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Closing the gap between priest and people

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Closing the gap between priest and people

I had a run-in with a priest,” said a former classmate with no servile bone in her body. She didn’t agree with tithes as obligatory on a fixed percentage. “Each to his capability,” she asserted. “The priest called me to his office and asked me to sit. ‘Let me pray over you to take the evil spirits away.’” All hell broke loose. “Who needs to be exorcised?!” she fumed.

On a meeker vein I have reacted to homilies. First was a TV mass where a priest described Mary Magdalene (as an example of conversion) as “prosti, sinapian ng demonyo” (prostitute, possessed by the devil), magnified on screen. I couldn’t believe it. This fabrication is still being peddled? I called a former student-priest and vented.

Second, I ran after a priest after Mass. All I asked him out of a mother’s heart was to stop punishing himself and be done with guilt that could hound him all his life—for he had very contritely confessed to a “mortal sin” whereby he turned away from God.

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Third, after a fine homily ending with the usual “follow the will of God,” couldn’t the homilist give concrete examples where we can recognize God’s will or where and how it can manifest in our lives?

Why do I bring up these examples of feedback? Not to critique homilies or suggest ways to improve them (a very tempting topic), or to rebuke any priest. I’m just using lay reactions and priestly receptions as a pretty good gauge of laity-clergy interaction. The homily is a good tool because the faithful of all kinds go to Mass and sit through the homily in the typical Sunday Mass crowd in the typical “big” church.

On the part of the priest, most priests are not used or do not particularly like to be approached for reactions. It just isn’t done. Feedback is neither sought nor really welcome. When I did so, I felt the priests turn subtly cold.

On the laity’s part, there’s a characteristic diffidence or indifference to walk up to a priest and say what he/she thinks about his homily, positive or negative. We usually listen politely or catnap. “It’s part of the Sunday Mass obligation.” In some parts of the world, people clap, sing, walk out. In my childhood it was a common sight to see the men chatting outside the church during “sermons.”

How has this gap and apathy come to be? The answer may be in the journey from the early laic Church in which people did practically all the ministries that priests do now, to the present clerical institution in which priests took over.

The fateful year was 1208 when the ordained priesthood was formalized and, with it, the two-tier Church of priest and laity, the former “first class” and the latter “second class,” “teacher and learner,” “leader and follower,” “head and assistant.” Peer relationship became as rare as “opo, Father” became common.

This view prevailing for more than 800 years has sunk so deep into the culture that it is almost immovable. The bottom line was “not equal” but, nota bene: Equality in dignity and mandate has been reestablished by Vatican II.

Do priest and laity want to move closer and alleviate the disconnect so lamented by Church-watchers? Both sides may say yes, but how ironic if priest and prelate remain reluctant to relax authority and members of the laity remain content with assistantship. But feisty laity: Theologians, church workers, my classmate want change, and so do like-minded nuns and priests.

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Will we still welcome bishops royally with tarpaulins like conquering politicians? Will it be natural for a lay person to advise a priest, or SOP for a lay person to conduct a recollection, or be invited as a speaker in a priests’ recollection or a bishops’ conference? Can the stand of a lay member of the parish council overrule that of the parish priest? Can prelate and layperson dialogue on equal terms without any inquisitorial flavor? Will a lay invitee progress from “observer” to “member” with the right to vote? Can we have more Bo Sanchezes who “connect” better than your Sunday homilist?

Be surprised at how much the lay person can narrow the gap between priest and people.

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Asuncion David Maramba is a retired professor, book editor and occasional journalist.

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TAGS: Asuncion David Maramba, Inquirer Commentary, Inquirer Opinion, priests and people
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