“Therefore,” he continued, “priests are the primary builders of the civilization of love.”
The feast of the Sacred Heart is traditionally a “day of priestly holiness,” but this time it was especially so, Benedict XVI remarked. (This statement ignores the fact the original vision of the Sacred Heart was given to a nun.)
Two priests especially come to mind who represented priestly polar opposites but shared the a kind of mysticism--and liked each other a great deal. Father Kirchen was an academic, classic languages specifically, who spent his retirement working with the homeless and elderly, virtually ignoring the middle class college students he had spent the vast majority of his life teaching. I was privileged to spend time with him while I was a student strictly because I had a car. It was a sort of utilitarian relationship. He gave me the opportunity to do a charitable thing and I saved him hours of walking. It also gave him the opportunity to tell me which recent movies had been condemned by the Church and remind me it was a mortal sin to see such movies since I now knew they were condemned. I didn't have the heart to tell him I usually got his information too late to do me any good--or that I had seen some of these movies with the second priest I'll write about. I would have a hard time keeping a straight face, fully understanding that in Fr. Kirchen's scheme of things, getting the information late was a good thing. Ignorance is bliss and mitigates mortal sin.
He once told me he was a much better priest working in retirement than he had been as a professor. He said something to the effect that those who had nothing or little time left had a much deeper understanding of what Christ was about than those who thought they would have everything and the time to get it. Wink wink nudge nudge. I subsequently turned a blind eye to the fact I knew he was more or less stealing food from the food service to give to the homeless and the bed bound--an activity he could never have conceived of doing when he was head of the seminary program. Fr. Kirchen said an incredible Mass, but so many students were so intimidated by him it was sparsely attended. That was truly unfortunate. His was a case of his Vatican I personality killing the truth of his Vatican II priesthood.
Fr. Kirchen's accomplice in his redistribution of food service wealth scheme was the other priest in this story. Fr Dan Hillen was not just a truly accomplished artist, he was also the kind of priest Fr. Kirchen was sure was subverting his Church. He once said had he known Fr. Dan would turn out the way he seemingly had, he would never have given him a passing grade in Latin. The two of them laughed and laughed, both knowing that Fr. Dan was the kind of son Fr. Kirchen might have had. He called him Danny, a name Dan did not tolerate coming from anyone else. These two priests were the equivalent of ecclesiastical night and day. And yet.....at their core they did share the energy of the Sacred Heart and they knew it. Fr. Dan could execute in his art the vision of Fr. Kirchen's view of Christ because they shared that same view. Just as that same energy led them to share the same food redistribution scheme.
Like most priests the Mass was central for them. Neither could understand how it was that I found both their Masses an equal spiritual experience. The truth was they both saw my attitude as somewhat insulting or at best naive. Almost everything about their Masses was quite different, to say the least. One was all Latin magic and mysticism and one was all about community and at times intimate sharing. The differences were enough to make me wonder about me.
One day I'm in Fr. Dan's studio and he's playing around with a crystal roundel and it catches the light and refracts a rainbow on the table. It suddenly was 'crystal' clear. It was the same Light just refracted in different colors. There truly is, at it's core, a mystical unity in Catholic diversity. One color is not superior to another color in God's rainbow. One color doesn't hold more truth. They all hold the same truth, and that truth is constant and inexplicable. It is capable of taking two very different priests and overcoming their theological differences, uniting them in the same schemes concocted for God's needy.
Fr. Kirchen was a slightly older German contemporary of Pope Benedict. Lately I've wondered what Fr. Kirchen would make of the Year of the Priest. I strongly suspect Fr. Kirchen's retirement years might have seriously mitigated his appreciation of the Fr. Vianey concept of the priesthood. Fr. Kirchen was pious and at times naive, but never blind. When he took his priesthood out into the real world he found a different color priesthood.
Fr. Dan always lived his priesthood more in the real world and was ultimately blindsided by JPII's Catholicism. It's this version of Catholicism which now serves as the real world for the Roman Catholic priesthood. I don't think for one minute Fr. Kirchen would approve of furthering his version of priesthood at the expense of Dan's version. Fr. Kirchen would walk into the chapel pictured above and instantly recognize the vision of a kindred soul, just as he did in life. I really wonder if Pope Benedict could do the same and that to me is very very sad.