Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Rich in Vocations: It Could Happen Here

A stock character in American fiction of the 20th century was the Irish priest: lovable, curmudgeonly, or whatever, according to the needs of the story, but Irish. Sometimes Italian.

I haven't made a thorough study of it, but I suspect that was partly because quite a large fraction of priests in America were, in fact, Irish. Or Italian. And that could get me into the politics, social history, and economics of the last three centuries - which are other topics.


Father O'Malley, Schmaltz, and a Universal Church

The point is that for quite a while, many priests in America came as immigrants - or missionaries - and that many of those were Irish. The stock 'Irish priest' is a reflection, however distorted, of that reality. Like Father Chuck O'Malley in Going My Way" (1944). Nice movie: schmaltzy, maybe, but a little schmaltz won't hurt you. My opinion.

Try building a theology on schmaltz - and that's yet another topic.

It would be a mistake, though, to assume that priests had to be Irish. Or Italian. Or any given nationality or ethnic group. The Catholic Church is literally universal. Which I've written about before:

Worship Universally, Act Locally: Sort of

Being part of a international - literally universal - organization doesn't make me less of a citizen of the country I live in. The Catholic Church teaches that the "Honor your father and your mother" commandment (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16), although specifically directed at the family, has wider implications:
"...This commandment includes and presupposes the duties of parents, instructors, teachers, leaders, magistrates, those who govern, all who exercise authority over others or over a community of persons."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2199)
Those duties aren't the sort of 'God says you have to obey me' thing that control freaks, from the domestic to the national sphere, have claimed. What the Church is talking about is good citizenship:
"As far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life. The manner of this participation may vary from one country or culture to another. 'One must pay tribute to those nations whose systems permit the largest possible number of the citizens to take part in public life in a climate of genuine freedom.'32"
(Catechism, 1915)

Regarding Authorities as Representatives of God - and When to Revolt

I think it's important, by the way, to read all of what the Church has to say about any given teaching. The Holy See isn't, putting it mildly, given to 'sound bite theology,' or the sort of simplified exhortations you see in motivational posters.

Like this other section on citizenship. I'll pick up where it says:
"Those subject to authority should regard those in authority as representatives of God, who has made them stewards of his gifts:43"
(Catechism, 2238)
Sounds like Catholics are supposed to mindlessly do whatever some boss says? Hardly. I've already quoted part of paragraph 1915 in the Catechism.

Then there's what comes a bit after that "regard those in authority" thing:
"Armed resistance to oppression by political authority is not legitimate, unless all the following conditions are met: 1) there is certain, grave, and prolonged violation of fundamental rights; 2) all other means of redress have been exhausted; 3) such resistance will not provoke worse disorders; 4) there is well-founded hope of success; and 5) it is impossible reasonably to foresee any better solution."
(Catechism, 2243)
I'm profoundly glad that I live in a country where the custom is to decide, every few years, which leaders we'll swap out and replace with ones who might the job done, and which we don't want any more. Political campaigns and the squabbling afterward are, for me, somewhere between funny and embarrassing: but one of the alternatives is the sort of situation Libyans are dealing with. (Another War-on-Terror Blog (February 28, 2011) On the whole, I prefer election-year lunacy to civil war.

I think this is a pretty good summary of what's expected of a Catholic citizen:
"It is the duty of citizens to work with civil authority for building up society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom."
I've written about being an American citizen and a practicing Catholic before, including these posts:

The Catholic Church in Kenya

I grew up in America, and absorbed much of this country's culture. Including the 'Irish priest' stereotype. As I learned more about the universal church, I realized that being Catholic wasn't about any particular nationality or ethnic group. I've discussed my conversion before.

What got me started thinking about Irish priests, the Catholic Church, and all that, was this article:
"As Kenya's Catholic Church grows, it works to stand on its own"
Barb Fraze, CNS (Catholic News Service), via USCCB (March 1, 2011)

"When 33-year-old Father Moses Kago was a teen and considering becoming a priest, he thought that he would have to have surgery to make him a white man.

"As he recently recounted that story at his home parish about 60 miles north of Nairobi, he told the congregation members they lived in a different church. He had not seen an African priest; they have seen many.

"The Kenyan church, which just 100 years ago was in the early stages of evangelization, is trying hard to stand on its own.

"Vocations are flourishing, and many African priests use Pope John Paul II's saying that no one is too poor to give something and no one is too rich to receive. The description on the gate of the secondary school across from Father Kago's home parish in Mutunguru includes the saying 'to mold an all-rounded person who is disciplined, self-reliant ....'

" 'Encouraging self-reliance of the faithful is one of the priorities of the church,' to 'wean off the sense of dependence,' said Bishop Anthony Muheria of Kitui....

"...'...We are receiving a lot of help from our sister churches ... but there is also the sense that we must also feel the responsibility to support the church in other areas.' He noted a steady growth in contributions 'in supporting the church in other places.'..."
One of the places that Catholics in Kenya are supporting their fellow-Catholics is the parish my household is part of, here in central Minnesota. I've mentioned Our Lady of the Angels' sister parish before. (September 19, 2010) You'll get a more first-hand discussion from one of the Minnesotans who lived in Migori for a while. (guest post (July 19, 2009))

Back to that CNS article:
"...Bishop Anthony Ireri Mukobo of Isiolo, chairman of the Kenyan bishops' commission for missions, told Catholic News Service that some Kenyan dioceses can actually send some of their own priests to other parts of the country to help run parishes.

"The Archdiocese of Nairobi 'can take care of its own internal expenses ... and also personnel,' as can the Nyeri Archdiocese and several others.

"But in some areas, he said, 'This is the first evangelization.'

"Many areas cannot take care of their own resources yet "because of the natural calamities of the areas," he added.

"However, he pointed out, there is no church in the world 'in which you can walk by yourself.' The Americans are rich in materials, but the Kenyans are rich in vocations, he said...."
(CNS, via USCCB)
I think - and hope - and pray - that as Catholics who live in America sort out what the Holy See teaches from what America's dominant culture says 'those Catholics' believe, we'll start seeing more vocations in America.

Until then, I'm very glad that we've got the folks in Kenya with us. Another generation or two, and we might be seeing stories about the likes of Father Faraji: and having youngsters who learn that you don't have to be African, to be a priest.

As I've said before, change happens. And that's yet again another topic.

Related posts:
In the news:


Brigid said...

Missing word? "ones who might the job done"

Missing... something? "that as Catholic living in America sort out what the Holy See teaches"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...


I think I've clarified those sentences. Thanks!

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.