Who is Entitled to Speak the Message of the Lord? – 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Source: CRSC

There is a parallel between today’s reading from Numbers and the Gospel reading from Mark. Joshua begged Moses to order Eldad and Medad to stop prophesying. Moses rebuked Joshua, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were Prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

Meanwhile, in the Gospel, we hear John say to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” Jesus ordered John to not stop him. “Whoever is not against us is for us.”

Behind both scripture passages is an assumption that it is only certain voices and players who are given credence as prophetic or as healers. Both Moses and Jesus recognize that many individuals, not just those who follow their way of proceeding, are able to be effective. However, their companions seem to be threatened by outsiders who are doing good things.

How familiar that sounds! We live in a Church that can be so firm in its regulations about who can engage in certain ministries, especially ordained ministry. Many factors have been the focus of blame for the mess the church is in at this time. Clericalism is at the top of many lists.

We can ordain women or married men, but not much will change until we root out the sin of clericalism.  Pope Francis regularly singles out this sin as a major threat to the Church.

Clericalism is a false respect and esteem for clergy. I know and understand clericalism from the bottom of my heart. I have been a victim of a kind of excessive deference and acquiescence in others. I don’t think that I live my life or speak in a way that leads to clericalism and I often try to act in a very un-clerical manner.

However, there is no doubt that many clerics almost seem to be aiming to act clerical, basically behaving as if they are above the people in the pews. They have no qualms about taking the places of honour and being escorted to the front of the food line. They feel that they deserve it. Clericalism is very deeply imbedded in Catholics. We almost feel ashamed if we don’t give “Father” respect.

Pope Francis points out that clericalism can be a sin for both clergy and laity: for clergy, if they demand to be treated as superior to the laity; and for laity, if they resign themselves to the status quo and shirk the responsibilities proper to their own vocation as baptized Christians.

In his homily on December 13, 2016, he said, “There is that spirit of clericalism in the Church, that we feel: clerics feel superior; clerics distance themselves from the people. Clerics always say: ‘this should be done like this, like this, like this, and you – go away!’” It happens “when the cleric doesn’t have time to listen to those who are suffering, the poor, the sick, the imprisoned: the evil of clericalism is a really awful thing; it is a new edition of this ancient evil [of the religious ‘authorities’ lording it over others].” But “the victim is the same: the poor and humble people, who await the Lord.”

As Francis says, this attitude is an ancient evil. And it is certainly not confined to the Church. The Church cannot legislate it out of existence. We cannot be forced to turn from clerical ways. It’s a daily and gradual shift in attitude. Unfortunately, it takes crises to rid ourselves of the clerical attitude.

Meanwhile, we probably need to loosen our concepts of who can do certain things. Moses had a point: “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were Prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

This is also the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. We have posted on this theme many times. Alas! The urgency of the plight of those looking for a safe home intensifies with each new political and ecological crisis.

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

  • Peggy Spencer
    Posted at 01:32h, 26 September Reply

    Another brilliant article! This has really helped me to understand just exactly what clericalism really is. It’s just been around for too long as Pope Francis says and once again, the ‘windows’ need to be thrown wide open allowing fresh air, thoughts and actions by both the clergy and laity to be refreshed. Thank you, Philip.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 07:10h, 26 September Reply

    Thank you Philip!

  • Dan Leckman
    Posted at 08:45h, 26 September Reply

    Dearest Philip, I really appreciate your treatment of clericalism in the Church. I certainly have seen this evil rampant in my lifetime as a Jesuit, and it always warms my heart to hear priest name this evil and criticize it. Blessings on your un-clerical way of proceeding!

  • Pauline Mary Theresa Lally
    Posted at 12:11h, 26 September Reply

    Thank you and Francis for calling it a sin.

  • David St Amand
    Posted at 12:20h, 26 September Reply

    My introduction to clericalism came as a child in a 1940’s traditional Irish/Canadian family. I expected clerics to be superhuman; many operated that way. As novices we were cautioned to have limited contact with ‘externs’ – we were somehow superior. Your article brings perspective. Thank-you

  • Esther Gilbert
    Posted at 13:50h, 26 September Reply

    Yes, Philip, brilliant!
    Thank you. Clericalism is apparent in other groups of religious people as well. We need to hear the Spirit even in the people on the other side of our walls.
    And the US policies are slow to lean away from the last government but how can I help to tip it towards a new direction, away from what we’ve known but not just that, towards an altogether new direction?

    So please, Philip, keep writing; keep us new

  • suzanne renaud
    Posted at 17:14h, 26 September Reply

    Thank you for this essay on clericalism … a reminder to me that it still exists. However, I can always tell when you have written an article because your essays are inspirational. I truly respect religious because you spend your whole life working on the word of God in mind and spirit without losing perspective of the “here and now”. I think you are like a shepherd … guiding us … to help us deepen our spirituality. I appreciate your perspectives on various topics as it usually reflects the gospels and what Jesus expects of us.
    Thank you for your clarity and humility.

  • Jenny Cafiso
    Posted at 21:27h, 30 September Reply

    Thank you Philip for your honest and courageous treatment of this topic which is often put under the rug. Clericalism is based on abuse or misunderstanding of power and those in power don’t want to talk about it!!

    all of us both lay and religious are guilty of allowing clericalism to flourish.

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