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.