Saturday, October 3, 2009

Speaking of seminary life

Yesterday at St. Patrick's we had what is called a "Day of Recollection," in which classes are cancelled, we all attend one or two talks by one of the faculty members, and spend the rest of the day in prayer with time for confession and Eucharistic adoration. Our speaker this month was Fr. Howard Bleichner, a former rector of St. Patrick's who now teaches History of Philosophy to the Pre-Theology I men. His first talk yesterday was on the generational differences between priests. He described three types of priests: Fr. Finster, ordained in 1958; Fr. Pat (last name uknown) ordained in 1974; and Fr. Klein, ordained just a few years ago.

Fr. Finster grew up in a rich Catholic culture where it wasn't uncommon for men to enter high school seminaries when they were 13. Ordained at 25, Fr. Finster was always on time for Mass, never missed an appointment, never missed a communion call for those in the hospital, recited his breviary in Latin five times a day, and wore his clerics even on his day off. Was there another Finster beneath the priestly identity that had been formed by over twelve years of formation? No one knew, and frankly, hardly anyone - least of all Fr. Finster - was sure it even mattered. Fr. Pat - that's what he insisted everyone call him - went through three and a half years of seminary formation and a one semester internship in a parish. He wore jeans and sandals with a clerical shirt (collar always undone of course) because he thought of himself as just another one of the people.

Fr. Pat became Fr. Finster's curate (parochial vicar we would say today.) Fr. Finster was utterly appalled the first time he heard Fr. Pat greet the congregation with "Good morning." I can sympathize; after seeing a priest in chasabule and stole process down the aisle with a crucifix and book of the Gospels preceding him, it's like a huge "thunk" to hear a secular greeting like "Good morning" afterward. Fr. Pat would then ask how everyone was doing and for everyone to turn to their neighbor and say hello. "How about them Steelers? They're playing today so I'll try not to go too long," he said, and everyone laughed. Fr. Pat felt free to improvise as he went along if he felt this or that prayer was a little too formal or hard for the people to understand. He brought guitars and drums into the choir's instrumental repertoire. Although he never would have said so out loud, Fr. Pat looked forward to the retirement of Fr. Finster's generation, because then they could start the real work of remaking the Church according to the spirit of Vatican II. Four years after his ordination, Fr. Pat left the priesthood. Years later he would look back on it and speak of it in the same warm tones that middle-aged liberal suburban parents would speak of their hitch in the Peace Corps.

The Fr. Finsters of the world are dwindling every day as they go on to their eternal reward. The Fr. Pats are all retired or getting very close to it these days. That leaves Fr. Klein. Fr. Klein is difficult to pin down because more Fr. Kleins are entering the ranks of the presbyterate every year. He grew up with Fr. Pat, and grew to strongly dislike his improvisational, personal style. Fr. Klein wants everything in the liturgy done by the book. He expresses interest in everything that emphasizes a strong priestly identity, such as those cassocks with forty years worth of dust just hanging in closets throughout the diocese. He finds it difficult to understand why the Church in America seemingly lost so many popular devotions such as Eucharistic adoration, processions, the rosary, and all the rest. Some Fr. Kleins have unrealistic hopes of recreating the 1950's; some of them just want there to be more continuity with the Church's rich traditions.

If you're ever in a large gathering of priests, it doesn't take long to figure out who are the Fr. Finsters, Pats, and Kleins. Sometimes there is real tension between them, which is most unfortunate. The priesthood is supposed to be the greatest of all brotherhoods. Fr. Bleichner added one final piece to this puzzle: the Church needs more holy priests, not more jackasses. So ask our Lord for the former, and to save us from becoming the latter :p I will write more later.

1 comment:

Colin said...

Ahh...sounds just about right. He is right about the state of the young priests today, even here in Rome. The real blessing today, and I think most seminarians will say it, is that formation in seminary is really strong compared to former years. So hopefully we do not have nearly as many priests leaving the priesthood or failing to really discern if God is calling them to be a priest.