Skip to comments.Men of the Same Cloth?: Old Priests vs. New Priests
Posted on 05/02/2010 6:11:21 AM PDT by marshmallow
As wing tips and clerical collars replace sandals and golf shirts, parishes react to a new style of priest.
When the alarm clock rings, Father James Moore, 33, pops out of bed. He brews coffee, makes his bed, and launches into prayer.
Down the hall, Father Bart Hutcherson, 48, likes to set two alarms half an hour apart to ease into the morning. He doesnt bother making his bed.
Their days, their desks, and their general approaches to priesthood differ widely. Yet they are both Dominican priests serving the same parish, St. Thomas More Catholic Newman Center in Tucson, Arizona.
When they are standing side by side on Sunday, the contrast is clear. Father Bart wears a simple white habit, a green chasuble, and sandals. Father James wears the same habit and chasuble, along with an alb, an amice, and black shoes. He looks fancier, yet he is the associate to Father Bart, who considers his juniors dress overkill.
The amice is truly a pre-Vatican II vestment, not required in any circumstances, he says. Here in the desert, it makes little sense to put on an extra layer of clothes.
So it is no surprise, with clothing differences that translate into liturgical ones, that parishioners wondered what would ensue when Father Jamesfresh out of seminarywas assigned to assist their more casual pastor.
Father James led such a sheltered life, growing up in a traditional Catholic family in the country, so he shows up at the Newman Center and hes all set and ready to fight the good fight, says parishioner Cliff Bowman, 45, a pilot instructor and father of four. I was a little concerned how they were going to work out.
The two priests had the same questions. Father Bart had just attended Father James ordination, a very high-church liturgy at a big Gothic churcha far cry from the informal Newman Center where, alas, the avid organist would have no organ. That was my first impression: How is he going to survive here without an organ? And is he going to push us to try to get an organ? Father Bart recalls. I knew his liturgical style is much more high church than mine, so I worried, how is that going to affect our ministry here? Is that going to be something thats a sadness for him? Or is it going to be something where he comes in and tries to change the dynamic here?
Father James had no plans for a takeover, but he did bring a penchant for Gregorian chant, a knowledge of Latin, and a curiosity as to how it would play out.
How is it playing out two years later? Pretty well, Bowman says, which is remarkable when you line the two men up and break down their differences. The short list is the stuff they have in common: the Dominican formation, the Newman mission, the commitment to priesthood and service.
The list of differences is virtually everything else, beginning with where they preach, how they preach, and what they preach on. Father James uses a prepared text and stands at the lectern; Father Bart leaves the lectern and the script. Father James addresses morality, church teaching, and church history, while Father Bart applies scripture to everyday challenges and temptations.
Even the way they position their hands at Mass reflects broader discrepancies: Father Bart folds one hand over the other, palms facing his chest, while Father James presses his hands together, fingers pointing up.
Changing of the guard
As a younger generation of priests joins and replaces an older generation, parishes across the country are feeling the change. City by city, diocese by diocese, it is a changing of guards that is neither swift nor soundless and comes with no choreography to guide the steps.
Many young priests arrive with an unabated zeal for the church, a solid grasp of liturgical rubrics, and a preference, if not insistence, for traditions of the past. They call themselves JPII priests because their formative years were shaped by Pope John Paul IIs pontificate. They are unafraid to preach on touchier moral teachings and eager to share rituals they consider timelessones their gray-haired peers often interpret as a step backward from the hard-won changes of the Second Vatican Council.
For these older priests, zeal for the church has softened into an abiding love, tinged by an awareness of its shortcomings. Theyve seen many messy relationships, and theyve mastered the fine art of meeting people where they are and gently drawing them in.
At best, the change can puzzle parishioners, surprised at how different the same vocation can look. It can result in awkward momentsa parishioner sitting between a pastor and an associate pastor engaged in a tense debate at a council meeting, or seeing the older priest roll his eyes and reference the young buck.
At worst, it can induce an exodus of parishioners. When the old priest and the new priest are diametrically opposed, Catholics say it can feel as if the axis of a familiar home church is tilting, the ground moving beneath their feet.
Its jarring, says Mary Deeley, the pastoral associate at the Sheil Catholic Center in Evanston, Illinois. Whenever you have a change in leadership, there are going to be people who say, I just cant do this. Im out because hes out.
On a personal level, that can result in a crisis of faithsomeone who stops going to Mass or someone who never comes back.
That major decision can be prompted by minor liturgical changes, which parishioners quickly pick up on and often read into, says Karon Latham, who has worked as a pastoral associate and now serves as director of faith formation for a cluster of three parishes in rural Central Michigan. The liturgy is the heart of who we are and what holds us together as Catholics, she says. Any time there is an abrupt change in the way [liturgy] is done, it can really interfere with the way people are encountering God.
Latham speaks from experience. She was dismayed that fellow parishioners who had been strong in their faith stopped showing up on Sundays during a difficult transition to a new pastor, which coincided with the mandated implementation of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.
To try to ease their struggles, Latham met with parishioners at church, at coffee shops, and in homes. You could see how they were grieving the loss of something that had been so meaningful to them, she says. And for parishioners who happened to be experiencing personal losswhether it was illness or struggling with relationshipsit was almost too much for them to come to a liturgy that was unfamiliar.
In the face of these changes, priests experience plenty of pain, too. At question, ultimately, is their very identity: Are they defined by baptism or by ordination?
Older priests tend to say the former, emphasizing what they share with parishioners and offering their first name. Theologically, my primary identity should be that of a baptized disciple who is called to live out his discipleship as an ordained minister of the church, says Father Donald Cozzens, 70, a professor at John Carroll University in Cleveland.
Forgetting that primary identity can lead to a dangerous attitude, he adds. I heard of a woman who came into the sacristy after the Mass and tried to make a point to the priest about his homily. Well, Father, after all, were all disciples, she said. And he responded, I am not a disciple. Im a priest. The laity are disciples.
On the other hand, younger priests say, just as parents should not be too chummy with their children, neither should priests try to be on the same level as their parishioners.
All Catholics are priests, prophets, and kings, says Father Randal Kasel, 37, who serves at St. Charles in Bayport, Minnesota . The priest in a particular way is meant to be a priest at a parish, and he has all those roles. Thats why there needs to be a sense of closeness but also just a little bit of distance. Its hard for priests to do, because I want people to like me. But I cant be true to myself and reject my role. What happens when youre too close to people who you also have to govern? What happens when you have to say something a little difficult or you need to correct someone?
As a priest settles into a new parish, he is left to watch the departure of some parishioners and the eventual arrival of new ones, a process that can take several years to shake out. The trial period a congregation gives a new pastor can be awfully briefand is often marred by secondhand accounts and closed minds.
Molly Martin, a member of St. Benedict in Duluth, Minnesota, once let rumors about a forthcoming pastor cause her anxiety, only to discover many lacked merit. So when her church experienced another leadership change three years ago, I was not so worried, she says. I had learned to wait and form my own impression.
The number of parishioners who leave because of a priest change is usually cancelled out by the number who come, says Anne Merritt, the secretary at St. Benedict. She credits their new pastor for implementing change slowly, with clear and thorough communication.
Before he began presiding with his back to the parishioners, a position older Catholics will remember from their early years, he explained for months the reason for the practice and issued five bulletin inserts, Merritt says. Advent 2009 was the introductory period, and once ordinary time began this year and the pastor had heard enough complaints, he decided to revert to the most common custom, facing parishioners, for the 8 a.m. Mass, one of three weekend services at St. Benedict.
I thought that was being fair, Merritt says.
Liturgical changes often reflect the way a priest views his relationship with the parish. Cozzens understanding of that relationship comes from French Dominican Father Yves Congar, whom he paraphrases: There are two ways of looking at ministry in the church: One is that Christ chose ministers who form a people; the other is Christ forms a people from whom come ministers.
When you believe the latter is true, as Cozzens does, you understand a priest can be influenced by his parishioners just as surely as he may try to influence them. It can take years of pastoral service to really appreciate this, though. Parish priests often are humbled at the faith and courage of their parishioners. The more insecure a priest is, he adds, the less likely he is to be shaped by his parishioners.
Being willing to be shaped by parishioners does not mean abandoning church teaching, Cozzens says. I hope I am faithful and pastoralneither severe nor lax in my care of souls, preaching, and teaching.
Kasel looks at his relationship with his parish through a different lens. I love being a priest, he says. But its not easy. Its a lot about being willing to suffer with people and for people. The priesthood is an intense life of grace with Jesus, to lead others to him and to face the same things he didthe opposition as well as the blessings, the miracles and the great disappointments. At my parish Im trying to do what the church wants, and Im doing it as generously, charitably, and patiently as I can.
That can result in policies that ruffle feathers, such as Kasels emphasis on boy altar serverswithout rejecting the girls who had been on board. If they wanted to stay on, Ive told them they could, he says. A few have.
Kasel explains: Only men can be priests, and the church sees serving at the altar as the first step toward being a priest. Is it really fair to the girl to have her at the altar if she cant become a priest?
But it can be hard to swallow if your daughter wants to be an altar server, as was the case for Bridgann Overmann, 68, of Marion, Iowa, when her daughter was young and their priest did not allow her to serve.
I was not happy about it at all, recalls Overmann, who didnt want any obstacles to her daughters engagement in the church.
Overmann also resists the use of Latin in Mass. I dont think thats moving forward, she says. Latin is a beautiful language, but we dont understand it.
Kasel suspects a few families left St. Charles because of his emphasis on male altar servers. His unflinching objection to contraception, a point hes raised at the pulpit, hasnt won him many popularity points either. He thinks its difficult for parishioners who are used to hearing thoughtful but palatable proverbs to adjust to sermons on the pill and natural law.
I wasnt picking a fight, Kasel says, but I was saying, This is what the church teaches, and I was doing it in a gentle way, a loving but forthright way. Theres not a lot of wiggle room to it.
Though about 20 families have left St. Charles, he says even more have joined. Hes not dwelling on the past, but he hasnt forgotten the push-back he experienced from some parishioners.
It was an eye-opening experience for the priest of five years. What happens in parish life is you get a few people excited, they can do a lot of rabble-rousing, Kasel says. When people get upset, they try to ferment it.
On the other hand Overmann believes parishioners are entitled to speak up if a new pastor implements change they find upsetting. They owe that to the priest, she says. You need to tell him in a gentle way. They need to grow. We need to grow as a church. We need to be stretched, we need to try new things.
Room for both
Older and young priests could learn a great deal from each other, experts say. Theres room for both models, says pastoral associate Mary Deeley. Ive had experiences of priests who grow in their priesthood and begin to see the real value in both styles. The danger is in demonizing the other side.
Or even calling them the other side, she adds.
Father Robin Ryan, 53, who teaches at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and directs the young-adult discernment program Catholics on Call , points to the origin of this issue. I think one of the greatest challenges facing the U.S. churchand I dont want to be alarmist about thisis that many diocesan seminarians and many religious order seminarians are being formed in very different ways about priestly ministry and, to an extent, about theology, he says. My fear is that thats going to make it harder down the line for priests from different backgrounds and orders to work together. I dont think weve really grappled with that.
He believes each generation has wisdom for the other.
Older priests, he says, sometimes could miss out on the fact that a priest is called to reflect holiness. And were not just one of the guys.
As for the younger men, Its very important that priests treat people who are adults like adults. Sometimes that emphasis on a priest as a person set apart and the spiritual father can lead to a kind of paternalistic approach to ministry thats just not going to work and is not helpful and forgets that were all part of the Body of Christ.
As for Father Bart and Father James, the Dominicans serving side-by-side, sandal to shoe, they attribute their accord to open communication, deep-seated respect, and good-natured teasing.
Last Christmas, for instance, Father James asked Father Bart, who wore an Obama T-shirt on Election Day, for Sarah Palins memoir Going Rogue.
They pray for each other. They edit each others homilies. And occasionally they just bite their tongues. Their common ground may be narrow, but it is deep. Just take a peek at the profile picture on Father James Facebook account: It is a picture of him with Father Bart, above the caption brothers.
It is certainly a good sign of things to come.
I think Father James should have asked Father Bart to see him in the confessional.
Ok, so any child wanting to serve the alter, really desires to being a priest in their future.
As a former Catholic, my EIGHT BROTHERS all were alter boys, NONE are priests today.
In fact a couple were “messed with” by a priest while on camping trips with the priest as “mentor”.
It is truly a shame the Church feels the necessity to EXCLUDE females.
There have been numerous holy women who have given a marvelous example of sanctity to the Church through their ministries.
The Church doesn't "feel the need" to exclude women.
Rather, it maintains that it has no mandate from God to ordain them.
No, the church simply understands that there is a difference between men and women and that their roles will, therefore, be different. Simply because your brothers did not become priests does not keep this priest’s reasoning from being sound.
Until I saw that part, I thought I would have been happy with either Fr. James or Fr. Bart. I don’t think lace or organ music is important, but life is non-negotiable.
I think it’s great that they INCLUDE MALES in something for once.
“Latin is a beautiful language, but we dont understand it.”
So learn it. It’s not that hard. It’s only your faith after all.
Yes, the Church out to be ashamed for excluding females. Why I never heard tell of any woman being honored by the Church. And the restriction on women in ministry is apalling. Oh if only the Church would enter the 21st century and let women open their mouths and participate in the life and mission of the Church.
Big eye roll.
You make a common mistake in believing that the entire minstry of the Church is centered in the ordained priesthood. And in believing that equality can only be achieved by men and women having the same roles rather than complementary ones.
Personally I see ordaining woman into the priesthood as a disaster judging from the history of the Episcopal Church. Note I am only speaking of priests here. Think the eco spiritualist so called sisters in the priesthood and you have a good picture of what happened.
How in the world as a priest do you compromise that position. (Even as a Catholic...)
It's kind of funny - last week, the kids serving set up the procession and you could tell no adult supervised their vesting. Cassocks were the wrong length, one surplus was just all wrong for the kid (it was too short and the neck was too big), parents didn't insist on black shoes with dark socks and pants, etc. It was just sloppy looking. I'm glad there are priests out there now who are concerned with presentation (and this week we had seminarians serving). Some people think/say that it's external, but what is presented externally reflects what is going on internally. Showing up to serve Mass with bedhead doesn't say much about one's respect for what's happening.
Oh, and BTW, by not having an organ, the parish in the article is outside of canon law. Although, it being the Dominicans, all bets are off.
A cute way to get into the contrast by starting with the outer garments.
It’s what is on the inside that is important. In this case the younger priest wins all around, hands down, and Roman collar in full view when he goes out shopping — that last one is my guess.
did anyone ask these boys if they ever thought about becoming a priest?
We need to do that from age 11 through the 11th grade!
**I think Father James should have asked Father Bart to see him in the confessional.**
They can’t do that when they serve on the same staff. Most priest have a Spiritual Advisor to whom they confess.
You are never a former Catholic. Once baptized a Catholic you are ALWAYS a Catholic. You can come back at any time. Just sit down with a priest and get your questions answered.
Or perhaps there is a class in your city for returning Catholics.
So did Christ exclude females as well?
**It is truly a shame the Church feels the necessity to EXCLUDE females.**
Oh, really, you need to read about the lives of many women saints. Start with these three — all Doctors (super teachers) of the Church.
St. Catherine of Siena — who talked a Pope into returning to Rome from France
St. Teresa of Jesus (Teresa of Avila) who was very devoted to prayer
St. Therese of the Child Jesus who is an avid supporter of the priesthood.
Read the links I post in the next post!
These women WERE and ARE important people in the Catholic Church!
St. Catherine of Siena: A Feisty Role for Sister Nancy Murray
9 Day Novena - St. Catherine of Siena - to protect Pope Benedict XVI
EWTN New Program - St. Catherine of Siena: Mystic and Reformer
Saint Catherine of Siena, Virgin (d.1380)
Catholic Caucus - St. Catherine of Siena
Film explores spiritual life and sexuality of 'sassy' Saint Teresa
Spanish bishop slams new film on St. Teresa of Avila
Avila University to Be Dedicated to Study of Mysticism
Saint Teresa of Avila[Doctor of the Church]
St. Teresa of Avila
On Praying for Priests (Thoughts from St. Thérèse of Lisieux)
Tens of thousands expected to venerate St. Therese relics at Westminster Cathedral [Catholic Caucus]
The Little-Known St. Thérèse (Catholic Caucus)
All Is Grace
Three Novenas to Saint Therese of Lisieux/St. Therese of the Child Jesus (Prayer Thread)
Catholic Caucus: The Little-Known St. Thérèse
Catholic relic (of St. Therese of the Child Jesus) nicked from Toronto church [Catholic Caucus]
Leonard Porter's St. Therese (magnificent)
Blessed Mother... and Father, Too (parents of St. Therese beatified) [Catholic Caucus]
"A Shower of Roses" [Catholic Caucus]
The Christmas Conversion of St. Thérèse
Benedict XVI Welcomes Relics of St. Thérèse - Urges Faithful to Love Scripture as She Did
St. Therese of The Little Flower - Following Her Road Map & Compass To God (Card Sean Titular Chrch)
St. Therese and the Little Way
Today we remember the Little Flower
New Film on the Life of St. Thèrése of Lisieux Screened for the Roman Curia
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