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Posted November 15, 2006

Why the pope criticized careerism in the church

By Father Eugene Hemrick
Catholic News Service

When I mentioned to a friend that Pope Benedict XVI had counseled newly ordained priests this year to be shepherds and not careerists, my friend, a high-ranking officer in the Marines, immediately asked for a copy of the pope's words. My friend said, "Father, we too are very concerned about careerists for whom the military is not a question of service, but of what they can get out of the service."

The word "career" comes from the Italian word for "chariot." It denotes riding in a vehicle that is traveling to a particular destination. In its positive sense, it pictures a person pursuing a goal that ensures security and enjoyment.

When Pope Benedict referred to careerism, he described it in the negative sense of "climbing" -- the attempt to "get ahead," to gain a position through the church. He said, "It is an image of a man who wants to make himself important, to become a person of note through the priesthood; the image of someone who has as his aim his own exaltation and not the humble service of Jesus Christ."

Positively looked at, the desire to achieve is behind everything that has made our country and church a success. Without visionaries who make a career of renewal and give their best efforts to achieving it, life would come to a standstill or, worse, it would regress.

Being a climber, however, denotes that which, more often than not, has caused life to regress. Climbers are forever hanging around powerful people, wheeling and dealing to increase their own importance. The climbers only care for those who can help them; others are insignificant. They have tunnel vision, are self-important, self-centered and, ironically, are regarded by all as self-promoters whose smooth ways are actually greasy.

As my friend told me, "This isn't the type of person you want leading an army." Nor are they persons Pope Benedict wants leading the church.

What is the opposite of careerism? Pope Benedict points us to Christ the Good Shepherd and the three qualities a good shepherd practices: He gives his own life for his sheep; he knows them and they know him; he is at the service of unity.

Today there are numerous priests, religious and laypersons who are truly good shepherds, working behind the scenes as the bulwark of the church. They reflect Cardinal John Henry Newman's ideal of a gentleman who "makes light of favors while he does them and seems to be receiving when he is conferring. He never speaks of himself except when compelled, never defends himself by a mere retort, he has no ears for slander or gossip, is scrupulous in imputing motives to those who interfere with him and interprets everything for the best."

These are the bulwark of the church. And then there are known climbers. If the day ever comes when they realize that being a down-to-earth person who truly serves is the better way to go, our church might see a renewal unlike any before.