Saturday, May 05, 2007

God or the Girl...? - A different look at religious vocations

A&E recently put out a program called “God or the Girl” which follows four guys who are in the process of discerning a vocation to the Catholic Priesthood.

The program may be helpful for some who may also be in the same state of discernment, but the program, in my opinion, falls short in two areas.

First, because it’s “television”, it’s framed as a type of reality show or a kind of “Discovery Channel” episode. There is little emphasis on the sacred and, as can be expected from a television approach to the topic, there is more emphasis on giving up sex; thus, the title: God (no sex) or the girl (sex).

It would be easy to criticize the makers of the flick for the “soaping” (as in soap opera) of what should be a deeply personal sacramental process of discernment. But I believe that “where there’s smoke there’s fire” and I think it always instructive to first look in the mirror to see “whither comes the error?”

At the risk of gross generalization and naïve simplification for the sake of brevity I will state here two problems:

1. The trite and adolescent approach of the program’s approach to sacramental discernment is not just a result of a quest for “good TV” but a direct embodiment of a parallel trivialization and minimization of the sacred Priesthood especially in the American Church.

2. Vocations to the religious life will suffer wherever the decision is framed as a choice between God and anything else, be it a girl, a boy, or a telephone book for that matter. As a matter of fact I believe that vocations to the religious life will suffer wherever the choice is framed as a “decision” at all.

The main point of this small treatise is point 2, but as for point 1, no less than John Paul II and our current Pontiff, Benedict, have weighed in heavily and often on the necessity of delineating between the “ministerial priesthood and the priesthood of all believers” and the danger inherent in the blurring of that delineation.

Part of that danger is the inevitable difficulty in attracting vocations to a life role that appears to differ little in form and function from what the average lay person can do anyway. Lay people get to be on the altar, wear robes, handle the sacred species, sport the title of minister, and in some cases even preach.

Combine this with the decades long “sidelining” of the “Sacred Presence”, the emphasis on the “communal meal” aspect of the Mass versus the “Holy Sacrifice”, the negation of the word “Priest” in preference for more neutral terms such as “presbyter” or “Presider” (the natural result of ridding the Mass of the word “sacrifice” – ‘sacrifice” necessitates the presence of a “Priest), and the fact that nearly 2/3 of American Catholics no longer believe in the “Real Presence” (surprise, surprise), then what’s the point? Might as well get “God AND the Girl!”

With the backdrop of an emasculated Sacred Priesthood the “decision” naturally devolves down to “God OR the Girl” for the only thing unique at this point about the priesthood is “celibacy”.

I’ll leave the solution to the problem to finer minds than my own. Not being a Priest I have little authority to speak to the matter. However, being a married man of 20 years and the father of 10 children I believe I can speak to the "other" vocation.

First, the choice between the Priesthood and Marriage is never a choice between God or the girl, or the boy! The choice between these two sacramental vocations, both properly preceded by the appropriate adjectival syntax “Holy” – as in “Holy Orders” and “Holy Matrimony” is first, foremost, and fully a choice for God, PERIOD!

It is my opinion, that until we can again frame these life roles in their full sacred sense there will continue to be more harm done to each. Perhaps you have noticed that as vocations to the Priesthood have declined so have vocations to Marriage (as in the Sacrament of Marriage as understood and taught by the Church).

Both Marriage and the Priesthood were ordained by God to serve His purposes. There’s never a case of “either/or”. It’s always, as we Catholics love to congratulate ourselves on being: “both/and”. Thus a great Priest is one who would make a great husband and father. And a great husband and father is one who would make a great Priest. Either way, it’s a complete “choice” for God who infuses the grace needed to live completely and fully the sacramental life to which He has called us and formed us for.
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