The Making of a Pastor – More Reactions

A  friend of mine, Mike Fulton, a seminarian at Holy Cross has given his own response to the first article in the Making of a Priest series along with the Ochlophobist’s suggestions. (Note that I give credit to Owen White for making those suggestions but have my own reservations about them.)

At one point he says:

All of this has been proposed with very good intentions on bringing men who are better qualified/prepared and also to limit ecclesiastical corruption, some of which may come in the form of simony and nepotism.

My own desire is to emphasize the former, as a matter of leadership. “Worldly experience” such as developing a (secular) career, building a marriage, and managing responsibilities (family, children, work, house, etc.) is valuable inasmuch as it gives clergy a basis for leading as clergy: “if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?”

Michael also says:

However, what I have learned from being at seminary and speaking to priests is that no amount of bureaucracy, papers, proposals, councils, psychological batteries, interviews, etc. can prepare or ensure the preparedness of candidates to the priesthood. You teach a man the best that you can, a bishop places his hands on the guy’s head, and you hope that the Holy Spirit does the rest.

Indeed, we pray and trust that the Holy Spirit will supply that which is lacking (as the bishop prays in the ordination). However, we cannot deny the synergy that must exist between man and God. If it were purely a matter of the Holy Spirit, St. Paul would have had no reason to write 1 Timothy 3, for the drunk, the adulterer, and the greedy would all have their deficiencies corrected as a matter of course.

I stick to my assertion that we would be better off holding rather more strictly to the age requirement of Neocaesarea XI: “Let not a presbyter be ordained before he is thirty years of age, even though he be in all respects a worthy man, but let him be made to wait. For our Lord Jesus Christ was baptized and began to teach in his thirtieth year” (emphasis added). Certainly the Fathers of Neocaesarea knew of young men who were mature beyond years, but insisted they wait. In 1 Timothy 4, St. Paul tells the new pastor Timothy and his flock, “Let no one despise your youth,” even though Timothy was about 40 years old at the time! Some wisdom is brought only by experience.

It’s also important to remember that being a presbyter (specifically as a parish priest) is a different thing from being a prophet. Consider Aaron and Moses. Think on John the Baptist as compared with St. Peter.

I’ll encourage readers here to read Michael’s comments and weigh in (here or there, your call).

4 comments on this post.
  1. Mike Fulton:

    Good response, Father Basil.

    I agree that experience is a good thing to have. However, I think seminarians have to be considered on an individual basis.

    I’m also actually in favor of emphasizing a permanent full-time (paid) diaconate. If such stress is put upon having vocations postponed for the sake of experience, then I think it would behoove many to consider this possible ministry.

  2. fr anthony perkins:

    Thanks for sharing Seminarian Michael’s post, Fr. Basil.

    My 2 cents: I wonder whether the 30 year limit would deliver as expected.

    One of the things we’d like to see it help with is to allow the candidate to develop (test?) a sound marriage/family before ordination. In some cases, this might happen. But, given how late people get married nowadays, I bet we would still end up with lots of seminarians looking for spouses, with the same probable effect on the quality of marriages that develop now among clergy (maybe even worse, to the extent those years have been spent poorly WRT relations, habits, etc.).

    I guess what I am saying is that, in terms of maturity, 30 might become the new 25. It has in the rest of our culture.

    Bishops look at the maturity of the candidate and the stability/trajectory of his marriage (and this discussion is great at generating indicators to help them), but these are only partially correlated with age and experience.

  3. Fr Basil Biberdorf:

    Fr Anthony, I made a similar point with regard to age in the first article of this series: “Considering that adolescence often reaches well into the 20s in our time, I’d suggest that a slight upward revision of this requirement in practice (to perhaps 35 years of age) would serve the Church well.”

    Marriage really needs time to be established as a man’s first priesthood before he undertakes a second one. Age and experience are not the sole determinants of maturity and marriage stability, but that doesn’t mean they’re not determinants at all.

    Again, what does it mean for a man to be a “presbyter” (=”elder”)?

  4. fr anthony perkins:

    I read that post and agree with your diagnosis (in fact, the only differences I have noticed between our views on these topics have been about the utility of requirements vs. guidelines for discernment).

    You’ve really given us all some good food for thought – thanks.

    Another data point (which is just anecdotal – has anyone ever collected real data on this?): I was 39 and had been married for 17 years when I was ordained as a priest (subtract 3 from each for ordination to the diaconate). This combination has worked well for us (Glory to God).

    The more I think about it, the more strongly I doubt the wisdom of stressing new marriages with the rigors of service as a rector/priest. I’m not saying it can’t be done (obviously it often works), but I am glad that Pani Tina and I were allowed to take on these things sequentially.

    Orthodox like to joke about third year seminarian courtships (and, again: all of us know cases where they have worked), but with the pitiful state of our culture, this isn’t the best way to set folks up for success.

    So I agree that an age requirement for candidates and their marriages would help with this. FWIW, I think it would also significantly deepen the seminary experience (in whatever form it takes). Again, speaking from experience, I got much more out of this kind of education as I got older. In general, I have also found that “non-traditional” students interact differently with material than younger ones.

    Is there any doubt that someone who has served several years as a husband (at least for candidates who are not celibate), reader, subdeacon, parish board member, and/or deacon would be better prepared for advanced seminary training and ordination? (and I am glad to see that you are taking on the topic of seminary education next!).

    [FWIW: I recognize that pride automatically biases my analysis in favor of my own experience, and I know many young seminarians that I believe will do well as priests].