and then a slight hesitation – “…. a Catholic Priest?” I wasn’t in New York, London or any other foreign city. I was in Ballaghaderreen. I had just knocked at a door and there was no reply. As I turned to leave a young man approached me. “Are you a priest? A Catholic Priest?” I was wearing a grey clerical shirt and had the top button open but the collar was there. Perhaps that was his doubt. “I am”, I replied. I did not know what to expect but thought it might be a touch for a few euro. I was so wrong. “Would you consider learning how to celebrate Mass in Latin?” “No”, I replied. “Why not?” “Because I don’t see the need. I am 51 years old, I have never had the experience of Mass in Latin and don’t feel the need for it.” “That’s a pity”, he told me. I then pointed out that he seemed to be much younger than me (though he did not tell me his age) and how much less must he have had a lived experience of the Latin Mass. He told me he goes once a week and that many more young people are going too. It is the way.
He spoke of the priests where he attends Mass and that they are real priests. I asked if he thought I were a real priest and he said he didn’t know. He asked me would I condemn homosexuality? Would I preach on contraception? Did I believe a homosexual should be a priest?” I said I would be slow to condemn anybody. That the church teaches homosexuality in itself is not a wrong but that the acts accompanying it give rise to serious question. In that regard I told him I felt a man who thought he was homosexual could be a priest provided he abide by celibacy and not pursue sexual relationships. He told me he could not believe what he was hearing. He suggested I take off the collar and told me I was part of the liberal brigade. That I was about political correctness and was not preaching the gospel. He asked why I thought priests did not preach about these issues and I said maybe we had done so for too long and too often. He disagreed. I told him I believe in the Moral Life and try always to encourage we live our lives by it. I said of course there are wrongs in the world and that we must try to steer our course in accordance with the Gospel. I said, however, that maybe there were other issues that needed to be spoken of and that they deserved to be heard as well.
I asked what he thought about Pope Francis and he said we’d have to wait to see and then added “if he is the pope”. I asked did he question the conclave that elected Pope Francis and he spoke to me of the “liberal agenda” and wondered how a Pope could say “Who am I to condemn homosexuals?” I said I believed the Pope was right. Who is any of us to condemn another? He spoke about the “New Mass” and I tried to say it’s the only Mass I know – that I’ve grown up with it and that it means a lot to me. I said people like my mother, good people, went to Mass and prayed the Rosary, only looking up when the bells rang for the Consecration. I wondered how that engaged them? I talked about the priest having his back turned to the people and wondered what that had to say about respect for the other – for the people behind you. I told him that as far as I knew when Pope Benedict re-introduced provision for celebration of the Latin Mass he suggested that only priests who understood its meaning should avail. I tried to explain that I didn’t understand it and wondered at times how priests much, much younger than I can claim to have a deep and personal understanding of the words they speak and through which they seek to lead people in prayer. He said the English translation is in the missal.
Again he spoke of these priests being “good priests” and I asked if he thought I was a good priest. He said based on what he had heard, he’d have to say no. I told him I felt there was potential for division in all of this and that’s one of the reasons I didn’t fully go along with the notion of groups going off the celebrate in this way. I told him the church had difficult enough of a task in hand to keep its people going in one direction rather than encouraging all sorts of groups with a variety of agendas. He did not agree. He told me that the majority of young men becoming priests now celebrate Mass in Latin and that only one man went for the priesthood in Ireland this year. I said there was actually fourteen (didn’t think to add that would not include people who may have joined Religious Orders) but this did not impact much! He said that’s only a small number and I agreed, telling him there were seventy-five in my first year class in the Seminary but pointing out his singular figure was inaccurate and that I wondered why he felt he had to approach me at all. “Are you encouraged to do this?” I asked. “Have you been told you should approach priests and say these things to them?” “No”, he said “but I try to convert people whenever I can”. “Why?” I asked “why do you think I need to be converted?” He went on to tell me that we didn’t care whether people came to church or not and that we saw one church being the same as another. It mattered not to us where people went to church. I said I disagreed and that in my parish, I always think of people not going to church and try in one way or another to have contact with them and encourage them. Again, in this regard, I acknowledged my shortcomings but said it was important to me that people came to their church and worshiped there.
He said we are not preaching to people about the key issues – again he repeated them, homosexuality, divorce, contraception and when I said I felt Jesus was not about condemnation he looked at me in disbelief. “Let him without sin” … I told him but he was having none of it. So I said to him that it seems from what he was saying that any priest who celebrates Mass in Latin, wears the soutane (cassock) is a good priest. I asked if he felt any of them might not be good priests? Was it possible any of them might be getting it wrong. He was emphatic in his response “No”. He clarified by telling me that these priests are not caught up in bureaucracy of leadership that has been infiltrated by gays and free masons.
We are losing the battle he assured me. More and more young people have turned to the true church of Pre-Vatican 11 and they will rebuild the church. I tried to say I went to the seminary when I was eighteen and have given practically all my adult life and hope I will do so to the day I die, to the Church and my belief in the Gospel. I told him I’ve had my struggles but believe in what I am about but he did not seem to accept any of that.
Now I wonder if I said “yes” when he asked me would I consider learning how to say the Latin Mass would I be a good priest or, at the very least, in time become a good priest?
We parted, I fear, as we met – still strangers and unsure what the other wanted …. but we did talk and that can’t be a bad thing.