These flowers, whatever they are (digital cameras don’t like red), are found all alongside the rectory of a neighboring parish. The picture was snapped just the other day, having spent that day racing about Western North Carolina for a distant hospital run and other pastoral journeys, with me finally ending up with some fellow priests for a bit of R and R.
Sometimes priests ask the inevitable and ever so dumb question about what makes for priestly fraternity. The priests I was with didn’t ask this. They already knew the answer. Those who do ask such a question would never accept the answer if it was given to them, for it is a question which screams that they don’t want the real answer, but an answer that will let them escape far from reality. Priestly fraternity, say the seekers of priestly fraternity, is all about sharing a meal, having a drink, a cigar, shooting the breeze. Sure, all of those things are helpful and expected and set the scene, and it is absolutely right and encouraging more of this is to be praised to the very heavens, but that is not the answer to the provenance of priestly fraternity. And really, just to say it, any priest with any sort of real priestly fraternity knows that externals don’t make for fraternity, and rejoice that externals are not all there is to it. How empty and depressing that would be!
So, how to say it? Real priests know that priestly fraternity does not come about by way of sitting through diocesan sponsored seminars and courses on getting along to get along, which are really psychological niceness of conformity reeducation camps, for which the desired result is simply that one is to have zero identity, being happy just to be swayed by whatever political correctness one’s brother priests fall into at whatever moment for whatever reason, with whatever bully being on top of the heap, the “top” being the lowest common denominator of rejection of doctrine and morality and proper liturgical practice. I mean, how many pastors bully their young assistants into compromising themselves so that they can be mirror images of narcissist pastors? Not just a few.
But let’s go the other way, and ask if priestly fraternity is all about being brothers with Jesus. We can surely wax poetic about that, what it was for the Apostles to be with Jesus or not (considering their escape from Calvary). With this, we could all cite countless passages from Scripture and the Fathers and from so many magisterial and otherwise papal interventions, particularly from Saint John Paul II. Yes, O.K. But, after all that, fully assenting to every word of it, I’m not convinced. It’s true that we all have one Heavenly Father and that we are brothers because of that. Yes. But, really, there’s something missing even after all that. Our Mother. Mary. It is through her maternal intercession for us that Jesus establishes us as brothers: “Woman, behold, your son.”
Let’s take a military example. Anyone who has ever been anywhere near the military knows that one has blood brothers, and I’m not talking about family blood but instead the blood of violence in which one risks one’s life for one’s brothers and sees those who have given their lives for others and for yourself. Very humbling, that. Back to Calvary where Jesus lays down His life for us. We can’t see that if, like the Apostles, we run away. We are blood brothers when we stand with Mary under the Cross. It is then that we understand the Sacrifice of the Mass that makes us truly blood brothers by way of the family, that is, when we say the words of Consecration tied with Calvary in the first person singular. But Mary is right there.
I’ll tell you this: there will be true, enthusiastic priestly fraternity, with all the unfathomable mystery of sharing in the very priesthood of Mary’s Divine Son, when the Immaculate, Virgin Mother of God is accepted by each priest as his mother. This is when all heresies drop away, when all self-congratulatory ars celebrandi falls away, when all totally narcissistic bullying and brow beating and smashing others down just to do it falls away. This is when we become brothers, when we, together, look upon the suffering of our mother below the cross, standing in solidarity with her as she looks upon Jesus being tortured to death. To repeat, this is precisely when we become blood brothers of Jesus. This is when she so very much wants us priests to be one with the one High Priest, Christ Jesus, one in His truth, one is His goodness and kindness, blood brothers, true priestly fraternity.