Clerical Concord

Author: Rev. Thomas O'Donnell, C.M.
Source: The Priest of Today - His ideals and His Duties


Si habuero omnem scientiam, caritatem autem non habuero nihil sum.

In our converse with fellow-priests let us, above all things, have constant mutual charity. 1 It is better than prophetic gifts, than miraculous powers, than all knowledge, than even the faith that moveth mountains. It is proof against all things; it is trustful, hopeful, patient, and never falleth away. What greater happiness can there be, what in life is more comforting, than to dwell in amity with our fellow-priests, to look upon them as friends, to be one with them in sentiment, to consult them in difficulties, to interchange services and hospitality with them?

On the other hand, how discouraging and disastrous is sacerdotal discord. It paralyzes the sacred ministry. It disedifies the Church of God. Whenever there is disagreement or antipathy between leaders they act at cross purposes; consciously or unconsciously they thwart one another. If a young man is forward and conceited, and puts on a superior air in his dealings with elderly clerics, there is every reason to anticipate that he will sooner or later be tripped up and harassed in the sphere of his activities. How can we preach the fundamental law of Christ if we break it in the Sanctuary? How can we diffuse charity in the hearts of the faithful if our own are dry and barren? How can we threaten our brethren with the judgment described in St. Matthew’s Gospel if they can cry out to us : “Teachers teach yourselves." 2 “Let us, therefore,” says St. Vincent de Paul, writing, in 1645, to eight Vincentians in Ireland, “let us be united by the charity of Christ and God will bless us… How can we draw souls to Christ if we are not united to one another, and to Him? Let us have one mind and one will. Else we shall be like to horses yoked to the same plough who, by pulling one in one direction and another in another, break and destroy everything." 3

Nothing, perhaps, will conduce to concord and mutual forbearance so much as respect and reverence for our fellow-priests. If self-respect is a duty, much more so is respect for others. If the people hold the priesthood in esteem and veneration, with far greater reason ought we do so ourselves. No familiarity with clerics should ever blind us to their rights — their right to reputation, their right to reverence, their rights as men and as ambassadors of Christ. If we pluck off the divine mantle that dignifies them and lay bare their defects and disfigurements, we shall soon become disrespectful, contemptuous, and even cynical in our attitude. But if we are quick to recognize the good qualities of others and the features that make them dear to God, if we consider the zeal and the labours that make them acceptable to the people, we shall become kindlier, and perhaps more humble and more polite.

A habit of sympathetic appreciation will make our intercourse with others sweet and harmonious. Let us cultivate it, and cultivate, too, its outward expression in acts of courtesy and observance. “For one of the best means,” says Cardinal Gibbons, “a priest can adopt for preserving peace and concord among his colleagues is to observe the canons of politeness and the rules of exterior decorum,” as, on the other hand, one of the most frequent causes of “the studied reserve and misunderstandings sometimes noticeable amongst clergyman is their neglect of exterior acts of courtesy towards one another." 4

Of course in the clerical as in every other human heart there are passions that struggle against the reign of charity. One of these is envy — green-eyed “envy, with jealous leer malign.” It is the ugly offspring of disappointed self-conceit. It is ever repining, ever deceitful, ever gnashing its teeth, ever dealing perversely. It would rather see all others kept back than seem itself to lag behind. Like the devils, it would undo the good of others. With evil visage it views the gifts, the success, or the popularity of others, and by slander and meanness, by whisper and insinuation, it strives to belittle their good repute and their superiority.

If a man is very selfish, always seeking his own ease, always anxious for prominence and precedence, always obtrusive, he will, when disappointed, or beaten in the race of life, or thrown into the shade by his fellow-workers, become morose, sour, querulous, and lapse gradually into envious imbecility. We must guard against the surging of this ugly passion, for, from the time of the pharisees even unto the present day, it assumes the specious form of zeal, prudence, or some other virtue. But whatever its disguise, its secret motive is passion and hatred. Christ — the anointed One — may be without sin, may work marvels and attract the people by His divine simplicity, but the envious are shocked at His violations of the Sabbath, at His intercourse with sinners, and at the unwashed hands of His disciples. So they ban Him, undermine Him, humble Him, cross Him, strike Him with their tongues, put wood in His bread, and blot Him out of the land of the living. For our part, if we wish to guard against an envious splenetic disposition, and the treachery it leads to, let us not be conceited or ambitious of the first places; on the contrary, let us cultivate the lowly sentiments of Christ, let us be content with few things, and strive, at least in thought and affection, to familiarize ourselves with humble duties and appointments.

Another source of discord is sectionalism — a tendency to run into grooves and to form groups, “corners,” factions. Its horizon is limited by the interests and prejudices of a clique. It is ignorant, narrow, and intolerant. It splits men into discordant elements, creates wranglings amongst brethren, and degrades even religion into party contests and petty interests. If armies are united for conquest and destruction, if the children of darkness conspire for earthly motives, shall not those whose aim is the common good work harmoniously together — shall the clergy allow themselves to be disorganized into a spiritless multitude, with various mottoes, standards, and leaders, some crying out, “I follow Paul;” others, " I follow Apollo;” others again, “I am a Jew — I will not speak with Samaritans”? Let us never be drawn into any faction, never divide Christ, never part His seamless robe; let us ignore trifling differences and adopt broad and generous views, remembering that we are Catholics, that our sympathies should be conterminous with our religion and should embrace all those on whom God pours His sunshine and His grace. As He wishes all men to be saved and all to form one body in Christ, so we as members of that body should show a care for one another, guarding against disunion, loving one another with the charity of brotherhood, rejoicing if another member has honour, sorrowing if another member suffers. 5

A third menace to clerical concord is a spirit of censoriousness. It is a characteristic of one who is small-minded and ungenerous. Such a person has a narrow outlook. He never sees more than one side of a question. He is bigoted and intolerant. He has not learned from history or experience the limitations of human nature, the admixture of evil and good to be found in every human being. He expects too much. “He is moved with passion and he mistakes it for zeal.” He denies to others the large liberty which he claims for himself. He suspects what is evil, belittles what is good, imputes the worst motives, and passes judgment with a reckless bitterness that is appalling. Those placed in authority are the favourite target of his shafts. 6 He empties many a quiver at them. Why not ? “They are over-bearing. They have no sense of justice. They select the worst men for positions of trust. They are proud. They take no counsel. They are the dupes of flattery. They are weak and cowardly. They allow abuses to be rampant. Their rule is a failure. Let another receive it.” So thinks and speaks the censorious man, the man with a lynx eye for faults and a blind one for virtues and difficulties, the very man who resents the mildest criticism of himself, who waxes indignant if anyone questions his judgment or his arrangements, and who expatiates with egotism and vehemence on his own wisdom and disinterestedness.

Why did such a man enter into the Sanctuary? Was it with a view to promotion? To obtain a rich benefice? To be decorated with honours? To be independent of control? Surely no! Surely he left all to follow Christ, to seek first the Kingdom of God and His justice, to save souls, to be content with little, and to labour in honourable dependence upon episcopal authority. That authority, no matter how able and well directed it may be, is hampered in many ways. It has to take care of all the flock, both lambs and sheep. It has to balance conflicting views and conflicting interests. All come to the Bishop for guidance, help, encouragement. Complaints pour in from many quarters, yet his lips are sealed. He cannot always send the best men to the best parishes. He must often order them like chosen troops to the front, to the post of danger. But he will not forget them, he will not forget their services. Indeed, his greatest comfort is to know that his priests trust him, that they recognize his difficulties, that they speak their minds to him with frankness, that they are faithful to their ordination promises, honourable in all their dealings, and prompt and cheerful in going wherever the Lord of the harvest calls them.

Do you value charity and clerical concord above all things ? Do you respect your colleagues and show them some little appreciation? 7 Do you blame little things in others and pass over great things in yourself ? In your clerical intercourse do you lack that courtesy in word and deed, in address and salutation, which becomes a gentleman and a priest ? Do you strive to win the confidence of your superiors, consulting them in all matters of moment, and cordially co-operating with them in all their plans and undertakings for the advancement of religion? 8

On the contrary, are you squeamish about rights and privileges, suspicious about the motives of others, and captious on all petty points of jurisdiction ? Are you modest in word and act, “swift to hear and slow to dogmatize” — careful neither to put on the tone of an infallibilist nor to obtrude your immature ideas on men of knowledge and experience; or rather do you resemble the Caledonian, described by Lamb, who had no falterings of self-suspicion, upon whom the twilight of dubiety hardly ever fell? Do you gladly allow others to differ from you on a thousand questions of theology, politics, and discipline — in fact on all matters that are not defined or certain ? Do you abstain from political wranglings with fellow-priests in public assemblies and in public prints? Nevertheless, are you solicitous to maintain your independence as an individual, not to merge it in party spirit, not to subordinate your views and principles to the preferences or antipathies of others, not to become the mere echo of the cynical or the disgruntled? Do you practise hospitality, and in as far as possible associate at table with your fellow-priests”? 9 Do you pardon trespasses, as Heaven hath pardoned your own, and, before you stand at the altar, do you seek a reconciliation with those whom you have offended ? Do you cherish a special affection for the Sacred Heart of Jesus, as the surest way of making your own heart meek, humble, and affectionate? 10

  1. Attend to yourself, mind your own business, think out matters for yourself, so as to have right principles, and do not become the mere shuttle-cock of circumstances.
  2. If another neglects his duty, be very slow and very cautious before interfering — utilius est oculos a rebus displicentibus avertere. 11 Even if you meet a stone of the sanctuary in the street, an erring brother, be gentle, and thank God for having saved you from temptation. 12
  3. Do not publicly criticize the parochial administration and the conduct of your colleagues, nor encourage fault-finding and opposition. Be honourable and loyal. Keep in check the demon of jealousy, which prompts many to disparage their fellow-labourers, even in the presence of the laity. 13 Ab obtrectationibus omnino abstineant; nec invidos illos sermones, presertim coram laicis spargant quibus vel leviter fama et existimatio eorum laedatur, qui ejusdem ministerii sunt consortes.
  4. Beware of those priests “who regulate their conduct by lax principles of theology and easy-going casuistry, and who seek themselves and how little they may do for God and His Church without committing grave sin." 14
  5. Observe the following three practices suggested by the Bishop of Newport: first, show at least the negative side of sympathy by abstaining irom anything that can hurt the feelings of others; secondly, reduce your self-assertion to the lowest possible figure and strain out of your character all aggressiveness in matters of rights, claims, credit, place, and gratification ; and thirdly, try to please others, think what will help or recreate them, and what will promote general cheerfulness. Nothing will as effectually loosen the pack of depression and discouragement on your own shoulders as the very effort to be unselfish and really kind to another. 15
  6. Do all you can to promote clerical union. It is strongly recommended by the reigning Pontiff in his Exhortatio ad clerum. It is the desire of his heart to see priests closely bound together in various associations. Such associations, he says, are a safeguard against the dangers of isolation. They make men wise in counsel and strong in action. They come to the aid of individuals who may be confronted with special difficulties. They are a bulwark against the open and insidious attacks of enemies. They advance the interests of sacred learning by stimulating discussion and inquiry. Above all, they keep alive the true spirit and the special virtues of the priesthood by means of prayer, of mutual example, and of combined efforts.
  7. Finally, register in your memory the following wise observations of Canon Keating : “I have known good fellows, excellent rectors themselves now, who have lived with and have lived down cross-grained, cantankerous chiefs, in whose eyes nothing was right. I think I divine their secret now. First they resolved not to see that these old men were vain and jealous, close and mean. Verily there is great virtue in the blind eye. Then they made up their minds never to defend themselves. Then to see it through, not to appeal to the Bishop, not to ask for a change. The fact is the Bishop knows the state of things as well as the Curate, and is just about as helpless. … I once asked a funny fellow how he lived through a life such as I have described. For answer he said : “Do you know Campbell Walker’s Correct Card?’ (a book on whist). I nodded assent. ‘Then,’ he said, ‘read again the chapter, How to treat a bad partner. It is of no use trying to cure him. I bear with him till the Bishop cuts for a new deal, and meanwhile I play my own hand.’ “ 16
Visitation is appreciated and welcomed by every good priest. It produces a salutary effect upon the people, stimulates works of religion, checks disorders, and strengthens the bonds of union between the chief pastor and his flock. A lax priest, however, has no heart or zeal for a visitation. He deprecates pressure or interference from the outside. He maintains that things are going on in his parish as well as could reasonably be expected, and that the people are “good enough.” Abuses, of course, there may be, stagnant waters affecting the atmosphere, but he dislikes any disturbance of them; he dislikes a formal inquiry; he fears the consequences it may have. And no wonder. For a visitation, if rigorously carried out, is a severe test of a good priest, not to say of a negligent one. It is an exact auditing of accounts — of the spiritual and temporal affairs of a parish. It probes wounds, applies remedies, and enforces duties. In the words of the Council of Trent : Ejus scopus praecipuus est doctrinam sanam … inducere, bonos mores tueri, pravos corrigere, populum … ad religionem … accendere et caetera … ad fidelium fructum constituere. 17

Of course there are many other ways besides a visitation in which a Bishop may become acquainted with the state of a particular parish, but generally speaking his knowledge will not be as full as it should be — multa ignorabit — unless he goes to the different parts of his diocese, and sees and hears for himself. 18 Hence the Roman Pontifical points out in detail what a Bishop on visitation usually does. He begins with all that concerns the Blessed Eucharist — incipit visitationem a Sanctissima Eucharistia; he examines the baptistry, the altars, etc.; then he hears confessions and complaints if there are any — confessiones et deinde querelas, si quae sunt, audit; and finally he makes some inquiry concerning the conduct of priests and people and concerning the administration of things spiritual and temporal — de conversatione cleri et populi inquirit. As a wholesome admonition to young priests it may be well to set forth in a few paragraphs the principal matters that are likely to engage a Bishop’s attention.

  1. The church, its walls, roof, and pavement; the seats, confessionals, stations, and statues ; the bells ; the holy water stoups ; the entrance ; the churchyard ; the basement.
  2. The altars, the altar cloths, the crucifix, the antependia, the candlesticks, the flowers, the predella and its carpet. 19
  3. The tabernacle, its veils and interior lining, the lamp before it, the particles — how often made and how often renewed.
  4. The sacristy ; the vestments ; the safe ; the sacred vessels ; the missals ; the holy oils ; the purificators, palls, and corporals ; the sacrarium.
  5. The priests — how they preach, carry out the liturgy, hear confessions, attend the sick, manage schools, direct confraternities, provide Catholic books and papers, and avoid undesirable company.
A Bishop will naturally insist, as far as possible, on the observance of the following points :

  • That, however sharply a priest may needing rebuke vice, he shall never directly or insidiously mark out any of the parishioners from the pulpit or altar. Such an act would be, in the language of the Bishops assembled at Baltimore, audacia intolerabilis. 20
  • That priests shall not enter into civil law-suits, even for the recovery of debts due to the Church, without trying to secure arbitration and consulting the Ordinary. 21
  • That the laity shall not bring their clergy into the civil courts, even in purely secular affairs, without first having recourse to the Bishop.
  • That travelling clerics shall not be allowed to celebrate or administer the Sacraments unless they have commendatory letters from their Ordinary. 22
  • That nuns or sisters from a community shall not be allowed to go on questing expeditions without certain precautions : amongst others, they shall have the permission of their own Ordinary as well as of the Ordinary of the diocese where they quest, they shall not go singly, they shall be mature in years, they shall not collect after sunset, and, if possible, they shall not lodge anywhere except in religious houses. 23
  • That no questing be allowed in a diocese without the written permission of the Bishop, or of the Apostolic See. 24
Can you say with truth, Domine dilexi decorem domus tuae? Do you take special care — summa sollicitudo — to procure the purest elements for the sacrament of the altar: breads recently made from wheaten flour and natural water, and neither so thin nor so small as to render a true manducatio impossible, and wine bought from vine-growers of well-known probity, or from firms with intelligence and honesty enough to be able to guarantee what is pure in an age of fraud and adulteration? 25 Are the Eucharistic Species often renewed— once a week, as the Caeremoniale Episcoporum and several Decrees of the Congregation of Rites prescribe? Are you careful about the candles you use on the altar ? Do the two principal ones at Mass contain bees’ wax — saltem in maxima parte? Do the others used on the altar contain at least a considerable quantity of the prescribed material? 26 Do you examine the tabernacle occasionally, and get it dusted and refreshed? Is it covered with a veil (conopeum)? Do you buy cheap vestments, in order that you may not keep old ones too long in use? Do you get the chalices regilt from time to time ? Are the holy water fonts often cleaned out? Have you all the requisites for the obsequies of the dead ? Is not a shabby baptistry, according to Frassinetti, 27 one of the clearest proofs of a rector’s indolence and lack of faith ? Is yours encumbered with broken statues, faded flowers, and heaps of rubbish ? Is the baptismal font properly blessed twice a year— on Holy Saturday and Pentecost Saturday ? Is the church thoroughly ventilated and comfortable? Is the sanctuary lamp always burning ? An parasti lucernam Christo tuo? Are elaborately decorated shrines allowed to distract the people from what is real to what is symbolic, from the living Jesus to lifeless representations? Is electric light used in church, ita ut modus speciem praeseferat theatricalem? 28

Are the approaches to the church in good order, the doors noiseless, the floors regularly swept, and the walls and benches regularly dusted ? Do you try to obtain natural flowers as more suitable and less dangerous than artificial ones ? Do you take care that slates, gutters, and gas pipes are overhauled from time to time ? Have you a parochial safe containing registers of baptisms, confirmations, marriages, schools, deaths; also public documents, deeds, etc. ?

Acquaint yourself with the privileges and faculties of your Bishop. Endeavour to realize his difficulties and his responsibilities, and give him credit for fair dealing and distributive justice in his administration. Be faithful to the solemn pledge you took on the day of ordination, when, placing your anointed hands in the hands of the ordaining prelate, you promised reverence and obedience to your Ordinary. 29 Like Ignatius of Antioch, 30 submit to your Bishop, as Jesus Christ submitted to His Father. Be obedient without servility, respectful without flattery, frank without forwardness. Consult him betimes on questions of serious import that demand his supervision. Respect his mandate and his counsels, and beware of lapsing into a habit of carping criticism. Do not imitate those restless spirits who, in the words of Cardinal Vaughan, “are ever questioning the Church’s right and wisdom … ever sitting in judgment, ever disputing her authority;" 31 nor belong to the class “who are perpetually asking for a change,” perpetually ambitioning the first places in the synagogue. 32 When there seem to be good reasons for a change place them before the Bishop, and gladly abide by his decision. Should he, even against your wishes, transfer you from one parish to another, make things as smooth as possible for your successor, and take your departure quietly. Apply yourself at once to the new duties assigned to you, and labour, if need be, in the lowliest offices. Thus will you put in practice the patience and fortitude which make life honourable, and which it will be your duty in pulpit and confessional to inculcate on the people.


Spiritual Perfection : Chapters on Charity. Rodriguez.
Spiritual Conferences : Kindness. Faber.
The Perfection of Man by Charity. Buckler.
Fraternal Charity. Valuy.
Synopsis. Ojetti.
The Law of the Church.Taunton.

1. Caritatem imprimis foveant sacerdotes. — Synod of Maynooth (1900), n. 192. return
2. “A priest who, while in open discord with a fellow-priest, attempts to speak of charity to his parishioners, ‘n’est plus à leurs yeux qn’un charlatan.’ " — L’Abbe Dienlin. return
3. Letters, vol. i. p. 250. return
4. The Ambassador of Christ. “Quel que soit le curé à qui l’on vous destine, montrez-vous toujours respectueux. … Gagnez son amitié par vos manières affables, votre empressement, vos prevenances et surtout par la politesse de vos procédés. Rien ne resiste à cela, pas même un curé jaloux.” — Le Guide du jeune Prêtre. return
5. Rom. xii. ; i Cor. xii. return
6. “Necesse est antistitem absurdas reprehensiones sustinere.” — St Chrysostom, De Sacerdotio, lib. v. c. iv. return
7. “Our want of sympathy, our scant appreciation, often freezes a young priest, and drives him elsewhere to seek it.” — See Canon Keating, p. 103. return
8. “Combien de jeunes gens devenus à 30 ans un sujet de desolation pour l’Eglise et qui eussent été des modèles de sagesse s’ils avaient été sous la discipline d’un prêtre expérimenté!” — Dieulin. return
9. Fourth Synod of Westminster. return
10. Sydney Synod (1885), n. 157. return
11. Imitation, bk. iii. chap. xliv. return
12. Third Council of Baltimore, n. 72. return
13. Maynooth Synod (1900), n. 192. return
14. Cardinal Vaughan, The Young Priest. return
15. Lex Levitarum. return
16. The Priest, His Character and Work. return
17. Sess. xxiv. c. iii. return
18. Benedict XIV, Const. Ubi primum. return
19. ‘Magnopere opiamus ut piae illae societates quae ornatum altarium solerter curent in singulis paroeciis sub moderamine parochi origantur. — Synod of Maynooth (1900), n. 90. return
20. Second Council of Baltimore, n. 140; Synod of Maynooth (1900), n. 300. return
21. Third Council of Baltimore, n. 84. return
22. Conc Trid., Sess. xxiii. cap. xvi. Even when the rector of a church knows that a clerical stranger may be safely allowed to say Mass be can grant permission only for a few days, till the Ordinary can be communicated with. — Synod of Maynooth (1900), xxii. 257. return
23. Third Council of Baltimore, n. 95. See also the Decree Singulari quidem, of the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars (in the admirable Appendix to Maynooth Statutes). It gives full directions, de sororibus stipem quaeritantibus. return
24. Monitor. Eccles., iv. i, p. 170. return
25. Second Council of Baltimore, n. 373. return
26. At least 65 per cent in one case ; at least 25 per cent, in the other. See Maynooth Synod, Appendix xciv. return
27. Part ii. chap. i return
28. Vide Decretum S.C.R., 4, vi., 1895. return
29. Curre hic vel ibi, non invenies quietem, nisi in humili subjectione sub Praelati regimine. — Imitation, bk. i. chap. iii. return
30. Ep. ad Magnes. return
31. Introduction to the Life of De Rossi. return
32. Ex neglectu orationis mentalis “germinavit superbia et contumacia” — Pius X, Exhortatio ad clerum, August 4, 1908. return