The Priesthood Is For Real Men

by Angela Batie

As often happens, a student recently came into my office wanting to direct me to a YouTube video. This time, though, it wasn’t a video of a person mimicking of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” dance moves or a tribute to the four main chords in pop music. Instead, it was the priesthood recruiting video from the Secretariat for Vocations and Priestly Formation at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Fishers of Men.”

The student, male and discerning the priesthood, told me it was “so cool” and almost moved him to tears. Later, a female student would also ask, “Hey, have you seen ‘Fishers of Men’? It almost makes me want to be a priest.” The video is a professionally-done montage of images and interview snippets are spliced together with a tribute-like story of Pope John Paul II and a dramatic re-enactment of a priest giving the Sacrament of the Sick at a car accident. The soundtrack starts with solemn chant at the beginning and builds to a frenzied, rhythmic cadence, clearly meant to create emotional intensity in the viewer.

I couldn’t take it, and I had to stop watching partway through. I found myself trying to understand my strong reaction. Certainly, I felt pain at exclusion from the vocation to the priesthood, but that’s become a familiar sensation for me. I think what bothered me more was that the vision of priesthood being presented is not how I understand and value priesthood. There was such emphasis on the hierarchical aspect of it with images of elaborate vestments, monstrances held high, and a focus on the role of the pope. The macho images of army chaplains presiding to camouflaged congregations were reinforced with the statement that, “You have to be a real man if you want to become a priest.”

Yet, the priests that have been most inspiring to me haven’t really embodied these qualities. They’ve been deeply humble, more likely to be clothed during Mass in the starry night of an outdoor retreat than in expensive vestments. They seem more likely to find the real presence of Christ in the poor among us than encased in a bejeweled monstrance. They find Church in the people of the community, not just its administrative structures.

I fear I’m in a minority in these thoughts. The comments on the YouTube page are filled with affirmations of the video, and two young women share their aspirations to join a religious order – in part because they “love the habit!” Critical comments were quickly pounced upon and removed from the site – no space for dialogue here.

How is it that the things that make me love being Catholic seem so different from the things that others think are the cornerstones of Catholic identity? If this is the direction we are moving, will I even recognize my Church in 30 years? Or, is there beauty in the fact that the Church is broad enough to hold us all?

Angela Batie is a campus minister, which has shaken her from her luddite ways.  She has been known to engage in pastoral care via google chat or facebook messages.


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