Was his saying Yes to priesthood the culmination of a late vocation?
It would seem that way, since he graduated from Columbia University with a degree in economics in 1975 and worked several years on Park Avenue and Wall Street with Citibank and Merrill Lynch.
But such an assumption, says Father C. John McCloskey of his own priesthood, would be a mistaken one.
“I assure anyone who asks,” adds Father McCloskey, “that I had already completely dedicated myself to God many years before when I was a teen-ager. My vocation to the priesthood developed out of that commitment.”
Father McCloskey is a priest of the Prelature of Opus Dei and he is director of the Catholic Information Center of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. He joined Opus Dei while still in high school; the teaching of its founder, soon-to-be St. Josemaria Escriva, immediately impacted his own formation and subsequent journey of faith.
The Opus Dei Way teaches that sanctification is indeed the work of a lifetime, begun at baptism; that the call to holiness is universal; that no one is exempt; and that, most important, it is not only possible, but imperative that all seek holiness in everyday life, regardless of professional or familial circumstances.
Father McCloskey studied for the priesthood in Rome and Spain, where he received a doctorate in theology with a specialty in Church history. He was ordained a priest in Spain in 1981 by Cardinal Roger Etchegaray.
Over the years, he has done extensive work in radio and television. He has appeared on the major networks and cable-news programs. His articles and reviews have been published in major Catholic and secular newspapers and magazines.
As a priest, he has served within an influential triangular corridor that includes New York City, the nation's capital and Princeton University, home base for a center of Opus Dei.
He also has worked closely with converts, including numerous celebrities. Among those he has welcomed into the Church are former abortionist Dr. Bernard Nathanson, commentator Lawrence Kudlow, syndicated columnist Robert Novak and Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas.
In that role, he sees himself as a bridge, a conduit, a facilitator. “The Holy Spirit uses me,” he says.
As for the converts — luminaries and little people alike — he experiences the privilege of being present and journeying with them. “It is about a hunger to save their souls,” he says. “It takes a tremendous amount of grace and courage to recognize the truth and then to commit to it.”
A gifted Catholic apologist, Father McCloskey regularly corrects misconceptions, many held by society and some even circulated within the Church. For instance, falsehoods related to Vatican II. “There is a mistaken notion that is fairly widespread in our society that the Second Vatican Council was about the role of the lay Catholic in the Church,” he says. “It was not. It was about the role of the lay Catholic in the world. It was about shaping the secular world according to the will of God in family, professional, social, cultural and political settings.”
He sees Vatican II as a work in progress, a beautiful piece of art that is yet to be completed. “Some theologians distorted the real thing,” he says. “What resulted was a hijacking of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council.”
Nevertheless, he points out, a papal artist has been perfecting the Vatican II masterpiece during the 24 years of his pontificate. “It is the mind and vision of Pope John Paul II that will bring to completion the interpretation and implementation of the Second Vatican Council,” he says.
As for dissidents, whose voices continue to clang ever-so-loudly, Father McCloskey predicts that they soon will no longer consider themselves Catholics. “The children of pick-and-choose, cafeteria-style Catholics will no long be members of the Church,” he says. “Either they will become completely faithful, returning to a faithful Catholicism their parents rejected, or they will fade away and disappear.”
As for the current crisis in the Church, Father McCloskey takes comfort in the wisdom of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, who once remarked that in the history of the Church “there have been 1,000 Calvarys and 1,000 Easters.”
Conversion, renewal and reform are facts of daily life for the Church and her followers. Father McCloskey is the first to admit that errors have been made in the selection of some men for the priest-hood. He pinpoints the underlying answer and remedy to the problem in a sweeping response to the universal call to holiness. “There has not been enough emphasis on the holiness of the life of a priest,” he says. “Priests are men of prayer, men of sacrifice and men of self-denial. For a priest, seeking holiness is the best means of service to the people entrusted to him.” He points to great priests and saints such as John Vianney and Padre Pio as models for modern-day priests to follow.
Ours is an evolving Church. Such has been the case since the time of the Apostles. Father McCloskey says it took 20 years following the Council of Trent to launch the Catholic Counter Reformation. “Now it has taken us 35 years to get over the crisis after the Second Vatican Council.”
He labels the American Church “the new kid on the block” — “but we are going to get it right here in the United States.” How we will do that, he says, is “by becoming holy, happy people who by the total commitment of our lives give glory to God.”
It's clear that his priestly witness is drawing hearts deep into life in Christ.
Donna Bethell of Washington, D.C., an attorney, co-owner of a small business and the chairman of the board of directors of Christendom College, has known Father McCloskey for eight years, since his days at Princeton. She says she continues to be inspired by the priest's no-holds-barred commitment to the Lord. “His single-mindedness is remarkable,” she says. “It is contagious. His joy comes from his love for the Church and his love for God.”
Bethell adds that Father McCloskey seems totally attendant to God's will for him. “I have learned from him how to pay attention to God,” she explains. “The Catholic faith provides the tools. It is important to begin now, this very moment, no matter where we are or what we are doing.”
Christine Creech is completing work on a master's degree in sacred theology with a special emphasis on communications at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome. She first met Father McCloskey in June 1998 while walking the streets of the nation's capital with friends.
“He recognized one of my friends,” Creech recalls. “We all started talking and he invited us to an evening of recollection.”
Since that day, Christine says, Father McCloskey has had “a huge” impact on her life. “He's so warm,” she says. “He's like another dad, a spiritual coach. He's also bold when it comes to your spiritual life. He tells you what you need to hear in black and white. If you take his advice, you know what you need to do to deepen your spiritual life.”
A former editor and writer for the Holy Childhood Association, which produces books for children, Creech currently works for the Nurturing Network, which offers multiple services to women experiencing crisis pregnancies.
Father McCloskey is a native of Washington, D.C. He is the oldest of C. John Jr. and Joan McCloskey's eight children. His late father was an economist and a decorated naval officer who served in World War II and the Korean War. He says his parents were “very normal.” Yet, just by faithfully fulfilling their marriage vows and being open to the teaching of the Church, they set a heroic example for their children. “They provided me with my first example,” he says. “I was schooled well. The importance of the sacraments and a solid prayer life were instilled at an early age.”
Father McCloskey lives a balanced life based on spiritual, mental and physical fitness. He is an avid squash player at the University Club in Washington and a member of the U.S. Squash Racquets Association.
As a priest, Father McCloskey champions the virtues of family life, where vocations take seed and where contemplatives — priests, religious and laity — are bred: leaders who are in the world, but not of the world; mature, committed Catholics who joyfully allow God to use them in the transformation of society into a culture conformed to the teaching of the Church.
Wally Carew writes from Medford, Massachusetts. He is the author of Men of Spirit, Men of Sports (Ambassador, 1999).