Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Priesthood now and then

This week's INM Irish regional newspapers' column.

Michael Commane.
Finbar was ordained a priest in the late 1960s. With a name like that he was of course from Cork, a scholarship boy from the CBS at Sullivan's Quay.

Some short few years after priestly ordination he was sent to the Irish Dominican mission in Argentina. Back then he was a tall, highly intelligent young man, who after a short time in the country, spoke fluent Spanish.

His prior in the community was a quiet man who was not inclined to be confrontational, at least in an open and face-to-face manner. Finbar, went against a rule in the  diocese, forbidding priest to grow beards, and grew one. 

His prior was not happy with what he did but was unable to suggest to him that he cut it off. Instead he spoke to the local bishop and some time later when the bishop was visiting the community he suggested to Finbar that he shave off his beard.

Finbar, who was a fine rugby player, was much taller than the bishop. As soon as the bishop made his suggestion, Finbar glared down at him and in perfect Spanish, albeit with a heavy Cork accent, said: "you might be my bishop but you're not my barber".

I heard that story a long time ago but every time I tell it or hear someone telling it I can do nothing but laugh.

Maybe in the last 40 years I have met Finbar on four occasions. I'm told he became a lawyer in the United States, married an East German woman and is now living in Germany.

When he set out for Argentina he was insistent on brining his guitar with him.

He was an inspirational sort of man and I greatly admired him. Also, he could be so funny. In different circumstance, under different rules he could have been a fabulous priest. But it wasn't to be. And that was and is sad.

That was more or less the story of many young men who joined priesthood in the 1960s and '70s

And then within 10 to 20 years of ordination many of them left priesthood. But while they were there they certainly left their mark.

They gave the impression that they rolled up their sleeves, got dug in and were there with the people, on their side, fighting their case, all the time in solidarity with them, and especially with the poor and the marginalised.

Vocations to the sisterhood and priesthood tapered off, numbers declined. Then came the horror of the clerical child sex abuse, the cover-ups and the unending institutional church faux-pass.

Pope John Paul II ruled the church with a certain style of iron-fist.

And in this mix of turmoil and 'clerical austerity' a new style of men offered themselves for priesthood.

They are completely different in style and manner than the Finbars of the 1960s. Most of them don't carry guitars but do wear roman collars. They are definite about being orthodox to 'Mother Church'. They are 'pious' in a way that seems odd to me.

Is that what happens from generation to generation? I don't know. But I'm certainly glad that I belong to my generation. I would never have been able to hang in under the current dispensation.

And they certainly, the men of the new generation, would never have tolerated me. A badge of honour? Quietly, I say yes. But I may be completely wrong. Who knows, who ever knows?

No doubt Pope Francis dealt with many Finbars in South America. I wonder what he thinks of the new breed of priest?

A funny old world indeed.


Póló said...

Pope Francis, in his earlier years, would not have approved of Finbar.

In his later years he would have embraced him.


Karen said...

The younger generation who are so disillusioned with the Church would relate better to Finbar than some of the holier than holy Priests these days who chose to lecture and dictate rather than guide and lead.

I hate to give you ego and even bigger boost but it goes without saying that indeed that is why so many of the younger generation in your previous role found you so approachable - not just about matters of God but also every day life.

Deirdre Duff said...

Notwithstanding the risk of making your bike helmet no longer fit - I second what Karen says :-)

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