When I was a young priest, I served as Vocation Director for my diocese. During that time, I was struck by the fact that my brother priests held varying ecclesial views that aligned us with, or separated us from, each other and, subsequently, made vocation work more challenging. I wrote the following poem at that time in hopes that it would spark some conversation within our ranks but I didn’t get much feedback. I pulled it out a few years ago when leading a retreat for the priests of Albany, New York. They appreciated it far more and acknowledged that things hadn’t changed significantly over the decades.
I am floating it again, here, because it reaches beyond ordained priesthood to touch many of God’s priestly people who care about the Catholic Church and how we view each other. Some have suggested that we are moving toward a split in the church. Personally, I don’t think so. Rather, I believe our challenge is to let go of non-essential ecclesial laws and focus primarily on the essential lessons of Jesus and law of love that He brought us. If we can do that we will discover, again, communion with Him and one another.
Once we were friends, bound by the unity of our oath
But now we have chosen churches without room for both.
I, in the middle of the road, and you now off to my left,
When last we spoke, you lacked expression, seemingly deaf.
I consume Christ’s blood while you sip sweet wine;
You pursue human hearts while I seek only the divine.
If your bread be lukewarm, it will hurl from my soul;
For your political games could threaten my ultimate goal.
Why do you question my respect for church history?
How can you tear at the shroud of this great mystery?
You dramatize liturgies, while I recite God’s Mass;
When I revere learned traditions, you simply take a pass.
You turn aside the holy law and act as a rejected whore.
How can you possibly lead others to the latch of heaven’s door?
Stop adjusting commands to fit each condition and every case.
Come live in my middle; God’s veritable truth dwells in this space.
Yes, I am in the middle…somewhere off to your right;
Examine your life-long vows and step back into my sight.
How have we drifted away and found ourselves so far apart?
Did you forget the reasons when you strayed from His heart?
I thought I was in the middle and you far to my right.
I won’t claim you’re blind, but I think that you lack insight.
Could you really have held the truth all through these years?
If so, I might just realize the greatest of all my fears!
Once we sought service, not comfort, honor, or fame.
It seems that you were the one who made it into a game.
You forfeit human circumstance in favor of ecclesial law;
You conjure up the categories, make a line, and then you draw.
You watch for conduct: policing infractions tracked from afar;
You announce to others whenever I stumble or fall below par.
You say the world’s an evil obstacle to your primary task.
But why isn’t the world your office, if I might simply ask?
To you Eucharist is something done by a priest in his sanctuary.
I say: on the job, in the shop, at home—each day it could vary!
Look to ages past: why not a female priest or a married pope?
Look at days to come: our job is not to judge, but to usher in hope.
I don’t ignore the Vatican. It is the Vatican that ignores me.
First, I must serve my neighbors, and then the Holy See.
Each day my friends endure loss, suffering from flood to drought;
Neither they nor I really care if the stole is worn inside or out.
I suppose I am to your left; you’re clearly far from my center;
But like you, I seek the Kingdom and one day to humbly enter.
Let us not be too concerned how our future beyond here mounts
But live each hour with God’s people, knowing every action counts.
Whether your middle is the left or your middle is the right,
Please keep the will of God forever in your mission’s sight.
As men of the cloth, we’re messengers of merciful Good News,
Not members of enemy parties whose politics we must choose.
All sheep wander a bit; but never too far do we stray;
Let’s reverence one another and let God strengthen our feet of clay.
We may wear foreign and ancient garb in our modern time,
Yet to the heavenly mountain we’re charged to lead the climb.
Let’s care for entrusted souls with the law of the Lord enmeshed
And proclaim the Word of God and even be that Word enfleshed.
Let’s bring it to all people; let’s bring it as we’re able;
Let’s welcome rights and lefts to the same Lord’s Table.
We are not so different really—we’re not that far apart.
And we can grow closer still by letting love dwell in our heart.
Embrace me, friend, again, united by Christ’s pure oath;
Our Church (the home of God) provides a dwelling for us both.