One of the more consistent concerns I hear expressed here on the blog about priests and bishops is the problem of too much silence from us. There seems to be quite a hunger from many of you to hear from us more cogently and consistently on matters of the faith, moral law, and the cultural breakdown. There is frustration that more is not said about critical matters.
Although I know of many heroic exceptions to this problem I will admit that the big picture does no always look too pretty. Too many Catholic preachers are content to speak in abstractions and generalities and fear offending with too many specifics. This has meant that important moral issues go unaddressed and that the faith has been poorly handed on for many decades now.
That said I also want to express a little frustration from the clergy side of the equation. While it is true that many people want us to say many things about many issues they still want Mass to be out in 45 minutes and the sermon to be 7-10 minutes. This presents a challenge in covering all the many issues of our day and it seems a little more time has to be taken to effectively address matters of the faith and the meltdown of our culture. Seven minutes a week to hand on the faith compared to dozens of hours per day of exposure to worldly influence is hardly a good balance. I am not asking for interminable sermons but we do have to have more time thatn merely to present a “thought for the week” if we are going to win this battle.
But I’d like to get out of the way and let a Saint speak on this matter of the silence of pastors and ask your prayers for all our Catholic clergy as you read this instruction of Pope St. Gregory the Great to his Clergy. These writings are excerpted from two sources: Pastoral Rule Book 2.4; and Homily. 17.3 and 14. The boldface introductory phrase is mine otherwise all the indented text is his:
Discretion is good, fearful silence is not – A spiritual guide should be silent when discretion requires and speak when words are of service. Otherwise he may say what he should not or be silent when he should speak. Indiscreet speech may lead men into error and an imprudent silence may leave in error those who could have been taught. Pastors who lack foresight hesitate to say openly what is right because they fear losing the favor of men. As the voice of truth tells us, such leaders are not zealous pastors who protect their flocks, rather they are like mercenaries who flee by taking refuge in silence when the wolf appears.
Silent Pastors are dumb dogs who leave the flock unprotected – The Lord reproaches them through the prophet: They are dumb dogs that cannot bark (Is 56:10). On another occasion he complains: You did not advance against the foe or set up a wall in front of the house of Israel, so that you might stand fast in battle on the day of the Lord (Ez 13:15). To advance against the foe involves a bold resistance to the powers of this world in defence of the flock. To stand fast in battle on the day of the Lord means to oppose the wicked enemy out of love for what is right. When a pastor has been afraid to assert what is right, has he not turned his back and fled by remaining silent? Whereas if he intervenes on behalf of the flock, he sets up a wall against the enemy in front of the house of Israel.
Silent Pastors are false prophets – Therefore, the Lord again says to his unfaithful people: Your prophets saw false and foolish visions and did not point out your wickedness, that you might repent of your sins (Lam 2:14). …The word of God accuses them of seeing false visions because they are afraid to reproach men for their faults and thereby lull the evildoer with an empty promise of safety. Because they fear reproach, they keep silent and fail to point out the sinner’s wrongdoing.
Scripture says the Clergy must Speak…..Paul says of the bishop: He must be able to encourage men in sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it (Titus 1:9). For the same reason God tells us through Malachi: The lips of the priest are to preserve knowledge, and men shall look to him for the law, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts (Mal 2:7). …..
Every Priest Must Preach – Anyone ordained a priest undertakes the task of preaching, so that with a loud cry he may go on ahead of the terrible judge who follows. If, then, a priest does not know how to preach, what kind of cry can such a dumb herald utter? It was to bring this home that the Holy Spirit descended in the form of tongues on the first pastors (Acts 2:3), for he causes those whom he has filled, to speak out spontaneously.
The People must pray for the clergy – Beloved brothers, consider what has been said: Pray the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into his harvest (Matt 9:38). Pray for us so that we may have the strength to work on your behalf, that our tongue may not grow weary of exhortation, and that after we have accepted the office of preaching, our silence may not condemn us before the just judge.
Poor preaching is not ONLY the fault of the clergy – For frequently the preacher’s tongue is bound fast on account of his own wickedness; while on the other hand it sometimes happens that because of the people’s sins, the word of preaching is withdrawn from those who preside over the assembly. With reference to the wickedness of the preacher, the psalmist says: But God asks the sinner: Why do you recite my commandments? (Psalm 50:16) And with reference to the latter, the Lord tells Ezekiel: I will make your tongue cleave to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be dumb and unable to reprove them, for they are a rebellious house (Ez 3:26). He clearly means this: the word of preaching will be taken away from you because as long as this people irritates me by their deeds, they are unworthy to hear the exhortation of truth.
It is not for us to assign the full blame – It is not easy to know for whose sinfulness the preacher’s word is withheld, but it is indisputable that the shepherd’s silence while often injurious to himself will always harm his flock.
Many clergy are not only silent or poor preachers, they are absorbed in worldly matters – There is something else about the life of the shepherds, dearest brothers, which discourages me greatly. But lest what I claim should seem unjust to anyone, I accuse myself of the very same thing, although I fall into it unwillingly – compelled by the urgency of these barbarous times. I speak of our absorption in external affairs; we accept the duties of office, but by our actions we show that we are attentive to other things. We abandon the ministry of preaching and, in my opinion, are called bishops to our detriment, for we retain the honourable office but fail to practice the virtues proper to it. Those who have been entrusted to us abandon God, and we are silent. They fall into sin, and we do not extend a hand of rebuke. But how can we who neglect ourselves be able to correct someone else? We are wrapped up in worldly concerns, and the more we devote ourselves to external things, the more insensitive we become in spirit….They made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept (Song 1:6). We are set to guard the vineyards but do not guard our own, for we get involved in irrelevant pursuits and neglect the performance of our ministry.
Pray, Pray Pray! Well you know what you need to do. Pray for us who are clergy and leaders. An old saying is true, corruptio optimi pessima (the corruption of the best is the worst) or again, I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered (Matt 26:31). It is easy to criticize the clergy and well we deserve some of it. But realize this too, Satan has targeted the clergy, your bishop and your priests. It is easier for him to knock out the leaders than to go after the whole flock. Hence he targets bishops, priests and deacons. Send up your prayers as a hedge of protection around us. Pray for clergy who have become distracted and worldly. Pray for clergy who fear man more than God. Pray for clergy who have fallen under the burden of office. Pray for clergy who have been deceived by the evil one. Pray, pray, pray!
Pope Gregory’s feast isn’t until next week but here is an anticpation of it: