Alexis Tancibok (http://gracecatholic.blogspot.com) has raised an interesting issue regarding whether the priesthood is always a public office. Alexis’ position (which is basically yes) struck me as an interesting counterpoint to that held by a couple of esoteric bishops who administer a vow of secrecy to their ordinands: a promise not to reveal their priesthood to anyone unless the other person has a “soul need” to know.
Perhaps this is a situation where Ken Wilber’s dictum “everyone is right, but everyone is also partial” applies. Alexis is surely right that priesthood is not some sort of personal possession wrapped tightly around an individual ego. Rather, by its very nature, it is turned outward in service and love. Tim C, in a comment, wisely points out that even a private mass is for the good of the world. As a dyed-in-the-wool esotericist, I think even our “inner” lives (our thoughts, feelings, etc) flow out to the world and back again in ways we rarely suspect. A greater recognition of the “public” character of all our spiritual work is clearly beneficial
On the other hand, the ISM has long suffered from an overdose of public clericalism. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I have no problem with a very high percentage of ISM folks being ordained. But I cringe when priesthood becomes a mask that we wear to prop ourselves up, to impress others, to posture and carry on. “I am the Most Rev and Almighty Apostolic Bishop So and So.” Please. I disagree with a vow of secrecy about the priesthood. However, what would happen if (for an Advent discipline, say) we decided to hold back from always taking every opportunity to present ourselves in all our clerical glory… or silliness? Rather, as we encounter new friends, maybe we could inwardly question whether it really serves the other person to know we are ordained (at least at that moment) – or by telling them, do we primarily serve ourselves? Or even if they do know, who is served by emphasizing it (e.g., using titles)? The answer will be different in every case
If we look to the example of Jesus, he taught publicly – and yet he also undertook many “private” actions: withdrawing from the crowds to pray alone, and offering a different level of instruction privately to the disciples. Jesus was also without titles or credentials or special outfits – all of which have their place, and yet can easily form part of the distorting mask. He was just some guy from Nazareth… whose words and actions displayed transforming grace to those with eyes to see. The crucifixion, while grotesquely public, was understood by virtually none of its witnesses, and the resurrection was experienced only by the few.
Whether as unordained priests by virtue of our baptism, or as ordained clergy, we are called to mediate the grace of Christ to the world, to display God’s love in action. How that happens is often a mystery which defies our expectations and changes with time. Thus, we are wise to lay aside any expectations (and even more so, vows) that priestly work will take a particular form – public or private, known or unknown. As we take the next step in front of us, the path will open.