“A Youth Movement in the Priesthood”

You may recall that in late January we offered the perspectives of three diocesan officials sharing their experiences working with young clergy. More than 80 of you joined the conversation, commenting on the post and it has sparked discussion elsewhere.

This past weekend, the Minneapolis Star Tribune offered a different perspective, from columnist Katherine Kersten. The piece from Kersten, senior fellow at the Center of the American Experiment, profiled a number of newly ordained clergy from throughout the Archdiocese of St. Paul – Minneapolis. She writes:

These twenty-something priests — and others like them — are the future face of the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. In an increasingly secular culture, they have their work cut out for them, but they say they are undaunted.

Today, almost 140 young men are discerning the priesthood at St. John Vianney College Seminary at the University of St. Thomas. The St. Paul Seminary has nearly 100 seminarians, who flock here from dioceses around the country.

In many ways, today’s young priests resemble their peers in the millennial generation. They play Ultimate Frisbee, jog, or play the drums. Originally, many aspired to become professionals, such as architects or accountants. But in the end they chose not an occupation but a vocation — a comprehensive way of life. Their wholehearted desire to challenge the prevailing culture, and their vow of celibacy, mark them as cultural radicals.

One of the priests Kersten interviewed was 27-year-old Kevin Manthey.

The Rev. Kevin Manthey, 27, of St. Stephen’s Church in Anoka is a former teenage garage-band drummer who still plays in his rectory basement. He keeps the words of Pope John Paul II on his office wall to remind him of this mission:

“Do not be afraid to go out on the streets and into public places, like the first Apostles who preached Christ and the Good News of salvation in the squares of cities, towns and villages. This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel. It is the time to preach it from the rooftops.”

Read Kersten’s entire column here.

31 comments

  1. Great article, very encouraging for the future of the church. We need quality priests, but in order to maintain our sacramental system we also need a quantity of priests. Even if we doubled the number of seminarians and doubled it again, it would still fall short of the number we need to staff parishes.

  2. The story is wonderful and optimistic. I hope they start distributing the water to other places as well!

    In my last diocese we held a special Mass each year as seminarians left to return to their schools; we peaked at 7. And in ten years, a grand total of two men were ordained. At my parish, our pastor mentioned that at 46 he was the third youngest priest in the diocese. His two part-time assistants were 75 and 80.

  3. But if they’re “out for souls not social change,” maybe they should read Catholic Social Teaching… and everything Jesus says in the Gospels about the reign of God!
    awr

    1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #3:

      And yet the Gospels are clear Jesus did not start a movement with the primary purpose of social change. Which is indeed why he speaks of the Kingdom of God, rather than a reformed kingdom of Israel or Judah, which were the focus of other messianic claimants during his time.

      Social change, even in the most developed form of Catholic Social Doctrine (and it is doctrine), is the result of people living out a Christian life in their political dealings. But it is not the primary work of evangelisation – The kerygma comes first.

      Otherwise we fall into the error Pope Francis has identified with the anti-abortion / gays etc crowd. The Gospel is not firstly about ethics, even social ethics. Personal and social ethics follow the Gospel, not proceed it.

      Ultimately, if we make Christians, social change will follow. Otherwise we will have neither Christians or social change.

      1. @Scott Smith (#5): +1

        The salvation of souls is the supreme law in the Church (cf. can. 1752). Social change in and of itself isn’t going to get anyone to heaven, and I’d say we need more people who, before anything else, take seriously the personal nature of the “universal call to holiness” (cf. LG 39-42; St John Paul II, Novo millenio ineunte, 30-41). We ourselves have to begin to be changed by God’s grace before we can even think about changing society effectively!

      2. @Scott Smith – comment #5:
        Perhaps the difference here is not so much the order in which evangelization proceeds but the dimensions in which it operates. Paul VI in Evangelii nuntiandi spoke of evangelizing society and its structures. It is not either/or but both/and.

        I would agree with Anthony that a serious and unwarranted negative imputation is made by crowing that someone is “after souls” and NOT after “social change.” The idealization of a purely individualistic notion of evangelization and mission is not new, but it’s not right either.

        Jesus didn’t start a political party, true. But it would be misleading to say Jesus didn’t champion social change and was only “after souls.” The Holy Spirit continues to guide us into truth which includes the truth about social arrangements in new ages, but even the examples of the actions of Jesus in the gospel all have social implications. “Suffer the little children to come unto me” was a socially significant statement; healing on the Sabbath was a socially significant gesture; teaching the Beatitudes was a socially radical proposal. It’s obvious that human beings have to carry out the implications of the social agenda of Jesus. But this involves change, social change. To be uninterested in this is to be immature in Christian vision.

        I’m all in favor of Gospel and kerygma. But if the good news is announced and “accepted” without recognizing that you are buying into a new social reality, it’s discernibly NOT a genuine conversion.

      3. @Rita Ferrone – comment #8:

        I would agree with Anthony that a serious and unwarranted negative imputation is made by crowing that someone is “after souls” and NOT after “social change.”

        But the question is not one of denying the need for social change, and it is an unfounded and uncharitable assumption to read into the young priest’s comments.

        This is a both/and matter. But that leaves the question of order and emphasis. And on this point the young priest is right – Catholic social change can only be a function of saving souls, who can then evangelize society and its structures.

        Setting out to change society to be more consistent with our social teaching, without first converting souls, means we will fail to achieve the desire social change. Because we will not have changed hearts.

        We are not a political party, or the secular NGO that Pope Francis warns against. Our first mission is the Gospel and kerygma, and only from that mission can true social change be achieved.

        The social justice activists and the pro life activists are alike in their error here. We don’t convert hearts and souls to Christ by improved social or personal morality. Converted hearts and souls however live out a more Christ-like life in both the social and personal spheres.

      4. @Scott Smith – comment #9:
        Oh, but I wasn’t reading into the young priest’s statement, much less being uncharitable, I am only interpreting the presentation of the author of the article, and your own statements.

        You’ve only reasserted here your initial contention about the priority of “converting souls.” I’m sure you are convinced of the position you are presenting, but that’s not an argument for it. My critique of the individualist presumption of that statement stands. Souls don’t exist in a vacuum. I am suggesting you can’t have real conversion without concern for the social implications of the gospel: both/and throughout, not prior and post, first and second. You seem to think there is a fixed and immutable order to this with personal conversion first and only then implications for social order. This is plainly not true. Many, many people are drawn to the gospel only because they see the social consequences by means of witnesses who live a certain way, and then become receptive to the kerygma. Paul VI has a poignant reflection on this in EN. Their “silent” witness “stirs up questions. Why do they live this way?” etc. The opposite of the order you are suggesting.

      5. @Rita Ferrone – comment #10:
        <

        Souls don’t exist in a vacuum.

        I would never say that they do, and nor have I here. Salvation has a very definite communal aspect.

        You seem to think there is a fixed and immutable order to this with personal conversion first and only then implications for social order. This is plainly not true. Many, many people are drawn to the gospel only because they see the social consequences by means of witnesses who live a certain way, and then become receptive to the kerygma. Paul VI has a poignant reflection on this in EN. Their “silent” witness “stirs up questions. Why do they live this way?” etc. The opposite of the order you are suggesting.

        Again, this is to make the same error as the “right wing” non-negotiables. Pro-life witness can play precisely the same role in conversion. It did in mine. I sat watching my child in the womb via an ultrasound, knowing in my heart of hearts she was already a person.

        And the question arose in the back of my mind, if the Church stands almost alone in being right about that, what else might she be right about?

        But does not mean being pro-life or related matters should be our first mission. I think we all recognise the problems which flow from such a focus. And all the same issues arise from making social justice our first mission – Just a different side of the same coin.

        I am suggesting you can’t have real conversion without concern for the social implications of the gospel: both/and throughout, not prior and post, first and second.

        Well, firstly, that is to suggest a conversion must be all or nothing right from the start. Not against abortion? Not a real conversion. Contraception, divorce, miracles, real presence, all male priesthood, prayers for the dead, the place of Mary, the trinity etc etc etc – Same thing.

        I don’t think that is realistic. We first accept Christ, have faith in the living God, and then his grace and teachings start working more fruitfully on us. Some we might accept from our prior life, which is great, but the whole package can only follow not precede. Our conversion is in accepting the things we would not think or do anyway, not the stuff we already agree with for other reasons.

        Secondly, there is an order, because the Gospels show us the order. First Jesus asks us to follow him, and later shares his ethical urgency. First Jesus saves a community of souls, and then makes it clear that is more important than worldly improvement.

        And if we reverse those priorities, against the teaching and example of Jesus, I think it is clear we are not following Jesus.

      6. @Rita Ferrone – comment #8:
        Of course there is no contradiction between the desire for the conversion of “souls” and for social change. In fact, as Pope Leo XIII points out in Rerum Novarum, the two are intimately linked:

        “Neither must it be supposed that the solicitude of the Church is so preoccupied with the spiritual concerns of her children as to neglect their temporal and earthly interests. Her desire is that the poor, for example, should rise above poverty and wretchedness, and better their condition in life; and for this she makes a strong endeavour. By the fact that she calls men to virtue and forms them to its practice she promotes this in no slight degree. Christian morality, when adequately and completely practiced, leads of itself to temporal prosperity, for it merits the blessing of that God who is the source of all blessings; it powerfully restrains the greed of possession and the thirst for pleasure-twin plagues, which too often make a man who is void of self-restraint miserable in the midst of abundance;(23) it makes men supply for the lack of means through economy, teaching them to be content with frugal living, and further, keeping them out of the reach of those vices which devour not small incomes merely, but large fortunes, and dissipate many a goodly inheritance.”

      7. @Fr RIchard Duncan CO – comment #16:

        Of course there is no contradiction between the desire for the conversion of “souls” and for social change.

        Indeed not, and Pope Leo’s words are very wise. Moreover, his understanding of from where Christian social change flows is profound. In Rerum Novarum, prefacing the remarks you quote, he states:

        Civil society was renovated in every part by Christian institutions; that in the strength of that renewal the human race was lifted up to better things … Of this beneficent transformation Jesus Christ was at once the first cause and the final end; as from Him all came, so to Him was all to be brought back. For, when the human race, by the light of the Gospel message, came to know the grand mystery of the Incarnation of the Word and the redemption of man, at once the life of Jesus Christ, God and Man, pervaded every race and nation, and interpenetrated them with His faith, His precepts, and His laws. And if human society is to be healed now, in no other way can it be healed save by a return to Christian life and Christian institutions.

        Pope Leo actually makes the point I was trying to communicate much better than I did.

  4. Anthony Ruff, OSB : But if they’re “out for souls not social change,” maybe they should read Catholic Social Teaching… and everything Jesus says in the Gospels about the reign of God! awr

    Amen!

  5. I suspect that few of the new seminarians are getting a thorough Latin education. Regardless of the liturgical form a seminarian prefers, he must know well the language of the Church and its intellectual tradition. The refusal of a bishop and his seminary board to teach Latin, or only provide a paltry year, is a pedagogical malpractice of great order.

    Before someone pipes in with “Latin is too difficult” etc, I tutor two high school students who read Caesar quite well after only two years of intensive instruction. The prejudged assertion that literary Latin is too difficult is merely a smokescreen to discredit its teaching and subsequently the ability of priests to read magisterial and theological texts in the original. A denial of Latin instruction keeps priests from forming their own opinions about texts.

  6. Clearly, discipleship can’t be isolated from the social dimension of our human existence. At the very, very least, discipleship is realized in community, and that community, by the very nature of Christianity, should be a sort of living critique of human society. If Christian discipleship isn’t a different, better way of relating to one another, I don’t know why anyone would wish to be part of it.

    And then there is this business of God’s kingdom, which is already at hand.

    To be sure, these rather self-evident observations don’t necessarily shed light on the priest’s role. There tends to be great admiration for the priest who lives among the workers, who gets arrested for protesting the war, who writes courageous articles for national publications. Those are possibilities, but they aren’t typical for diocesan priests in parish work. My observation of parish pastors is that they address social change by empowering others in their faith community to work for it. They do this through their everyday attendance to word and sacrament, and through the practical means of setting communal priorities and allocating parish resources to this work. There isn’t a lot of romance in that, but it’s necessary labor in the vineyards.

    1. @Jim Pauwels – comment #11:
      Jim, thank you for these remarks. I think you’ve raised some good points about the variety of approaches and opportunities for service that vary from place to place and person to person, as well as being conditioned by the demands of the roles we each have in the Church. The priest’s roles of teaching, sanctifying, and governing can each have an effect on social change, as I see it. I wish more of the church’s governance were exemplary of justice, for example. Certainly preaching and teaching the Kingdom are critical, and blessing and sanctifying the faithful for their mission are indispensable.

  7. (responding to Scott)
    I never said a conversion must be “all or nothing,” I said it must be “both/and.” You don’t seem able to grasp the possibility of organically integrated belief and action unfolding over time.

    I am talking about the human subject in community, and the encounter with Christ as it is incarnated in actual experiences of living, for which some of the neat distinctions you want to make don’t work. This isn’t an error on my part. It’s a way of reflecting that is affirmed in our catechetical documents, papal teaching, and human experience. You seem to be talking about “souls” in the abstract, as though they have no bodies, no communities, no society. This is a disembodied, dualistic approach to the human person.

    I doubt we can get much further, because we are not talking the same language.

    1. @Rita Ferrone – comment #13:

      You don’t seem able to grasp the possibility of organically integrated belief and action unfolding over time.

      I am not sure what you are trying to say here. I am trying to say our belief is in a person, God, and it is that relationship which unfolds over time. Including in respect of our commitment to the social implications of the Gospel.

      I am talking about the human subject in community, and the encounter with Christ as it is incarnated in actual experiences of living, for which some of the neat distinctions you want to make don’t work.

      They are not neat distinction. They are what we choose to emphasize. In practice we do all these things, but in what amounts and in what order matters.

      This isn’t an error on my part. It’s a way of reflecting that is affirmed in our catechetical documents, papal teaching, and human experience.

      Again, I am not denying any of that. I just think we should lead with the Gospel, and not ethics / politics, either personal or social. We should of course do personal and social ethics, and witness to the same, but a proper balance is needed in our public witness. I think these things have been over overemphasized – Many non Catholic people I know think the Church is all about being anti abortion and pro-immigration. And while it is both those things, they should not be the first and often only things the people we are seeking to reach know about the Church.

      You seem to be talking about “souls” in the abstract, as though they have no bodies, no communities, no society. This is a disembodied, dualistic approach to the human person.

      How on earth do you get that from my comments? By souls, I mean concrete people and communities, in need of the Church’s saving message both individually and in community. And who can only be reached in the concrete, as people, and not as political abstractions.

  8. It seems that the discussion has been overlooking the organically linked yet nonetheless distinct vocations that exist within the Church. It is very true that “the Church” aims both to gain souls and effect social change, but it is not true that each one of us is called to pursue these two ends with the same focus or vigor. As priests the young men in the article have been set apart by the Church for a specific task – to focus upon spiritual affairs. As a layman I pursue the baptismal call by seeking to transform temporal affairs in conformity with Christ’s will. This doesn’t mean it’s illegitimate for a priest to attend to some temporal concerns or a layman to attend to some spiritual (indeed, it is imperative that some crossover exists), but it does no justice to either vocation to claim that each is equally oriented to both pursuits.

    Furthermore, let’s remember that the quoted comment didn’t arise in a vacuum but (or so it seems to me) is a pretty obvious *reaction* to a previous generation of priests who were perceived to devote themselves to temporal activity to the detriment or exclusion of the spiritual aims they were ordained to pursue (e.g., a theoretical Fr. O’Hanrahan works a full week organizing unions at the dockyard but rarely says public Mass and hasn’t administered any other sacrament for the last 5 years; a real Fernando Lugo says he can do more good as president than as bishop, so he’ll accept laicization in order to pursue politics).

  9. Rita and Scott, thank you for allowing us to “eavesdrop” on your stimulating and challenging dialogue. You both make important points that prompt us to serious personal reflection.
    In Zeffirelli’s “Jesus of Nazareth” the imprisoned John the Baptist exclaims, “Before kingdoms change people must change”, and so John’s call to repentance and conversion. But at the same time, we are exhorted to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, etc. A believer does those things. However, by doing those things some unbelievers have come to believe– somehow they came to discover the Christ disguised among the poor.
    JPII cautioned that we can become so involved in the world of the Lord that we forget the Lord of the world. But he never suggested we should just walk past the “man who fell among the robbers”.
    In a few days Isaiah will remind us of the metanoia the Lord prefers: This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly,
    untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed,
    breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry,
    sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.
    A radical remaking of the social order through/with the remaking of our hearts.

  10. I’m not too sure the original article supports this divisive view of younger priests. Hopefully we can have more hope in the next generation to be as good as us and maybe better.

    In either case, I think the readings assigned to our daily masses this week address these various issues:

    “What comes out of the man, that is what defiles him.
    From within the man, from his heart,
    come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder,
    adultery, greed, malice, deceit,
    licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.
    All these evils come from within and they defile.”

    It is always amazing how God is trying to speak to us through our rituals.

  11. Thanks for this conversation regarding salvation of souls and social change–if we speak about salvation of souls, we’re speaking especially about that radical formation in the context of the Liturgy, especially the Eucharist. Certainly devotion to the Eucharist is also at the heart of the “twenty-something” priests’ faith and leadership.

    But, if the Church and its Liturgy has to do with saving souls, I’m curious, though, about disconnect between “souls” and “social change.” Liturgy and social reformation are not separated during the classical liturgical movement. Love of the Liturgy as seen as food and inspiration for reforming society.

    Drawing on Pope St. Pius X and Pope Pius XI, Fr. Virgil Michel composes his “syllogism” of the Liturgy:
    “Pius X tells us that the liturgy is the indispensable source of the true Christian spirit.
    Pius XI says that the true Christian spirit is indispensable for social regeneration.
    Hence the conclusion: The liturgy is the indispensable basis of Christian social regeneration.” (Virgil Michel, “The Liturgy as the Basis for Social Transformation,” Orate Fratres 9 no. 12 [1935]: 545.)

    Maybe the “separation” of “soul” and “society” is more about “order”? The liturgy is the source of social reform?

  12. Why is it that so many seem to view being “out for souls” and social change as somehow being separate things if not flat out mutually exclusive?

    1. @Katharine E. Harmon – comment #21:

      Maybe the “separation” of “soul” and “society” is more about “order”? The liturgy is the source of social reform?

      Quite so. Fr. Virgil Michel “syllogism” is also apt.

      @Norman Borelli – comment #22:

      Why is it that so many seem to view being “out for souls” and social change as somehow being separate things if not flat out mutually exclusive?

      I don’t think anyone here thinks that. My point is certainly that social change flows precisely from winning over hearts and souls.

  13. Been haunted by this question all day. And I wonder if we all share the same understanding of terms. For example, what precisely do we mean when we’re “out for souls”? Just what is a “soul”? And is the soul that we’re out for separated from the body? But a human person is not just a body, and not just a soul but a union of the two.
    Does “out for souls” mean teaching people to recite back correct dogma? Does it mean conforming to a particular liturgical or pastoral practice or a form of spirituality? Does it mean being a watchdog of people’s behavior? Does it insist on adherance to rules and regulations?

    1. @John Swencki – comment #24:

      For example, what precisely do we mean when we’re “out for souls”?

      I at least mean the conversion of people to Christ. Talking about them as souls is merely to underline we are talking about them in relation to their eternal relationship to God, both individually / spiritually, as well as communally / bodily.

      It means trying to seek to find and form Christians, not merely secular social workers or political activists.

  14. I apologize for my strident tone as of earlier. Nevertheless, I do not shy from my convictions. Education is at the core of an informed priest, and in our tradition knowledge of the sacral and theological language is indispensible. Perhaps I am elitist, but I cannot see how a priest can instruct if he preaches only from derivative texts.

    Scott Smith #9): Setting out to change society to be more consistent with our social teaching, without first converting souls, means we will fail to achieve the desire social change. Because we will not have changed hearts.

    Part of my continual conversion to the Catholic faith has been the privilege to hear rigorous preaching. Rigor does not necessarily connote rigidity of morals. Rather, “rigorous” in this sense implies preaching that is not only well-researched, but at times extemporaneously delivered from a mind that is thoroughly bathed the theological heritage of the Church. A good priest must have an intellectual wellspring to draw upon. Sadly, I do not see this in many of the clergy.

    Scott is quite right that social justice springs from conversion. For some people, conversion is an “I feel” moment, one that is not predicated on convincing exegesis or theological points. I do not “feel” when I pray, but “think”. So then, I should suppress the thinking drive to accommodate myself to a “feeling” church, one which predicates social action not on knowledge but sentiment?

    Compassion can be sparked by emotion, but always rests in a knowledge of the faith, an informed conviction in the sweep of the gospels. Perhaps because my faith is very cerebral, I have no place in a Church which elevates sentiment above all.

    Certainly, Pope Francis’s bold call to social justice rests on the shoulders of a very well educated priest and shepherd. Education emboldens compassion.

    1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #26:

      Thank you sharing your experience on this point. Quite powerful.

      The Church very much needs to remember its thinking aspect, particularly at present, when some including Bishops are trying to separate practice from doctrine.

      Because any such separation, while not important to many, would make the faith impossible for those of us who value highly intellectual integrity (as I understand you do).

  15. Matthew 25 settles the question. Even those who did not know Jesus still get the ticket in. …based on their care of others.

    And #7….until we tutor two thousand students in Latin so they can read Ceasar after two years of intensive study, Latin, which is difficult if it is not used daily, will…and I use highly educated priests who know theology, not be needed.

    If I’m a bishop who has to fund two years of intensive Latin training in a seminary instead of two years of homiletics and pastoral care, I would have to ask myself which ones of these will be more useful to the questioning souls in the pews?

    I love Latin with both high school and college experience. No one has ever asked me to translate since. They have asked me to pray with them many times.

    1. @Ed Nash – comment #28:

      Matthew 25 settles the question. Even those who did not know Jesus still get the ticket in. …based on their care of others.

      Matthew 25 is not the sum total of the Gospel. Indeed, when Jesus was asked to summarise, he choose the rule of faith. Love of God first, and love of neighbour second.

      A faith which ignores the second is clearly not the faith of Christ. But nor is one which reverses the order which Jesus provided us.

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