The parishioners of the anonymous priest in George Bernanos`s novel The Diary of a Country Priest don`t like him or trust him. One day someone takes him aside and tells him
“you see Father people expect definite things from a priest.”
He goes on
“a priest is a bit like a lawyer, money changes hands, people expect definite things from a priest.”
But the priest just goes on acting as though his expectations of his parishioners are more important than their expectations of him. In the course of the diary which is most of the novel, the priest writes “a true priest is never loved.”
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, traditionally we pray for more vocations to the priesthood, and give money for the priests` training fund. The priest`s task is to lead, shepherd people into everlasting life. In the medieval Church everlasting life was a hot topic. People saw the Mass as a way of breaking through the barrier between this life and everlasting life; they looked for other spiritual practices which did the same. People wanted more and more certainty that they were saved, that they were going to go to heaven, and not hell. The notion of purgatory gave the issue more scope, and also gave people more control over what happened on the other side of death.
Today the issue is not so much how to get to heaven, but is there a heaven to get to. In the middle ages there was a certain amount of conflict between clergy and laity over how to break through the barrier; people wanted more flagellation and that sort of thing while beleaguered priests were telling them that if taken to excess it was bad for them.
Are we still keen to break through the barrier, or have we settled for nice communities on this side of it? What is the role of priests in these communities, if it comes to that, what is the role of the risen Christ in these communities?