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Posted January 8, 2003

The Mystique of the Priesthood

by Andrew Greeley


The holy man has certain ambivalences. He is a man apart, a man with special powers, privileges and prerogatives. He rather enjoys his holiness, the respect he is owed, and the power he possesses. Nevertheless the power is a burden, and a number of holy men have reacted to their vocation much the way the Prophet Jonah did they try to get the hell out of Nineveh.

Being a man apart has its advantages and its disadvantages. One is respected but perhaps not exactly trusted. One is turned to in time of trouble, but not always welcome in time of merriment. One is expected to provide answers, but one's advice is not particularly welcome in other situations. One is viewed sometimes as a superman, but at other times as being something less than a man, and occasionally even as pertaining more to the world of women and children. One is supported because one is necessary, but supported grudgingly because those supported wish that they did not have to be supported.

A holy man is assumed to be God's man and expected to live a life certainly apart from other men, yet if he fails to provide the particular form of revelation that the people expects from God, he will be in very deep trouble.

The people, of course, can be a university, religious foundation, a parish in the west of Ireland, a Senate and people of Rome it makes little difference. If a holy man goes too much in one direction or the other, he is certain to be criticized and, given the varying opinions and values of people, he is almost certain, in the eyes of some, to have gone too far.