I first happened upon the book The Spirituality of the Diocesan Priest at a Sursum Corda event held a few years ago in Techny, outside of Chicago. Sursum Corda is a gathering of Old Catholic clergy and lay leaders who come together to explore and share areas of common interest and struggles with each other. Because there is no overarching hierarchy or community/institutional structure that binds them altogether, the Old Catholics must look for other ways to be in fellowship and communication with each other. To a certain extent, that made the find of Donald Cozzens' book at this event so apropos. One of the issues for diocesan priests in the Roman Catholic church is similar - what structures and community is there for support of a spiritual life?
First, perhaps a bit of structural knowledge is required. Not all priests in the Roman Catholic church are diocesan priests. Many belong to monastic orders, or various other orders that provide spiritual support, guidelines and community. Jesuits, Dominicans and others have differing kinds of communities that encourage, through rules and practices, gatherings and accountability systems, spiritual development in their members. The `ordinary' diocesan priest rarely has these kinds of supports. To work in the `secular' world becomes a distraction, sometimes a definite hindrance to spiritual growth and practice.
In this sense, it is analogous to the situation in which many Old Catholic priests find themselves. Most Old Catholic clergy have to be `tent-maker' clerics. The label `tent-maker' hearkens back to the apostle Paul, who did not see, nor did he use, his ministry as a means for making money, but rather preferred to continue to ply his trade (tent-making) during his journeys. Most Old Catholics have no choice but to continue to make a living through another means, as they do not have parishes and dioceses and community/institutional structures that provide financial benefits.
`The Spirituality of the Diocesan Priest,' edited by Donald Cozzens, is written by and about Roman Catholic hierarchs. This, however, is merely a starting point, and not a final word. Clergy and lay leaders of many denominations can find through this analysis insights into their own situations. There are a dozen contributors to this text: Donald Cozzens, Denis Edwards, William Hammer, Robert Morneau, Frank McNully, Edward Pfnausch, James Provost, Sylvester Ryan, Robert Schwartz, William Shannon, Richard Skelba, and Kenneth Untener. Almost all have direct experience as diocesan priests, past or present. All are men who are experienced with the experiences of and the training of diocesan priests. If there is one shortcoming with the text, it is that there is no female voice reflecting on the issue - a contributor such as Joan Chittister, who has written extensively on Benedictine spirituality, might be a welcome perspective.
The first chapter, with the wonderful title of `Servant of the Servants of God: A Pastor's Spirituality,' Robert Schwartz addresses in a wonderful way some of the insights that have come from his experience as a parish minister, out among the people.
`I have learned theology and the spiritual exercises from the Jesuits, and I have been guided in contemplative prayer among the Trappists, for this I will be forever grateful. Yet, there are some things that only those who are committed to a spiritual life in the midst of the ups and downs of secular realities can teach one another. It is one thing to seek God in an environment ordered around religious concerns. It is a very different experience to find God amid the disorder and distractions of a world that often does its best to shut God out.'
This is a point of relation - lay persons understand this juggle full well. Diocesan and tent-maker priests are in a better position in many ways to relate to such day-to-day struggles.
`Most surprising to me as a pastor is the powerful way that the lay community cares for me. They call forth the best from me, as I attempt to do the same for them.'
There is a sort of mutual inspiration for the people and the minister in this dynamic that communities of all religious persuasions can relate to. Yet, ultimately there must be an intention and a recognition on the part of the minister that this can happen, and an openness toward the `other servants'.
`A spirituality that is truly `priestly' comes to be as a priest surrenders himself to his role in the community, ministers to it, and allows himself to be enriched and enlivened by the people he serves.'
Each of the chapters in this text offer a similar blessing. Kenneth Untener asks us to change the criteria by which we judge spirituality, for ourselves and for others. James Provost looks at spiritual `rules' with a precision of a canon lawyer, yet with compassion and pastoral insight. Richard Sklba develops the idea I mentioned earlier regarding Paul's ministry in the world and its relation to diocesan priestly spirituality today.
Donald Cozzens' own chapter looks to issues of identity, intimacy and integrity as primary in the development of priestly spirituality.
`Karl Rahner has observed that `priestly spirituality is not (at least, not primarily) a kind of extra to a normal Christian life, but (while, of course, determined by the concrete life task of the priest as distinct from other Christians) the spiritual, Christian life of a Christian purely and simply.'
This spirituality is not `special' or hard to attain, but rather is related to and, perhaps, identical with the kind of spirituality to which all Christians, clergy or lay, are called through their baptismal covenants and constant communion with the Holy Spirit.
Other chapters similarly develop aspects of spirituality with a particular focus on diocesan priests, but this focus can lend insight to any search for spirituality. If ever a spiritual support for the `ordinary' diocesan priest is needed, it is today. This book will help toward that goal.