Saturday, March 26, 2011

Why Priests? Answers Guided by the Teaching of Benedict XVI

By Paul Josef Cardinal Cordes, 204 pages, Sceptor Publishers.

The priest acts "in persona Christi." This heavy responsibility has many related issues that Cardinal Cordes investigates. He emphasizes the Christ-centered nature of the priesthood. Christ makes the priest; the ordained man does nothing of his own accord.

The "power" of the priesthood, a sacramental power, is bestowed at ordination and is the power of Christ. With this cultic view of the priesthood, Cordes opposes the sociological view of pastoral ministry he has seen in the Church since Vatican II.

In the sociological practice, pastoral teams and pastoral areas consist "of priests, pastoral assistants, and other laity. The result is administration according to a sociological model. The delegation of pastoral care to 'experts' reduces the chance of arousing or promoting faith among the community through personal contacts, personal witness, and greater trust. "

This sidelines the importance of the sacraments and emphasizes the therapeutic aspect of Christian life, according to Cordes, who argues strongly for greater emphasis on the sacramental role of priests without putting these men on a pedestal and thus placing a barrier between them and the laity.

Rather than psychological or counseling roles, the priest above all, through his sacramental office and his close relationship to Christ, works for the spiritual welfare of the parishioners. Cordes repeatedly stresses the evangelical character of the priest through this special means. While Vatican II called for evangelization by all Christians, laity included, priests nonetheless play a special part in the spreading of the Gospel.

Priests are part of the hierarchy. While Cordes avoids reducing "the Church" to the ordained and consecrated, he nonetheless values the importance of hierarchy and its hardworking members. All religious life has at its base authority.

He writes, for instance: "That theology exists at all is only by virtue of the fact that its truths are able to break into the closed circle of our own thought."

Theology, like the priesthood itself, plays a spiritual rather than therapeutic or psychological role in our lives. This spiritual role demands that the priest have a special relationship with Christ. The priest is above all a man of Christ, totally consecrated to the Lord.

Again, Cordes rejects a sociological view of organizations or leadership, and emphasizes the spiritual nature of the priesthood: "Being a presbyter receives its decisive quality not in the activities he performs as part of his ministry, but in the priest's subordination to Christ."

When we remember this Christocentric nature of the priesthood, we avoid a "utilitarian" view of priests whereby they are merely functionaries carrying out a canonical task such as marrying a couple according to Church law. When we keep in mind the sacramental dimension of the priest's work, the full sacramental meaning of marriage is clear. The priest is not just used as part of a nice, postcard wedding.

The Christocentric notion of the priesthood also emphasizes that it is Christ, and not the community, that creates priests. The ordained man is anchored firstly in Christ, not the community. Cordes, not surprisingly, therefore also rejects a utilitarian relationship between the priest and Christ.

The ordained man is a priest in his very being, and not simply because he has a parish function to undertake.

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