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Father Muench Says...

Poetic nature of priests... and all people

April 10, 2013

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

I would like to share with you an idea that I came upon today in a book written especially for priests.  This book is written by Father Ronald D. Wintherup, a Sulpician priest. (The Sulpician Fathers are dedicated to the education and formation of priests.)  The chapter that caught my attention today was entitled, “The Priest as a Poet.”

As I read, I realized that many of the qualities suggested for priests would be wonderful for all Catholics. A poet is someone who writes poems.  However,  the word poet also means “someone who is especially gifted in the perception and expression of the beautiful and lyrical.”  A poet deals with words.  The priest and Catholic People, the People of God, deal with the Word of God. The Gospels present Jesus – the Son of God – as the Word of God. 

The Second Vatican Council, in the Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, tells priests, “The People of God is formed into one in the first place by the Word of the living God, which is quite rightly sought from the mouths of priests.”  Priests and people must apply the Word of God to the circumstances of their lives.  The Word of God can change a person’s vision and give direction to life.  This is important for priests – important for all Catholic people.

I would like to share with you a couple of the qualities that characterize a poet.  First off, the primary skill of a poet is a keen power of observation. For a priest,  the challenge is to carefully recognize what is happening in his parish, in the Church, in the world.  This can – and should – have a profound influence on every priest’s ministry. Knowing what is important will truly influence his preaching. 

All Catholic people can and should have such a power of observation.  All parishioners can and should recognize the real needs and concerns in their parish and community.  This is how they will truly carry out their ministry to make their world a better place and make their parish better and more alive.

Another quality that is mentioned as essential is that poets are in touch with the essential experiences of human existence such as life, death, love, violence, war, hatred, God and mystery.  For a priest, this awareness adds something very important to his ministry and his own spiritual life.  For everything he does as a priest, these opportunities to be immersed in these experiences of human existence will also profoundly influence his preaching. 

I again believe that this would be such a great quality for all Catholic people.  Being touched by the experiences of human life is essential for all Catholics.  Can you imagine the spirit of a parish where the Catholic people truly are aware and influence by these important – essential – experiences of life?

When I think of priest as a poet, I think of Bishop Robert Morneau, the auxiliary Bishop of Green Bay, who came to the diocese several years ago to lead a Wadhams Hall Pastoral Institute. He is a poet and uses poetry, his and others, in his writings and teachings and preaching. Bishop Morneau adds this to this discussion: “Music, art and literature have the power not only to inform us about God, the world and ourselves but they also carry a mysterious power to transform us and to help us realize our potential.”  He also said, “How this happens has never been definitely described.  That it happens is beyond doubt.”

(May I add that Bishop Morneau is the only poet I have played golf with – I won’t tell you how badly he defeated me!)

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