I recently had to visit a consultant about the osteoarthritis in my hands.
He was a Catholic and said something that made me think:
“I treat a lot of priests of your vintage who have arthritis in the hands from getting their hands stuck into on the ground pastoral work”.
It made me think back.
During my five years as a curate in St. Peter’s Cathedral – in the midst of a woefully deprived area, I did use my hands a lot.
As the founding chairman of the Divis Resident’s Association, I organised a major cleanup of the area involving myself and the parishioners sweeping streets, filling skips with rubbish, washing walls and painting them.
In other ways, in places like the youth club and schools, and holiday trips, you got stuck in very physically as well.
And I wasn’t the only one doing it. There were others in Belfast like Father Matt Wallace RIP and Father Paddy McWilliams who were quite happy to get their hands dirty.
And others like Fr Des Wilson, Belfast and Father McDyer of Donegal.
We saw ourselves as servants of the parishioners and not superior to them and if they got tired and dirty we got tired and dirty with them.
The modern priest seems to be a totally different character.
He is obsessed about his status as ontologically changed.
He is dressed in more black than an undertaker and wears a collar the size of a surgical collar.
He wants to say Mass in Latin wearing tons of brocade, gold leaf and lace.
If you want to see him you must make an appointment to see him with the parish secretary.
All my life, until this say, Ive had no secretary and I’m available 24/7.
People in crisis dont need an appointment. They need instant access to their pastor – even if it is at 3 am.
My days in parishes, apart from Mass and the Sacraments, revolved around school visitation morning and afternoon and the youth club in the evening.
And there was time for fun having a pint with the youth leaders after 9.30 pm in a social club – where it was also normal for me to be approached about issues or to hear a Confession.
These younger guys spend their spare time, of which there’s a lot, visiting other Latin queens, drinking pink gin, pouring over vestment catalogues – thats when they are not having gay sex with each other or visiting cruising spots and saunas.
They will never have osteoarthritis in their manicured and moisturised hands.
I remember an old London lady telling me about his former PP the later Cardinal John Heenan. He was never off the streets and out of the homes of his parishioners in the East End. When he sat down in homes parishioners noticed holes in the soles of his shoes.
There are so few examples of real priests now among the under 40s.
Seminaries and dioceses are now full of pansy clerics who never did a day’s work in their lives, dont really believe, never pray but just enjoy posing on clerical pedestals.
The priesthood, more than ever needs:
Pastors not dictators.
Adults, not teenagers that never grew up.
Men more concerned about changing the lot of their not parishioners, not the ontologically changed obsessives.
Priests on streets, priests in homes, priests in food banks.
Upstarts and snobs dressed as Victorian clergymen.