Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Open Handed Comes the Gauntlet: In Persona Krusty

Recently, I was privy to Fr. Hamilton's hijinks at his parish's fundraising carnival. Namely, Fr. Hamilton took an extra long turn in the dunk tank to the squeals of delight from child and adult parishioners alike. Then, he permitted himself to have spray-in highlights added to his hair. I believe the colors were electric green, orange, and red. The odor the hair color generated was so foul it made me choke. I am not kidding. It was so bad he had to stand upwind from me.

Initially I was going to post pictures of this event, captured by his school's principal, but I have decided not to. This is not virtuous (if it had been a matter of virtue, it would have gone unmentioned). It is the matter that I erased the inbound email which contained them. Go figure. I was going to post them to force Fr. Hamilton to return to blogging. As he threatened at a recent meeting, "I am not blogging until you post those pictures." Now, I don't have them so I guess his Herod-like demand will return the blog fully to my influence. Ah, the power mongering.

There was another reason I was going to post these pictures. I eavesdropped on the comments made to Fr. H about this little display and needless to say, it left me depressed. For all of Fr. H's excellent work, for all his training and experience in Rome, for all that Fr. H does to promote and incarnate the Catholic Faith, that his being thrown in a dunk tank and an amazing technocolor hairdo is what makes them "like" Father Hamilton.

From what I gathered, people don't want priests who live and hold themselves to the standard of living "in persona Christi." They want guys who model the life "in persona Krusty."

This is why I steer clear from things like that, dunk tanks and such. My constant battle for virtue, and let's be frank, my frequent failures in the battle, give me more than ample opportunity to denigrate my priestly identity without behaving unnecessarily silly. Granted, most people know that humor and outrage form a large piece of my teaching style, but I would like to believe that is only the icebreaker to getting people to understand the idea, rather than any reflection upon me. If I am wrong, then that is a matter for my spiritual director. While it is perfectly acceptable to have fun and jest and the like, a priest must always aim a little higher. A priest must always ask himself: "Would I accept this behavior from someone who came to confession?" "What if my behavior leads them astray?" "Am I doing something which might suggest that the priesthood is not a holy and honorable vocation given by God?"

A priest has a mighty task to perform, to re-present Christ and to do that faithfully, often in contradiction to what the world might want or expect. And I realize that some of you are going to say that sounds harsh. Fine. It's harsh, but it's a fact. But isn't this sort of higher standard exactly what many pious Catholics complain about when it's not manifested during Mass? Action arises from identity. When one is clear about one's identity, then it changes how one acts. For example, if a married man, even gives the impression of flirting with some other woman, then he has shamed his wife. Again, yes, some of this might be perception; it isn't his intention neither flirt nor shame, but that's the outcome. A priest is able to act in the person of Christ the head, as teacher, governor, and sanctifier, because it is his identity, an identity rooted in a sacramental reality. So, yes, while many people want a priest they can "relate to" and a priest should strive make sure he erects no barriers against members of the Church, especially in parochial ministry, this means that a priest must take care not to pander to a congregation.

Unlike other posts, where I have jested to get Fr. H to post, I am being very serious. I have thought about this for many years now whenever I would see similar scenes played out. While a parish carnival and the parish's Sunday Mass are two different things, there is the danger of forgetting for a moment that there is no vacation from vocation, and what one does with his time reflects upon that.

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