Priestly Morale - Hints from Japan

Anthony Zimmerman
The Priest Magazine
August 1991
Reproduced with Permission

I would like to offer examples from the Japanese business world which might suggest ways of maintaining good clerical morale (TP / Feb. '90).

1. UNIFORM: Uniforms in Japan come in all sizes and shapes and colors; to work without a uniform is almost unthinkable - next to going naked. Put on a uniform, and you have a role and an identity. Kindergarten tots sport them, supermarket checkers greet you in them, trash collectors identify themselves with them. Being in uniform gives them an identity, adds sparkle to their job, defines expectations of the public.

Application: The cassock of the seminarians and the collar of the ordained priests used to make us so special. Without these, we lose some of the awareness of our identity. We also are not so special anymore to the people. Distinctive dress could make us all sit taller in the saddle again.

2. THE BOSS CHECKS: A Japanese taxi driver had been rude to us (not usual in Japan) so we called in to report. Later I asked another driver what would happen to the offender. He said:

Nothing today, nothing tomorrow. But at the end of the month the boss gets us 20 drivers together, and the air turns blue. He doesn't name names, though. When an offense is repeated, we soon identify the offender. We expect him to shape up or leave. A good reputation of our company is our gold.

Japanese taxi service nationwide is comparatively excellent. The same holds true for other Japanese professions. The boss is expected to check, and to keep the morale high. If he doesn't, the company loses competitive power. It works in Japan.

Application:The dean, or the bishop, might systematize a complaints department; not at the parish, that would be too close. But an address at the diocese might be assigned to record anonymous files of anonymous offenders. At the monthly or quarterly gathering the Bishop or his complaint officer might let go without singling out the offenders. Thus the people could keep us aware of their expectations, and we respond by reflection, and perhaps by exerting some peer pressure. Clerical services should be kept uniformly excellent.

3. ONGOING STUDY: Medical doctors, assured of their job, may tend to neglect study. Worried, the Japanese medical profession recently issued punch cards to all doctors, on which to register attendance at medical study sessions, held usually on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, on most Sundays, and sometimes at night.

Some cheat, of course, arranging to be paged after the sessions begin. Others catch up on needed sleep. But on the whole, the quality of the sessions is high, and attendance is regular.

Health service in Japan is among the world's finest. Punching the cards of doctors, old and young, to assure that they keep up with studies is part of the explanation.

Application: We, too, should have our update studies; two or three times weekly is much, but not impossible. And if a priest's card is not punched regularly? I leave that to your imagination. An examination of the cards is suggested, for example, when pastors are appointed and bishops are nominated. Priests, like doctors, must maintain standards by means of a workable system.

Too much regimentation, you say? Original sin made regimentation necessary in many areas. We grow flabby if left too much on our own. The secular professions shape up under the pressures of economic competition, from which priests are sheltered in great part. Jobs and living are assured for us by appointment, much as in Marxist societies. Marxists were left behind in a competitive world and are now adjusting. We priests, too, must adjust.

Christ's finest have, through the centuries, periodically updated methods of keeping clerical halo's in relative good shine. It is now the turn of our generation to keep up the tradition.