Friday, June 11, 2010

The Primary Vocation Is to Imitate Christ by Leaving All Things

Over at Whosoever Desires..., Nathan O'Halloran, SJ discusses celibacy in religious orders and in the diocesan priesthood: "But for a diocesan priest, celibacy is not a vocation in the same sense. It does not ontologically define his relationship with God in the same way that it does for a monk, a Jesuit, a religious. It is a discipline that practically, rather than vocationally — the language is strained here — defines these relationships." This is indeed a common conception about the diocesan priesthood, and characteristic enough of diocesan vocation drives. Many vocation videos show priests helping people, and few stress as primary the call to leave all things. In other words, the priesthood is presented as a job for which administrative abilities and people skills are the main qualifications. And yet, there is a theological ideal for the priesthood that too often has been forgotten.

Here's Hans Urs von Balthasar describing the original lay trajectory of Ignatius of Loyola's foundation of the Society of Jesus – the Jesuits:
"The time no longer existed, and had not yet arrived again, in which laymen could be given the specific tasks that belonged to the professed in the Society of Jesus [Jesuits]; there was no reason, still less any possibility, to depart from the usual union of 'clericus' and 'priest' in the traditional sense. It was already audacious enough when Ignatius placed his apostles in the midst of the turmoil of the world without any monastery or prayer in choir. The significant mark of his personal disposition remains the fact that he expected indifference of every single one of the novices who entered with regard to whether or not they would study, whether they would become priests or layment. For him, the one thing necessary was the primary religious attitude of indifference, and priesthood or laity were, so to speak, a secondary matter contained within this indifference, which, once the divine vocation to the religious state had been grasped and accepted, awaited further specification from the mouth of the superior. Ignatius thereby said implicitly, in accordance with the original view of all the older Orders, that the primary vocation was not to the priesthood but to the imitation of Christ in the act of 'leaving all things.' whereas the determination to become a priest was a matter for the superiors in the Church or the Order. Recently, a Roman declaration has established the Church's relation to the priestly vocation in the same sense. [footnote 17: Cf. Acta Apostolicae Sedis, July 15, 1912]" 
Balthasar, The Laity and the Life of the Counsels, 83-84. Emphasis mine.
And this is Joseph Ratzinger's description of the reason for celibacy in the West:
"The Latin Church has expressly underscored this strictly charismatic character of priestly ministry by linking – in accord with ancient Church tradition – priesthood with virginity, which clearly can be understood only as a personal charism, never simply as an official qualification"
Ratzinger, "The Theological Locus of Ecclesial Movements," May 1998. Emphasis mine. 
Ideally, then, dioceses would have vocation weekends, not for men who have already decided to be priests, but for all men and women to discern what God wants of them.
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