Today is the feast of the 17th century Jesuit, St. Peter Claver. He’s seen above in his untiring work in Cartagena, Columbia to the slaves who were brought there from Africa.
The “end of the priesthood” doesn’t mean that the Catholic priesthood is coming to an end. By “end,” I mean the final-end of something. As I wrote in the post The End of the Mass, “end” simply means telos or goal of its existence. What is the end of the priesthood? The answer: The glory of God and the salvation of souls.
What is the means to this end?
If you answer “the sacraments,” then you’re only a third correct.
The Catholic Church (even Canon Law) teaches that there are three munera (gifts or duties) to the holy priesthood that are necessary for the salvation of souls:
1) Teach (Teaching people the Faith.)
2) Sanctify (Sacraments)
3) Govern (Leadership)
Let’s look at the bad news in the Church and then we’ll get to the remedy.
The most shocking part of my priesthood has been the lack of respect from other Catholics, especially from pastors and parish-employees.
For example, when I was a parochial vicar (the #2 priest) at a campus ministry parish at Colorado State University in 2014, a 60 year old female employee was allowed by my pastor (the #1 priest) to have two nervous breakdowns against me. On 30 July 2014, she had her third nervous breakdown against me (this time regarding a disagreement on who should have access to the Eucharist in the tabernacle.) After numerous warnings, I called the police to have her removed. The police came and removed her. Later that week, she was so embarrassed that she threatened to sue unless the pastor fire me.
He took the bait and betrayed me. I was removed overnight like a criminal. Since I was physically gone, I could not tell our parishoners in-person that the reason for my removal was so silly. I told my parishoners what happened in an email. They weren’t happy with the decision of my pastor, and he knew it. The students were devastated at my departure, especially for such a trivial reason. Scrambling to maintain order, the pastor put up on his parish website a set of pious lies (still up years later) where he stated it would be “awkward” for him to describe why I was ejected from campus ministry. “Awkward”? In campus ministry? hint, hint… He even quoted Scripture in pitting me against our Archbishop.
This was the first lie, however, because the Archbishop did not want to remove me from my post in campus ministry. The Archbishop and the Vicar for Clergy both told me that I was removed at the behest of the pastor, not the Archbishop as the parish website erroneously states. In fact, the Vicar for Clergy told me that the Archbishop purposely resisted removing me from campus ministry. After numerous phone calls from the pastor, however, the Archbishop felt he had to do his bidding.
Why would a relatively-orthodox priest do this to me? One man will never know another man’s intentions this side of the veil, but the solution seems obvious: If the students found out the truth, namely, that I was canned for keeping a boundary against an unstable employee, there would be upheaval. The other option would be to piously imply criminal behavior against me. Now, I know that sometimes pastors scapegoat their assistant priests when there’s a problem, but to lie using holy Scripture (as the above website does) goes a step further. I am reminded that the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that it is “blasphemous to make use of God’s name to cover up criminal practices, to reduce peoples to servitude, to torture persons or put them to death.”—CCC 2148
And to have your reputation destroyed by a brother priest is death. It had far-reaching effects: The very day I was removed, the Vicar for Clergy told me I could no longer hear confessions or offer public Mass. (In other words, I lost my faculties, which is usually reserved for civil criminals and doctrinal heretics.) Knowing I had done nothing wrong, I immediately got a Canon Lawyer who fought and got my faculties back. I strangely got an email two weeks later from my Archbishop saying: “I am sorry if you understood that you have no faculties as that is not the case.” However, a few days later, on 16 September 2014, my Archbishop gave me a letter saying that although I have my faculties, he would not give me another parish as things stood. [footnote] Up to this point, I had admittedly been through a lot of parishes in five years since my ordination. Like this parish, my departures came down to arguments with pastors regarding Extraordinary “ministers” of Holy Communion (EMHCs.) But this situation was different with all of the dishonesty. The sad thing is that I could have left peacefully like previous parishes. For example, my previous parish in Fort Collins—I was not fired from. I requested to leave it because of arguments surrounding EMHCs. My pastor and my previous bishop peacefully allowed me to move on to another assignment. Most everywhere, parish staff has always found me hard to work with. For this last parish, the honest announcement from the pulpit would have been: “Fr. Nix was dismissed for calling the cops on an employee” or even “Fr. Nix was dismissed by the pastor because the staff found him hard to work with.” But this would not have criminalized me, and the students would have known that my stubbornness would not justify the termination of a successful apostolate (10-40 hours a week in the confessional.) It is as if my superiors predicted that the young faithful students would see that my self-confidence (and even arrogance at times) was not a crime worthy of the punishment of overnight-removal. In fact, one Sunday between my calling the cops and my pastor dismissing me, he actually told me that I could stay if I apologized to the woman for calling the cops on her. I remember my response verbatim: “Not only will I not apologize. I hold you responsible for not protecting me.” And yet, to this day, I do not regret calling the cops to protect myself. Even if I’m wrong about that, the main point here is that I could have stayed if I had apologized, meaning there are no “awkward” explanations like their website says. I think that their nearly-ending my priesthood in Colorado was simply vengeance for me making staff feel inadequate. [/footnote]
As I look back, I think that my former pastor pushed harder than he thought. He probably thought that scapegoating me with the screaming employee was going to be a small price to quiet the unrest at the parish. But his betrayal contributed greatly to the ending of my active priesthood in the Archdiocese of Denver… the very city where I was born, baptized and confirmed. Also, I suppose that good decisions are hard to make when you have a high-paid campus minister pushing for the assistant priest’s departure because I was “gunning for his job” as my pastor told me right before I left. (The young campus minister had to have a say in what I taught my students. I denied him this months prior.)
To my knowledge, most of the solid University students rejected the rumors that parish staff had spoken directly against me or started surreptitiously around me. I think the only lie that they nearly-all believed was that the Archbishop initiated my departure. I blog about this today because Canon Law 220 obliges me to counter publicized lies. It is not vengeance but justice that forces me to write. It’s really unfortunate I have to defend my good-name online against a priest. Christ surely did not want this of His priests. Still, Christ is the King of Canon Law, and I believe that Canon Law may require me to given an honest account online, especially after a dishonest account was up for so long.
One last thing to clarify: Why should employees at a parish be able to influence superiors to piously euthanize a young priest’s priesthood? One, because bill-paying pastors are afraid of even non-legitimage lawsuits after all the abuse lawsuits of the 1980s and 1990s. The pendulum has swung from protecting bad priests to attacking good priests. Two, when a young priest does more than the Mass—and tries to affect young people’s lives—he becomes a threat to the world of lay paychecks and the status quo of preaching.
If I ever get to the active priesthood again, I will continue to do more than just the sacraments, even if it costs me. Of course, Holy Mass is the summit of the Catholic priesthood but it is not the sum limit. Why? Because the sacraments are sacraments of faith. An American can receive Holy Communion at any parish, coast to coast on Sunday with almost no geographical hinderance, whether he be in sanctifying grace or not. Number of priests is not our first crisis. Concurrent with a return to the 1962 sacraments, I propose that priests again learn the art of teaching, of fatherhood, of leadership. Then we will see the salvation of more souls (and of course the inspiration of many more young men answering their God-given call to be a priest.)
I am a huge fan of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) but one of the reasons they succeed is because priests since Vatican II seem to be ordained to be sacramental-distributors at mega-parishes or dying parishes, but rarely with a placement in view of friendship and leadership being an integral part of the priest’s own salvation. The past 50 years have produced an unspoken ethos that creative thinking about the Gospel is best left to the laity. Thus, teaching, discipleship and even fatherhood follow suit.
Even organizations like “40 days for life” are actually doing the “duties” of the priesthood, but when priests exercise similar leadership of the “gifts” they have been given, they are often told to stop rocking the boat. Why? Because people have seen little priestly leadership the past fifty years. When faced with a Church bleeding priests, FOCUS and 40 Days for Life have become wound control—a great wound control—but a wound control nonetheless, taking responsibility to end Satan’s decent success in reducing priestly discipleship, teaching and inter-personal communion that could have effected the salvation of millions of souls in a better way, possibly even ending abortion if every priest and bishop had come together like 40 days for Life did.
These attacks began in the seminaries. Even Dr. Brandt Pitre (my favorite theologian teaching at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans who is a husband and a father) admits that most of the great Catholic apologists today are lay precisely because the seminaries eradicated the apologetics departments in the 1970s (in favor of “ecumenism” being taught to the Church’s ordinandi.) The New Evangelization talks a lot about spiritual fatherhood, but in practice it is in the hands of lay groups. I don’t have proof, but I have my suspicion why: Strong lay-leadership costs a diocese less investment than priestly communion, discipleship and leadership—a leadership that Jesus promised would bring some persecution. Standing by a priest in persecution may reduce one’s personal advance—ecclesiastically or financially.
But it wasn’t always like this: The priestly model of discipleship and leadership was effecting an unprecedented level of conversions in the missions of Africa and Asia for the hundred years leading up to Vatican II. In the Index of Leading Catholic Indicators, Dr. Kenneth Jones reveals that even in the United States, the teaching office of priesthood was taken seriously, but then trailed off. Priests who primarily fulfilled the teaching office in high schools and universities are seen in the below graph of Index of Leading Catholic Indicators. Notice the years:
What did the three munera (teach, sanctify and govern) of the priesthood look like through the centuries?
15th Century: St. Bernadine of Siena would have tent-revivals with up to 30,000 people in attendance. Known as the “Apostle of Italy,” this saint would preach for hours with scores of confessing-priests on hand. Notice that in his case, the Mass was not the means of evangelization but the end.
17th Century: St. Peter Claver preaches the Gospel to slaves collapsing off of slave ships before baptizing them if he finds a shred of faith. In the decades of his monotonous work and outrageous miracles, he baptized over 300,000 slaves. See picture at the top of this post. Notice that in his case also, the Mass was not the means of evangelization but the end.
20th century: Fr. Mateo Crawley of the Sacred Heart Fathers preaches the family enthronement of the Sacred Heart on 6 continents to possibly hundreds of thousands of people. He disciples priests all over Asia, teaching them about the Sacred Heart. As dozens of languages were spoken among them, he taught them in Latin, as it was the first half of the 20th century. Because they had all learned Latin in seminary, all of these priests understood him, and these priests took this discipleship and lit huge areas of Asia on fire with the love of Jesus Christ. Notice that in his case too, the Mass was not the means of evangelization but the end.
The Novus Ordo seems particularly geared to entertainment by the priest and blurred lines between laity and the priesthood. Thus, it is no wonder that the New Mass becomes the priest’s main interaction with the laity—his one outlet for creativity. But the saintly priests before Vatican II had to use their gifts and creativity outside of the sacraments to bring people to the sacraments.
The problem now is that the implementation of the new Mass will never be able to keep up with the entertainment of evangelical “Mega Churches” with which both are geared. So, we will continue to lose Catholics to those communities until we return to the roots of Peter and Paul’s way of worship (surely the primitive form of the Tridentine Mass.)
Jesus did establish the Mass when He said “Do this in memory of me.” To be sure, this is the most important work of the priest, but how can it make a man a good priest if he does nothing ex opere operantis for the salvation for souls? Nowadays, many priests who only offer the Mass will be honored by diocese-wide parties for being great pastors, simply for having never rocked the boat.
But if priests don’t step up to the altar for leadership-based teaching, then the Holy Spirit will still raise up heroic young families who will demonstrate leadership (governance) and teaching (also a duty of the priesthood.) Thus, we have the concessionary but powerful work of FOCUS, FMC, Endow, Totus Tuus, 40 days for life and the Augustine Institute.
Still, it is a trick of Satan to make people think of the priest as a magician who simply transforms things. This error misses the truth that the sacraments are sacraments of faith, and we will not see the Catholic Church rejuvenate until priests are ordained to do all three munera of the priesthood, for Jesus asked His priests to do more than the sacraments a few times a week:
- “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22)
- “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” (Matthew 10:8)
- “Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:20)
Notice those verbs include a lot more words than confect and absolve. A hypersacramental view has no place in the Gospel. Even the Council of Trent explains that faith must be demonstrated before the sacraments are administered. If we don’t return to teaching and exorcising, it could be the end of the priesthood!
But we know this won’t happen because Christ’s promise will come true again: The Church will have priests of fatherhood and orders with leadership, perhaps looking something like the old orders of ransom. I’d encourage any young man reading this to obediently ask his superior (bishop or religious order superior) if, upon ordination, he will be allowed to exercise all three munera of Canon Law (teach, sanctify and govern.) The young man should then respectfully ask his superior or bishop if he’ll stick behind him when he is persecuted for hard teachings. If not, then know, young man, that you may possibly do more for Christ’s kingdom as a celibate contemplative or even as a husband and father who—at least—is allowed to teach his own children.