Because of a Priest . . . or Not

A regular reader of YIM Catholic goes by the handle of Mujerlatina. Today she sent us an e-mail that I found pretty challenging. It begins generously with a capsule autobiography of her own spiritual life. Then it closes with a kicker. It’s worth a look and a comment.
Mujerlatina writes:

“Here’s a brief synopsis of my convoluted journey in the Catholic Church: born Catholic, raised Catholic, receieved the sacraments, product of horrible CCD program, grandmother was an influential person of popular piety (illiterate), Newman Center at Duke University and daily Mass with many Catholic friends, silent retreats yearly with Duke friends tagging along, devotion to the Rosary, devotion to St. Martin de Porres, participation in all-black Roman Catholic Gospel choir for eight years, missionary doctor in the Carribbean and Latin America, desert years angry at the Catholic Hierarchy and its political ‘mafia,’ more desert years, children and home devotions and Catholic schools, weekly mass, Eucharistic Devotion, prayer, study alone, solo spiritual journey.

“I’ve tried to ‘leave’ the church many times, but have found that it is in the ‘fabric of my being.’ The mysticism, the Real Presence, the devotions and popular piety all continue to call me ‘home.’ Honestly, I must say that my on-going formation as a Catholic has nothing to do with any clergy person! No priest, sister, nun or other consecrated layperson has had ANY impact on my spiritual journey. Is that a problem?? Is that ironic?? We are constantly being called to ‘pray for vocations,’ but while I do comply, I am often in wonderment that the clergy/consecrated laypersons I actually have met are ‘zero’ in my walk as a Catholic.

“Here’s my question: What role do these ‘people of the cloth’ play for most of the YIMC readers out there? I read that ‘Fr. Barnes’ and others are so impactful on some folks—but I suspect that there are a lot of people like me who, by the grace of God, cling onto the Catholic ‘ship’ without any spiritual advisor/priest, etc.

“What say you all?”

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  • Webster Bull

    Mujerlatina, Your situation is a puzzle to me. I have been so blessed in mentors during my life, I can't count the important ones on two hands. And I have written about how blessed I am in our priest, Father B, whom you mention. And yet, well, two things . . . One, God works in mysterious ways. Asked how many ways there are to God, Pope BXVI answered, "As many ways as there are people seeking Him." Maybe you've discovered a new one.And two, the Church teaches that without priests, no Eucharist, no sacraments. So, with all due respect, there is something flawed in your logic, it seems to me. You credit so many other influences for your spiritual life, but without the priesthood? We'd all be worshiping Baal. Pax Christi! 🙂

  • Sharon

    Oh, I so get her question! My journey is a bit different — raised in a super strict and super conservative Catholic family, spent my grammar school years and secondary school years in super conservative private Catholic schools, was deeply and traumatically wounded by this conservative Catholic community (details nunuvyabidnezzzz but not sex abuse scandal related), years wandering, blah blah, etc….Like mujerlatina, I find myself unable to completely leave the Church, but my reasons for staying have nothing to do with anything any priest ever did or said. In fact, I'd have to say I stay in spite of priests. I'd even go a step further and state there are clergy men and women of other denominations who are probably more responsible for my being able to remain Catholic than any Catholic ordained or consecrated person ever was or will be. Honestly, I categorize Catholic religious as sort of like the DMV — can't avoid 'em if ya wanna get anywhere legally, but something you just grit your teeth and deal with and then get away from as fast as possible.

  • No priesthood…no Eucharist. Period.There is your answer. Were it not for the presence of Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, were it not for the grace of Baptism and Confirmation, were it not for the Mercy of Christ HIMSELF in the Sacrament of Confession….Catholicism would not be written into the fabric of her being. Period. Grace doesn't just fall out of the sky and land on it…it comes to us through the Ministry of the Church….the Holy Priesthood. We can't be Catholic without them. "The world would survive more easily without the sun than it would without the Mass." ~ St. Padre Pio (paraphrased)

  • I have to say, the most influential people in my spiritual walk have been priests. I have been very blessed to have the Lord bring great priests into my life, and they have taught me so much. My spiritual director is a constant source of advice and helps me to evaluate how I'm doing – his advice and help are invaluable.

  • Warren Jewell

    (Just getting back from some physical problems . . .)It's that 'in my fabric' thing that speaks of priests, teaching Sisters, Christian Brothers, etc. Not a one sticks out – and, none of them are able to be excluded from my journey.That said, I wish I had a spiritual director, but the closest I had was one cool Dominican priest (widowed father of two, former Marine, high-school principal) who got re-assigned, and he wasn't sure I wasn't a spiritual director my own self, already.I have depended upon the Spirit to grab my collar and shake me out regularly, in comtemplative prayers and calming meditations. But, He works in me from my memory files – from what priests, Sisters, etc., have left behind in me. He re-organizes thoughts into prayers and renewed revelations, and I am amazed!The Holy Spirit has arrived, but only after intensive recon missions from His human helpers, called to fill me in with 'intelligence', and on my own terrain.And, yes, I speak with a warrior's disposition – but, I am 'armed' as only one of the Lord's waterboys.

  • Webster Bull

    Warren, We missed you, especially at the first meeting of the YIMC Book Club! I was going to send you a FaceBook message this evening. I hope and pray that you are well. We need you around here!

  • I must say that I would have to give a big thumbs up to Adoro's post. I could not agree more.I came back home after a 25+ year absence. I was blessed in the local Pastor. His kindness and gentleness made an impression on me. He also performed a simple validation ceremony for my wife and I last month. He spoke of the wedding in Cana. And, how he hoped that my wife and I would find that our marriage of 19 years would be like the "…saving of the best vintage 'til last". I am not shy of saying that both my wife and I balled our eyes out. Seems simple but these type of men carry the weight of the parish on their shoulders and we are blessed to have them

  • Mujerlatina's story actually gives me great comfort because of her statement "The mysticism, the Real Presence, the devotions and popular piety all continue to call me ‘home.’" As an former Evangelical hurt by a string of pastors who thought the church was "all about them", I find great solace in thinking the Catholic Church is what is says it is. It IS the Real Presence. It is bigger than its historical excesses before the Reformation, the recent abuse scandals involving American priests, criticism over Vatican II and the "watered down" liturgy, any one priest and any one Pope. Too many Evangelical churches I've known revolve around the pastor and when the pastor moves on (by choice, retirement, scandal, or whatever), the church changes so as to be unrecognizable. I need more. I need the promises of Christ that "I will never leave you," and "I will not leave you without a Comforter" and "the gates of hell will not prevail against it (the Church).I am sorry Mujerlatina has not found priests who have helped her in her walk. I will continue to pray for priests and for the Church. Thanks again for this thoughtful topic.

  • Hey all. My two cents on this topic coming from the perspective of a cradle Catholic who went away for years and then came back.I can see how Ms. Latina could say that no one priest or no particular individual has had an impact on her faith. That is certainly within the realm of possibility. However, and this is a big difference that must be distinguished, the priesthood has had a huge impact on her because of the very things she says are important, in particular, the Real Presence. As Adoro so wonderfully pointed out, we couldn't have the church without them.My own journey is probably pretty close to Warren's experience. I have been around hundreds of priests and religious in my life especially because of the years I spent in the seminary. None of them made such a huge impact on me individually but my faith couldn't possibly be a reality without them. I know a lot of people who have been deeply impacted by a particular priest and that is ok too. There isn't a right or wrong way to grow in your faith within the church as long as we are growing. However, I would say that even if no individual priest has impacted her journey, Ms. Latina would have found it a much harder journey without the priesthood in her life.

  • I have been really blessed to have two wonderful spiritual directors who are priests. One was older and is now retired. My present director is the son of a friend of mine. I've known him since he was in high school, and I wonder sometimes that I am able to sit and talk to this young man about the things that we talk about. But there is something real that happens when a man becomes a priest. Unfortunately, they don't all, or maybe even most, cooperate with the grace they receive in their ordination. Or, some of them loose their enthusiasm because of the things they see around them. But when a man IS cooperating with this grace, he is a powerful channel for God's grace. Also, religious sisters who are really living their vocation are great gift to the Church. I try to go on retreat at retreat house called Casa Maria in Birmingham a couple of times a year. The sisters there are so joyful, that just being around them is a retreat. Unfortunately, many orders have lost the charism of their founders and now have only pop psychology and new age spirituality to offer. But the ones who are faithful are a great help along the way.AMDG, Janet

  • I hate to say it but I can relate. My local priests are for providing the sacraments, but I would not say they have inspired or guided me in any way. I am here for the sacraments, which the priests perform in spite of their new age, pro-choice, God loves everyone attitude.There are priests who have inspired me and helped me in my faith, but they are men like Fr. Corapi, Fr. Pavone, Fr. Finelli and Fr. Groeschel. Not anyone I have actually met.

  • El Bollio Tejano

    So many priest and nun influences for the positive that I can't even begin to name them all. One especially, a Dominican Priest, was a true expression of the Joy of Christ. He did not buy into the modern iconoclasm that wreaked so much havoc in our holy Church.Nuns, without habits, educated me. Most important of all, my father's life was saved by a nun at a very young age, when his parents had no where else to turn with their sick child, it was a Sister at a "free" Roman Catholic hospital that took him in. Saved his life and he always shared the story with us. It was the reason, I believe that he became Catholic in his thirties, at a time when it was very unpopular to do so…

  • cathyf

    A lot of days I think the Church has hijacked God and I wonder if I should be negotiating with terrorists.I've tried suggesting to Him that He should pull a Ransom Of Red Chief, which He seems to think is a pretty amusing idea.

  • jan

    Mujerlatina, the Holy Spirit must be hanging on to you tightly. Although I've never tried to leave the Church, I've had a difficult time trying to find a spiritual director that is actually 'Catholic' in their thinking, and believe me, I'm really, really sorry to say that.I finally found a priest who guides me via e-mail when necessary, and I also have a mentor, very knowledgable in the faith, who has been a gracious guide. Adoro is correct in that without the priesthood there is no Eucharist, but I believe that is a separate issue.

  • Allison

    Like El Bollio Tejano, I cannot name one particular priest or religious who inspired my faith. And I would say the priests I encountered as a child were an absolute turnoff to the church. But along the way of nmy life, especially at moments of great personal crisis, I have been blessed by seeking out Catholic priests and found someone with great wisdom as I wrestled with difficulties placed before me. These were not moments of confession but moments of "why is this happening to me?"My current parish priest drives me nuts sometimes; we have had some small conflicts; but he also has been a source of great wisdom, solace and laughter. I consider him a friend. One thing noone here has mentioned is the role of a good confession. For example, I do not consider my parish priest a good confessor for me. But a nearby religious community is where I go for wonderful, joyfilled confessions So I guess I have split that role of spiritual director into two people; my parish priest who is very intellectual and caring and a nearby priest to whom I can confess my sins, both minor and major. Do others have a "good confessor?"

  • I can't say I came back to to the church because of any one member of the clergy. But the Church is the Bride of Christ, so I love her though some parts/people are uninspired

  • EPG

    What an amazing post. I was actually thinking recently that I needed to make sure I met some priests in the parishes I have been frequenting. This sometimes appears somewhat of a challenge, because the fact is, there are relatively few priests serving an enourmous population of laity (or at least so it seems as a visitor). One has to feel for these guys, because they are asked to serve congregations which are (in general) far larger than most Episcopal congregations (where, of course, most of my experience has been). And, I suppose, part of the issue is what one expects of the priesthood. Many of the posts above correctly point out that the priest must administer the sacraments — no one else can fill that role.So, what I'd like to know, are there functions in which laity step in to "fill the gaps?" I think of the men's group that Webster has described so eloquently — not clergy driven, and the parish priest does not even come very often (although he is welcome when he does).

  • I was thinking about this thread on the way to work this morning and it occured to me that Mujerlatina's LACK of influence by priests and religious IS a sort of influence, albeit a negative one. For example, in winter, our moods are very much influenced by the LACK of sunlight. And a dearth of good priestly influence is very like a lack of sunlight.While I have been blessed to know many very good priests, I'm aware of the situation that other posters have mentioned–uninspiring clergy and clergy who are so overworked that they don't have enough time to be pastoral. I think that this situation is getting better. For a long time, many men entering the seminary were very much under the influence of the cultural shift that took place in the late 60's and early 70's and I think their faces were sort of turned away from the heart of the Church. The men who are entering now seem to be very much in love with the Church and with the Truth.AMDG

  • Mary P.

    Mujerlatina, I am going to ask you to forgive me in advance. I am obviously not privy to what your experience has been, where you are now aside from what you've written above, and what you're asking.You've walked the walk with Christ. It is simply not conceivable to me that you have not met a few "good" clergy, in the multitude that have served you, albeit from a distance, as the others have pointed out. Is it possible that you have not been "open" to them when the opportunity has arisen for them to influence you? I will throw out this request of you. Look for a member of the clergy in your community who is "not so bad." Invite him or her to your house and try to meet their needs by serving these servants of God. I love to feed our clergy dinner, and you'd be amazed how often I am told that, if it weren't for that dinner, these men and women of God would be eating a turkey sandwich for their evening meal.And I have been amazed at how fascinating these men and women are, how God has used them! They have taught and influenced me (and I hope my children) in ways that I never anticipated. If you accept this recommendation, please consider letting us know what you discover!

  • When I first became a Catholic, there was a priest who was very influential in my spiritual life. Since then, not so much – at least, outside of the sense that I count myself blessed to have regular access to the Sacraments. I used to be the sort of person who would preach about the importance of Daily Mass and Adoration in the spiritual life. I still do think they are wonderful things, of course, but the last couple of years have been eye-opening.Everything up here is so far apart. At the only English speaking parish in the area, which is in town, we are blessed to have a 5pm Saturday Mass, an 11am Sunday Mass, usually a couple Masses during the week, and two scheduled opportunities for Confession. Nearby communities are not always so fortunate. I go to Confession regularly, our priest is excellent in the sense that he is extremely orthodox, and even tries to offer advice. Of course, his advice usually completely misses the mark, since, well, there’s no time to get into much detail. This is a very small parish, and I’ve introduced myself to him, but I’m pretty sure he has no idea whatsoever who I am, and he has so very much on his plate, I can’t imagine him having time for an appointment. Every month or so, our Ukrainian Catholic Mission is served by an elderly priest who drives in from his home three hours away, and he certainly does know who I am, but I can’t imagine ever talking to him about my spiritual life. Heavens, he barely even speaks English, and he's so terribly busy. It’s a shame, because I could *really* use some help; I’ve been struggling a lot since I returned to the Faith this past summer.Regardless, I think it’s pretty normal to get through life as a Catholic without much direct contact with clergy… which is one reason we need to be praying for vocations. When you have a single priest essentially taking care of the spiritual needs of several towns in a 2 hour radius, well… it changes things.

  • For Janet,On the Prayer Intentions List, the photograph is of the chapel at Mission San Juan Capistrano.

  • @ Mary P: The last time I asked to speak with a priest at my parish I was told he was 'busy having dinner with the Bishop.' After trying to reach the priest to no avail, my 16 y/o male babysitter informed me that he himself had the priest's cell number, "if you want to reach him." (No thank you, I'll try via the Rectory). When the priest finally did call me back he left a message saying he had just returned from vacationing in Europe. No offence taken, Mary, but I know many priests who enjoy a meal with the 'well-heeled', and one who is a sommalier! My one good friend from Duke who became a priest is now a retired monsignor living in Canada — at the age of 49. Apparently he 'burned out' doing youth ministry at UNC- Chapel Hill. Yes, I have known priests. I doubt any would answer the dinner invitation of a forty-something single mother of two young children… I never stated in my original e-mail that any clergy person was 'bad', just that I have not found one to be influential in my daily walk — big difference. And I guess I do take pause with your assumption that somehow the clergy are the only 'servants serving God…' I too take up my cross daily and serve the church in time, talent and plenty of treasure — as I imagine many many laity do. And after a long day at work and then doing laundry and housekeeping, I myself enjoy a turkey, or ham sandwich with my children — since I often do not have a moment to cook a real meal during the week! Thank you for sharing your experience Mary. And thank you for listening to mine.

  • Samantha

    Mujerlatina – Keep looking. Sometimes dioecesan priests, who do not take vows of poverty, get caught up in materialism, as do the rest of us. It sounds as if your parish priest has lost his way.I have dear friends in our parish who are third order Carmelites. They have three young kids, work like dogs at jobs they find deeply uninspiring, travel 30 miles to our parish, the only one that fit their spiritual needs in a very Catholic area, and drive 40 miles in another direction to find comfort in their monastic community.

  • @Samantha: Thank you for reading my comments and for your ideas. I really appreciate reading ALL points of view, and am trying to hear the feedback written above with 'an open heart.' What great fellowship this YIMC is!

  • Thanks Frank. I thought I recognized it.AMDG

  • Mary P.

    Hey Mujerlatina,I obviously touched a nerve. I am very sorry. I did not say, and certainly didn't mean to imply, that ONLY priests "serve God." As a mother myself, I know how important, not to mention difficult, this particular job is! Nor is there anything wrong with a sandwich for dinner. I've been knows to serve my family breakfast for dinner on occasion! Once I even gave my kids ice cream sundays for dinner, just as they requested. They all felt sick afterwards. Lesson learned.Unfortunately, our Church is made up of human beings. Some do not return calls when they should. When you really need someone to be at the other end of that phone and they're not, there might not be an excuse good enough to heal that new wound, especially if their excuse involves spending a great deal of money. I understand that. However, I've become friends with a number of clergy and religious (And I'm not saying that you haven't!!). My brother was a priest who burned out, as did your retired friend. Burnout doesn't surprise me at all. However I still see and marvel at how the priests who are still active (some in their 80's saying mass because no one else can!) pour themselves out if they think they're needed in a capacity that they can be of help. I had one explain to me recently how the vow of celibacy involves more than forsaking a wife. It means that when he is called to a new assignment, how he has to leave EVERYTHING behind. That's something that I could never do. There's no way that I can't respect, admire, and be thankful for that sacrifice. It gives me great pleasure to offer these men something in return for their sacrifice. I have gained so much more than the effort has cost me in my attempts to feel them a home-cooked meal when I can.As for doubting that a priest who wouldn't accept a dinner invitation from a 40-something single mother, well, I can't say. I do know that they are called to minister to their flock, not just to members of the parish that excludes single mothers. I've met confidentially with my pastor, who is a very careful man, in the rectory when I needed his time. If my experience or examples don't work for you, then there are a thousand other ways to address the issue. But I can see how you might be hesitant to continue to make the effort.I will pray that God sends you a spiritual advisor who can be there for you and your family!

  • James

    Thank God for our Priests and Nuns. Seriously, where would we be without them? I had nine years of elementary school with Sisters at three different parishes and four years of high school with Priests. I've known Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits, Holy Cross Fathers, Carmelites and many Diocesan Priests especially when there 3 or 4 to a Parish. I've had just one bad experience with one clergy member who was just plain meanspirited but to all of them including him I defer absolute respect because what they represent and the enormity of the commitiment they've made. Looking back 30 to 40 years I realize how much they where taken for granted especially in light of the shortage we face now. It makes me heartsick when I think of the abuse perpetrated by a few and can't imagine what Priests must endure having all been tarred with a broad brush and pilloried in public. Some of these men and women had a tremendous impact on my life both directly and indirectly and during my long and intense time in the 'desert' their influence helped me to survive even at times when I didn't realize it. When I finally had enough and returned I was fortunate enough to have a Carmelite Chapel available for Confession and still go there after 25 years. I've no advice or criticisms of Mujerlatina but Iwill say that I make no demands of our Catholic Priests – I'm just glad that they are still there for us in whatever capacity they can manage. Also, if it's any help I've had great experiences with Jesuit guided retreats. And I agree with Mike – Fr. Corapi is the man!

  • Anonymous

    Mujerlatina and Sharon,that's unfortunate. I haven't read all the posts, but yeah, no priest, no Eucharist, no confession, etc. As for some really great religious, maybe you'd find it hopeful to take a look at the websites of Dominican Sisters of St. CeceliaDominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the EucharistLittle Sisters of the PoorFranciscan sisters of the Martyr St GeorgeSisters of LifeDominican Nuns of Summit New JerseyFranciscan Sisters of the RenewalFranciscan Friars of the RenewalFranciscan Missionaries of the Eternal WordFranciscan Friars of the ImmaculateOblates of the Virgin Maryand there are more…I hope you meet a great priest!

  • Anonymous

    I am very envious of Webster talking about his holy priest. My family can agree with Mujerlatina. Our parish have been very disappointed with our 6 priests over the past 20 years. The current priest administers the sacraments, but just barely. It seems these priests had hoped the Second Vatican Council would make radical changes for Catholics: women priests, married priests, allow abortion, change the 10 Commandments, etc. And they are still operating under such hope.We have about 50 families at our parish who have been praying for these priests. We stay because we are in our 40's and 50's and we grew up in this parish, and it is OUR parish, not the priest's. Our kids watch daily Mass on EWTN, and we point out the good and holy priests found there. (We have no daily Mass.) I'm certain our bishop has gotten hundreds of letters concerning our priests, but nothing has been done. I suppose you have to put the neglectful priests somewhere. The other towns have similar priests, so we have to travel about 40 miles to find a good confessor, spiritual guide, etc.Please pray for all the people who share our pain.

  • Anonymous

    I think all the points have been made and I am a bit late but I thought to add something… Mujerlatina, I completely understand what you mean and it is something I am going through myself right now. Some clergy make me want to hang my head in shame and stay away. They also make me FURIOUS with the things they do, they things they don't do (that they are supposed to), the way they dont do anything even though the things we struggle for everyday (a house, a job, money, security) are all a 'given' for them. However, that being said, I have met some amazing priests who know Him and are being beautiful channels of His love. There are good people and bad people – there are good priests and bad priests. It is difficult to grasp the concept of 'bad' priests – but they do exist. May I suggest reading something by Fr James Martin SJ – one of my favourite priests. Also, a take away from this discussion – let us all try to pray for our priests – they are only human. Rose

  • Thank you and thank you, again to ALL who wrote so many heartfelt responses to my question. I really appreciate it. Yes, I agree that we must continue to pray for our priests and for vocations. I will look into some of the websites suggested above. I have read the Book of Saints by Father Martin, SJ and felt some direction there, @Mary: I in no way want you to think I am upset at you. I really value what you have said, and have listened 'with an open heart.' For all the 30-something folks who responded to my un-epected 'guest post', I say WOW!! and I thank God for this virtual Catholic community created by Webster and Frank at YIMC. Pax Christi and Aggiornamento!