Marking the closing of the Year for Priests, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York gave a keynote address at an Irish bishops' seminar, where he reflected on the recently surfaced clerical abuse cases within the Irish Church and exhorted priests to be “grounded” in humility.
Archbishop Dolan was named a member of the Apostolic Visitation to the Church in Ireland on May 31 and has been tapped to work along with the Congregation for Catholic Education in examining centers of priestly formation, including the Irish College in Rome.
The archbishop made his remarks on the crisis within the Irish Church last Thursday at a seminar co-hosted by the Irish Bishops' Conference and Saint Patrick's College in Maynooth in honor of the upcoming closing of the Year for Priests.
In his address titled “God is the only treasure people desire to find in a priest,” Archbishop Dolan underscored the importance of priests being grounded in humility, rooted in holiness and more concerned with their identity as “being” fathers rather than “doing” numerous administrative tasks effectively.
Opening his remarks by referencing the clerical abuse cases that occurred within the country in years past, the New York prelate said, “I stand before you no guru or expert, no acclaimed theologian or renowned mystic.”
“I am hardly some 'know-it-all-Yankee' here to lecture you on how-you-got-into-or-how-to-get-out-of-the current crisis you are in, ‘cause I don’t know.”
Rather, he added, “I stand before you simply as a man who loves being a priest, and who loves to talk
about this love of his life with others kind enough to ask him about it.”
During his remarks, the archbishop spoke on how the clerical sex abuse crisis has called the Church to fall “on her knees in prayer” and to be “grounded” in humility. “What both are exhorting is that we priests recapture holiness,” he explained.
“God is the only treasure people desire to find in a priest,” he reiterated, saying that “as the philosophers remind us, Nemo dat quod non habet – no one gives what one does not have.”
“If priests are expected to give God, we better have Him – and that’s sanctity, holiness.”
This holiness, explained the prelate, is friendship and intimacy with Jesus. Quoting theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, Archbishop Dolan likened the priesthood to the Eucharist, saying that “Jesus takes us, blesses us, breaks us, and gives us.”
“Taking and blessing we can live with! Breaking and giving? Well, that’s another matter! What we’re talking about here is humility. What we’re talking about is the oblative dimension of the priesthood.”
In addition to priests needing to be “holy” and “humble,” they need to be “aware of their identity,” Archbishop Dolan said.
“Priesthood is not, first and foremost, something we do,” he underlined, “but someone we are.”
“The late, great John Paul II went hoarse teaching us that the priesthood is a dramatic, radical reordering of a man’s very life, his soul, his heart, his identity,” he noted, “and that we’re much better off looking at fathers and husbands for metaphors of priesthood than we are at professions.”
“When you think about it, Jesus much preferred the 'being' words to the 'do' words, didn’t He? Did He summon us to plan with Him? To organize with Him? To write strategic plans with Him? To draw up mission statements with Him? To work out with Him? To write job descriptions with Him?
“Jesus preferred being to having and doing,” the prelate stressed. “Not, to be sure, because doing, actions, ministry, service were not important, but because, unless what we do flows from who we are, we’re shallow, empty functionaries.”
“To those who wonder if holiness, humility and identity are a 'pollyannaish' ignoring of deep psychological turmoil in the priesthood,” he added, “as a matter of fact, holiness means wholeness, and wholeness means integrity, and a man of integrity hardly abuses our youth or overlooks the crimes of those who do.”