26 October, 2010

'DING DONG': Answering the door is a test of faith for many clergy

"B.C. priest stabbed, beaten in church rectory, court hears"


I appreciate this headline. It doesn't focus on the fact that the victim was a bishop, but rather a 'priest'. In truth, it was a priest who answered the door to face this assault, just as thousands of other  priests do (and clergy of all stripes) who often find the desperate at their door. I suspect that there is not a priest in the country who hasn't had to consider whether or not to answer a late-night call at the door, especially if they live in a prominent rectory that includes the church office. The dual drives of fear and faith battle, as one considers security for himself and others, and the religious imperative to respond to cries for help or assistance. Serving as I do in a diocese whose parishes are gathered alongside the Trans-Canada Highway, I have faced this situation quite a few times, and (thank God) have emerged each time unscathed... although there had been times when the services of the Police were required.  Others have not been so fortunate.


20+ years ago, I was visiting with a classmate who served in the North Bay Cathedral when our quiet evening in the living room was shattered with shouts for help. Turns out there was someone who remained hidden after the days masses and was found sitting naked in the dining room. A game of 'hide & seek'  through the various offices the large old rectory involving local police, resident clergy, and the inappropriately dressed intruder  finally ended with the patient safely corralled  under the dining room table.  He was quickly returned to the psychiatric hospital unharmed at no more cost than a few frayed nerves. One of the first lessons I learned from serving in such an environment was that appropriate precautions had to  be taken after dark, for the most innocent situation can 'go sideways' in the blink of an eye. The assault on Bishop Munroe is stark evidence that such events are just as likely to have horrid outcome as one that is helpful, humorous  or benign.


Ministry has always been a vocation that carried an element of danger as clergy are on the front lines between the profane and the Holy; between the sick and the 'well'. Psychiatric illness often manifests itself in religious delusions and Churches (and clergy as its local agent) can become targets for people in the midst of a psychotic episode. Often desperate people turn to the church for help when they're perhaps at the point of snapping if they don't get what they 'need'.  Mix in the criminal element and the 'knights of the road' who target priests for funds to acquire a roof and a hot meal, (and to 'borrow' money that he'll pay back when his cheque comes in ... tomorrow - funds he'll use for some form of libation or illegal substance to find release from another empty day.) and something as mundane as answering the door can prove to be a measure of one's faith and commitment to a life of service.


It has been thus through the ages. Each time the door bell sounds, clergy don't not know if they're going to encounter a principled man pushed to the edge (a la 'Victor Hugo's Jean Valjean, hero of 'Les Misérables,')  or suffer at the hands of the likes of a John Bandura. Such are the challenges of the ministry for those who remain available into the night, especially if they live alone.


It all starts with opening a door.

10 comments:

  1. a thank you to all the wonderful clergy who always open the door teaching by example what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves...May God always keep them safe

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  2. Mary: You know my priest friend very well. You should ask him about the naked escapades (as well as our evenings spent 'bat hunting) in North Bay.

    Fr. Tim

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  3. There is that element of danger when there is that knock on your door.

    I was told recently if a person gets dressed up for Hollowe'en as a priest, it is not a good thing. You may get beaten up or shot.

    That is scary!

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  4. Anonymous: I agree that it's scary these days. Outside of my parish, or when I visit a city wearing my clerics, I have occasionally run into some people who wanted to vent at me. Thankfully such moments are few and far between.

    Fr. Tim

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  5. Tim,

    This attack was a disgusting occurence. I think these mentally deranged individuals should be locked up in a forensic institution for a long time where they would receive ongoing phychiatric treatment and hopefully be rehabilitated. They should not be simply let out in streets after a short stay in jail. That would not nothing to change them, and would be a continuing risk to the safety of citizens. My condolences to the bishop and those who knew him and have to deal with these kinds of people.

    I think if I lived in a situation like they do, I would consider locking the doors after dark and if people want to see someone they should wait until daytime office hours. Maybe the idea of a rectory being a social agency for the street people should be a thing of the past simply for security reasons if nothing else. Some of the kinds of people that want to come in at night could be unstable, unpredictable, drug addicts, etc. looking for a handout, money, etc. If they need something to eat, they should go to a social agency which specializes in providing food and overnight accomodation, and have security, or wait until morning. I am not sure Jesus meant you have to answer the door at night to these kind of people. That idea stems from a misinterpretation of the Bible, i.e. the false social gospel. The church is not a social welfare agency, although it does provide charitable works and support to those in need to varying extents. But that is not it's primary purpose. The primary purpose is to preach the gospel, administer the Lord's supper and Baptism, and fellowship of God's people to strengthen and build each other up in the biblical faith. However, that is a whole different topic.

    ReplyDelete
  6. "Fr. Tim Moyle said...

    Anonymous: I agree that it's scary these days. Outside of my parish, or when I visit a city wearing my clerics, I have occasionally run into some people who wanted to vent at me. Thankfully such moments are few and far between."

    Our parish priest when he goes on holidays he said he is known as Mister so & so not Father so & so. He does not wear his clerics on holidays.

    He said it is much better because who wants to hear a step by step description about how kidney stones were hurting this person & how the doctors removed those stones & so forth.

    Also, I was thinking when a priest does not wear his clerics that could work the other way. Like looking for a companion of some kind? I push those thoughts aside & got myself back on track on the rest of our parish priest's homily.

    Fr. Tim, I myself I'm thankful nothing has happened to you like that Bishop. I pray it never does.

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  7. Anonymous: I understand why your priest doesn't wear his clerics on vacation. When I'm on vacation I do the same. But when I'm working, whether I'm in the parish or outside of it, I wear my roman collar.

    Not wanting to wear a collar during a vacation is easy to understand and does not mean that the priest is looking for a companion. I actually means that he DOESN'T want to be disturbed by others. Try dressing as a priest (or a nun) for a day and see how many people will strike up a conversation with you! It happens all the time.

    Fr. Tim

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  8. With the current climate of hostility and blatant bigotry exhibited by evangelical atheists and anti-Catholics and anti-Christians in general, its becoming a more dangerous profession as time marches on. Barring a miracle, I think Nazi style persecution is in our future. The similarities to nazi anti jewish propaganda are striking when you listen to the popular hate speech of the growing anti-catholic/anti-christian forces that populate forums on the web.
    Religion is the cause of all war, all priests are pedophiles, The world is overpopulated and religion is to blame, Churches are just money making machines, Christianity is at the root of environmental destruction. The Churches rules serve only to enslave the people.
    So how long does it take for some naive loon to decide that eliminating the church and its adherents will usher in a world utopia with no war, no sex abuse, a shrinking population, world hunger solved with all that church money going directly to the poor, a pristine environment and sexual freedom like we've never known.
    I've read everyone of those negative statements on a forum at one time or another and they usually go unquestioned or enthusiastically endorsed. Scary times indeed, scarier times ahead.

    Watch your back Fr. Tim.

    Cheers
    Paul

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  9. "Evangelical atheists?" LOL! No simple hyperbole for you, Paul -- you go straight for the olympic-sized, inflated hyperbole!

    Have you no idea how inappropriate the term, "evangelical" is when applied to the concept of atheism?

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  10. Yes Janus I know what evangelical means. Thank you grammar cop! Your badge of merit is in the mail.
    If you're oblivious to the evangelical like zeal of the New Atheists then there isn't much more to be said.

    Cheers
    Paul

    ReplyDelete

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