Are We Modern Clergy Even Remotely Close to St. Paul’s Description of the Earliest Preachers?

It is amazing to think that 30 of the first 33 Popes died as martyrs. Of the other three, two died in exile and only one died in his bed. It’s hard to imagine such suffering today among the lowliest of priests let alone Church prelates.

On the Feast of St. Thomas Apostle (July 3rd) we read this description of the apostolic life by St. Paul:

As I see it, God has put us apostles at the end of the line, like men doomed to die in the arena. We have become a spectacle to the universe, to angels and men alike. We are fools on Christ’s account. Ah, but in Christ you are wise! We are the weak ones, you the strong! They honor you, while they sneer at us! Up to this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, poorly clad, roughly treated, wandering about homeless. We work hard at manual labor. When we are insulted we respond with a blessing. Persecution comes our way; we bear it patiently. We are slandered, and we try conciliation. We have become the world’s refuse, the scum of all; that is the present state of affairs (1 Cor 4:8-12).

As a priest reading this description, I don’t whether I should feel grateful, or ashamed and embarrassed. Frankly, nothing describes our life today less than what St. Paul described. We clergy live rather comfortable, even privileged, lives.

The bishops of the Church are typically surrounded by staff, often layers of staff, insulating them from the lay faithful, who have little hope of ever being able to contact or speak with him directly. There are titles, seats of honor, and regal vesture with insignias.

As for us pastors and parish priests, we are often protected by staff as well. We live in rectories that are often well-appointed. Unlike the faithful we serve, we have job security and few personal financial concerns. We are given food, shelter, health insurance, and retirement benefits, and the people of God are enormously generous with us. Staff stand ready to assist in our administrative tasks, and repair and clean our homes and churches. Many of us even have cooks and laundresses. We too have our titles, seats of honor, and regal vesture.

It is so different from what St. Paul described and himself experienced!

It must be said that there are many priests and bishops who are generous and who live lives of sacrificial service. Many work long hours and seldom are those hours regular.

However, few of us are hungry, thirsty, or poorly dressed, let alone wandering about homeless. Manual labor has become almost unknown to many of us. Perhaps things should be that way. It makes sense that in a settled Church, the faithful should care for their clergy and set them apart so that the clergy may pray for them, study for them, and do the works that feed and form them spiritually.

Of greater concern to me, however, is the inability and even unwillingness of too many clergy to suffer as a result of preaching the Gospel as St. Paul describes. Paul speaks of the apostles as persecuted, slandered, roughly treated, considered refuse, sneered at, scorned, last in line, and like unto those doomed to die in the arena. Lest we think that this is mere Jewish hyperbole, recall that St. Paul himself was cast out of many a synagogue, flogged, stoned, run out of towns, jailed, shipwrecked, and finally martyred. All of this was because he preached the Word of God.

Yet we clergy today can hardly bear to have an eyebrow raised at us. Too many of us play it safe when it comes to preaching. Perhaps we are afraid of upsetting our benefactors. Or perhaps it is just the human tendency to avoid conflict, to want to be liked and to fit in. Perhaps for some (I pray only a few) it is the fear that clerical advancement might be hindered by preaching too boldly or even just preaching clearly.

The lay faithful notice that many of us avoid Gospel teachings that are too challenging. They notice the retreat into abstractions, generalities, and even obfuscation. Indeed, they notice that many clergy dare not risk offense or the pain that comes from being the object of another’s anger and opposition.

Even if we modern clergy are far from Paul’s experience of homelessness and hunger, we ought not to be so far from his experience of persecution and suffering for the Word of God. As the Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests and the Second Vatican Council teach, the Word of God is the primum officium (the first or primary duty) of the priest (See Presbyterorum Ordinis # 4). This is because no one can be saved who does not first believe, and faith proclaimed is necessary to unlock the sacraments. If we don’t get our preaching and teaching right and are not willing to suffer if necessary, then we don’t have anything else right.

I am less concerned about the fact that we clergy no longer live in abject poverty than that we may have become soft on account of the comforts that have been extended to us. Our comfortable lives have made some of us soft and given us the sense that we have too much to lose. Unlike St. Paul, we can hardly bear the slightest critique or scorn. We even fear that children won’t like us, won’t think we’re “cool.” It is hard to imagine most of us being willing to join Paul in jail, at the flogging post, in the stoning pit, or shipwrecked on the way to execution. We might even be among the naysayers who would say, “Paul is too extreme. He is too certain and argumentative.” Frankly, most of us modern clergy would find the real Jesus shocking, too.

It has been my experience that the people of God can handle strong preaching more than we clergy think. Indeed, many are outright appreciative of courageous, bold, and clear preaching. Even if we encounter resistance, though, we are supposed to preach anyway: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and encourage with every form of patient instruction (2 Tim 4:2).

We do not seek a fight or to provoke anger, but if we preach the Gospel in season and out of season, anger and fights often find us. Does the persecution on account of the Word described by Paul even remotely resemble anything we face in modern clerical life? And if not, why not?

What I say to priests, I say to parents, to elders, and to every Catholic baptized and sharing in the prophetic office of Christ.

21 Replies to “Are We Modern Clergy Even Remotely Close to St. Paul’s Description of the Earliest Preachers?”

  1. Why we call priests Father: “Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (1 Cor 4:15)

      1. “Tradition gets in the way.” That is preposterous. Tradition comes from the Latin word Traditio, which means to pass on. The Catholic Fatih in all of Her doctrines, Liturgy, and sacramentals are meant to be passed on to others. St. Pius X said: “We are all traditionalists.” We are all to pass on the faith that we received, not change it.

  2. Thank you Msgr. Pope. This post is further evidence of your personal courage.

    Preaching without risking suffering causes others to suffer the loss of truth and faith.

    God bless

  3. Thank you Msgr. Pope,

    We need more of you (plural) just as we need more engaged laity, God bless you!


    Please warn your faithful against listening to Rev. James Martin on sexuality. He goes too far on avoiding discrimination. To wit:

    On why the Church can’t fire unrepentant gay people, lest they cause scandal:

    “You could make the “scandal” case about a whole raft of people: people who are divorced; people who are divorced and remarried without an annulment; women who have given birth to, or men who have fathered, a child out of wedlock; an unmarried couple who are living together. All these things are very public and we chose not to thunder over them. That, to me, is classic discrimination. Either you require everyone to adhere to church teaching — on everything, not just sexual morality — or not. But you don’t put one person’s life under a moral microscope simply because they are LGBT.”

    On why there is no theological basis for unrepentant gay people to be denied Catholic burial

    “Any person prepares himself or herself to enter into the sacraments. So before we go to Mass, for example, we are hopefully in a “state of grace” and have gone to Confession. But to single a group out and target them with statements like this is discriminatory. No other group have their lives put under a microscope like this. None. It’s like giving a homily at Mass and, rather than talking to all of us, singling out one person in the pew. And this is a group that has already felt marginalized enough. The place where they should feel most at home is often the place where they feel most excluded. And that is not the way that Jesus operated. When Jesus met people who were seen as on the outskirts of society, he welcomed them. The welcome comes first, and we’re not doing that if we call people sinners before we even shake their hands.”

    On why gay Catholics don’t come out:

    “Several reasons. One, their bishops or religious superiors ask them not to come out. Two, they fear reprisals from parishioners. Three, they fear it would be divisive. Four, they are private people. Five, they are not fully aware of their sexuality. And lastly, people have mistakenly conflated homosexuality and pedophilia, and so priests don’t want to come out because they fear they’ll be labeled a pedophile.”

    On transgenderism:

    “The other night in Boston, a couple came up to me. The husband was transgender, and had become a woman, and the woman had stayed with her spouse. That is, she married someone who was a man and who was now a woman. I was amazed and had a hard time even processing it. I said to the wife, “How are you able to do this?” And she said, “Love is love.” I thought, here is a new kind of love, a new kind of fidelity, to consider and ponder, as some sort of expression of God’s love for us. The church needs to reflect on that. ”


    1. All the aforementioned disregard the following Canons of Canon Law:

      213 The Christian faithful have the right to receive assistance from the sacred pastors out of the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the word of God and the sacraments.

      1055 §1. The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized.

      915 Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.

      916 A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible.

      921 §1. The Christian faithful who are in danger of death from any cause are to be nourished by holy communion in the form of Viaticum.

      1184 §1. Unless they gave some signs of repentance before death, the following must be deprived of ecclesiastical funerals: notorious apostates, heretics, and schismatics; those who chose the cremation of their bodies for reasons contrary to Christian faith; other manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful. §2. If any doubt occurs, the local ordinary is to be consulted, and his judgment must be followed.

      Can. 1185 Any funeral Mass must also be denied a person who is excluded from ecclesiastical funerals.

      1315 §1. A person who has legislative power can also issue penal laws; within the limits of his competence by reason of territory or of persons, moreover, he can by his own laws also strengthen with an appropriate penalty a divine law or an ecclesiastical law issued by a higher authority.

      1339 §1. An ordinary, personally or through another, can warn a person who is in the proximate occasion of committing a delict or upon whom, after investigation, grave suspicion of having committed a delict has fallen. §2. He can also rebuke a person whose behavior causes scandal or a grave disturbance of order, in a manner accommodated to the special conditions of the person and the deed. §3. The warning or rebuke must always be established at least by some document which is to be kept in the secret archive of the curia.

      1347 §1. A censure cannot be imposed validly unless the offender has been warned at least once beforehand to withdraw from contumacy and has been given a suitable time for repentance. §2. An offender who has truly repented of the delict and has also made suitable reparation for damages and scandal or at least has seriously promised to do so must be considered to have withdrawn from contumacy.

      1389 §1. A person who abuses an ecclesiastical power or function is to be punished according to the gravity of the act or omission, not excluding privation of office, unless a law or precept has already established the penalty for this abuse. §2. A person who through culpable negligence illegitimately places or omits an act of ecclesiastical power, ministry, or function with harm to another is to be punished with a just penalty.

  5. Thank you Msgr Pope for this wonderful article. God bless you more and more.

  6. “Does the persecution on account of the Word described by Paul even remotely resemble anything we face in modern clerical life? And if not, why not?”

    There is a difference between the times of Paul and our times. We have almost two millennia of progress toward the second coming of Christ and the Kingdom of God. Christianity in its various manifestations is the most popular religion on the earth. As a result, a great deal of barbarousness and paganism has been suppressed, although a remnant still exists. The Church escaped the invading hordes with Charlemagne, turned back Islam at Vienna and Lepanto, and
    will survive the modern attack from the left.

  7. Msgr Pope, we need more clerics like you. My pastor has said openly he doesn’t like speaking about issues that can cause confrontation. He always preaches love and mercy but never the hard teachings. He was once asked to preach about why the church says contraception is sinful, which he did, but at with much anxiety and he began his homily with the disclaimer “I don’t like talking about stuff like this”. All he was preaching about was contraception! Could you imagine him tackling an issue like same sex attraction? Never! I love my pastor and I pray for him every day but he lacks the courage to lead his flock to holiness. Pray for him and pastors like him. I fear for his immortal soul in his not living up to his obligations to God as a spiritual father to his flock.

  8. In the mid-sixties, I remember being appalled to read that the salary of a Catholic priest in West Germany was equivalent to that of an engineer. And engineers have always been more resepected in Germany than here in the UK, where lawyers and accountants are the stars. But then (and now), I should have thought that the proper place for a Bishop’s residence would be a working-class housing estate.

    One of the many benefits accruing from it would be that it sends a message to society as a whole. The values of the respectably worldly-wise, unsurprisingly generally tend to be more materialistic. Otherwise they would vote for a government that would substatially raise their taxes, in order to create a country fit for all its citizens, now including the scandalously-high number of the people on excessively low wages, of the unemployed and of the homeless.

    People don’t end up living in leafy suburbs because they’re more nice than the poorer people. Studying the behaviour of fellow-motorists is an education, in itself. The people driving late-model upmarket cars are often courteous, but generally-speaking, they are the more pushy.

  9. ‘We might even be among the naysayers who would say, “Paul is too extreme. He is too certain and argumentative.” Frankly, most of us modern clergy would find the real Jesus shocking, too.’

    Laugh out loud material, Father, though our attitude to profound but uncomfortable truths are often like that, aren’t they ?

  10. Hoping that priests helping /empowering the laity in the ministry of deliverance might help all around , such as in the ‘Unbound ‘ ministry with its recognition of the need to verbally renounce the spirits , in the Name of Jesus ( since the spirits are said not able to read thoughts ), how such spirits can come with negativity , often rooted in the lie that the Father does not love one or the other .They also focus on the need to take authority and command such renounced spirits to leave and never return and asking for the mercy of The Lord , thus helping more ,
    in forgiveness , repentance and faith leading to holiness , all given as 5 keys .

    Such steps might help to enliven the Spirit life all around, both in the laity and the priests so that when one says , in The Name of Jesus, it would truly mean more so , that one is in line with His Spirit , thus more beneficial to all .

    Thanking The Lord , for all the good He brings to The Church, thus the world through the priesthood , that even faced with occasional weaknesses , one can focus more on the good of His grace through His priests .
    Thank you too – AFIK , for being a priest unto His heart .:)

  11. “Are We Modern Clergy Even Remotely Close to St. Paul’s Description of the Earliest Preachers?”

    In a word, no.

    It’s pathetic really. I often think the laity has more faith than 99% of the clergy, and cling to it in spite of them, not because of them.

    There are a few bishops and cardinals who will preach the truth despite the blow-back and verbal and political persecution, not only from the world but from fellow clergymen. Bishop Paprocki and Cardinal Sarah come to mind. However, most of the priests I ever met would rather be mealy mouthed and conciliatory.

    It’s laughable when I think of almost every priest I ever knew and try to imagine he would die for Christ and the Faith. Just laughable. They won’t even risk a scold, let alone a lashing or imprisonment, let alone death.

    Hired hands, not shepherds. Just hired hands.

    It’s been extremely painful to live during this time of general apostasy, even among the clergy.

    1. I once was talking to a woman about the “coming chastisement” and she replied,”we are in it since there is no greater punishment than tepid priests”. This is a hard time.

  12. I have always wondered why priests, preachers, ect. do not work the miracles, signs, wonders that Jesus, the apostles, and disciples did and were promised to all who believe in Him would do. Is it because they…and us disciples…are too wordly? Too sinful? Too prideful? There should be Holy Spirit fire in the churches and there is not….

  13. The bishop of the Albany, NY diocese has created a new office of evangelization. I strongly suspect that he envisions creating programs that will evangelize the laity. No doubt, we do need help, but the real problem he may not see or want to address, evangelizing the priests. Having been in this diocese for over 40 years, I personally know priests who are apostates, who do not believe in transubstantiation or Purgatory, who are racked by rationalism and are teaching a faith according to them.

    We need priests who are full of the Holy Spirit, having zeal and to love to re-Christianize this materialistic world.

    In the beginning 80s, I subscribed to New Covenant magazine which carried an article by Fr. John Randall of fond memory. Thirty years a priest at the time, he spoke of his priesthood as the BC/AD experience. In the first 15, he had tried to be a good priest, doing what he thought the Lord called him to, but then, everything changed. He was prayed over for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit by Don Wilkerson (brother of David) of Brooklyn Teen Challenge and became a new priest in Christ. His priesthood went from his head to his heart and the rest is history.

    Is there any one of us who doesn’t want more of God in our lives, in our hearts? So we pray: Come, Holy Spirit!

  14. I ache as I watch my oldest children leave the house and move on to college, etc. I feel as though I’m the only one pointing out to them the death throes of western civilization and the barbarism to come. I feel as though I’m the only one warning them to put on the full armor, consecrate to Mary and fight tooth and nail to stay in a state of grace.

    They have asked me point blank, ‘Why aren’t the priests saying anything?’

    What am I to respond?

  15. Some of the Prot .ministries talk about the need to break the curses , how curses can be implicit , through sinful choices of oneself or others , including
    ancestors .

    Unsure if the reason we do not hear of same much in The Church is from deeper trust in the care and authority of The Lord and His Mother ,in all our lives through faithful relationships such as through the Holy Mass .

    Yet , may be adding same, such as during the petitions may be good so that even those or esp. those who have been even regular church attendees might be helped .

    Many might be unaware of the ways they might have become a curse unto self and others , through sinful choices of greed , pride , envy , lusts such as choices against the marriage vows ( covering contraception ) , unholy soul ties and so on .

    The priest proclaiming , in The Name of Jesus , the breaking of such curses , of being a curse unto oneself and others through sinful choices and persistence in errors of rebellion against The Lord and His Church and the truths therein , in any format and breaking all such curses that came into lives and families in the family lines as well and invoking His blessing into all such occasions and lives – all get to participate in the priestly role of invoking His blessings and the protection of The Precious Blood , into all lives .

    The Rosary prayers that give prominence to the blessing proclaimed by heaven
    through the Angelic salutation might be accomplishing same too .

    Thank you and all others who have been blessings and yearning
    for same , with The Lord , for all .

    God bless .

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