Deacon Checks Corapi’s Math

Deacon Checks Corapi’s Math June 22, 2011

Deacon Greg Kandra does a splendid of of explaining why John Corapi’s attitude toward the priesthood could stand a little fine-tuning. (He quotes Herman Melville, too, which I think is pretty cool):

Of all the bizarre comments contained in John Corapi’s rambling speech on Monday, there was one that struck me as especially strange, and particularly sad.

Near the beginning, when he makes clear that he’s not actually leaving the priesthood, but only suspending his public work as a priest (and dropping the title “Father”), he shrugs off the impact this will have on his life. Nothing much will change, he says, explaining that he really had little to do with the sacraments, anyway—saying mass, hearing confession, anointing the sick.

“I didn’t do very much of that quite honestly in the twenty years that I did minister,” he says, adding, “90 percent of what I did in the past did not require ordination. Speaking through social communication—radio, TV, so forth—that’s not ministry, strictly speaking. My particular mission was speaking, writing, and teaching—not so much in the sacraments, but outside of them, in conjunction with them. So what I’m going to be doing in the future is pretty much the same thing.”

Well. I have to appreciate his candor. But off the top of my head, I can’t think of any priest I know who has so effectively and completely marginalized—even minimized—the most transcendent aspect of his priesthood: celebrating the sacraments. Any one who has been given the great gift of Holy Orders knows that ordination is not strictly about what we do, but about what we are, and what we become. And yet, a priest becomes, by sacred ordination, alter Christus, another Christ. Fundamental to that is grace—the grace to Nwreconcile the penitent, anoint the sick, baptize new Catholics and, most humbling and overwhelming of all, transform bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ in the sacrifice of the mass.

Corapi was far from the only priest who devoted the better part of his career to non-sacramental duties. Benedict was a scholar, Pius XII a diplomat. Even John XXIII, whose most ardent admirers praise his pastoral qualities, got most of his pastoral experience in posts where administrative and diplomatic matters would have preoccupied him. Nevertheless, Corapi’s mathematical separation of the strictly sacramental and non-sacramental aspects of his ministry would seem to require an unusally pragmatic turn of mind.

A couple of years ago, when I caught my own case of collar fever, I made an appointment to see my pastor. His religious order, the Order of Preachers, happened to be the order I imagined myself joining. Knowing of the vocations crisis, I expected the man to slip chloral hydrate into my coffee and spirit me off to the seminary, or at least block the door until I’d signed the enlistment papers. To my surprise, he received the news of my vocation with a bland lack of enthusiasm. After accepting that no congratulations from him would be forthcoming, I got down to business and asked what qualities the province vocations director might be looking for.

“Well,” he answered. “he’ll probably want to know your attitude toward the Mass.”

It was like hearing a joke and not getting the punch line. The Mass? I’d prepared a presentation of what I considered my most sacerdotal qualities: some published writing, some facility with foreign languages, and some overseas teaching experience. What on earth could my attitude toward the Mass have to do with anything? How many attitudes was it possible to take, anyway? He had a bumper sticker on the wall of his office, reading: “WHO WOULD JESUS BOMB?” so I didn’t think he meant for me to froth at the mouth over the Novus Ordo.

My bafflement must have been showing, because the pastor added, “He’ll want to know if you go every day, for example.”

It now occurs to me that he was offering an unrecognizably dumbed-down version of the lesson Deacon Greg teaches: as long as a priest has a proper appreciation for his sacramental role, then there’s a good chance he’ll be able to survive burnout, dead-end assignments, episcopal displeasure, and whatever other occupational hazards his kind faces as a matter of course. If reminding yourself, “Hey, at least I get to say Mass” can turn a bad day bearable, than you might have a calling after all.

Now, I don’t mean to suggest that Corapi’s anywhere near as clueless as I was — and probably remain — on the subject of the Mass and its centrality to a well-balanced priestly life. It seems more likely to me that he’s trying to console himself in the manner of a man who’s just been served with divorce papers: “I only lost 10% of my job”; “That hag only put out 10% of the time.” Like the best bullets, both men would appear to have a hollow point.

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