Tuesday, July 07, 2020

St. Catherine of Siena on how to be a successful priest

Two excerpts from the latest issue of The New Oxford Review, in which David Mills writes, in his Last Things column:

It’s St. Catherine of Siena’s feast day as I write. She was famously critical of worldly clergy. In The Dialogue, she describes them as caring about “having grand horses, many gold and silver vessels, and well-adorned homes. They have and keep what they ought not, all with huge vanity. Their heart babbles out its disordered vanity, and their whole desire is feasting, making a god of their bellies.”

Inevitably, she says, they soon fall into sexual immorality. As a famous movie director said, the heart wants what it wants. We don’t easily say no to it. He who lets his heart have the horses and homes it wants, though he intends to remain chaste, eventually lets his heart have the body it wants.

Not surprisingly, the saint continues, these priests fail as pastors: “They leave behind my little sheep, whom I had entrusted to them, like sheep without a shepherd. Spiritually they do administer the sacraments of holy Church (the power of which sacraments can neither be taken away nor lessened by any sin of theirs) but they do not feed them with sincere prayers, with hungry longing for their salvation, with holy and honorable living, nor do they feed their poor subjects with temporal assistance.”

She writes pages and pages of this. She uses the word “filth” a lot. I wonder how often she’s read in seminaries.

Also from St. Catherine: The hierarchy “will never correct persons of any importance, even though they may be guilty of greater sin than more lowly people, for fear that these might retaliate by standing in their way or deprive them of their rank and their way of living. They will, however, correct the little people, because they are sure these cannot harm them or deprive them of their rank. Such injustice comes from their wretched selfish love for themselves.”

I saw this a lot in my experiences inside the religious world, as an Episcopalian as well as a Catholic, and it was one of the most disheartening things I saw. If you want a bishop’s attention, you would do well to have a lot of money, or the ability to get it for him. If, say, your priest makes a mess of the liturgy and preaches heresy from the pulpit, the bishop might listen to the rich man’s complaints, but the poor man from the small parish has no more hope of getting the bishop’s help than I do of playing center in the NBA.

I met a friend at the pub we favor, and started working after he left. A man about my age came over. “Are you religious?” he asked. I wanted to say no, but since most people mean “Do you go to church a lot?” I said, “Fairly.” He said, “No, I said are you a religious?” and explained he’d seen me there before with a priest friend. I said no. Then he asked, “Are you Irish?” No, I said.

When I told the priest this, he wrote back, “So was he raising the stakes or trying to make you feel better for having to answer negatively? That is, is being Irish a step up or down from being a religious?”

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