On the one hand, as everyone knows, these have been tough years for all of us who love the Church. Even when I entered the Society, and all the more so by the time of ordination, a fierce argument was well under way about change and tradition. As young seminarians in the 1970s, we didn't create this controversy, we were introduced into an argument fashioned and fueled by our elders. All these years, I've felt the heat of the charge that to be a priest is to be part of a clerical, overbearing hierarchy; and I've also felt the sting of those who seem eager to blame priests for changing as the Church changes, living our vocations in the Church as it actually is.
Every day too, we are called to account by good Catholics who tell us that they are called to ordination by God, even if not invited to the altar by the Church: the married, the gay, and most importantly women, each reminding us that "being a priest" stands alongside "being barred from priesthood." And then there is the sexual abuse scandal, both the crimes of individual priests and the handling of those crimes by bishops. Not a good time to be a priest.
On the other hand, I've always found being a priest a matter of being called, a vocation, a matter of deeper joy. When I was 15, God called me to be a priest, and soon enough thereafter I answered the call, and here I am, 35 years a Jesuit, 25 years a priest. It has worked, I am blessed to be able to live this way of life. The world, the Church, the priests, me - we are all imperfect, we keep making a mess of this, we can spoil the gift - yet the fact remains that God really does call, God insists, and somehow we find ways of listening to God. I have been grateful for the terrible and wonderful life of a priest - alone, lonely, yet ever among new friends - plus all the small moments where I have loved and been loved, the opportunities to gather with communities in prayer, the experience of how the Word of God somehow speaks forth in the stark, simple words that happen when we preach honestly. God's call keeps giving me life, helping me to make the connections.
Being a priest is obviously something that occurs within the Church, but it is also the matter of finding a place in the world, inside and outside the university. For example, my study of Hinduism over the past 30 years hasn't been simply a question of professional expertise. It has also been about being a Catholic priest who travels through Hindu worlds - visiting Hindu holy places, observing sacred rites and the priests who perform those rites, learning Hindu wisdom, seeing the holiness of so many amazing women and men. Over and again, I've been shown my priesthood anew in the mirror of Hindu ways of life, as I've learned from sisters and brothers in another faith tradition how to follow Christ more deeply and to speak in Christ's name.
Would I recommend priesthood to a young person today? Yes, of course. It is still a life that is good, beautiful, joyful. I recommend it to young men, and also to young women willing to wait patiently while also making their voices heard ever more loudly. For if we are to be priests, we need to keep listening to God and to one another, even if we do not always know how to respond. The worst thing would be to say no to God's call, as if to wait for a better time. Right now is our time, as God insists that right now we can be God's priests.
-Fr. Clooney is a professor in the Theology Department
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