Friday, May 14, 2010

A Priest Forever: Nine Signs of Renewal and Hope

By Alfred McBride, 117 pages, SAMPBooks.

McBride's simple, straightforward book aims to show the beauty of the Eucharist, Reconciliation, celibacy, Marian devotion, and chaste human sexuality that form the bedrock of the Catholic priesthood.

The humble power of the priesthood comes from the work of Christ. A priest has a special relationship with the Lord, as reflected in the Last Supper, which Jesus spent with his first priests. McBride notes, Jesus "called them his friends, he shared his divine life with them and shared with them the first truths of revelation of the new covenant."

A priest's identity and calling come from this close relationship with Jesus. Rather than deprivation, celibacy is about love: loving Jesus above all with an "undivided heart," which the priest also offers his parishioners.

The important chapter on chastity helps remove the usual misunderstandings that Catholics and non-Catholics often have regarding this calling. Celibacy, McBride notes from the Catholic Catechism, "means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being."

This leads to an important discussion on the contrast this presents with the secular, sex-saturated world. McBride notes how interesting it is that our permissive culture seems to have a real problem with priestly celibacy. Interesting because in a North American population in the hundreds of millions, the celibacy of not even 70,000 celibate priests seems constantly to pose a problem for the public.

Hence the prophetic role of the priest: His celibacy and undivided, chaste living serves as a reminder that the Church offers an alternative to the pornographic culture.

Perhaps a greater development of the need for virility and manliness in the priesthood – even a whole new chapter to deal with this! - would have capped off an excellent discussion.

McBride does show the manly, heroic intervention of St. Maximillian Kolbe, who gave his life at Auschwitz so that another, a husband and father, could live. Throughout the book, McBride reminds the reader of the unmistakable identity that Kolbe had of himself, an identity that came purely from his priesthood. When the Nazi guard asked who he was, St. Maximillian answered "I am a Catholic priest," rather than responding with his nationality or name.

Priests live heroically, McBride observes, when they know exactly who they are, and then live out this identity. This issue is so important because of what he calls the "assault on priestly identity from 1965 to the present." Again, McBride sees these difficulties as a call to manliness, and reminds the reader of the harsh travails of St. Paul, including imprisonment and torture.

At this point, McBride again counters the nonsense from mainstream culture, in this case its pop-psychology, therapeutic way of seeing religion and spirituality. "A priest is more than an enabler and facilitator." "Enabler" and "facilitator" were catchwords of liberal Catholic and Protestant seminaries for decades, often used in opposition to the cultic notion of the priesthood.

Throughout A Priest Forever McBride emphasizes this cultic meaning, putting the Eucharist at the center of the priest's existence: "No priest without the Eucharist, no Eucharist without the priest."

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