BE TO ME A FATHER AND A PRIEST, by Fr Peter M. J. Stravinskas

BE TO ME A FATHER AND A PRIEST, by Fr Peter M. J. Stravinskas

Michael Daniel

A priest-author who believes strongly in his vocation and ministry

by Fr Peter M. J. Stravinskas,

(Newman House Press, 2009, softcover, 300pp. Available from for US$15.00)

As the Church celebrates the Year of the Priest, which commenced on 19 June 2009, the 150th anniversary of the death of St Jean Vianney, patron saint of priests, hardly a week passes without another tragic tale of clerical abuse emerging. It can be argued that this tragedy is one facet of what some commentators have described as a 'crisis of the priesthood.'

Since the 1960s the priesthood has been under attack. In the last few decades, all sorts of weird and wonderful dissident ideas about the priesthood have gained popular attention, for example, Christ did not ordain priests, the concept of priesthood as currently understood was alien to the early Church and women should be ordained.

The advocacy of the last was often amusing and ironic, since many who fostered it did not believe in the priesthood anyway!

Well known American Catholic priest and author, Rev Peter Stravinskas addresses many issues surrounding the Catholic priesthood in Be to me a Father and a Priest. This book is an anthology of articles and homilies written by Fr Stravinskas from the early 70s, before he was ordained a priest, to the present.

Within this work, there are three sub-anthologies, each of which is arranged chronologically according to date of publication/presentation. The first section, which occupies approximately half of this work, consists of short articles published in popular Catholic magazines such as Our Sunday Visitor which are generally written for the average Catholic.

The second section is a collection of homilies preached at Masses of thanksgiving for newly ordained or those celebrating an anniversary of ordination.

The final section contains conference papers, addresses and longer articles, some of which were written specifically for priests. Some of these require a certain amount of theological knowledge such as the paper entitled 'The Understanding of Holy Orders in the Roman Catholic Church since Vatican II,' which was delivered at a theological conference.

Ironically, Fr Stravinskas' formation and priestly life can be said to be synchronised with the decline and the resurrection of the Catholic priesthood.

During his seminary formation, which commenced in 1968, a month after the promulgation of Humanae Vitae, the eclectic to bizarre ideas regarding the priesthood gained currency and students such as himself who adhered to the Church's theology of the priesthood and received understanding of the role of the priest were increasingly marginalised.

In his paper entitled 'Recruiting Candidates for what?', delivered on 6 February 1992, Fr Stravinskas talks about the counter-productive strategies used by many trendy vocations directors that deterred promising candidates at the time of writing.

Signs of hope

However, this work contains many signs of hope for the future, not least of which is that it is penned by a priest who strongly believes in his vocation and ministry as a priest and who is not ashamed to stand up for the priesthood.

This work also makes reference to leaders such as Archbishop Chaput, who not only by their example but by concrete actions have fostered an authentic renewal in priestly life and ministry.

Secondly, the author charitably but firmly and unashamedly defends the Church's teaching on 'controversial issues,' for example, why women cannot be ordained priests and why the discipline of priestly celibacy should be retained.

Some of the addresses are particularly inspiring, notably those preached for priestly colleagues. However, perhaps the most moving one is the homily preached after his mother died, when he reflected on her devotion to the Church and the priesthood.

Perhaps his greatest challenges are to priests themselves. He not only reminds them of the importance of wearing clerical dress, as a witness and a sign of their ministry, but also of the importance of priests being and conducting themselves as gentlemen and also for the need for maintaining their reading.

Be to me a Father and a Priest would make ideal reading for the laity and clergy. Selected material from it, notably the first section, would be most useful for religion classes dealing with the priesthood. It is also highly recommended reading for seminarians and those discerning a priestly vocation.

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