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Posted July 21, 2005

Book: Long Have I Loved You: A Theologian Reflects on His Church
Author: Walter J. Burghardt
Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY. pp. 506

An Excerpt from the Preface:

An autobiography this is not. I do indeed enter into the story, but the story is not so much about me as it is about realities and events, movements and changes, crises and quandaries, theology and spirituality, church and world. It is a reflection on much of a century. One man’s reflection, yes, but enfleshed by hundreds of other minds, faces, voices, hearts.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Moving beyond Scripture, my experience of church history led me to suspect the mid-century stress on functions, on roles. We defined an ordained priest in terms of what he could do which an unordained person could not do. And here the crisis of identity was tearing the guts of countless priests. They were searching for priesthood in terms of something specific to themselves, powers proper to priests, functions that distinguished them from the laity. These powers and functions were becoming narrower and narrower, so that they wondered if there actually was anything like that. And though they did discover what they alone could do (“This is my body,” “I absolve you”), it seemed so narrow in scope that it took time, little of their life. The rest of their existence (preaching, teaching, building, organizing, counseling . . . was lived in the suspicion that some man or woman in the pews could do it better.

What I came to realize with increasing clarity, with progressive delight, was that through sacramental ordination I was empowered, I had engaged myself, to shape my life to the needs of the gospel as the Church sees them at any given moment in history. As the Church sees them. That is why Robert Drinan’s ten years in Congress with episcopal permission were not a leave of absence from the priesthood. As a columnist wrote for the Boston Globe after Drinan was ordered by the pope to leave Congress, “Father Drinan is doing wholesale what Mother Teresa is doing retail.”

So too for George Higgins reconciling labor and management, Jesuit astronomer George Coyne directing the Vatican Observatory, the late Jesuit Timothy Healy overseeing the New York Public Library system, Metuchen’s Charles Cicerale advocating rights of the mentally ill, The Bronx Joseph Dietz administering a social-service agency, Redemptorist Fredric Hang easing the lot of the homeless in Milwaukee, Claretian Thomas Joyce agitating against plant closings and for workers’ ownership, Arthur Mallinson founding a Catholic Worker house in Dallas, a priest acting as treasurer in a religious community, the thousand-and-one priests teaching economics and chemistry, philosophy and psychology, trigonometry and Greek. Are they on leave? Not on your life! Are they hyphenated priests? No sir! Is it the Church that calls this priest to this specific activity? Then that activity is priestly. Are there activities incompatible on principle with priesthood? I have discovered only two: unrepented sin and perhaps subpar golf.

Now, even if we dare not identify priesthood with some single function or several, in isolation from history and historical evolution, still the Church has come to a point in development where certain functions are regarded as special responsibilities of the ordained priest. I shall mention four in generic terms, to distinguish them from a much more arguable areas: the specific means differe priests may take to implement these roles.

First, I have been ordained to proclaim God’s Word.

... Second, I have been ordained to build up the Christian community.

... Third, I have been ordained to serve humankind.

... Fourth, I have been ordained to preside at worship, especially the Eucharist.

Table of Contents:

1. From Demosthenes to Damascene” Classics and Patristics

2. From Seminary to University: Theology Yesterday and Today

3. From Luther to Paul VI: Isolation and Ecumenism

4. From Prior Testament Prophet to New Testament Preacher: The Art and Craft of Preaching

5. From Cain to Antichrist: Social Injustice and the Just Word

6. From Manresa to El Salvador: Jesuit Spirituality

7. From Genesis to Bonhoeffer: Free Like God

8. From Jesus Christ to Vatican II: Ordained Priesthood

9. From the Samaritan Woman to the Catholic Tomorrow: Apostolate of the Laity

10. From Eve to Mary to . . . ?: Women in the Church

11. From the Apostle Paul to John Paul II: Crisis in the Church

12. From Hippocrates to Kevorkian: Catholicism and the Medical Profession

13. From Life to Life: On Turning Eighty-Five

14. Epilogue: Grateful Memories