Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap., was appointed by Pope John Paul II “Preacher to the Papal Household.” He still serves in this office, preaching a weekly sermon in Advent and Lent in the presence of the Pope, the cardinals, bishops and prelates of the Roman Curia and the general superiors of religious orders.
This Lent Fr. Cantalamessa recently preached in the presence of Pope Benedict XVI and the Roman Curia. He gave a startling and at the same time refreshingly honest appraisal of a crucially grave (my word) problem in the Church today: laxity and lukewarmness among clergy. The sexual abuse scandal is a horrible crisis for the Church, and it seems to never end! But Fr. Cantalamessa suggests that we have a problem that is in one sense even worse – the loss by priests of apostolic zeal and passion for the mission. The entire homily can be read on Zenit. Here are a few painful “highlights”:
The lukewarmness of a part of the clergy, the lack of zeal and apostolic inertia: I believe it is this that weakens the Church even more than the occasional scandals of some priests that make more noise and against whom it is easier to hasten to take measures. “The great misfortune for us parish priests” — said the Holy Cure of Ars — “is that the spirit becomes sluggish.”….
We must not generalize (the Church is rich in holy priests who carry out their duty silently), but Heaven help us if we are silent. A committed laymen said to me with sadness: “The population of our country has grown in the last 20 years by over three million inhabitants, but we Catholics have stayed with the same number. Something is not right in our Church.” And knowing that clergy, I knew what was not right: the concern of many of them was not souls, but money and comfort.
There are places where the Church is alive and evangelizes almost solely by the commitment and zeal of some lay faithful and lay groups that moreover at times face obstacles and are regarded with suspicion. ….
Our present Pope certainly knows of the problem, probably better than any of us laity, although it is the laity who experience the spiritual oppression of such lifeless and deadening clericalism directly and personally. How has it come to this? How has the sacred priesthood among the people of God become a sterile profession with staff, salary, fringe benefits and career track? How has the parish become a business to be managed?
How has Sunday worship – in which we are to present our bodies a living sacrifice, in which we are to stand with Mary and John at Calvary, in which Christ gives us His very Self to nourish us – become for so many a 55-minute choreographed pageant, with audience of spectators rushing to the doors to beat the parking-lot exodus and get out of there until next week?
Like priest, like people. How has it come to this? Where is the apostolic zeal? Where is the mission of Christ? Where is the heart in the Church? Where is the passion for the Gospel?
Thank you, Fr. Cantalamessa! The painful truth of our shameful condition, permeating so many parishes but not all, characterizing so many priests but not all, thanks be to God – this shameful truth must not be swept under the rug in some false loyalty to the priesthood. The priesthood is being dishonored by clerical careerism and C.E.O.-style managers. Such a diminished view among priests only engenders an equally compromised and half-hearted sense of discipleship among the laity. Those in the laity who do hear the call to “the Gospel without compromise” find not help but resistance and obstruction from such priests who want nothing rocking their very comfortable boats.
We Catholics love the priesthood – the great gift of the priesthood given by Jesus and served by countless saints and holy servants for centuries. But our love for the priesthood demands holy priests! Christ calls for holy priests! The Church needs not more priests; we need holy priests committed to living the Gospel and making disciples of Christ! Better to have few holy priests, than many basking in privilege who confuse the innocent and the young with a confused and compromised Gospel.
May the Lord bring renewal to our Church! Lord, raise up holy priests, holy religious, holy bishops – and a holy laity – that the world might see your Bride in the splendor of holiness that you deserve.