The online magazine Busted Halo’s “Moral Dilemmas” series got the attention of one USA Today columnist not with what it said, but with what it didn’t. When Busted Halo polled readers on what to do about a sticky moral situation, talking to a priest was not among the possible options.
Seemingly flabbergasted, the columnist, Cathy Lynn Grossman, asked a good question — one she seems to have thought had a “duh” answer for Catholics until now:
“Do you bring your real life moral questions to your clergy? Do folks under 35 actually know any clergy? Do you have a pastor, priest or rabbi you might sit down with and mull a problem?”
These are important questions. I don’t think many young adult Catholics do know a priest at all, let alone one well enough to call up and say, “Father, can we grab coffee? I gotta ask for your help on something.”
First of all, when we left home for college and adulthood, a lot of us left a parish community where we may have known the priest, maybe even well. Growing up, my parish priest joined us for holiday dinners and family events. At college there was campus ministry, and the campus minister — who, at my alma mater, was a priest — was around campus, and we knew it was part of his job to offer counsel.
But now that I’m beyond college and in the working world, I’m a bit priest-less. I’ve moved around town, which means I’ve switched parishes a few times, and right now I rotate among three different parishes for weekend Masses. As an undergrad I had a lot of friends in the seminary, but now they’re busy with their own parishioners. Working for the Catholic press, I know a lot of priests, but not one of them is my pastor.
The thing is, most of us don’t realize we need a priest until there’s a crisis, like a family member’s death. And at that point, it feels kind of awkward to call up the pastor of one’s parish and say, “Hey, I know we’ve never talked before, but I need to talk now.”
Probably most young Catholics don’t do it — especially for stuff that seems too trivial to require bothering a priest, most of whom seem stretched for time the way it is.
And that’s assuming a Catholic has a parish she attends regularly. Young adult Catholics are notorious for parish-hopping or not registering in their parish. They figure they’ll do it when they’re married or engaged. Yet I think some Catholic singles would like to know their pastors better but aren’t sure how to go about it.
Some people will argue that we don’t need a priest for counsel, that a layperson can offer just as good (and sometimes better) advice than a priest. I get what they’re saying.
Yet as a Catholic, I view the priest himself as a sign of God’s grace, and there’s comfort in that. It’s not crazy that I would want an ordained man of God to be there for life’s toughest times — and maybe even when life is just normal.
So, I pose Grossman’s questions to you: Do you bring your real-life moral questions to your clergy? Do folks under 35 actually know any clergy? Do you have a priest, seminarian or sister you might sit down with and mull a problem?