Untimely

Thursday 10 August 2017 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — “Candid Camera” TV series premiered on this date in 1948

Back in middle school, the teacher encouraged my class to read the daily newspaper. “But be careful,” he warned. “Don’t believe everything you read. There can be a bias in any newspaper.” In those days, kids were more naïve. Now such a warning is unnecessary. What middle school student today could possibly be unaware of the meaning of the term “fake news”? Nevertheless, that advice from my middle school teacher came to mind not once but twice this week. 

Someone forwarded a Tweet to my smartphone. It was a video that was going viral on the Internet. Since (as you well know) I keep my thumb on the pulse of popular culture, I opened the video with great anticipation. It showed two priests, dressed in proper clerical garb, attending some sort of Catholic youth rally. In the background, I noticed an enshrined statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. How nice, thought I. Then the priests took to the dance floor for a breakdancing challenge. One of the priests executed a series of twirling dance moves across the floor and then flew through the air with the grace of Bruce Lee in a Kung-Fu movie. Multicolored lights swirled. Plumes of fog shot from machines strategically placed at the edge of the dance floor. Teenaged girls shrieked as though at a Justin Bieber concert. I am not making any of this up.

You’ve got to ask — what were those two thinking? Where do breakdancing priests learn their moves? Had they practiced for years in the corridors of some seminary? What did their bishop think of all this? Were they dispatched forthwith to a hermitage to spend time in solitude and reflection? I’ll never know. I do, however, wonder if this is some new form of youth evangelization. Am I missing out on something here? Do I need a refresher course in the latest Church outreach methods? Does it include breakdancing?

Being a groovy young priest can be physically exhausting. I know this from personal experience. But now I’m an old fogey. Sometimes, on a bad day, I use the hand railing to climb the Sanctuary stairs. One morning last month my back was killing me, so I actually borrowed a cane just to walk to the nursing home next door and visit 96-year-old Father Frank Wallace. “What’s with the cane?” he asked. It was his cane.

Is there a breakdancing craze among young priests these days? For me, breakdancing is out of the question. Can a priest like myself, lacking in basic breakdancing skills, be effective in ministry?

My question was soon answered by an unlikely source. Time published an article entitled, “God Squad: The Next Generation of Catholic Priests.” Forget your stereotype of priests, it urged. 

The writer interviewed several young and seemingly earnest priests and seminarians. She posited the premise that there has suddenly emerged a revolutionary new breed of priests for the 21st century. She went on to illustrate how these ordained millennials are different from other generations of priests. Young seminarians are now encouraged to pursue the priesthood by their families and pastors. They speak honestly with their Spiritual directors. They go on missions to third-world countries. They routinely help the poor and needy. They use Facebook and Twitter. They’re fond of texting. They can’t be pegged as either Republican or Democrat. They wear clerical attire. They pray. They use incense. They reach out to people of other faiths. These are signs of a coming tectonic shift in the ordained priesthood, Time prophesized. 

How is any of this radically new? 

Here’s the reason for this “new kind” of priesthood, according to the article. It’s due to the singular efforts of Pope Francis, who, unlike his predecessors, is big on pastoral ministry.

Really? How so? Every pope since St. Peter has had the task of shepherding the Universal Church. A pope is the ultimate pastor. What use is there having a pope who lacks pastoral abilities? 

The way I see it, there is only one priesthood. It is the Priesthood of Jesus Christ. The call to share in that priesthood is heard by all kinds of people, in all kinds of cultures, in all kinds of places. The call is the same; the individuals differ. Priests, as diverse as they are, strive to live out their particular vocations in their own time and place. It is, at the core, a call to holiness — which, by the way, is a universal call. 

I know several millennial priests. Even though we have a significant age difference, I think they’re terrific. They’ll have a lot on their plate sooner rather than later. They’ll grow into it. Sure young priests see the world differently than I do. They see through their own eyes. Who doesn’t? The priesthood we share remains one and the same.

Give me a break, Time. This is fake news. Unlike laundry detergent, there is no “new and improved” Catholic priesthood. A priest is a priest forever, whether or not he can dance.

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.


© 2017 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing  †  Fall River, Massachusetts