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There will be no mass scale recovery of the beautiful and the true, in art, media, and society, unless we get priesthood right. So I suppose, we're talking here of "The Media of Priesthood". Lets do a mashup of two articles, and cross-pollinate a couple ideas to give us a fresh perspective on the possible reasons for large scale mediocrity in Catholic media and arts. This is a speculative working-paper. Your thoughts and comments would be most welcome below.
The first entry is from Frank Schaeffer, the insights expressed in his book, Addicted to Mediocrity: Contemporary Christians and the Arts.
In this provocative book, Frank Schaeffer shows how Christians today have sacrificed the artistic prominence they enjoyed for centuries and settled instead for mediocrity. The evidence for this sad state of affairs abounds. We are flooded with "Christian" doodads, trinkets, t-shirts, bumper stickers, etc., that use God's name as an advertising slogan—"Things Go Better with Jesus"—putting the Creator of the universe on the same level as soda pop! Moreover, Schaeffer writes, "Whenever Christians, and evangelicals in particular, have attempted to 'reach the world' through the media—TV, film, publishing and so on—the thinking public gets the firm idea that, like soup in a bad restaurant, Christians' brains are best left unstirred."
But it doesn't have to be this way. Schaeffer shows how Christians who care can begin to reverse the slide toward mediocrity: by demanding excellence in the arts and media, and in all areas of life; by giving our time, talents and money to those things which are worthy of our support and are truly honoring to God; by staying away from the cheap, the shoddy, and the make-a-fast-buck mentality.
Schaeffer offers not only an unflinching critique, but specific and practical direction for becoming "unaddicted," and for recovering artistic excellence. The punch, humor and satire of the text is effectively enhanced by nineteen original drawings by Chicago artist Kurt Mitchell.
The second perspective comes from the media savvy, Fr. Robert Barron, in an interview entitled, "How to Build a Better Priest".
"For too long we've had a preferential option for mediocrity in the priesthood," laments Father Robert Barron, assistant professor of systematic theology at Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois. "Teilhard de Chardin said the priest calls down fire on the earth," says Barron. That's a far cry from "organizer of ministries," which is one of the dull-as-dishwater descriptions Barron remembers from his seminarian days. "Who's going to be lit on fire by a term like that?" he fumes.
Instead of addressing any of the more controversial methods to change the priesthood, such as ordaining women or married people, Barron focuses on rebuilding the unique and indispensable role of the priest that has been lost in recent years. "I want to make the priesthood as exciting as being a brain surgeon, and as difficult and inspiring."
Barron's book Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master (Crossroad, 1996) was awarded first prize by the Catholic Press Association. His forthcoming Soul Doctoring will be published by Crossroad in 1998.
I'm trying to find a way to talk about the meaning and excitement of being a priest that isn't clerical. When I was growing up, after Vatican II, there were two options for priests: either you were a preconciliar, clerical type of priest, or you were a new, progressive priest with a more muted vision of the priesthood. If you ever spoke positively or enthusiastically about the unique role of the priest, you were automatically characterized as a conservative who hadn't really caught on to Vatican II.
As a seminary professor, I've been sensing that my students are looking for a new vision of priesthood-some way to emphasize its importance without falling into clerical patterns. My research led me to these two images of the priest: priest as one who guides others into the mystery of God and priest as soul doctor.
They're both very ancient. For centuries, those who wrote about the mystical journey have stressed the need for a guide, someone to give you direction. Theologians, such as Paul Tillich, have described God as being essentially mysterious, and only in relationship to that mystery does life have savor, excitement, and meaning. Mystery is the ever-greater, always more alluring power of God. But it's tricky for us to get properly hooked onto that mystery because, as Tillich said, we mistake other things for our ultimate concern. We get preoccupied with relationships, or political parties, or possessions, or what have you. The role of the guide is to lead people effectively toward the authentic mystery. That's what theologians and spiritual people over the centuries have done.
On the image of soul doctor, as I researched the great theologians of our tradition, I began to see that they were soul doctors. They were not writing to get their articles published in learned journals. The Fathers of the Church and the medieval theologians wrote as pastors and ministers; they worried about the care of souls. That is precisely what the priest doesdoctor that deepest part of the person we call the soul. That's something that makes priesthood fascinating and indispensable, without being exclusive or clerical.
Perspective, follows image, follows function. Perhaps our Catholic media efforts tend to be laced with media mediocrity, in part, becasue our view of priesthood, our mediator, our in persona Christi, has been flattened. There can be no currents if there is no elevation between highs and lows; no beauty to aspire to, a church of the round table. Let's bring in the high chair.
How do we restore the media of priesthood?
I believe we have to return to basics. Cardinal Francois Van Thuan is a wonderful example. Peter Stanford of The Guardian writes:
History teaches that those who persecute religion only ever make it stronger. Tell people they can't go to church, and even those who previously had never darkened an ecclesiastical door will suddenly want to.
It is a lesson the communist regime in Vietnam continues to ignore: its imprisonment, torture and exiling of Cardinal Francois Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, who has died of cancer aged 74, turned him into a hero inside and outside his native land. It even managed to propel him into the ranks of the papable.
The Asian Catholic Church is as vibrant and dynamic as its African counterpart; indeed, Vietnam is second only to the Philippines in terms of the region's Catholic population.
Ensconced at the Vatican since 1991 - as head of the pontifical council for justice and peace since 1999, and a cardinal since last year - Thuan was a universally attractive figure, responsible for promoting Roman Catholicism's social teaching, often called its best-kept secret.
As speculation mounted during Pope John Paul II's long years of physical decline about the need for a new pontiff to symbolise Catholicism's centres of strength outside the West, Thuan's name kept coming up.
The warmth with which he was received in the developing world, as spokesman for the church's commitment to the underdog, was in marked contrast to the dark days of 1975 in Saigon, when he was appointed coadjutor bishop - the bishop with the right of succession when the incumbent retires - just a week before the South Vietnamese capital fell to communist forces from the north.
As a nephew of Ngo Dinh Diem, the long-serving president of South Vietnam, it was brave of Thuan even to take up the post.
Diem had positively discriminated in favour of fellow Catholics in his increasingly dictatorial regime, to the dismay of the majority Buddhist population, and the Catholic Church therefore bore the stigma of the corruption and decay that had surrounded the southern government.
Indeed, Catholicism's recent history in Vietnam had been marked by its habit of lending its name to what were usually resented, and often unpleasant, regimes. Before partition in 1954, it worked hand in hand with the French, who used the excuse of the mistreatment of Catholic missionaries to bludgeon the Vietnamese emperor in Hue into accepting colonial overlordship. After partition, it turned a blind eye to Diem's excesses in return for favoured status.
With the arrival of the communists in what was renamed Ho Chi Minh City, Thuan was quickly arrested, along with other leading citizens of the old regime, and spent 13 years in a re-education camp, nine of them in solitary confinement. He survived after fashioning a tiny Bible out of scraps of paper.
In his spiritual autobiography, The Way of Hope: Thoughts of Light from a Prison Cell, he explained his resilience. "In our country there is a saying: 'A day in prison is worth a thousand autumns of freedom.' I, myself, experienced this. While in prison, everyone waits for freedom, every day, every minute. We must live each day, each minute of our life, as though it is the last."