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Dear Fr Rutler: I can’t stand my priest. Should I go parish-shopping?

This photo taken on March 1, 2014 shows Seminarian Fran Villegas praying inside the UST Central Seminary Chapel during his ordination to the Sacred Order of Deacons in Manila. AFP PHOTO / NOEL CELIS (Photo credit should read NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Dear Father Rutler,

My wife is from Poland, and with all the nuttiness in America today, I’m more and more inclined to accede to her request that we move back to her home country. It’s not that I don’t love America – it’s just that I don’t want our children growing up in this culture, especially if the socialists take over. Is that cowardly?
Paul M from San Antonio, TX

Did your wife leave her homeland out of love for you? Then she is noble, like the matriarch Ruth (Ruth 1:16). Ruth also knew as part of the parcel of love, “You can’t go home again.” (Thank you, Thomas Wolfe.) Even heroic Poland is not without its problems these days. If St Paul anticipated life in a safe environment, he would not have recommended wearing armour (Ephesians 6:11-17). Our Lord promised green pastures for the soul, but that grass is not “greener on the other side of the fence” in this fallen world.

For the Christian, there is no safe environment. Christian fathers are made to rear children, not orchids.

Frankly, Father, I can’t stand my priest. His sermons are weak and rambling. His spiritual advice is always totally unhelpful. I’m sure he’s a nice man, but the sound of his voice makes me want to jump out of a window. My family isn’t as down on him as I am, but they’re none too keen either. Should we go parish-shopping?
Barbara H from Minneapolis, MN

Pray for the priest because it must not be easy for him to live his consecrated life if he is a few rubrics short of St John Chrysostom. As for the voice, the Antichrist is more mellifluous than your priest, like the Serpent in Eden.

Use your aggravation as an opportunity for sanctification by polishing your patience. Even so, you are under no obligation to suffer, for mortification is not masochism. Bear in mind that your priest may also find some of his parishioners unbearable. A good pastor would prefer that none of his sheep be lost, but he may not weep inconsolable tears if a few of them go “parish-shopping”. Just never jump out of a window if it is stained glass.

My boys are very strong-willed. An older man in my Bible study group insists that the only way to keep some boys under control is to use corporal punishment. Is it un-Christian to spank one’s child?
David R from Imperial, CA

Inasmuch as a member of your Bible study group thinks that you should beat your sons, one infers that you understate things in saying that they are “very strong-willed”. “Spare the rod, spoil the child” was a line of the 17th-century satirist Samuel Butler in his neglected work, Hudibras. But Proverbs 13:24 does say, “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” I do not think that “rod” means a cudgel, although it has been interpreted as such from patriarchs in Oriental lands to Victorian schoolmasters of a psychotic bent. It is a metaphor of moral discipline.

Theodore Roosevelt attributed to West Africa the aphorism “Speak softly but carry a big stick.” His role model was his beloved father: “With great love and patience, and the most generous sympathy and consideration, he combined insistence on discipline. He never physically punished me but once, but he was the only man of whom I was ever really afraid. I do not mean that it was a wrong fear, for he was entirely just, and we children adored him.” Teddy Jr’s own children adored him, too.

Our litigious society, with its strictures against child discipline, may censure punishment, but it will not cultivate adoration. My own adored father never beat me, but he was of the Greatest Generation and I thank him for having pummeled the Nazis and not me. The Good Shepherd carries rod and staff, while the rod is a threat and the staff a promise. You might also ask that “older man” if he ever suffered the rod and if he adored his father.

I’m a 22-year-old man and I’ve never felt a strong vocation to the married or religious life. Is there such thing as a vocation to the single life?
Name and address withheld

Whatever your calling, you are called to something, and that “thing” is the substance of every vocation: to serve God in this world and rejoice with him forever in heaven. You can work out how to do that, offering God both the freedoms and deprivations that come from being on your own, so long as you do not think of yourself as someone who is “not a husband” or “not a priest”, but as a son of God, alone and thus never lonely.

Fr George Rutler is the pastor of St Michael’s Church in New York City. To seek his advice, write to [email protected]