A Flawed Friar and Cowardly Clergy

One of the most difficult minefields to tiptoe through as a priest is the need to fix things, be nice to everyone and make the world a better place. Joseph Pearce’s study of Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare on Love–Seeing the Catholic Presence in Romeo and Juliet  has an extended discussion on the character Friar Lawrence.

You may remember from your high school reading of the play that Friar Lawrence warns Romeo not to be hasty in his pursuit of Juliet, but then agrees to marry them with the idea that the union might bring peace between the feuding families. Big mistake, and the same problem exists within our own every day choices. How often we depart from the objective morality that the church teaches for some seemingly good objective. How often we’re tempted to “be nice” to people who are in error or who are on the path of destruction because we don’t have the courage of our convictions. We don’t have the guts to stand up for what’s right.

Priests have to balance so many concerns and try to please so many people, and so often (because we need the love just like everyone else) we compromise for peace or we compromise for some possible good outcome or we compromise because we don’t want to offend or we compromise because we just want to be liked or we want a peaceful life.

Pearce points out that Friar Lawrence is hailed as a good man, but he is hailed as such by people in the play who are blind about just about everything. They are wealthy, powerful, lustful, undisciplined, immature, unforgiving, violent, impetuous and unrepentant. It’s the same temptation for priests today. How easy it is to cosy up to wealthy, powerful people who may have nice manners and belong to the right set, but who are basically stinkers. We are tempted to do so and we are tempted by their approval. How nice it feels when high society approves of us and thinks we’re “good men.”

Poor old Friar Lawrence who comes across all holy, but in his attempt to be nice and nonjudgmental and kind to Romeo and Juliet, with his intentions to achieve some better good actually disgraces himself, opens the door to violence and brings in catastrophic results. Poor old Friar Lawrence, who puts “pastoral concerns” over the truth of the gospel, the truth of the church’s teachings and the truth of his own better conscience.

How difficult it is to uphold the teachings of the church and still minister with care and compassion. One of the ways I am learning to do this is to ask questions of people rather than impose solutions. My approach to Romeo and Juliet would have been, “Here are your options. Here are the possible consequences. Here is guidance from Scripture. Here is what the church teaches. Here is what common sense directs. What do you think you should do? Once I put the ball in their court, the poor lambs either turn away and don’t see me again, or they often make the right decision.

 

  • Dan C

    Good luck with your ministry.

    If pastoral approaches resemble parenting, I suspect that a set of approaches rather than one would provide a tool kit for all the circumstances and parishioners one runs across. Not every child is parented in the same way. Not every child responds best to the same approches or even the same parent.

    I would recommend that in such practical matters, the wise pastor, much like the wise parent, would avoid such strong terms as “cowardly” when categorizing another’s approaches.

    • frdlongenecker

      What? All through the post when discussing priests I said “we”. I was thinking about my own cowardly responses as I wrote.

  • Marie Dean

    I think the friar represents some of the negativity towards the orders of the day and his character is a political statement. In other words, instead of doing what he should have done, as you indicated so well. he gave out nasty sleeping medicines found through alchemy and even magic. This type of friar would have appealed to the hatred of the friars at the time the play was written. His character would have purposefully been seen as the compromising, worldly friar, known in 1595, when the play was most likely finished. Even is Shakespeare was a Catholic, he would not have approved of this sort of compromising man.

    Remember that Friar Lawrence was never punished, a question which comes up in teaching students the play, as some think he should have been punished The prince at the end cries out “All are punished.” (I think Robert Stephens who was Aragorn for the BBC’s LOTR had the best performance of this prince in the Zeffirelli version), but Friar Lawrence seems to get away with bad judgement and perhaps,accessory to suicides.

  • Almario Javier

    Well, a clergyman can dissuade unsuited people from contracting a valid marriage, but if they are pigheaded, should the priest refuse to solemnize what is (before Trent ) a valid marriage?

  • Ella McGovern

    Excellent post, Father! Never really thought that in depth about the friar before.

  • JS Frederick

    Hah! Now you’ve gotten me reflecting on the play!

    Its clear the kids needed some support and were looking for it from an outside party, the clergy. The clergy gave support, but not the right kind of support.

    It would be great if the kids could have told their parents “hey, we love each other, let this be the big first step in settling our feud. And oh by the way, the Church is behind us.” The whole pretend to be dead and meet in the grave solution was kind of cowardly, like you say.

  • Howard

    OK. Please show me exactly where Friar Lawrence “puts ‘pastoral concerns’ over the truth of the gospel [and] the truth of the church’s teachings”. Please also state EXACTLY which truths of the Gospel and Church teachings he was denying. As far as I can see, the answers are NONE and NONE.

    Bad judgment may always be error, but it is not always heresy.

  • Cathy Harrell

    Thinking about my own pastor, I have seen that “no good deed goes unpunished” and that he fares so much better when he just sticks to doctrine. It doesn’t make him popular but he is right. His responsibility is the salvation of our souls. No where in the Gospel does Jesus do the “popular” thing. He does the right thing which is often the hard thing.

  • D. Morgan

    Thank you once again Fr. Longenecker for your insight and guidance. The Church, as a whole, has lost much by not being willing to continue to Preach the Truth, no matter how painful or unpleasant. As you can see, most do not wish to hear it.
    May God richly Bless you and your Ministry.

  • crazylikeknoxes

    I know this is not the place for such a discussion, but …. Friar Lawrence does not attempt to be nice and nonjudgmental to Romeo. The good and holy friar upbraids him for his inconstancy vis-à-vis Rosaline, is skeptical of his affection for Juliet, and takes him to task for not consummating his marriage with Juliet (one of my favorite scenes). Flawed he is. In my humble estimation, his willingness to use the marriage of Romeo and Juliet for the purpose of bringing peace to the Montagues and Capulets is the very embodiment of the term “jesuitical.” Also, the good friar’s courage fails him at the end of the play at Capulet’s tomb (but I pardon him this for reasons not relevant to the present discusion). As for the propriety of feigning Juliet’s death, well, it worked well enough in Much Ado About Nothing, didn’t it?
    But, good Fr. Logenecker, I don’t suppose any of this was your point. Pastoral concerns should never come before the truth of the Gospel. I have not read Mr. Pearce’s book, yet. But I look forward to it. As I do seeing Orlando Bloom play Romeo this September in New York. To all a good night.

    • RoxanneRoxanadana

      Actually, your points are well taken. For me, that girls were not married off at age 13 at the time the play is set & that Shakespeare knew this (or so I’ve read) puts matters in a different light. One thing all might ask Father Longenaker to avoid is performing any marriage ceremony in which the bride is less than 15 years old. Girls less than 10 are definite no no’s.

    • RoxanneRoxanadana

      Please forgive one error in judgment from a mere visitor to a Catholic website. I lack any knowledge of such things as what it means to be jesuitical & would not want anyone to think I felt negatively towards Jesuits. To make amends, please let me suggest this wonderful book that, when read indoors, will silence the barking of the dog days of August.

      http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext98/vajip10h.htm

  • crazylikeknoxes

    I know this is not the place for such a discussion, but …. Friar Lawrence does not attempt to be nice and nonjudgmental to Romeo. The good and holy friar upbraids
    him for his inconstancy vis-à-vis Rosaline, is skeptical of his affection for Juliet, and takes him to task for not consummating his marriage with Juliet (one of my favorite scenes). Flawed he is. In my humble estimation, his willingness to use the marriage of Romeo and Juliet for the purpose of bringing peace to the Montagues and Capulets is the very embodiment of the term “jesuitical.” Also, the good friar’s courage fails him at the end of the play at Capulet’s tomb (but I pardon him this for reasons not relevant to the present discussion). As for the propriety of feigning Juliet’s death, well, it worked well enough in Much Ado About Nothing, didn’t it?

    But, good Fr. Longenecker, I don’t suppose any of this was your point. Pastoral concerns should never come before the truth of the Gospel. I have not read Mr. Pearce’s book, yet. But I look forward to it. As I do seeing Orlando Bloom play Romeo this September in New York. To all a good night.

  • RoxanneRoxanadana

    The sole moral force was the Prince, whose advice against riot all should remember. The Friar’s words stop my breath.

    FRIAR LAURENCE
    I hear some noise. Lady, come from that nest
    Of death, contagion, and unnatural sleep:
    A greater power than we can contradict
    Hath thwarted our intents. Come, come away.
    Thy husband in thy bosom there lies dead;
    And Paris too. Come, I’ll dispose of thee
    Among a sisterhood of holy nuns:
    Stay not to question, for the watch is coming;
    Come, go, good Juliet,


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