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The streets of New York are clergy-friendly. In my limited experience, more so than other world cities. Of course, Rome doesn’t count. There one might get the impression that the Church is suffering from a superfluity rather than a shortage of priests. Greet all the priests and sisters you meet and you’d never get to where you’re going. I’ve been walking the streets of New York in a clerical collar every day for more than forty years. And every day the streets are full of thousands of strangers. "Good afternoon, Father," "How ya doin, Father," "Say a prayer for me, Father." This is routine. Routine also is being stopped and asked for advice on something or the other, and it’s not unusual to hear a confession on a street corner. Not incidentally, the population of New York City is about 50 percent Catholic, at least nominally. Then I come across this odd item from London . It seems that Anglican and Catholic clergy are being warned that wearing the collar is "hazardous to their health" and are advised to wear civies when "off duty." It is not easy to say when a priest is off duty. Of course, some priests are overworked and cherish their time off. A few years ago, there was a lot of talk about "clergy burn-out." At a meeting where that was the subject, a wise old bishop turned to me and said, "I don’t get all this talk about clergy burn-out. Most of the priests I’ve known who claim to be burned out were never on fire to begin with." But I digress. The aforementioned London report says priests are frequently attacked on the street because "they are perceived to have money." Maybe pay rates are different in the U.K. The average priest in the Archdiocese of New York gets about $15,000 per year, plus room and board and Mass stipends. I can’t imagine anyone viewing them as the moneyed class in Manhattan. The report goes on to say that clergy may be attacked by people bearing a "grudge against God." That happens. Here in New York I’ve received more than my share (or so it seems to me) of hostile looks, along with the smiles and friendly greetings. But you never know. I make a practice of greeting those who seem hostile and, with surprising frequency, they respond in an amicable manner. It’s a mistake to assume they’re angry at me or at the Church. As often as not, they were just contemplating something unpleasant. You never know what people are thinking. "They’ve got to be aware that when they’re on their own, they’re at high risk," says the report. A University of London study is cited. It found that seven in ten clergy had experienced some form of violence between 1997 and 1999, and more than one in ten said they had been assaulted, mostly by parishioners. "Clergy could prevent attacks by strangers by removing their collars while not on church business." I suppose so. It depends on what is meant by assault and attack . Strangers and parishioners, not to mention strange parishioners, sometimes get het up about something they don’t like. I’ve had people very pointedly get up and walk out on homilies. One time I had a gun pulled on me when I was trying to break up a neighborhood fracas. But that comes with the territory. Compared with London, it seems New York is the center of urban tranquility and cordiality. In any event, wearing the collar is a way of showing the flag for the Church. During the height of the publicity over the sex-abuse crisis a couple of years ago, some priests were saying that they were ashamed to wear the collar in public. Shame on them. As Paul tells Timothy, "We have been given the spirit not of timidity, but the spirit of power and love and self-control." During that troubled time, I regularly had strangers telling me to hang in there and not be discouraged. I remember one fellow on First Avenue and 19th Street who pulled over to the curb and shouted, "Don’t let the bastards get you down, Father." (Actually, he had an unprintable adjective for the bastards.) Catholic piety is wonderful. I don’t say a priest should wear the collar all the time and without exception. It is a bit too much on the golf course, for instance. And I don’t know what to make of the rumor that Fr. George Rutler over at Our Savior on Park Avenue has a clerical collar sewn to his pajamas. But, as a general rule, people expect a priest to be a priest all the time. They’re right about that. The occasional glare or look of hostility is a small price to pay. Except maybe in London, which seems to be an awfully violent place.


Robert Alter is a treasure. He continues his marvelous translation of the Old Testament with The Book of Psalms (Norton). James Wood has an appreciation of his achievement in the current New Yorker . Wood says the psalms were "relentlessly Christianized" in the King James Version. But of course, and long before the KJV. From the apostolic era on, Christians have embraced the psalms as the prayer book of the Church. Apart from heretics such as Marcion (d. 160), who rejected the Old Testament and its God en toto, the Church has seen itself in continuity with the history and worship of the People of Israel. Which makes this a good occasion to mention a book that came out a few years ago, Patrick Henry Reardon’s Christ in the Psalms . Fr. Reardon, an Orthodox priest, goes through the psalms one by one, showing how they are to be prayed in the light of the fullness of God’s revelation in Christ. Most Christians know that that is the way we are supposed to pray the psalms, and Reardon very helpfully demonstrates just how to do it. But back to Robert Alter. Woods says that Psalm 23, for instance, "is greatly refreshed by translation. Everything is clearer, seeming to have been rinsed not in the baptismal water of the New Testament but in the life-giving water of the desert." As for the last line of that psalm, which in traditional English translations is "I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever," Woods writes, "Alter slaps a term limit on the eternal, and suggests, ‘I shall dwell in the house of the Lord/ for many long days.’" A term-limited eternity is, one might suggest, something less than eternal. In a footnote, Alter explains, "The viewpoint of the poem is in and of the here and now and is in no way eschatological." Whether or not the Old Testament writers affirmed the idea of eternal life is disputed by scholars, both Jewish and Christian. There is some textual justification for Alter’s rendering and his choice makes sense in view of his understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is not so clear, however, why the translators of the New American Bible, the embarrassingly clunky translation foisted on the faithful by the bishops conference, renders the final line "I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come." It sounds a little like a retirement village, then the nursing home, then the end. That is not how the Church prays the psalms.


In discussing Pope Benedict’s motu propio , I wrote: “There is one Catholic Church, Benedict insists, and its liturgy is the Roman Rite.” A number of readers have pointed out that there are a number of other rites, as that term is ordinarily employed: Mozarabic, Ambrosian, Braga, et al. Of course they are right. Benedict, however, was discussing the 1962 and 1970 forms of the one Roman Rite¯the former now designated as “extraordinary” and the latter as “ordinary.” I trust this clarifies matters.
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