“COMING HOME TO JESUS IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM”
by Rt. Rev. Archimandrite John Mangels
Presenter at the Clergy Seminar
2000 Clergy Seminar and Delegates Meeting
February 24-27, 2000
Hosted by St. George Orthodox Church - Terre Haute, IN
Friday Morning, February 25th, 2000
This is a presentation delivered to priests in the Midwest Region's Spring Delegates' Meeting. By Archimandrite John A. Mangels, Pastor of St. George Church, West St. Paul. MN
As we come nearer the beginning of the new Millennium — all Orthodox know of course that the new Millennium won't begin until December 31, 2000, or thirteen days later if you have sympathies for the Old Calendar — we ought to pause for a moment.
All time is naturally enough part of God's creation and being a creature it carries no "magical quality" of its own however much a mystery it is. But ever since the Incarnation of Our Lord, we find that time has started to carry a new significance that was exploded beyond the cosmos on the day of Pentecost. For we Orthodox Christians, time is the sacred movement of the Holy Spirit within creation. It is only in time that we can begin to move toward the pre-eternal God. And it is in time that this Unknowable God embraces us and moves us into his eternal Kingdom.
Every moment of time allows us this opportunity of communion and embrace, of love and knowing. But when we come to significant marks of time, like centuries and millenniums, we stand at a moment that causes some turmoil and others angst. Some jump into fits of excitement for no more reason than writing that great Arabic gift of zeros at the end of a number.
For us the millennium is best noticed by a pause to reflect, refocus, and to begin acting.
Immediately when we say we are going to stop to reflect, we come up against a little problem that we should handle quickly. The problem is what is Orthodox reflection? This is a problem because it is a common fault that many of us borrow constructions from non-Orthodox and through this fall into difficulties. Borrowing from others is not so large a problem really, so long as there is mature and intelligent discretion with what we are borrowing. After all if something is true, then it is by definition Orthodox! We don't need to fear the non-Orthodox, we need to correct them.
There is no greater example of our borrowing from the non-Orthodox than our confused use of Roman Catholic terminology and categories of reflection and contemplation. Reflection and contemplation are not limited to the papist — both certainly go back long before the schism and have continued to exist among ourselves — but our thought of these things tends to be colored by theirs.
Reflection in the West is largely held captive by the Ignatian exercises penned and developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order. These exercises actively use the imagination and here we part company with the Roman Catholics. Their meditation and reflection is confused with contemplation and all have been hijacked by the Ignatian Exercises that are heavily directed in a lavish use of our imagination.
Their use of the imagination is actually trying to conjure up images of events and placing ourselves in those images and events, and then place themselves into these events.
The reason this is a problem for our topic today is that unless we are very sure what we are about we could easily equate "Coming Home to Jesus in the New Millennium" with the sentiments, "Oh, if Jesus were here now, I would …" or "If I were a member of the crowd when Jesus walked by, I would have …"
This is at the very least anachronistic, for this system approaches the Gospel and the truths thereof from the vantage point of "me and my time." The historical Gospel is nothing more than a colorful fantasy that can be manipulated to satisfy my passions. It is entirely subjective to me. And isn't this one of the characteristics of western Christian bodies, either of the reformation or of the papal type, which scandalizes Orthodox Christians? The Gospel must be applied to me in its authenticity, not me to the Gospel as a sort of literary soup that flavors my life.
But, imagination is not entirely taboo in the Orthodox Church. After all if this were so, how could any of the magnificent hymns of the Church have been written? Imagination has long been active in Orthodoxy, but there is a significant qualifier. This sine qua non is detachment. The Orthodox use of imagination must remain detached, not from others so much as from ourselves. It must be attached and obedient to the entire Tradition and the Fathers of the Church. It must be a handmaid of the types that are given us by the Church.
The primary quality of Orthodoxy is detachment of course, but we usually hear it described as humility. To love my neighbor as myself is not so much to love my neighbor like I love myself, but that my neighbor is inseparably bound to me. My neighbor is me. We must take no thought for ourselves but only for God and our neighbor. This fundamental quality of detachment changes the use of our imagination. We cannot place ourselves in a Gospel sceen, but we read the Gospel and allow others to show us its light: the Holy Spirit, the Fathers of the Church, other Scriptures.
The Catholic notion of reflection then is to take the primal sin of pride and constructing a system of prayer around it. Imagination is carnal and fallen using "me" as its guide and reference point.
Imagination for the Orthodox consists in putting together the types and the images revealed to us to express poetically the Truth which cannot be expressed in words (as Saint Paul describes prayer being "too deep for words"). Orthodox reflection then is colored and rich; it is poetic and dynamic; but it is not a personal engagement in a fantasy - a world only seen in the mind and not experienced in actuality. For this reason we shall try to make careful use of the Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church.
Where is Home?
"Coming Home to Jesus in the New Millennium" begs we answer the question where is this home we should come to Jesus in?
There are many clichés about home. "Home is where the heart is." Or the seemingly English variant, "Home is where the hearth is." These images are warm and inviting. They are bucolic fantasies that each of us carry around inside to greater or lesser degree.
John Steinbeck, the great Californian writer of the early 20th century spoke of home far more pointedly and dark manner (when did he not write in a dark mood?) in his novel, Of Mice and Men. "Home is where you can always go when no one else will have you."
If we are inclined to look at pop culture, we may even look at one of the poets and songwriters of the 1960's, Bob Dylan:
"How does it feel
To be one your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?"
Here we come to the fundamental isolation & alienation of the post-industrial age and now of the nouvo-capitalists age (perhaps we might call it corporate capitalism where the individual is becoming smaller and smaller yet again). This fundamental loneliness is part of all our lives as human beings, much less as priests.
As priests, married or celibate, loneliness takes its toll. For the celibate, loneliness is obvious and is often spoken of in regards to Roman Catholic clergy and the necessity of marriage, which opinion continues to confuse the vocations of marriage, ordination, and celibacy. For the married clergy, loneliness is more subtle. It isn't possible to share the secrets of hearts with one's spouse and sometimes the weight and burden of those secrets are too heavy to be borne alone, but the priest must do.
Loneliness is perhaps the most fundamental and characteristic quality of modern life and it is tearing our world apart. For everyone who is lonely there is a slightly different thing used to fill that loneliness. It might be busy-ness, it might be adultery, it might be avarice, or greed, or ambition, or possessions, or position, or hundreds of different means of escape from drugs to alcohol. Every one of these are tried and every one of these leads to more emptiness and isolation and loneliness.
Notice that as priests we are be tempted to work-aholism, or ambition to position and preference (how many times do we notice sycophantic behavior of some clergy towards our bishops?), greed, or parochial territorialism reducing the possible missionary activity of the Church because we feel threatened by the possibility of another parish. Yes, we too try to fill our loneliness and our feelings of inadequacy with sinful and destructive behaviors. In the end we still feel lonely and isolated unless we have so anaesthetized our consciences and hearts that we no longer feel them at all.
Home is that core in man that is made for Communion with God. It is ultimately not a topos, a physical place; it is the moment of Love and Communion.
There are many who suggest we can find a utopia, a world that is all home, through activity. And as parish priests, oh yes, we try this. It is easy to confuse activity with the Kingdom. We try to activate the Kingdom through our raw, nervous energy. Somehow we have bought the lie taught by Pelagius that we can somehow make the Kingdom present to us and save ourselves through our own energy and effort.
Or we might try the American transmogrified version of Pelagius' heresy, that we can model the Kingdom to our own desires and fancies, shaping it as we please according to our passions. We want gold, the streets of heaven are paved with it. We like food, heaven is a banquet. We are lustful, all the children of the Kingdom are married to each other. We pervert even the holy images that Christ our God gives of the Kingdom and so we are lost.
The most naïve notion of the Kingdom is that it is a utopia, a place where all our desires are fulfilled (the holy and the base desires). As so there are many that look for that utopian kingdom or they believe that it will be given them when they die. They fail to realize the Baptist's words, "The Kingdom of God is at hand."
If we were pressed to define this "home" which we must come to Jesus in, we must say that home is our hearts. This involves every aspect of what we call a human being. The heart is not, as it is taught in the west, the organ of feelings and emotions. Biblically and in all the writings of the Fathers of the Church, the heart includes every thing that comprises the human person.
Saint Makarios beautifully expresses this idea in his homilies and we can do no better than to quote him. "The heart governs and reigns over the whole bodily organism; and when grace possesses the ranges of the heart, it rules over all the members and the thoughts. For there, in the heart, is the mind, and all the thoughts of the soul and its expectation; and in this way grace penetrates also to all the members of the body… Within the heart are unfathomable depths. There are reception rooms and bedchambers in it, doors and porches, and many offices and passages. In it is the workshop of righteousness and of wickedness. In it is death; in it is life… The heart is Christ's palace: there Christ the King comes to take His rest, with the angels and the spirits of the saints, and He dwells there, walking within it and placing His Kingdom there.
"The heart is but a small vessel: and yet dragons and lions are there, and there poisonous creatures and all the treasures of wickedness; rough, uneven paths are there, and gaping chasms. There likewise is God, there are the angels, there life and the Kingdom, there light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasures of grace: all things are there." Homilyxv. 20, 32, 33: xliii, 7.
If, as St. Makarios says, our hearts are the workshop of righteousness and of wickedness, then simply entering our hearts is not the solution. Entering our hearts does not automatically cause us to move rapidly towards Christ, it may be that we move away from him.
This shows the great fallacy of merely becoming "spiritual." Being someone who is alive to things spiritual includes such persons as: St. Makarios; St. Seraphim of Sarov; the Thrice-Blessed Bishop Raphael Hawaweeny; non-Orthodox exemplars like Mother Teresa of Calcutta; and others like Shirley McLain. As soon as we become open to spirituality in our hearts we are open to the entire cosmic battle that is being waged by the dying spirits of evil against God and his creation. No, spirituality is the beginning but it is not without dangers and potential problems. It is not indifferent.
If we wish to come home to Our Lord in our hearts, then we must be certain about the direction of our spirituality. Can there be a stronger argument that we make sure we are Orthodox in all ways. There is a saying that has been told me of seminarians at one of the Orthodox seminaries in this country. It goes, "The only real Orthodox are the Saints, the rest of us are still struggling to become fully Orthodox. That is our goal not our boast."
That we might have an Orthodox heart, a holy heart, in which to meet Jesus, we must understand what is wrong inside our hearts. Technically it is the eye of our heart, our nous, that has become clouded and disoriented. It sees the myriad fancies and passions and it acts indiscriminately regarding them. To come home to Jesus in our hearts is to throw out all of the distractions from our hearts, to purify our passions so that they correctly point to Christ. And then we shall find that Our Lord is there waiting for us already.
What does it mean for Our Lord to be waiting for us in our hearts, especially as priests? Is there nothing left to say after we have cleared our hearts and focused on Our Lord? Surely we must know what we shall see. Surely we must have been given a glimpse of the glory which we shall know in Christ even now.
Coming to Jesus is beginning to see the Transfiguration lived out in our midst, to enter into the Taborian experience. We priests see the Transfiguration constantly, for our ministry is in fact nothing less than entering the glory of the Kingdom.
It is one thing to say this, but quite another to show how it is true. So how do we know that our ministry is of Mount Tabor, that its qualities are the same? In all three the Gospels immediately before the transfiguration Our Lord says, "Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power." Mark 9:1
Very often we bring to mind Peter's confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, or of the feeding of the five thousand, but what is most critical here is what Our Lord says about seeing the glory of the Kingdom.
Three of the apostles are chosen; they all walk up to the mount with Our Lord; they see him begin to become luminous; they see Moses and Elias with him; they hear the voice of the Father saying, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, listen to him;" they see the bright cloud of the Spirit of God surround them; and then they see Jesus and him only.
This is the experience of the priest, this is the priest coming to Jesus in his own heart.
Do we not ascend that mountain of sacrifice like Abraham and Isaac, preparing to sacrifice the Only-begotten Son? And just like Peter, James, and John, we have been chosen to accompany the Son on his way up that mountain, to that Golgotha.
How brightly does Our Lord shine before us when we join in the song of the angels and archangels saying, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord of Sabbaoth, heaven and earth are full of thy glory. Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!" We continue in that prayer and recall the wondrous condescension of Christ to us for our Salvation. And in his condescension, in his kenosis, his self-emptying, he is lit up brilliantly as a luminous flame before our eyes. We can almost hear the words of the Gospel of Saint John when Our Lord proclaims, "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." John 8:12b
This sacred hymn does not force us into some strange subjective isolation or rarified experience either. We are surrounded by angels and archangels, seraphim and cherubim, all of the saints and holy ones of God. We see Moses and Elias standing beside the Lamb of God discussing this Exodus, this Pascha that we wills to complete in us.
But God is not finished with his unfathomable work, for let's see what he does next. The unoriginate Father of Heaven and Earth, uses the voice of fathers whose feet are made of clay to proclaim, "This is my Body, which is broken for you…" Have you ever noticed how we who are called "Father" constantly do the same work as God the Father by pointing out to the entire world, "This is Christ, the Son of the Living God?" Yes, this is also the confession of Saint Peter in the likeness of whose faith the Church is established.
Then like a cloud fire, we are asked to call down the Holy Spirit upon the gifts spread forth, not only on those, but upon us all. And without fail, the Holy Spirit fills the gifts and us with his own Life-giving Life and Light so that we cannot see profundity of the mystery before us.
And suddenly we are left to see Jesus and him only on that diskos. We do not see mere bread and wine, but God himself transfigured in glory and the Kingdom made palpably present to us all.
But there is a barb in this event. It is best understood when we remember the transfiguration of St. Seraphim of Sarov before his spiritual son, Motovilov. Motovilov told his spiritual father that the brightness of his face was too much for him to bear. And St. Seraphim replied in words that should cut you and me to the quick, "My son, you would not be able to see this light unless you to were luminous."
If we have not seen the light of Tabor at the most holy Divine Liturgy, then we have not grown enough in our priesthood or in holiness to see. The barb sets in our flesh to spur us on to more asceticism and more cooperation with the Holy Spirit that we might be transfigured enough to see. We know that in our priestly ministry this event takes place and that the angels stand in awe. We have this as a fact that is told us from the Church and from Christ, who is inseparable from his Body, the Orthodox Church.
Might I say that one of the first things that is required of us to enter into this life is that we might serve the Liturgy as the prayers of the Church direct us? On Holy Saturday, at the Vesperal Liturgy of Saint Basil we are directed to say, "Let all mortal flesh keep silent and stand with fear and trembling, and ponder nothing wordly within itself, for the King of kings and Lord of lords cometh to be slain and given as food to the faithful. Before him come the choirs of angels with all principalities and authorities."
At the altar we must keep silent and not chit-chat about the servers, the Ladies meeting, or any of the other thousand and one silly things that tend to be discussed. As priests, we must set the pattern and type or how will anyone learn how to correctly approach the worship of the Uncreated God? How will we become transfigured in the glory of God? With fear and trembling let us keep silent.
There is an old Greek proverb that applies here. "The first year a man is a priest, he fears the altar. The years thereafter, the altar fears the priest." If we have lost that awe and trembling as we stand at Golgotha and Tabor, let us come to our true minds and regain it. This must be our first step. We must let the majesty of God overwhelm us and consume us. All worldly things must be put aside and forgotten and we must see Jesus and him only.
Should we not do this one little thing, then how shall we be able to stand before him with love on the last day when we have learned to stand callously and indifferently before him now? We practice our lives in heaven even now. This simple thing shows if we do have faith - and our people see and learn that from us.
It is absolutely chilling to consider what we might be teaching to our beloved parishioners, for whom we shall be held accountable, in each little moment.
My brothers, given the Vision of God that we are given and the gravity of our charge, we must strive today as we have never striven before to enter into ours with Christ. The day is growing dark around us and it is easy to become caught up in its allure. Today the world needs nothing more than devout Orthodox priests, for as our beloved Patriarch Ignatius IV said to us last summer, the spiritual life begins with us the priests.
Occasionally reflection is healthy and because of the wisdom of the Church we don't have to wait another 1000 years for the next millennium to reflect. Our holy Mother the Church gives us Great and Holy Lent every single year to do just that, as well as the Apostles' Fast, the Dormition Fast, and the Winter Fast. Reflection is a very Orthodox thing to do.
But reflection must cause us to act, to do. If we have not put into action what we see to be true then we are left with nothing but fantasy and daydreams, or an intellectual religion that exists only in our minds, or even more sinister, a faith that is more concerned with getting God to do our bidding because we're on his team and wear his uniform. That of course is "magic" and none of us need to be reminded what Our Lord said of magicians and sorcerers in the Old Testament.
So we must act and we must act in the proper way.
Rule of Life
The first action we must take is to establish and follow a Rule of Life. A priest's life is constantly being filled with details and difficulty. His schedule seems to be at the whim of the many. The real needs he has for "down time," or for administrative duties, or for prayer and study seem to be forgotten and lost in the day to day grind of phone calls and visitations. And yet it constantly amazes me that it is only when we begin the day in quiet, spiritual stillness, and prayer that we seem to accomplish anything worth while throughout the day.
This points to our need to establish a Rule of Life. We speak to our parishioners about the need to begin a steady and regular life of prayer, but very often we fail to impress upon them this same need of a Rule of Life. This may be because we have forgotten the necessity of it ourselves.
The first question we should ask ourselves is do we even have a Rule of Life that gives a pattern and order to our days in a Christian manner, or do we live by our Daytimers alone?
A Rule of Life for a priest is absolutely essential and it will cover many things: the time we expect to rise from bed and go to sleep; what prayers we shall say and when we shall say them; where shall we say them. It will be specific about when we shall make our own confessions.
Can a priest truly function as a godly and holy priest if he is not making his own confession at least once a month? How can he admonish his parishioners to make a more frequent and thorough confession if he has not begun to do so? It seems to be a truth of priestly life that while we are in seminary, overburdened with work and studies, we make our confessions very regularly. We were diligent in this. But once we had "arrived" on the parochial scene fully ordained, we become more slack and arbitrary in regards to our own confessions. This should not be so, for now we bear the responsibility of Christian souls and we cannot carry them unless we are confessing regularly.
Our Rule of Life will also say how much we shall give to our parish. We too have responsibility to tithe to God's work. If the priest isn't tithing, how can we possibly move our people to do so? We must be good stewards of what God has seen fit to give us.
We will also insist on our vacations and the time that we have with our families. For those of us who are married have taken a Sacramental, or Mystical, life and responsibility to our wives and children. "This is a duty that cannot be neglected and it is something that Khouriyas constantly speak about. Father is never at home, I wish just once he would give some time to the children and to me." Our Rule of Life will give specific times to our wives and children.
It will also have a spiritual retreat in it. This is not a vacation with the wife and kids. This is not some time off to go to museums in some nearby or distant metropolis. This should be a real spiritual retreat, perhaps in a monastery or some like place. It is a time to recollect and refocus our lives, to get in touch with God in a concentrated way.
We should set aside time to study the Scriptures, the Fathers, and modern works of theology in our Rule. How long will we study every day or week? Perhaps we will set a specific time that we will study. How many books do we expect ourselves to read and study over the year in addition to keeping a regular time of studying the Scriptures. Let us recall that study of the Word and preaching was at the heart of the apostles' lives. Acts 6 Should we be any less diligent?
Another critical thing for us, as priests and pastors of Christian people, is that we should pray for our people by name every single day. If we have large parishes we may need to divide our parish roster up into several days, but we must be deliberate and methodical in our prayers for our people. This is one of the highest responsibilities of the priest and pastor. Surely we can all see that thing ranks above Parish Council Meetings and the endless minutia we are expected to handle. Our Rule of Life should include how we are going to pray for our people, living and dead.
This Rule of Life should be formalized and written down and then it should be given to our spiritual father, or father confessor, for him to see and to comment upon, as well as to approve. It is needless to point out, I hope, that our spiritual father and father confessor should be someone whom the Metropolitan and our own bishop approves. We cannot seek someone who will not be wise and filled with discretion for our priestly life and Archdiocesan life. We do believe in the Incarnation after all.
Something which comes from the monastic practice of the early Orthodox West commends itself enormously to our fervent use. It is called Lectio Divina. Sometimes we Orthodox become rather phobic of spiritual practices that are titled in Latin. This ought not to be the case however. After all Saint John Cassian, whom we love a great deal, wrote in Latin; as did Saint Ambrose of Milan and others.
Lectio Divina simply means "holy reading." It is actually a very patristic way of reading the Holy Scriptures. Reading the Scriptures is not a new for most of us. But what I would like to commend here is not for us simply to study the Scriptures (although as we have already said that has a very important part in our priestly lives), but for us to pray the Scriptures.
The desert fathers lived with people constantly asking "a word" from them. "Father, give me a word." Some of the seekers were desirous of a novelty, but many were not. To these God worked through that father and gave a word of salvation.
The same can happen for each of us if we will begin our day with prayer, then ask God for a word in his Scriptures. We shouldn't practice that Protestant exercise of simply opening the Scriptures at random. We should be deliberate, starting with one specific book of the Bible (either New Testament or Old Testament) and then go through that one with prayer. Set a time, say fifteen minutes, and keep to it.
There are many books about keeping the Lectio Divina but perhaps one that is especially helpful in a non-technical way is titled Lectio Divina by the Cistercian monk, M. Basil Pennington.
What is amazing about this way of praying the Scriptures is that God does in fact come to us, or rather, he lifts our hearts up to him and we find home. He is faithful to give us a word that we can keep and mull over in our hearts throughout the day. And during the day that word becomes more powerful and rich because it seems to illustrate our day and to give it purpose.
If we will let the Scriptures become more than texts to study and come alive as prayer in our hearts, surely our priesthood will be transformed along with our lives.
The Effect on Others
Let us understand that all of this work on our own hearts is the ultimate care for our parishioners. As priests our lives are active and oriented towards saving our parishioners. And this is as it ought to be. But the proper care for our parishioners is expressed in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles.
The twelve summoned the Church together and said, "It is not right that we should give up preaching the Word of God to serve tables. … We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." Acts 6
Does the priest engage in counseling? Yes, but it is not his primary task. Does the priest need to take care of the administrative duties that pile up around us? Yes, but these tasks are not of the first rank of importance.
The priest is to be a man of prayer first. He must work on his spiritual life so he might be able to give a saving word to those whom he serves. When we desire to help others come to Jesus in the new millennium, we must begin with ourselves. We cannot effect anyone else until we come to Jesus in our own hearts with purity and focus and intensity.
Most of us have probably thought how wonderful it would be if as a result of our ministry God would produce one Saint. This is surely one of the many thoughts that fight for attention in the mind of every newly ordained priest.
The formula for sanctity is given in the Scriptures, "be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect." Just prior to that the Scriptures say that God makes his sun to shine and his rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike, a testimony to the impartiality of the Divine Love, to his detachment and humility. This surely goes along with "love your enemies." "If you love, or salute, those who love you, what is your reward? Do not even the publicans do as much? But love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you and despitefully use you."
There is in every priest's ministry the gauche, the stupid, the obstinately perverse, those who take up our time with endless trivia, the critical, the gossip, the scrupulous, people we just don't like, the bore, the overly-dependent, the lonely, the recidivist, the leech, those who oppose us or just don't like us.
We often think that our ministry could be much more effective if we could eliminate these people and spend our time with those who appreciate our ministry and can make profitable use of it. But in the balance of the years these may be the very people who are our benefactors, for it is in loving the unlovable, in expending our energies without the hope of recompense, that we begin to grow holy and resemble Our Lord.
It is absolutely certain that God sends each of us what we need to enable us to grow in sanctification. The main purpose of our being called to the Sacred Order of Priests is for our deification. We may not have been chosen by God for our superior potentialities or our talents. It may be that it is we who have the greatest need.
St. Paul says — and what else can he mean — that God chooses the weak and foolish to confound the great and the wise. My ways are not your ways, says the Lord. We look for the brightest young men as recruits for the ministry, the strongest characters. But the strongest characters do not need the extra discipline, the chastening. Rather it is the weak, those most likely to falter and fall by the wayside.
I would not be surprised if at the Day of Judgment, when the secrets of all hearts are disclosed, it will prove that God has reached out and touched the weaklings and the misfits for his priests and bishops — at least it seems so to me at times.
Why else do you get the feeling, at any clergy gathering, "My heavens! the Church is depending on this motley crew of mediocrities!"
If we will but look honestly into our own hearts. What we shall see is a weak and trembly thing, a moral coward, a confused and faithless person. Haven't we each often been astonished at the faith, the moral heroism of the layman, the life of prayer and seemingly easy self-denial of the housewife and mother, the patience and diligence of the laboring man?
We, my beloved brothers, are weak in order that God may make us strong in love and selfless service, by sending us all the heart aches and head aches of those who try our patience, consume our time and energy, aggravate us beyond endurance.
Our holiness is not about any effort, however strenuous, we might do, but rather in our humble submission to the will of God in the circumstances of our daily lives.
And what better way to produce that beautiful quality called "resignation," or as we said earlier "detachment from ourselves," than by sending us a host of unlovable people to be loved, all the abrasive people to polish off all our own sharp edges.
Most of us, if we look back on our own ministry whether short or long, will seem to see what must surely be an usual number of really disagreeable people, yet every one of them is a soul for whom Christ died. All he asks from us is time, patience, and courtesy growing into love.
We must recognize that I don't save anybody, not even my own soul. Jesus does that. All that is required of us is that we mortify our own wills and allow God to plan our day, to submit and accept gracefully the frustration and humiliation, to paraphrase the great hesychastic fathers, "To keep our minds in our hearts with Our Lord."
We might dream and pray that out of our ministry there might come just one saint as our offering to God. God might reply to such a prayer, "Very well, I shall grant you that out of your ministry you will produce one saint — yourself."
There is a marvelous passage in Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard's The Soul of the Apostolate which is both telling and true:
"If the priest is a saint, the people will be fervent;
If the priest is fervent, the people will be pious;
If the priest is pious, the people will at least be decent;
If the priest is only decent, the people will be godless.
The spiritual generation is always one degree less intense in its life than those who beget it in Christ."
So it is for the salvation of our own souls that we must come to Jesus Christ within our hearts. It is for the sake of our priesthood that must embrace to Our Lord in our own hearts. It is for the edification and salvation of our parishioners that we must become united to God in our hearts. It is for the hope and future our country and nation that we must come to know our Saviour in our hearts.
Let us begin.