I was in the Marines for a long time, both on Active Duty and in the Reserves. I’ve seen all kinds of leaders, or more accurately, people thrust into leadership positions. Some of the people I reported to were exceptional. Some were horrible. What does this have to with with being a Catholic? Bear with me.
Those who have been in the Church for longer than, say, two years know that parish priests get moved around. They serve tours of duty, if you will. Sometimes two years, sometimes twelve. I don’t really know what the standard length of time is. If you become a monsignor, maybe you get to finish out your career in that parish. I really don’t know.
If the priest does something wrong, he should be relieved of his post. I understand that in the past, this hasn’t happened quickly enough. Like the passengers who foiled the plans of the hijackers of Flight 93, and sacrificed their lives doing so, how we react to transgressions, too, is up to us parishoners. The offender must be relieved and rehabilitated, or discharged from the service. Canon Law gives you these rights and responsibilities:
Can. 212 §1. Conscious of their own responsibility, the Christian faithful are bound to follow with Christian obedience those things which the sacred pastors, inasmuch as they represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or establish as rulers of the Church.
§2. The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.
§3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.
Like the officers I served under in the Marines, some of these priests are going to be exceptional. I have some advice for you. Prepare yourself now for the day they will be re-assigned to another post. Webster once wrote that monks are just soldiers in a different uniform. And so are priests. Your excellent priest may be replaced by one who isn’t so great.
Maybe the new priest should be given a break. I knew whenever a new reporting senior was placed over me, there was a period of time in the beginning where we had to feel each other out. The new guy on the block might have been great wherever he came from, or he might have been a rookie prone to being overbearing in an attempt to compensate for a lack of experience.
That is where the parishioners come in, see. We are the troops in the Church Militant.We are on the front lines as well as in the rear. If you don’t like the army analogy, let’s go back to the naval vessel. But please don’t tell me you didn’t realize that you are living in enemy-occupied territory or cruising in the enemy’s home waters. Have you not joined our ongoing YIMC Book Club discussion yet? Come and see what C.S. Lewis is saying about Satan. St. Peter, our first Pope, proclaims the following about us:
But you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were “no people” but now you are God’s people; you “had not received mercy” but now you have received mercy.
Beloved, I urge you as aliens and sojourners to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against the soul. Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that if they speak of you as evildoers, they may observe your good works and glorify God on the day of visitation. Be subject to every human institution for the Lord’s sake, whether it be to the king as supreme or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the approval of those who do good. For it is the will of God that by doing good you may silence the ignorance of foolish people. Be free, yet without using freedom as a pretext for evil, but as slaves of God. Give honor to all, love the community, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:9)
St. Peter writes this and is eventually crucified upside down for these beliefs and for his belief in Jesus Christ. St. Peter’s martyrdom screams that what he believed about Our Lord is True. People don’t just die willingly for causes they don’t believe in. Not without going down with a fight. Instead, they run. But to willingly die for a cause you believe in? That takes courage. And that courage comes from deep and abiding faith. The motto, Alone, Unarmed, Unafraid comes to my mind. And this verse as well,
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.(Philippians 4:13)
Here is another example of a great leader. King David, fleeing for his life from the murderous intentions of his own son Absalom, is crassly treated by one of his subjects. Is the command “off with his head!” given? Not even close. Take a look at a role model of a King who knows humility and where he actually stands in the world, especially when the entire kingdom knows what became of Bathseba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite:
As David was approaching Bahurim, a man named Shimei, the son of Gera of the same clan as Saul’s family, was coming out of the place, cursing as he came. He threw stones at David and at all the king’s officers, even though all the soldiers, including the royal guard, were on David’s right and on his left.
Shimei was saying as he cursed, “Away, away, you murderous and wicked man! The LORD has requited you for all the bloodshed in the family of Saul, in whose stead you became king, and the LORD has given over the kingdom to your son Absalom. And now you suffer ruin because you are a murderer.”
Abishai, son of Zeruiah, said to the king: “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over, please, and lop off his head.” But the king replied: “What business is it of mine or of yours, sons of Zeruiah, that he curses? Suppose the LORD has told him to curse David; who then will dare to say, ‘Why are you doing this?’”
Then the king said to Abishai and to all his servants: “If my own son, who came forth from my loins, is seeking my life,how much more might this Benjaminite do so? Let him alone and let him curse, for the LORD has told him to. Perhaps the LORD will look upon my affliction and make it up to me with benefits for the curses he is uttering this day.”
David and his men continued on the road, while Shimei kept abreast of them on the hillside, all the while cursing and throwing stones and dirt as he went.
Let me bring this back full circle. We are the troops, or crew members, of our parishes, which is the battalion or the ship, if you will. We know the insides and out of this ship or unit as well as the Captain or the Colonel. Maybe even better. If we receive a boot Lieutenant, or Ensign for a priest, break him in gently. If we receive a grizzled old salt who is like a “know-it-all” Commander or Major, feel them out for a while and be flexible with them. And then break them in gently too.
As you can see, our role isn’t small. We are the backbone of the Church.