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Posted November 9, 2007

Father, What are You Really About?

The great traditions at the core of a liberal arts education were grounded in the maxim,'know thyself,' — Professor Alexander W. Astin

Of all the refrains heard when priests leave the priesthood, the one most often repeated is, “I never envisioned the priesthood this way!” One priest in the study, Experiences of Priests Ordained Five to Nine Years describes it this way, “There were twelve of us ordained that year. We lost one man a year for the first six years”. . . . “Some of them just couldn’t deal with the expectations that were heaped on them when they got to a parish.”

Unlike times past when priests leaving shortly after ordination was unspeakable, today an alarming percentage have departed after one or two assignments. This raises a crucial question for our times, “How can the priesthood suddenly become meaningless?” Is this the result of misunderstanding its role and responsibilities in seminary formation? Is it because of a disillusioning first assignment, or could it be these priests reflect a new breed of ridged men who can’t live with the gaps?

In our study, Grace Under Pressure: What Gives Life to American Priests, one priest we interviewed described what it means to live with the gap. “We have to learn to live with the gap. There is always going to be a difference between who I am and what I'm called to be. There have been priests that I've known who have left, who in many ways have far greater qualities than I have. But when it came down to it, I don't think they were able to live with the gap. I think that in some way that was what led them on the road out. I've read all the books about priesthood, and if you read all of them about what a priest is called to be, it's basically impossible. So you have got to learn to live with the gaps.”

During a conference at The Catholic University of America on the state of the church, I ran into several priests I’ve known over the years. During the coffee break our discussion centered around the future of the priesthood and one of the biggest gaps confounding it: its catch 22.

In seminary formation, future priests prepare for a pastoral ministry and administering the sacraments. Many of these men are older and have left the business world to do exactly this. However, when they are ordained, they frequently end up becoming administrators of several parishes. [I actually heard of one priest being responsible for nine parishes. The priest for clergy education told me that after a few years of this, the priest left and got married. He then added, “And who could blame him?]” When today’s priests celebrate the sacraments, it’s usual to have several masses in a day. It takes everything in their power to avoid turning the celebration of the sacraments into meaningless mass productions. The demands of these situations frequently fly in the face of sacredly celebrating the sacraments .

Gaps between the ideal and reality not only confront the priesthood, but all of life. Husbands, wives, parents, businessmen and businesswomen, the police, soldiers, lawyers and doctors face enormous gaps between the ideals and realities of their professions.

I’ll never forget my brother-in-law, who is a doctor, coming home one day and saying he was seriously thinking of leaving medicine. He contended it had lost its idealism. He was particularly upset about malpractice suits, the pharmaceutical world pushing pills, and doctors more interested in making money than making patients well. As I listened to him, I thought he needs to live with the gaps or he won’t exist. It’s tough to stay true a vocation.

Living with the gaps is essential to us if we are to survive. To be content to survive, however, would be a horrendous mistake! To be healthy, effective and happy, we must grow in self knowledge and what we are about! We must never take for granted that we fully know who we are as priests. At ordination, we were anything but finally defined. Here truth would ask: When last did we make an honest effort to go beyond our initial understanding of priesthood and deepen it? Truth would also ask, Have we ever heard of or practiced the principle, will to meaning?

Throughout history, knowing oneself has been addressed by great scholars and in the writing of saints.

In his book, The Virtues, Romano Guardini writes, “If I wish to associate properly with myself and so with others, I must not disregard my own reality, must not deceive myself, but must be true in dealing with myself.” In other words, true self-knowledge must be a first principle of life that governs all our relationships. Everything that matters to us depends first and foremost on knowing ourselves.

The spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius are blueprints for growing in self-knowledge of our creatureliness. Ironically, he also counsels us to pray for that which we desire most. At first hearing, this almost sounds selfish. But when we think about it, in imploring us to pray for what we most desire, Ignatius is encouraging us to identify what is most controlling us. By knowing our desires, we know who we are.

In Teresa of Avila’s renowned spiritual work, The Interior Castle, she states that self-knowledge is the one set of rooms in which we may tarry for as long as we like. It is here that the preparation for the journey to God is accomplished.

Saint Francis of Assisi would tell us to “listen, see, and become.”

Bishop Jan Gerardi, who was martyred in Guatemala, wrote before his death: “To open ourselves to the truth and to bring ourselves face to face with our personal and collective reality is not an option that can be accepted or rejected. It is an undeniable requirement of all people and all societies that seek to humanize themselves and to be free.”

As ideal as it is self knowledge, Trappist monk Thomas Merton would tell us: “Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self. It is that which deprives us the sense of health and vitality that mark the presence of our true self.” Here truth would observe: we often have to fight through self deception to be our true self.

On a beautiful lunette in the Library of Congress, a quote from the psalmists reads: “Wisdom is the principal thing. Therefore, get wisdom, and with all thy getting get understanding.” Here we might add, and with all thy getting get self understanding of your true self because it takes all we have to achieve.

As important as is growing in self understanding, a will-to-meaning must be integral to it. In cultivating self understanding, we seek to know the circumstances that define us. In practicing will-to-meaning, we create the circumstances we desire to define us by putting meaning into who we are supposed to be.

The principle of will-to-meaning received much attention in the 1960s, thanks to the renowned Jewish psychiatrist, Doctor Viktor Frankl. During the Second World War, he spent three years at Auschwitz, Dachau, and several other concentration camps where he witnessed prisoners die, who should have survived, wherein others who lived should have died. The difference, he learned, was a will-to-meaning. Those who survived put meaning into their seemingly meaningless situation. Those who died gave up on meaning.

Although the priesthood in this country has never experienced the horrors of concentration camps, it has experienced very harrowing times. As prisoners that couldn’t deal with the horrors of the camps took to their beds and died, it’s easy for us in unsettling times to feel broken and give up on maintaining the ideals of our priesthood.

Earnest Hemingway once said the world breaks all of us at one time or other, and that many are stronger in the broken places afterwards. Throughout my priesthood, I have known a number of priests who became disillusioned and left the priesthood as broken people. They didn’t actually physically leave, but rather left it through chemical dependency or other means of denial. They were broken and unable to become stronger in the broken places. Some of these men couldn’t be criticized for not healing themselves. Not only were they physically impaired, but more devastating was their mental depression. No heavier cross exists than darkness of mind and the horrors of the heart caused by depression. People suffering from it have told me that they would rather break an arm or leg than endure this torment.

In the midday prayers of Week I in our breviary for Ordinary Time, Jeremiah knows well the darkness that can grip us: “More torturous than all else is the human heart beyond remedy; who can understand it?”

As understanding as we need to be toward priests who have been broken, I would hypothesize that a good number of them would be stronger today had they practiced will-to-meaning. By not knowing or exercising this principle, they were prone to surrender to surrounding circumstances that dictated who they were. They didn’t take the reins in their hands and dictate who they are, despite the circumstances.

The spirit of will-to-meaning is splendidly exemplified in Romano Guardini’s definition of courage. “Courage” he states, “is the confidence required for living with a view to the future, for acting, building, assuming responsibilities and forming ties. For, in spite of our precautions, the future is in each case the unknown. But living means advancing into this unknown region, which may lie before us like chaos into which we must venture.”

“Here everyone must make the venture in the confidence that the future is not chaos or a totally strange thing. Rather, his own character, the ordering power within him, will make a way so that it is really his own future into which he moves.”

Will-to-meaning is the very ordering power within us that enables us to assertively fashion who we are and what our future will be with the grace of God.

It cannot be repeated too often that it’s very easy to become confused these days about the meaning of our priesthood and hence, who we are. I remember a priest on retreat recalling a crisis of faith he had in which he suddenly couldn’t believe in the Real Presence. The bottom of his priesthood fell out. “The pain this caused me,” he told us, “was excruciating!” As he recalled his recovery, he filled with tears. As we listened to him, the thought occurred, “How delicately balanced we are! It doesn’t take much to turn our life upside down. The certitude of who we are must always be cherished and maintained.”

As revolutionary as is Viktor Frankl’s will-to-meaning, this very same principle guided St. Paul through his turbulent times.

In his dealings with the Corinthians, Paul faced numerous obstacles. They didn’t fully accept him and to make matters worse, they were divided among themselves.

In spite of these travails, scripture scholar Cardinal Carlo Martini writes: “I was struck by the ‘extreme confidence in his own charisma’.”

“. . . We find a man who is absolutely certain that everything around him may crack but not his own charisma. Even when he gives vent to his sufferings most forcefully, he emerges absolutely certain of the charisma that has been given to him.”

“. . .This is impressive, because his troubles could have made him weaken and become afraid. They might have made him wonder: Is this really my charisma? Is it that strong? Must I trust it to last?”

The description of Paul’s self-understanding is an excellent example of the enormous life-giving strength contained in will-to-meaning.

Occasionally I watch black and white movies in search of heartening morals they convey. Some of them fall short of this, while others reflect the moral mettle of St. Paul and the fighting spirit of the surviving victims of concentration camps. One such movie is Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in which an upstanding young Mr. Smith [played by Jimmy Stewart] becomes a senator, goes to Washington, sees through its unsavory politics, and literally stands up for hours on the Senate floor defending truth. We all cheer when he wins because he reflects a man who knows who he is and reflects the wise proverb: “Truth is the means by which we become stable and attain character.”

As much as knowing what one stands for is the hallmark of character, achieving this often requires a lengthy process of soul searching.

Like Mr. Smith, I too, went to Washington. Like him, I thought I really knew what I was about as a priest. My certitude changed abruptly when my bishop asked me to return to the diocese. He believed in my work, but wasn’t convinced it had to be done by a priest. During one of our tumultuous battles, I’ll never forget him saying, “Anyone can conduct research! They don’t need a priest for it. You have been too conditioned in believing you’re the only one who can do this! You need decompression!”

These confrontations caused me to seriously wonder, “In truth, what is the value of being a priest-sociologist and priest-journalist? Are these essential roles of the priesthood? Is there something more I should be doing? Am I clinging to these roles because of their prestige? Is this really a god-given mission, or ‘my thing?’”

I further pondered the positions I occupied that could be held by a lay person. For example, being a social scientist, a journalist, a director of development, a fund raiser, a marriage counselor, and a social worker. I found myself asking, “In all honesty are we supposed to be men of the scriptures, celebrators of the sacraments, and builders of faith communities primarily, and isn’t this best accomplished within the context of a parish? As a diocesan priest, isn’t this primary?” [Interestingly, our most recent study of priests ordained five to nine years found that many newly ordained priests desire to concentrate solely on the sacramental part of priesthood and leave all other roles to the laity.]

These questions led to the realization that we may think being called by the church and working for and in it defines our priesthood. We may even imagine that occupying a high level position in the church gives us an even clearer definition of it. This isn’t true! The priesthood may be theologically defined, and these roles may help to define it, but the only way to justify the particular roles we fulfill is to know how they define our priesthood. Being a priest-sociologist may be legitimate, but has it been legitimized in my mind and heart? Acquiring certitude requires the ongoing practice of will-to-meaning.

One of the values of putting meaning into our priesthood is that it heightens conscientiousness. Conscientiousness helps us to avoid “sailing” through our priesthood and taking it for granted. More important, it draws us closer to the source of our calling, God and what it means to do his will.

It needs to be mentioned here that becoming more conscientious is often best achieved with the help of another, preferably a good confessor. Good confessors these days are difficult to find. When they are found, they are extremely valuable in helping us better understand our role as priest.

When we studied the most effective priests in this country in the study Grace Under Pressure, we found they are very conscientious in learning who they are and what they are about. Take, for example, the following excerpts from our interviews.

“Dick, 62, a Southern pastor reflects on his life as a ‘change agent.’”

He said, “I am never satisfied that I have conquered all the hills that God has put in front of me. I am always looking for a new one to climb. And that has been tremendously life-giving throughout my life. I think the bottom line is being the change agent. That to me is what has given me the biggest challenge and made the juices flow. When I look at something, I see it like Robert Kennedy — I look at things and most people say, why? And I say, Why not, why not? And that just invigorates me to be able to say let’s push that horizon a little bit further and look beyond the wall.”

“A priest named Andrew takes inspiration from his namesake.”

“One of the things that give me life I would say is recognition of limits. Using my own namesake in the Gospel, Andrew, might be in some sense an explanation. He doesn’t turn up too often. But two of the times he turns up, all he does is introduce somebody else. That is it. He didn’t take on the responsibility of converting them. He left that to Christ, but he introduced Peter and he introduced the young fellow with the loaves and fishes. And in some sense I think if I recognize this, I am not called to do everything. That in some sense I’m just called to introduce and we leave it up to God and up to the grace of God after that.”

Don, 48, a pastor from the Midwest, describes priests as “walking symbols.” He said, “What goes on with us is way beyond our personalities and our talents. We are walking symbols in some ways. And it’s a lot bigger than I and what I’ve learned in my education. I don’t know how to balance it. I spent a lot of years in my priesthood trying to be one of the people — ‘I am a plain old person like all the rest of you. I struggle like all the rest of you.’ and there was something holy, I think, in that. But there is another side of that truth and there is almost a shaman kind of dimension to what we do. We are walking symbols.”

Yet another priest told us, “For me the most life-giving reality is the Paschal Mystery. The community I belong to stresses very strongly the Paschal Mystery and the reality of passing over, that we pass over from who we are and what we are and empty out into other people’s lives and other people’s cultures.”

In Priests Among Men, Cardinal Emmanuel Suhard’s portrayal of a good pastor gives us an excellent picture of a priest who is trying to conscientiously fulfill his role as pastor. Suhard paints him “patiently comparing point by point his two guiding plans. The old plan of the church in the Christian community has its islands of influence, its strongholds and its areas of habitual Christian practice. The other plan, of the new city, has its quick bridgeheads, its centers of spontaneous interest and its unexpected religious movements.” In other words, there are the two camps in his parish: progressives and status quo Catholics.

Suhard continues, “He will know no rest until the two plans run together, until they coincide to form the one ‘city’ in truth and love.”

Here we have the picture of a pastor endeavoring to fulfill the responsibility of being a bridge builder, a unifier, and reconciler.

In The Life and Vision of Brother Roger of Taize, we learn of yet another inspiring role many of today’s priests fulfill.

In an interview of Brother Roger by author Kathryn Spink, she reports, “We spoke of intuition, a faculty which Brother Roger saw as a gift from God ‘because it allows us to discover God through others’. ‘My life’, he told me, ‘consists of discerning in others that which torments them and that which cheers them and communicating in their suffering and their joy.’ In such a life, intuition makes it possible to understand the essential in others, to grasp without many words, to identify another’s anguish. ‘Intelligence only enables us to understand the surface of another. In the life of the gospel, intuition is there to support compassion, to make compassion possible, to avoid unnecessary dialogue. It enables us to discern the reflection of God. And that is all we can do’, he added. ‘We can try to approach the reliefs, the contours of an immeasurable mystery that is God, but we draw near to it a good deal and that is enough for me to live.’ Perhaps here too there lay a clue to Brother Roger’s reticence. Knowing itself to be poor, Taize does not profess to hold the answers to this world’s problems. It seeks only to be a listening companion to those who seek the one reality, to search with other searchers for the sources of faith, and in this respect as in all others the community and its founder are one.”

Three essential roles of the priesthood are contained in Brother Roger’s vision of his ministry: being a sympathetic listener, and being present and all there for another. When these three roles come together, we have the essence of human solidarity.

Allow me to add two personal happen stances I experienced that further help us in defining who we are and what we are about. In undergoing these experiences, they taught me never settle on one or two definitions of who we are. Newer and more profound ones are awaiting our discovery, reminding us that the priesthood is one continuous revelation after another of who we are.

Each morning, it’s my custom to listen to classical music while driving to work. On one such morning, Dennis Owens, who hosts the station in Washington, D.C., announced he was retiring. After years of becoming accustomed to his voice, I suddenly realized it would no longer greet me. It was as if I had lost a dear friend.

It then struck me that we are a familiar voice to those to whom we minister. Sometimes it’s a voice that has the “fire in the belly” renowned homilist Fr. Walter Burkhardt says should fill our homilies. At other times, it’s compassionate, joyful or serious. But it’s more than a voice. The words we speak contain a spirit, not just any spirit, but a unique priestly spirit! Each time we celebrate mass, give a homily or converse with our people, we aren’t just John Smith or Bill Brown, we are a priestly spirit that fulfills a unique role in society.

When this realization hit me, I thought, “Never before in our lifetime has the world needed that spirit as it does now. It is a spirit that represents order, love and peace, and is the direct antithesis to today’s chaotic events.”

Without sounding like an alarmist, we live in a new age of barbarism that is more horrific than any preceding age of barbarism. For example, we now have the ability to destroy life thousands of miles away from us with the flick of a switch without feeling a thing.

It is a principle of history that when the chaos resulting from barbarism reaches the proportions it has, society turns to God and a priesthood that represent him. If it can’t find them, it will create them. I will never forget a conversation I had with a total stranger that verified this principle. We accidentally met on the street the day after the tsunami. When he learned I was a priest, he told me he wasn’t Catholic, but then began confessing to me as if he was one. He didn’t know me, so why open up to me?

As I reflected on this later, I saw a man who had become distraught by the meaningless destruction of the tsunami. He was searching for meaning and the balance that comes from a deeper understanding of events. Here was this priest he felt represented God’s mind.

His trust in me caused me to think that unlike any other calling, we represent an office whose role is understanding God better. How many times have we had people who know us, or who may never have met us before say, “Father, please pray for me?” Why do they need our prayers? Why not pray directly to God? Is it because there is a general expectation we are somehow a link between God and humankind? This is an awesome expectation because it intimates that we’re perceived as spokespersons for everything God signifies: faith, hope, love, prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and a life based on the beatitudes. We are expected to embody a love of mercy, and forgiveness, and belief in justice. As unworthy as we are, these are Christ-like expectations of our priesthood.

As these thoughts about self identity ran through my mind, another similar thought occurred after watching a scene from the movie Godfather III. Against the backdrop of a monastery courtyard, we see mafioso boss, Michael Corleone meeting with Cardinal Lamberto of the Vatican to discuss the affairs of the Ambrosian Bank.

During their conversation, Michael has a diabetic attack. Lamberto immediately calls to his aide to fetch orange juice and sweets. In a fit of panic, Michael gulps them down. When he finally stabilizes, Lamberto looks into his soul and sees that something more than diabetes is ailing Michael. In an inviting tone he says to him, “Would you like to confess?” This Michael does.

Later Michael tells his sister Connie of the incident. She becomes outraged and cries out, “How could you tell our family secrets to this man?” Michael replies, “It was the man, a real priest.”

Here truth would ask: How much do we realize a clear conscience is the most precious thing in a person’s life, and when we exercise the rite of penance, we act as his or her clearing house and enable them to make closure? Unworthy as we are, we play a significant role in liberating souls that carry the heaviest of burdens – a conscience in conflict with itself. How many tears of penitents have we experienced that were not tears of sorrow, but of the joy of being free once again!

What made Cardinal Lamberto a real priest is his gift of intuiting a conscience in conflict with itself. Instead of probing, scolding and questioning, he is simply an inviting presence who senses Michael’s agony. Lamberto discerns his pain, looks into his soul and then lets himself become a conduit for God’s grace.

During my tenure in Washington, D.C., serving senators, congressmen and congresswomen, Supreme Court and Federal Court justices have made me realize that as prominent as they are, they look to real priests to guide them. When they find one, they become souls searching for God’s meaning in their life and their work. Before delving deeper into this thought, a preamble is in order.

I, like the American public, have experienced a number of dishonest government officials. As much as this detracts from their character, it doesn’t detract from the sacredness of their office. The same holds true for the priesthood: scandalist priests don’t detract from the sacredness of our office. An office stands on its own, free of those who occupy it. It is a revered state of life denoting special or sacred duties. In early Greek history aidos, which means duty, was highly exalted as an essential force for binding society together. A very profound way of envisioning the priesthood is to see it as an office or duty that fosters the unity of humankind.

In the book Death of Socrates, we learn that even though those who were putting him to death are wrong, Socrates contends their office is sacred. His belief in this is so firm that even though he has the opportunity to escape and elude death, he argues that if he did escape, he would be denying the sacredness of the office.

This reverence for the office isn’t just Socrates’ belief, but it is also exemplified by David in the Old Testament. When he is urged to murder King Saul, who has been trying to kill him, he says, “God forbid that I should do this thing to my Lord, the Lord’s anointed, to put my hand against him, seeing his is the Lord’s anointed.”

Although those in Congress aren’t anointed, they are chosen leaders whose office is sacred and always must be respected. Our office is even more sacred because holding it requires being anointed.

This being stated, I can truthfully say, I have always been awed by the respect parishioners and prominent government leaders give to priests. They always address us as Father. Their respect is not so much because of who we are as a person, but because of the office bestowed upon us and the duties it connotes. They aren’t looking for so and so for answers, but to our office for them.

To get an idea of the weighty problems for which our office is responsible for interpreting, listen to theologian, Jurgen Moltmann on the role of God in 9-11. He writes, “And where are we today? Before September 11, 2001, America was successfully globalizing American power and culture with a kind of universal optimism in the new world order, or novus ordo seclorum, as it is written on every dollar bill. After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a new ‘age of anxiety’ seems to have come over us. In order not to sink into an abyss of despair, we should discover anew the face of the Crucified One in the faces of the victims of violence, the “crucified people,” as Jon Sobrino would say. What is the crucial theological question? Should we ask, “Why did God let this massacre happen?” Would this not say that our God is the God of terrorists, and that they were unconsciously God’s obedient servants? Or should we ask, “Where was God in these attacks?” and find God as the suffering God among the victims? Is God not weeping and crying over the death of his beloved children? Jesus wept over the destruction of Jerusalem, and so tears rolled down the face of God at Ground Zero as surely as they did over Jerusalem, and we are called to participate in these sufferings of God with all our compassion.”

The renowned sociologist, Robert Nisbet points us to yet another weighty challenge facing the office of the priesthood. In the History of the Idea of Progress, he states, “We appear to be destitute of any reigning intellectual class. . . . The reason for this condition, this debasement of literature and estrangement of writer and public, is our lack of a true culture. And fundamental to this lack is the disappearance of the sacred.”

In pointing us to the disappearance of sacredness, Nisbet also directs us to two of its causes: secularism and the profane, the direct anthesis of what our office stands for.

The word secular means ‘this time.’ Those who are secular do not think in terms of salvation history, i.e., the past leading to the present and the future according to the providence of God. They have no sense of a transcendent God or eternity. Only the present moment counts.

The word profane means outside the temple.

Of the many concerns Pope Benedict XVI has voiced, one of his greatest concerns is over the world becoming increasingly secular and profane. This is especially reflected in the entertainment world, and also in the fact that publically professing God is becoming less politically correct.

Truth would ask here: could this new age of increased secularism and the profane be a blessing in disguise? Are they helping us to more clearly define who we are and what we are about? Could it be that they are the very catalyst we need to renew God’s sacredness in our temples and to make this sacredness so pervasive that people will seek out their hallowed confines?

We need to ask about secularism what more needs to be accomplished for people to realize the role a transcendent God fulfills in their lives? We have entered a new age in which nothing is sacred anymore. Is this not challenging us to raise the level of sacredness in what we do?

These questions aren’t meant to criticize our present efforts. Rather they are raised because we have seen a surge in people seeking out monasteries and Gregorian Chant in order to enjoy the peace found within our temples, music and rituals. When they are conducted properly, people will go great distances to be part of them.

Here truth would ask: could secularism also be prompting us to revitalize the meaning of the history of salvation? Unlike secular thinking, we aren’t time bound to the present, but are part of a blessed salvation process leading us to eternity. How might we make salvation history an integral part of the lives of those who are captivated by secularism?

Pope Paul IV also wondered about this when he wrote in Evangelii Nunciandi: “In our day, what has happened to that hidden energy of the Good News, which is able to have a powerful effect on man's conscience? . . .does the Church or does she not find herself better equipped to proclaim the Gospel and to put it into people's hearts with conviction, freedom of spirit and effectiveness?”

Yves Congar believed we are in a period in history in which our priesthood and the priesthood of the laity must unite as one to effectively respond to the challenges of our times. To make this happen, the office of the priesthood and its specific duties cannot be overemphasized. Successfully uniting our priesthood with the priesthood of the laity depends to a great degree on how well the priesthood carries out its responsibilities.

I have often wondered what was meant when we were taught we are marked as a priest. It sounded so unrealistic. Could it be that our mark is related to the sacred expectations that come with ordination and the office we receive? This is an awesome expectation, and some might argue that it’s an exaggeration of the powers of the priesthood. They might further contend that this type of exaltation created the haughty clericalism of the past. But is it an exaggeration, or haughtiness? Or is it the mystical spirit of the priesthood that the best of priests have difficulty understanding?

The roles we are expected to fulfill are endless. On one hand, they help to define us. On the other hand, that definition never becomes completed, but requires an ongoing will to meaning to enable us to learn more fully who we are at the various stages of our priesthood. To be a balanced priest, is to be able to balance these two essential principles.