In it I quote:
"Through her messages to the visionaries, the Blessed Virgin reveals that humankind is living in a time of particular mercy from God. However, as the book also explains, this period of grace will not last forever. In other words, God’s justice must ultimately confront those who choose obstinately to live in a state of sin and who refuse to be converted. As such, all people are being called by the Heavenly Mother to spiritual conversion in times she describes as urgent"
(This connects with Jesus to St Faustina: "His secretary of Divine Mercy until He comes as the Just Judge")
The message to Mirjana on Oct 2nd ends with: "In a special way, I implore you not to judge your shepherds. My children are you forgetting that God the Father called them? Pray!
On Nov 2nd, the last sentence of her message was: "Again I am calling you: pray for your shepherds. Thank you."
Fr Stephen Malloy in "Intervention of God" quotes Karl Rahner:
“The intent of private revelation is not to teach the faithful different meanings of existing truths; its imperative meaning ‘is to help Christianity act in a particular historic situation.’ (Rahner, Visionen…, p.27) The matter of private revelations is specific and practical advice that God directs to His Church when she finds herself in a situation where all other means are exhausted. ’

Jran said...

I fasy and pray endlessly for priests and for vocations. But I have faith that God will answer the prayers of the many people who are doing the same. We must never give up.

It must be so hard for priests, to see the lack of vocations and the lack of passion and faith among the laity.

God have mercy on us all.

Anonymous said...

Who really cares? Certainly not the bishops who are primarily concerned, or so it seems, with being able to fill a gap so that someone will be in a parish to take up the diocesan collections!

I have heard it said that cynicism is a sign of a disillusioned idealist.

Lazarus said...

That mood of pessimism you describe about the priesthood has its lay analogues. I worry about my children's faithfulness. How likely is it that they will remain as practising Catholics, dodging the bullets of broken marriages and the siren call of an easier, secularized life? I'm sure there are specific, practical answers to both lay and clerical worries -better catechesis, recruitment drives whatever- but the fundamental answer is that it's in God's hands and we must simply try to be as faithful in our lives as we can be. (That's too downbeat! We should be on fire with our faith!!) Perhaps we are the last generation with the barbarians already within the gates. Perhaps we are at the beginning of a revival. (I think we should certainly act as if the latter were true.) Only God knows and he will provide.

George said...

Let's also admit that the laity are more screwed up today than in any time in several generations. From the WWII generation who are rife with syncretists and are often the most resistent of good, holy priest, to the 30 and 40 yo neo-traditionalists, who often either highly pharisitical or just over-the-top creepy pious. Catholicism has transformed since Vatican II into something like a theater of the absurd. All of this makes the priesthood extremely unappealing. It's a nasty, repugnant, ungrateful flock out there.

Ximenes said...

My posting might have been a little sour, but I do feel that we have a relentless emphasis on externals of religion, saying prayers etc., and very little on inner conversion without which the externals have no meaning. If the point of these years is metanoia, then that is what we need to focus on: it doesn't necessarily happen just by venerating relics or believing, which can so easily be a merely cerebral intellectual exercise.

santoeusebio said...

I always thought that a vocation to the priesthood was a gift from God. Could it be that He has been holding back in view of the state of some seminaries? Are there not signs of improvement where catechisis, training and seminaries are returning to more traditional ways?

(Apologies if this post has been posted twice - problems with the system!)

Nicolas Bellord

Simon Ho said...


The focus intended is indeed on the internals, God makes use of externals to touch and change us. Some take longer than others to get there, so I wouldn't say that the lack of a miraculous turnaround after each event makes it futile. Sometimes, the devil tries to hijack it too.

I am utterly convinced that vocations to the Priesthood is correlated to the local Church's joyfulness of being Christ's and fidelity to the Apostolic Faith. Prayers don't change God's plans to call more men to the Priesthood because he already wants to call many men to the Priesthood - he does not withhold any good gift to his children. Instead, prayers for vocations make us more attuned to the movement of his Spirit among us and disposes us to listen and respond with generosity to the demands arising from each of his call.

A priest said...

I suspect that there will be no shortage of vocations to the priesthood in Shrewsbury Diocese in a few years time.

tempus putationis said...

Father, tell your fellow priests not to be despondent. One of the fruits of the Holy Father's visit is the establishment of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy and its colloquium that you attended recently at the Oratory School, Reading. Some of the fruits of the colloquium are the priestly tears prompted by the lovingkindness in the talk given by Bishop Mark Davies. When Benedict XVI came to Lourdes in 2009 he told the French bishops privately that they must LOVE their priests, be like fathers to them. Would Bishop Mark Davies be arranging the visit of the heart of the Cure d'Ars if it had not been for the Year of Priesthood under the Cure's patronage? All these things are not ballyhoo, they are small precious jewels which are slowly linking up to form a holy network to support priests and bishops and the faithful and pull us closer to God.

Agnes Ainsworth said...

Amen to that. Our Bishop Mark Davies - a gift from God

Anonymous said...

Relevant observation to the question of priestly vocations at English Catholic in the comments:

"The Complementary Norms for Anglicanorum coetibus state that the ordinary may petition for dispensations for ordination of married men for the service of the ordinariates in accord with previously agreed criteria. Within the last couple years, I also saw a statement that the national or regional episcopal conferences may establish criteria, subject to the Vatican’s recognitio, for granting of dispenations for ordination of married men." (by Norm)


+ Wolsey

Francis said...

Dream on, Bishop "Wolsey", dream on!

Anonymous said...

Dear Father and All Priest in GB,

I want you to know how appreciated you are. God bless all of you for your sacrifices to be an alter Chritus to us. My son is trying to go into the priesthood in England and I have always encouraged him. God calls, but the call must be supported. May those priests who are disillusioned pray for vocations.

Anonymous said...


What do you base your allegation of dreaming on, other than your own emotions?

+ Wolsey

stritahelpus said...

I would like to put a general question to the readers, which is as follows: After hearing that Bishop Mark Davies is doing such wonderful things for the Catholic Church - then why is he not the next Cardinal Elect of England? He does not support gay unions or women priests, nor does he support the watering down of the Faith in this country. I do not read any other acclamations about any other Bishop on this site? Infact, it is clear to me that Bishop Davies is very much liked and held in high esteem. This being so, should we Catholics insist on a say or be allowed to say, who our Cardinal should be? Does it always follow that it has to be the Archbishop of Westminster? If Bishop Davies holds the confidence of the Catholics and does not stand for any of this rubbish of gay parterships, same sex blessings and all the other tripe that seems to be supported by the Archbishop Of Westminster - speak out all you followers of + Mark Davies and be heard.

stcatherineofsiennaassistus said...

stritahelpus. I can see why you pray to St Rita. You may be treading on ground 'bodly where no man has gone before'. I would like to know the answer to your question - Does the Archbishop of Westminster automatically become Cardinal of England and Wales - I presume?? Cardinal Keith O'Brien -is in Scotland and a good leader he is. I suppose it is the Pope's decision. But good point that the Catholics should be allowed to have some say in the election of a new Cardinal. That is called democrasy. O silly me - forgot - there is no democrasy in the Church.

FrS said...

Fr Blake; I have read somewhere on your site about someone who said that they had spoken to a Nun who wanted women Priests and also that they (the nuns) would follow the example of The Blessed Mother as 'the first priest'. Well I can say that after a statement like that I would have wanted something stronger than a cup of tea. Comments like that and the 'femminism in your face' actions are totally unnecessary. Women priests will not happen in the Catholic Church. Nuns who wish to become Priests are totally wrong. Ladies be good and do your work that you agreed to perform at the time you took your perpetual vows. Stop all this silly nonscense of wanting to become Priests. You are embarressing yourselves and the Catholic Faith. Any Nun who states in public these silly comments should be kept within the Convent, as a sanction by the Superior. I visit Nuns every week. They are always very kind and suffer their illnesses with dignity. We spoke about this subject today and one said to me - 'well I suppose the Sisters who have aspirations to become Priests are obviously not receiving the correct medication.' And I am not going to argue with that.

FR.J said...

FrS Amen to that.I heard a discussion only last week where my parishioners were talking about the possibility of married clergy and permanemt deacons becoming priests. One lady brought up the subject of women priests. 'Oh no we are no having that nonscense here' It takes a scouser to tell you how it is. Call a spade a shovel!!!

FrH said...

Fr Ray; Could we bring into the forum the topic of fasting from meat on Friday? I have always done this - well it is my age I suppose. I was brought up to do this. However, I am now being told by the Rel. Education dept in the diocese that this rule does not have to be implemented in Catholic School menus. I did say CATHOLIC SCHOOL. The Bishops Council implemented this. The diocese says don't bother. What is going on? Someone kindly expalin to me. Thank you.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Fr H., We have discussed it, Schools Commissions tend to be law unto themselves, best to get parents to complain.

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