When young couples ask me to come to their church to officiate their wedding ceremony, I explain to them that we, priests, need to be invited in and granted permission by the pastor who has jurisdictional oversight for the parish. One of them responded, “Oh, you mean like a vampire.” Yes, I guess it is like that: we cannot enter until the master of the house invites us. When I mentioned that image to the next couple that made a similar request, the groom-to-be quipped: “And you drink blood.” I guess we do that, too, since we believe that the ceremonial wine we consume is “the blood of Christ.”
A childhood fan of Barnabas Collins from Dark Shadows, I might also note that we occasionally wear capes, profess that we never die, and tend to be more comfortable than most with darkness and mystery. We also spend a fair amount of time around caskets, corpses, and graveyards. And though I’ve noticed that many of us have rather fair or ashen skin, and occasional bloodshot eyes from late night sick calls, I hope that the similarities end there. We’re not afraid of garlic though we hold the usual aversion to too much of it on another’s breath. Most of us can see our reflection in a mirror and don’t have fangs; it is more and more clear that we don’t possess the power to compel others as vampires notoriously can and the church for many centuries tried to do. Finally, our tendency is not to shrink from the cross, though some of us periodically will. Rather, we make a commitment—or at least have a desire—to embrace the cross each day.
Perhaps because it is Halloween season, or maybe because of church leaders’ inept handling of important managerial issues, or even because Pope Francis has asked us to help dispel demons from the institutional church, it seems okay to make a comparison between priests and vampires. Like a scene from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, we might even benefit from some kick-ass women straightening us out and putting us in our places. Some hierarchical leaders are pondering canonical changes that would permit women who love the church to take leadership roles in our ecclesial structure, realizing that they offer insights and guidance that our male-dominated hierarchy doesn’t. There is a stake in the heart of our church that needs to be extracted. I pray that, through God’s loving mercy, we will be given new life and an opportunity to do better in self-governance.
Unfortunately, inside the church there might always be nefarious ghouls, as some viewed Dracula and other vicious vampires—not to mention a few breakfast clowns like Count Chocula or singular-minded characters like The Count who lives on Sesame Street. But by and large the great majority of priests are harmless and most are even good guys who possess and share holy virtues, healthy attitudes, wholesome manners, and a happy outlook. As Halloween creeps up on us and daylight gets shorter, pray that we will help the world move from darkness to the light of heaven’s glory by advancing the mission of Christ and imitating the saints.