Thursday, July 29, 2010

Maria optimam partem elegit

Over the last few days I have been thinking about the different sort of priests that I know. Not many fit the image that we would gain from The Bells of St Mary's which, I suspect, has been a bit too influential in the popular mind. Whilst they exist, mercifully few fit the caricatures found in Father Ted.  What really struck me is that relatively few, that I know well, are parish priests. This is something that you would expect to puzzle protestants. It is also a misunderstanding that seems to have taken sway in some Catholic circles. Several times recently I've been talking to people, cleric and lay, and when they ask me where my parish is I explain that I don't have one and that my ministry is largely in administration and research. Embarrassed silence. The presumption is that something is dreadfully wrong and the conversation goes elsewhere very quickly, particularly with the clergy. I suspect that we have fallen foul of the attitude that unless you are doing something immediately tangible you are some sort of second class priest.

Today's Gospel was a bit of a comfort;
At that time, Jesus entered into a certain town: and a certain woman named Martha, received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sitting also at the Lord's feet, heard his word. But Martha was busy about much serving. Who stood and said: Lord, hast thou no care that my sister hath left me alone to serve? speak to her therefore, that she help me. And the Lord answering, said to her: Martha, Martha, thou art careful, and art troubled about many things: But one thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her.
Of course it's not just a priestly problem. The whole point of a life of prayer, of a ministry outside ordinary parish boundaries, is lost on many people. Our world is orientated towards immediate results, to measurable achievements, to the front line rather than to the support forces. How often in parishes are the opinions of pious laity who quietly say their prayers set aside in favour of those serving on every committee possible?  I suspect there was a story to be told behind today's Gospel. Was there already a tension amongst the early Christians between those obviously involved in an 'active' way and those on a more contemplative route? Did they need to be reminded of a more balanced view of Christian 'ministry' a more encompassing view of the individual members of the Church? We can only speculate.

One of the great gifts to the Church from traditional Catholics has been the preservation of a variety of Christian ministry through it's promotion, indeed protection, of the religious life. Consequently you will often find 'traditional' clergy working in ways that do not 'tick the boxes' on any diocesan productivity survey. Their importance may not be quantifiable, which must really irk some quarters, but it certainly can be felt in the terms of Masses said for the intentions of the faithful, prayers offered through the Divine Office, and knowledge gained for the whole Church.

Many thanks to Dr Joseph Shaw who corrected the Latin title to this entry. That will teach me to cut and paste without checking!


  1. Er, should the title read 'optimam partem elegit'?

    Interesting post, Fr!

  2. Many thanks Joe! My scanned Clementine Vulgate needs to go in the bin!

  3. Father, Father; we need priests such as yourself in the parishes, especially here in Clifton where Traddies live in fear of thier hetrodox brethren plunging knives into their backs.

  4. Nice reflection, Father, and very true. These days there is much emphasis placed on ‘doing’ and ‘results’, and unless what you’re doing is obvious to everyone and the results tangible there is the impression that you’re not doing much, or enough, or even anything at all…! I suspect this is one of the temptations for contemplatives also – the appearance that their ‘ora et labora’ is not bearing visible results. But we have need of both vocations in life – active and contemplative, administrative and hands-on pastoral.

    I was impressed many years ago when university professors – Dominicans at the Angelicum and Jesuits at the Gregorian – spoke of their parish supply work on weekends. While their work – teaching us ‘rudi et crudi’ – was essential, and they knew it, they still felt drawn to helping out in parishes when time permitted. I suspect many of the Vatican clerical administrative staff do the same.

    But even if the opportunities don’t permit it or time doesn’t allow, there is still a need for the ‘backroom’ tasks and all of our work has merit if properly engaged upon. In this regard I found the life of St. Therese of Lisieux fascinating. To an outsider she must have appeared unimportant and her work inconsequential. Yet she managed to do ordinary things extraordinarily well and achieved sanctity in the process. And who would have thought that a sister who never ventured far from the convent walls would be declared the Patroness of the Missions?

    As The Bard put it, we all have our “exits and our entrances” and in our time “play many parts” – something which St. Paul also remarked upon a tad earlier…

  5. Father,
    Your priestly ministry also reaches us through the Catholic blogsphere. We all thank you for this great work. It is very important to us.
    We would also like to say thank you to GOR for a very inspired comment on St. Therese, we thought the same.

  6. Father,
    I think that many people are of the opinion that unless there are more priests in the parish trenches, fighting for, serving, and converting souls your research will be mute and there will be nothing left to administer. I thank you for your vocation and blog. I will keep you and all priests in my prayers.
    Thank you,



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