REFLECTIONS FOR DIOCESAN PRIESTS
ON THE PREEMINENT CHARISM
Stan Drongowski, O.P.
To Bill Hitpas
and all diocesan priests
seek to proclaim
God's living Word
With such yearning love
we chose to impart to you
not only the gospel of God
but out very selves,
so dear had you become to us.
I Thessalonians 2:8
This booklet is presented to you as a recognition of the awesome task with which you have been charged in the service of God and God's people in the Body of Christ. In my seventeen years as a Dominican priest I have had the privilege of serving in two different parishes. In that time I have come to know a number of diocesan priests. With that knowledge has come a profound admiration for the particular mission of the diocesan priesthood within the Church.
I had a conversation with a bishop once who described the diocesan priesthood as being "the troops on the front line." While any of us might describe in many different ways the particular 'battle' or 'war' in which we are engaged, you, more than anyone else, have the most intimate contact with the people of God. You have a particular investment in them in such a way that not only distinguishes you as ministers but truly does put you in the position to be the immediate image of Christ for your people.
You give unstintingly. You serve tirelessly. Yet, it has only been recently that you have been getting the attention your particular order deserves in terms of spirituality. In several places Fr. Don Cozzens, a priest of the Cleveland diocese, has noted how most of the spirituality you received in your priestly formation has been derivative of the spirituality of the religious orders. He and others recognize that it is time for that to come to an end.
The offering of this booklet is directed to this. It is developed not from a Dominican or any other 'religious' perspective. What follows is a reflection on the particular charism you have, as diocesan priests, to be preachers.
Let me say right now that I can imagine your sense of bewilderment at this. I know because that has been the response of many of your brothers whenever I have proposed this notion. What I have learned, however, is that you do have a corporate charism to preach just as much as the Dominicans, the Redemptorists, the Jesuits, the Paulists or any other group has. All too often, however, it seems that your preaching formation has consisted in your being given a few rhetorical techniques and a lot of theology and dogmatics. Then many of you have been expected to go out and evangelize.
This booklet is NOT another 'how-to' compendium of techniques. It is, instead, intended to be a tool for you to reflect on your own experience as a diocesan priest and the integral role preaching has in your ministerial identity.
Your response to that last sentence may be, "Preaching doesn't have much of a role in my identity. I don't much think of myself as a preacher. I don't think of myself as much of a preacher." If that is the case then this booklet may be a bit of a challenge. I ask, however, out of your love for God and love for your people, give this a chance.
I am well aware of the fact that you do not have time for nonsense. The demands on your time and energy are enormous. As a result, you cannot afford to spend any of that precious time on anything that is not going to be helpful to you or your people. This booklet is structured with that in mind.
I suppose that now is the time to give you some basic presuppositions I have about you:
YOU ARE A MAN OF GOD. You really care about your personal relationship with God and really want that to deepen. As such you are also a man of prayer. At the same time you more often than not must admit that "My work is my prayer." Okay, granted that you have not taken on yourself the job of effecting salvation (leaving something for Jesus and the Holy Spirit), then your work can be a prayer. What I hope this booklet might contribute is a way to make that prayer of your ministry more profound, more personal, and more fruitful.
As a man of God you have experienced God in many and intimate ways in your life. You have experienced God's loving compassion and forgiveness. You have heard God's call to you in your vocation. You have received God's strength in living out that vocation in some very difficult times. In the inmost core of your being you strive to be the best child of God possible. In other words you have as your deepest desire that which drives us all: you want to be a saint.
YOU ARE A MAN OF THE CHURCH. As a priest you are very conscious of your role as an official minister of the Church. You have found through the Church the most profound means of expressing your love and commitment to God.
Since you are a man of the Church you are, as a diocesan priest, more aware than most people of the divisions which exist within the Church. These divisions cause you pain because they are not abstract concepts. They involve very real people about whom you care deeply.
At times you experience divisions within the Church between the 'upper' Church, the institutional hierarchy, and the 'lower' Church, the people to whom you directly minister. You also experience factions within your parish. These divisions can be along social, cultural, political, ideological, economic, racial, ethnic or any other kinds of lines. These various divisions cause you a tremendous amount of pain. While you may feel yourself inclined toward one or another particular group, you know that as a public person you must also assume a public persona. You are a mediator between these various groups. You really are then, a pontiff, a bridge. You are like Jesus who, through his incarnation, came to bridge the gap between the divine and the human. You are very aware of this but the problem is that people walk (or drive) over bridges and sometimes your back feels like its about to break under the load.
As a man of the Church YOU ARE A MAN OF THE PEOPLE. As a diocesan priest there is nobody on this earth who knows your people the way you do. You are privy to their deepest pain and struggles. You share in their greatest joys. By virtue of who you are and the love you have manifest, as well as because of your position as a priest, you are admitted into peoples' lives in a way nobody else is. This is one of the most humbling parts of being a priest. It is also one way through which you come into contact with the power of God.
Your people call you 'Father. That can be a really loaded term for both them and for you. In your relation with your people you struggle to be a good father. The fatherhood you practice is that of God. It means that in many ways you are a life giver. When one of your people has an experience of death, you are the one who names the grace of life. Being a father means that you are a strength giver. When your people are experiencing profound existential powerlessness, you are the one who names the grace of strength. As a father you are a pathfinder. When your people are wandering, you are the one who is in a position to direct in the way of God.
At the same time as you are 'father' you are also 'brother. While you have an important position of leadership for your people, at the same time you are sharing in their journey. You, too, experience death, powerlessness, the sense of indirection. While you may seldom or never fully articulate these experiences with your people, you really do experience them. These are your real points of association with the people of God for whom you truly care. This is because you are one of the people of God as well.
You are for them as 'father'. You are with them as 'brother'. This is what makes you a presbyter.
YOU ARE A MAN OF THE ALTAR. You recognize in your ministry as a man of the people and of the Church that one of the most awesome aspects is serving at the altar. You have been chosen from among the people to be their representative before God. You are recognized by the Church as one of the primary means by which the life-giving grace of the sacraments are to be articulated by and for the people.
Your experience of the altar is in many different situations. Most often the altar is in the Church. At other times that altar is in your office or the confessional. Sometimes that altar is a death bed.
You are a priest of and for the sacraments. Through this celebration you recognize the profoundly humbling privilege of presence and mediation. This is what makes you a sacerdos.
These presuppositions have come from many years of working with your brother diocesan priests as well as talking with them about the power and meaning of their identity and mission as preachers. Someone once said, "Our lives are grounded in preaching. Sometimes that means we have to use words." The preaching we are all called to do from the pulpit is grounded in the very nature of the lives we live the rest of the time. This is the nature of that most elusive thing we call the preaching charism. It is for this very reason that the preaching charism of the diocesan priesthood flows from the nature of its life. YOUR preaching charism flows from the nature of YOUR life.
WHAT IS A CHARISM?
One of the difficulties in talking about charism is that so often we look back to a group's founder to see how it all came about. When I asked a bishop once about the preaching charism of the diocesan priesthood he said, "One problem we have is the lack of an identifiable founder like St. Francis or St. Dominic."
As this bishop noted there is no historically identifiable founder to whom we can look for a convenient answer. It is not, however, a problem. We only have a problem if there is no way of getting at the answer. There are other ways we can get to the preaching charism of the diocesan priesthood.
In order to do that we have to make a profession of faith. That faith first of all says that the Holy Spirit is at work in all of us. That Spirit draws each of us to the particular mission which is our vocation. In our vocation, the Spirit gives us whatever is necessary to do the job entrusted to us. That which is given by the Spirit is charism. This faith applied, then, means that we know that the diocesan priesthood has, in fact, been entrusted with the mission to preach. Exactly how that came about is for the historians to deal with. You know that both the Church and your people expect you to preach. We believe that the Spirit gives what we need to do our jobs. How then do we figure out what the preaching charism of the diocesan priesthood is? We get to it by two means: practice and theology.
Practice is a vital means for charism identification. We not only look at what has happened in the past. We can look at what is going on around us today and see the Holy Spirit at work. That is no news to you either. You experience that Spirit at work around you all the time. The problem is, however, as I have learned from talking to a good number of your brother diocesan priests, is that you do not often have much of a chance to reflect on that Spirit at work in and through you. More specifically, you hardly ever have an opportunity to reflect on that Spirit working in and through you specifically as a preacher. You know all too well the responsibility to preach. You have read Fulfilled In Your Hearing and all the other things that have pointed out how important preaching is.
This booklet is not going to do that. What I offer you is a way to reflect on your experience as diocesan priests. Through that experience you can see that you have a corporate charism to preach. Then you will see how you also have the personal charism to preach.
This is not another navel-gazing "I wanna feel good about me" kind of exercise. What I hope you will find here is an opportunity to touch a part of the truth of who you are as a diocesan priest: a man of God, a man of the Church, a man of the people, and a man of the altar. All of this leads to how you, as a diocesan priest, are a preacher.
Theology is a second access we have to charism. As you know, in theology we study how God works. The Church, through her theological articulation on the nature of things which pertain to her, provided us with a wealth of material for theological consideration. It may come as a surprise to many of you (as it has to some of your brothers) but there is an identifiable theology of the preaching mission of the diocesan priesthood. It, however, has been buried in the midst of a lot of verbiage. My second offering to you in this booklet, therefore, is a brief reflection on the theology of preaching and the diocesan priesthood as preachers.
HOW TO USE THIS BOOKLET
This booklet is divided into two general sections. The first part is designed as a guided reflection on some particular aspects of your preaching charism. These reflections are based on your own experience. They are intended to help you internalize your own preaching charism. These reflections are based on the basic assumptions upon which this booklet is based and which I mentioned above. They are scripturally based and, therefore, will begin with an applicable passage. I will then offer you a 'bridge' for the passage which will lead to a particular focus on your own personal and pastoral experience. Each reflection will then address how this particular point is a facet of the gem which is your preaching charism.
If you wish, you may want to take this reflection one step further and apply it in the pulpit. You can do this by going through the process with next weekend's readings in mind. There may be something in one of the exercises which will add a personal light to the preaching you will be doing.
The second section of this booklet is a reflection on the theology of the preaching charism, of the diocesan priesthood. The operative word here is reflection. It is not intended to be a theological treatise. This theology is based mainly on scripture and selected Vatican documents. If, however, you are not all that interested in the theological angle, just skip it.
At the end of the booklet is a selected bibliography. You might find these helpful and interesting for further reflection.
I have just one request to make of you. Please do not dismiss the fact that as a diocesan priest you do have a preaching charism. While it may be one of the things you find most difficult in your ministry, the fact that you find preaching difficult is a sign that you recognize its importance. Therefore, I ask you, I beg you: if you subscribe to a homily service, PLEASE do not use it for anything more than a reference for exegesis or illustrations. Remember: no matter how brilliant a biblicist or theologian the person is who wrote that homily, there is not a single person in the entire world who knows and cares about your people as you do. If you do the preaching yourself rather than delegate it to some stranger who is not even there, I can guarantee that it will touch your people's needs more directly. The preaching will be more alive with the power of the Spirit which is in you.
BEING A MAN OF GOD
Lord, I am not proud,
holding my head too high,
reaching beyond my grasp.
No, I am calm and tranquil
like a weaned child
resting in its mother's arms:
my whole being at rest.
Let Israel rest in the Lord,
now and for ever.
It was 1958 when my mother died. She was 29. I was six. On Mother's Day she awoke paralyzed from the waist down because of cancer. She was dead within three months.
Though only six I was the oldest of four. I vividly remember a couple at aunts telling me that my father had too much on his mind and that I was going to have to take care of my brother and two sisters. I was not to go to him with my little problems. I felt profoundly alone.
Mom's wake was the worst ordeal. There I was, in this funeral home full of adults, wearing the navy blue suit she had bought for my first communion. The cuffs on the pants were rolled up several times. "He's going to grow" was the rationale.
Wandering around the room that hot July day, I was overwhelmed by the pungent aroma of all the flowers and the hushed talk. Over and over again I heard people talking about the tragedy of it all. Isn't It a shame? She died before her time."lt was a horrible illness. She looks like she suffered terribly." "What do you suppose Stan and the kids are going to do now?" "Who on earth do you think chose that lipstick?" Being small I was unnoticed but able to hear everything. I was the next best thing to invisible.
Going over to the casket I remember looking in and agreeing with them. The person In the box in no way resembled the woman I knew as mother.
Trying to escape I found a chair in a corner. I sat there out of view of everybody. As I sat there I recalled all the bad things I had done. All the disobedience, all the sassing, all the childhood sins came to mind in this examination of conscience. I wept.
Then I became aware of someone sifting beside me. I did not want anyone there. I wanted to be unnoticed. A kid, however, has no power to tell someone bigger to go away.
A man or a woman? Young or old? I honestly cannot say I remember. All I remember is that for a while we sat there together without a word passing.
Then this person put an arm around my shoulder and leaned over to my ear saying, "They have it all wrong." That certainly got my attention. Never before had I heard one adult say that another was wrong. "They have It all wrong. Your mom had a very special life. it was God's gift. Just like your life is very special and God's gift. Every life Is its own gift, no matter how long or short it is. You just have to know that your mother knows how much you loved her and that she will always love you."
With that I realized that the 'angel' was gone.
Sixteen years later I was graduating from college and preparing to enter the Dominican Order when a friend asked me, "Have you ever had a religious experience?" My glib response was, "No. And if I ever did I certainly wouldn't admit it." At the age of twenty-two I sure was not going to present myself as some sort of religious nut. And I certainly was not going to tell him this story about my mother's death.
The fact of the matter is, though, each of us can, in fact, identify a deeply profound and intensely personal experience of God's action in our lives. More often than not it has happened in moments of profound vulnerability. It happens when we are at our weakest. This is the time when God surreptitiously sneaks in.
Childhood is rarely for any of us something we would ever want to repeat. No matter how happy or stable the setting, the very act of growing up is painful. It hurts because it seems that it demands things of us that we would just as soon not have to endure. Most of all it demands change. just when we think we have everything all figured out and everything starts to make sense, something will come along which upsets the house of cards. The real problem is that nothing, not graduation from high school or college, not ordination, not even retirement is ever going to give us the credential which will assure that we will never again have to experience the pain of 'growing up'.
The image of the weaned child in Psalm 131 is profound. The child, who had received comfort and nourishment from the mother, must eventually be taken away from the breast. There is profound pain, frustration, disorientation, and anger that come with it. There can be a sense of betrayal and abandonment. This is when the mother will hold the child most closely. This is when she will show the most profound fidelity when, in spite of a whole lot of kicking and screaming the wise mother will faithfully comfort the child. With the experience of being weaned, of growing, comes the experiences we can identify as God holding us and offering a lullaby of solace.
There are generally two different times when we tend to experience this reality. The first is when we have established our constructs of reality and truth in ways that are not really God's. This is when we have built our houses on sand. As we have grown we have all experimented with all sorts of things. We play around with various and sundry pain relievers to figure out if aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, naproxen sodium, or some other pain reliever is going to take care of our headaches or those muscle pains of which we become too aware as we age.
We tend to learn by trial and error. Our tendency, however, is all too often to look for the most efficient way to deal with that with which we are dealing. The problem, however, is that that which is the most efficient is not necessarily going to be the most effective.
When it comes to the more profound issues of our lives, the foundations or paradigms upon which we base ourselves are too frequently other than the ground of God. This is when the possibilities for disaster are most immediate. The question is, how tenaciously do we cling to the sandy ground which is rapidly turning to quick-sand and sucking us in the more we resist.
The second time we often find God slipping into our lives comes when we have, in fact, established ourselves on the solid ground of God. As the gospel says, the winds and the rain will come to buffet it. This is the experience of the support of God in the time of evil.
Someone asked me once if I believed in the devil. My response is that I am not so sure about the personification of the devil that has evolved over the ages. That having been said, however, we have all experienced the fact of evil around us as well as its potential within us. If, therefore, we have come to recognize this reality, and since we do profess both belief in and experience of the Holy Spirit, how can we deny the presence of the force of evil, no matter what name we give it?
This force of evil is that which, if we can anthropomorphize it, has the will not only to draw us away from God but a considerable amount of power to give it a pretty good go. Sometimes the attack is fairly obvious and can be profoundly devastating. Witness the trials of Job or, more currently, the horrors of the holocaust. Sometimes evil is very subtle. Being subtle, however, means it is no less insidious.
All these are meant to draw us to doubt God and therefore withdraw to more immediately 'safe' terrain. If the storm is waging it is really tempting to imagine that there is some calmer or more comfortable place to be, even though we are sure of the stability of the structure. God is always there to strengthen us with the truth of real life.
Though it makes no sense, however, sometimes we venture out of the house looking for something we think might be better. Again, we have had to learn that God is with us. We have experienced the storms. We have seen the havens at the side of the road. Sometimes we have been tempted to stop in for a while. Sometimes we have stopped. Never, however, has the situation been so horrible that God is not willing to assist us in our return to our home on solid ground.
All of these are experiences of weaning. All of our experiences are unique. At the same time, God is always ready to speak a word, sometimes through some pretty unexpected prophets. This word is one that will bring us comfort and peace. It is God's word spoken to bring us to the maturity for which we strive as children of God. As a man of God you are first a son of God.
As a son of God yourself it is vital to repeatedly reflect on how God has intruded into your life. While this is hardly news to you, how often is it convenient to just say, "Oh, I don't have to go through this again." Even a daily calling to mind all the specific times God has spoken to you in your loneliness or pain, strengthened you in your weakness, or guided you home in your wandering. As you can see these reflections are metaphorical. You should, however, be able to understand them.What is your earliest memory of God in your life? Not religion class or praying, but what was your first real personal experience of God's presence to you? How old were you? Where were you? Was there an experience of pain associated with It? How were you dealing with that pain? How was God manifest to you? Was it through another person or directly? What did God say to you? What, if anything, did you respond? What was your experience afterward? Did you tell anyone about it? Have you ever?
How have you experimented in your life? (Remember: not all experimentation is bad. Through experience we learn and some experiments can be the way we come closer to holiness.) Was the experimentation physical? Intellectual? Spiritual? Did you find the experimentation helpful to your coming to understand yourself as a son of God? If so, how have you integrated this into your life? How has this grown? Have there been experiments which have flopped? What were they? How did you come to learn that? Who else was involved? How did the experience of this contribute to your understanding of yourself as a son of God? How have you come to integrate this into your life? How has it grown?
What has been your experience of having 'built a house on sand'? What was the particular point in your life this happened? How did you come to recognize the problem? Did it take the collapse of the house or were you able to recognize the problem and move out before any real problems arose? Who was involved to help and direct? How did you go about finding solid ground on which to build? Was anyone else involved here? Did you find solid ground or was it sandy again? How did you eventually find the 'ground of God'?
Having built your house on the ground of God, what have been the storms, the testing you have encountered? From whom did they come? What have been the temptations you have encountered? Have you ever ventured out of this house in a storm? What has been the result? How did you get home?
What you have experienced has also been experienced by the people you serve. The struggles you have had are also theirs. This, however, does not mean that you should get up in the pulpit and use yourself as a paradigm of Christian life and struggle.
You can, however, in naming the grace of God for yourself in your own life, assist them through the same process. Recognizing that not everyone is going through the same thing at the same time you may have to specify. For some, then, it may be an experience of recollection. For others it may touch something they are presently experiencing. Either way, the experience of recognizing that one is a child of God and all the psychodynamics that go along with that are a truth all people face.
Take a look at next Sunday's readings. Who are the people involved? Do they seem to recognize being children of God? If so or if not, how is this manifest? What is the pain, the growth, the weaning that is taking place or is being elicited? Who is grounded on God and who is not?
Now take the readings and read them through your experience(s) of recognizing yourself as a son of God. Tell your people, then, about a God who loves each of us. Tell them about a God you have experienced as a strong father, a gentle and patient mother. Simply articulating to them the fact that you know about the suffering and struggle will let them know that what you say is true because it is what they are confronting. Speaking from your heart of your experience of God's solid foundation, even without direct reference to that experience, will give those who are struggling access to the solid foundation in which you have discovered. You will be able to offer them the comforting embrace of God which you have received.
BEING A MAN OF THE CHURCH
Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts,
and especially that you may prophesy.
For those who speak In tongues
do not speak to other people but to God;
for nobody understands them,
since they are speaking mysteries In the Spirit.
On the other hand,
those who prophesy speak to other people
for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.
Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves,
but those who prophesy build up the church.
Now I would like all of you to speak In tongues,
but even more to prophesy.
One who prophesies
is greater than one who speaks In tongues,
unless someone Interprets,
so that the church may be built up.
(1 Cor. 14:1-5)Drongi was the small farming settlement in eastern Poland from where my grandfather emigrated early in this century. The nearest town is Sokoly. It was to Sokoly that the people of the surrounding settlements went for trade and where the children got whatever schooling they were to receive. It was also where the church was.
When my grandfather was a child of about five it was determined that Sokoly needed a new church. The problem was that the area was under Russian control in the late nineteenth century. There was a prohibition against the building of new Catholic churches. The pastor, however, got around that easily enough. He would simply build an addition to the old church which would be permitted. The fact that the "addition" would be twice the size of the old church was merely a technicality.
The church was built by the people. The various farming settlements served by the parish were all assigned various days to come and work on it. My grandfather would tell of how, when it was Drongl's appointed day, the entire village would pick up and go the five miles or so to Sokoly to work on the construction. Everybody worked. The men would do the heavy labor. The women would cook the requisite massive amounts of food for any social event. Even the children were involved in carrying the smaller tools and bricks. That church still stands and thrives.
Not too many new churches are being built today. Instead it seems more and more often that creative additions are what is happening. These additions, whether physical structures or some other form of ecclesial community speak to the life of the Church. As an organic body the Church is always in a state of growth, of flux.
The Church is prophetic when it speaks the vision of Jesus. Having heard the prophetic word of God spoken by Jesus, we are drawn even more forcefully to act on what we have received. We are drawn to him from whom we have received: Jesus Christ, because we know that we cannot continue to grow without him. We recognize that it is only in our attachment to his very person, in his very being, his body, that we will continue to receive the vision we need. We have discovered in Jesus the truth of who we are.
The Church, of course, is that body. It is in the Church that we declare that we are meant, all of us, to be prophets and builders. It is through the Church that we get what we need in order to achieve that end.
The Church is not some abstract theological concept. It is a living reality through which the life and truth of God are intended by God to call both the members as well as the whole world to the fullness of God's reign.
This notion of the Church being the context in which we encounter the truth of who we are is where we discover our vocation. I had the privilege of working for six years in formation and, therefore, had a lot of contact with men in the process of discernment. I saw just how cleverly God tends to work. Seldom were the reasons which we stated as our motivations to consider priesthood the real reason(s) why we were doing it. I observed that many "vocations" are instead initially motivated by ignoble drives and fears.
What I also saw, however, was that in the context of life, not only were these ignobilities revealed, they were transformed into a means of grace. I saw those who sought priesthood as a means of social advancement. I saw those who were afraid of personal relationships while on the other side I saw others who thought they would be guaranteed 'friends'. I saw men seeking to run away from themselves.
The ultimate meaning of the word humility is truth. Whenever we live outside the truth of who we are we set ourselves up for a tumble, for humiliation. Whatever the 'falsehoods' were which motivated our initial vocational move have been not only revealed but transformed. This is grace building on nature. This is the experience of so many of us as we have sought to continue to grow in holiness.
Each of us has received so much from God through the Church and have come to truly treasure her and to love her. It is for this reason that we are all too conscious of the divisions which persist among the body of Christ. Perhaps we have contributed to them. How might we speak God's prophetic promise of unity?
You know the old scholastic maxim: seldom affirm, never deny, and always distinguish. The real difficulty with that old saw is what has happened to the last admonition to always distinguish. It seem so often that the distinguishing has let to the setting up of camps and to polarization. While it may come as some consolation to read about divisions in the Church at least as early as the Church in Corinth, that succor is small because we are so aware of the pain that such divisions bring. It tends to set up an either/or dichotomy which is exactly what God sought to overcome In the incarnation. We recognize that, all too often, the drive to distinguish can lead to the inclination to extinguish.
As diocesan priests you are most definitely in the middle of the fray. What you witness at the most fundamental and, therefore, most vital level of the Church's life are the divisions at work- You witness the power of sin at work in families, in your community, in your parish, in your diocese. At times you experience yourself being thrown into camps, at other times perhaps you might set up a tent in one of those camps.
What has been received from God through the Church must be returned to God through the Church. As each of us has discovered truth so must we strive to bring the Church we love so much to the truth of who she is meant to be. What is that truth? We are nothing less than brothers and sisters in the community of saints. And the Church of God is meant to be built by us.
In your position as a diocesan priest you are most definitely a builder, a man of the Church. While this may have bee seen as noble, we all know that it is not as respected as it once was. Yet, in spite of conflict, division, and at times deep personal hurt, you continue to love the Church because you are in constant contact with the most fundamental nature of her reality. You have received life from this reality and you have given life in return.How have you been built up by the Church? Who were the instruments of that building? How, in the last week, have you been able to bring that same new life to others?
What were your real initial reasons for seeking to become a priest? What was the truth you discovered about yourself in the process of your life? Who helped you in this process? Who challenged, encouraged, loved you in this? How have you been able to continue to grow in your personal truth in the context of the Church? If you have found this problematic how has it been so? How have you addressed it?
Who helps you in the building of church? Who does not? (This is deliberately vague for you to approach it on any of the levels you choose.) How does real membership take place?
How do you experience unity and division in your parish? In your diocese? Who wants to distinguish themselves from whom? Who would just as soon % extinguish' whom? What role do you see for yourself as brother and priest in this?
Who are the builders, the saints who have inspired you? Who are the living saints around you? What makes them so in your eyes? How does the prophetic vision you are called to proclaim to them reveal God's truth to you through them?
Once again, read the lectionary offerings for next Sunday. What is being said to what community there? What are the issues of that/those communities? Is the light of God present or blocked there? Who is instrumental in calling them to the manifestation of light? What is the truth to which this community is called? What, if any, are the divisions addressed? How are they confronted? By whom?
As you go through the week in reflection and in preparation for preaching, observe the saints around you (and they are there). How does life and light shine through them? How might you name the grace you experience?
What are the divisions or conflicts your people are experiencing in their families? In town? In the parish? In the diocese? Does the experience of the scriptural communities in any way address these? Do they offer any possible solutions to the dilemmas you identify?
As the body of Christ as Church we are the communion of saints. That communion exists at all levels from the universal to the particular. So often, however, it is possible to lose sight of that fact as you are constantly called on to be the problem solver. Perhaps the reiteration of the homely truth of our sainthood can and, with faith, will bring the Church to a renewed awareness of the truth of her being.
Remember most of all that as a man of the Church you are a builder. God's vision is spoken through you. This is not a threat. It is a promise and truth.
BEING A MAN OF THE PEOPLE
Jesus went about all the cities and villages
teaching in their synagogues,
and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom,
and curing every disease and every sickness.
When he saw the crowds,
he had compassion for them,
because they were harassed and helpless,
like sheep without a shepherd.
then he said to his disciples,
The harvest Is plentiful but the laborers are few;
therefore ask the Lord of the harvest
to send our laborers Into his harvest.
(Mt. 9:34-38)My sister Ann and her thirteen-year old son Tony were visiting me In Chicago. It was their first time in the city and we were taking In the sights. One of these was the Art Institute. There was a long line to get in, since there was a special exhibit going on and the line for tickets for that was the same as for regular admission to the museum.
As we were waiting we were talking. Suddenly we realized that Tony was no longer with us. With thoughts of all the horrible things that can happen to a young boy going through our heads we started to nervously look around.
Then we saw him. As we had been talking Tony had been looking around. He had seen an older person struggling up the steps with a bunch of packages. He quietly slipped away from us in order to ask if he could help.
Compassion can all too often have condescending overtones to it. The thing is, compassion is anything but condescending. Pity, now that can, and usually is condescending. Compassion is not. Instead, compassion is a deep and driving association with another person. We might even look at the word as meaning "to be passionate with."
Jesus' very being was the exemplification of God's compassion, God's desire to be passionate with us. It was not condescension. It was, instead, the ultimate manifestation of love. It became the supreme model for the association of one with another. Through his life Jesus showed us how we are meant to be passionate with each other. He showed us how to respect and admire each other. He showed us that compassion means to even enjoy each other. (He did, after all, have some parties with his friends.) Most profoundly, however, he showed us how to care for each other.
The life of Jesus, however, was more than an example of compassion. It was even more than the mandate to be compassionate. Through his life we also receive the strength to do it.
Compassion, however, is a discipline to be honed. It also demands a mode of seeing ourselves and those around us in a way different from the way many people of our time do.
Living in a culture which is profoundly individualistic, we are counter-cultural. Compassion draws us into intimate association with others. Compassion calls for us very concretely to form our identifies from the relation of ourselves with and for others.
How often have we read the following passage at funerals? It would make a pretty good gospel for ordinations as well.
Jesus said to Andrew and Philip,
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
Very truly, I tell you,
unless the grain of wheat falls Into the earth and dies,
it remains just a single grain;
but if It dies, It bears much fruit.
Those who love their life will lose It,
and those who hate their life in this world
will keep it for eternal life.
Whoever serves me must follow me,
and where I am, there will my servant be also.
Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
(Jn 12: 23-26)
The earth into which we are planted is the ground of the people of God who are our brothers and sisters. And who is not our brother or sister? Not anyone I can think of. We are first and foremost brothers and sisters, even before we are priests or bishops or presidents or whatever.
The death we experience is the elimination of the individuation which separates us from our brothers and sisters. The working of the earth on the seed transforms that seed into a source of life and nourishment.
The discipline of compassion is one in which you, as a diocesan priest, have been engaged in perfecting for a long time. In fact, chances are your initial development of this discipline most likely began long before you ever took a course in pastoral care, long before you even entered the seminary. It most likely began in your youth when you, yourself, experienced the compassion of another. It was when you experienced someone who did not treat you as 'other'; one who was truly able to understand you from your perspective. This would have been your experience of someone being as Christ.
The discipline which compassion demands is, first, that which my nephew Tony displayed. It is the ability to see. Now this seems obvious but it is not always easy to see. Not everyone has the discipline to really observe what is going on around one. You, however, as a man of the people know what it is to not pre-program what you are going to see. You see what is, not what you want or expect to see.
With seeing is the discipline of listening. This, as you know, is different from the simple audial act of hearing. To listen is to perceive from the perspective of the speaker. The language and frame of reference of the speaker and not the listener is the basis for listening.
While these are helpful they are not all that is necessary for compassion. There has to be some form of response as well. That response must in some way fit with that which has been observed. If someone is sharing good news you respond with joy. If someone shares grief you respond with sympathy. If you observe a problem you respond with a search for a way that will be helpful to the solution.
The difficulty we can encounter is that we often practice compassion but all too often fail to allow others the opportunity to be passionate with us. This is a particular difficulty you can encounter as a diocesan priest. So often everyone, including yourself, expects you to be strong for and compassionate with everyone. You, however, are a man of the people. That means you are a man with the people. That means that there have to be people with you as well. There have to be people you allow to be compassionate with you.
As a man of the people, a compassionate brother, you are the image of Christ. The compassion you manifest is sacramental in revealing God's communication of love and grace for your people. The word you speak is the compassionate word of God which heals the heart and soul of sicknesses your brothers and sisters experience. Speaking the compassionate word of God you address the fundamental problems of your people, thus helping them overcome the diseases with which they are inflicted. And, as a truly compassionate man of the people, your articulation of joy, hope, and promise call you to the center of the people in celebration of God's saving love.
The fundamental motivation behind your preaching is to be helpful, helpful in the individual lives of your people, helpful in addressing the issues of the community, helpful in building up the Church. As a compassionate man of the people, you are strategically located in the center of the people to be God's physical eyes and ears to observe. You are then God's mouthpiece to speak the healing word.Thinking of a point of painful struggle in your life, who was it that offered you a word of consolation and hope? In this struggle, the word that was spoken was most likely a helpful word. How was this so?
Thinking of a point of loneliness or rejection in your life, who was it that spoke a word of presence to you? How did this person speak to you from your position, from your struggle, from your pain?
Who has been with you at moments of joy and triumph? How were words of congratulations offered? How was your celebration marked?
The next time you celebrate Mass, pay close attention to the people approaching you in the communion line. Since you have the great position of being in the center of this people, identify as they approach, what they are encountering in their lives. What is the illness that needs to be healed? What is the joy to be celebrated? What is the gift to be affirmed? What is the grace to be named?
Are there any particular moral, political, or social concerns which seem to be occupying your mind and heart at this time? What helpful way might this be addressed? What healing word would you like to hear?
One of the most significant aspects of Jesus' ministry is that what he did was helpful to the people. His every word and action was constructive as it was directing people to God. As you prepare the readings to preach next Sunday consider that image of Jesus in whose image you stand. Read the scripture passages through the filter of those specific life issues you identified in the fourth and fifth reflection questions above. Remember that all of the following cannot possibly be brought into one preaching.Who are the individuals in the readings? What is the sickness or disease which is portrayed? How is it addressed? By whom?
How are compassion and affection manifest?
From whom (if anyone) do compassion and affection seem to be absent? How is this manifest?
Among the particular members of your community, who shares the same or similar affliction? How might curing take place?
Among the particular issues of your community, how might the people as a whole be called to the disciplines of compassion?
What are the joys or triumphs which must be named? How might this be a moment of celebration?
BEING A MAN OF THE ALTAR
Jesus took a loaf of bread,
and when he had given thanks, he broke it
and gave it to them, saying,
This is my body, which is given for you.
Do this in remembrance of me.
And he did the some with the cup after supper, saying
This cup that is poured out for you
Is the new covenant In my blood.
(Lk 22: 19-20)Karen was a beautiful thirty-seven year old who was dying of brain cancer. With two wonderful children, Amy and Tim, and a loving husband Mike, it all seemed just too tragic for words. It was my privilege to be an observer of and minor participant in her witness. After several years of chemo-therapy, remissions and returns, the end finally approached.
It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving that Mike approached me after Mass and told me that Karen's death was imminent. He asked if I would come to the house for the final commendation. After I told him that I could be there within fifteen minutes he said that it would not be necessary. Tomorrow would be soon enough. We therefore arranged that I would be at their house the next afternoon.
Things the next day went quickly and I was able to be at the house before the time we had set. Arriving I found not only Mike, Amy, and Tim, but Karen's parents, her sisters (one of whom had arrived from Alaska the night before), and several others. In all there were at least fifteen people at Karen's bed side.
Though not alert Karen seemed aware of what was happening. We proceeded with the celebration of the liturgy of the word, anointing, and viaticum. Not expecting so many people I had not brought many hosts for communion. Somehow, however, I was able to break them enough for all to receive.
Then the end of the ritual. May the angels lead you into paradise. May the martyrs come to welcome you, and lead you to the new and holy Jerusalem. And then she died.
To be able to serve at the altar of God is probably the single most profound privilege a priest is accorded. In the table service we become instruments and symbols of God's grace. We all learned in sacramental theology that symbols contain the reality they represent. As a priest you are for your people a model of God's love. Talk about intense! To take the pressure off a bit just remember that a model can be understood as a small imitation of the real thing.
You are, however, more than an imitation. The reality of God's Spirit is both with and in you. You are more than well aware, however, that this is not solely for your own sake. It is for your people.
You call the people to remembrance. This remembrance is healing for the, soul. It is efficacious for the forgiveness of sin, for the unity of people with God and each other. This remembrance is that which defines and directs the people of God. It is a remembrance where in mind and heart and soul all people are called into the truth of being as children of God saved through Jesus Christ.
The very significance of the word remembrance cannot be emphasized enough. It is more than a simple recollection or calling to mind. The fullness of its meaning may be better seen in a consideration of its literal opposite. The opposite of remembering is not forgetting. The opposite of remembering is dismembering. Sin has dismembered the family of God from God and from one another. Remembering brings all back together. In the sacramental act of remembering we actualize the fact of the unity which is the truth and destiny to which we are all called. It was for this that Jesus prayed:
And now that I am no longer In the world
but they are in the world,
and I am coming to you, Holy Father,
protect them in your name that you have given me
that they may be one, as we are one.
As you have sent me into the world,
so I have sent them into the world.
And for their sakes I sanctity myself,
so that they may be sanctified In truth.
(Jn 17:11, 18-19)
As a man of the altar you have attended to your altar service in many ways. I had the honor of presiding over Karen's death bed. It truly became an altar. As an altar that bed became an image of Christ and his care for all of us who were witness to it. It became the reality of God's overwhelming all powerful drive to unite all in the fullness of the divinity to which we were originally called.
In your care for your people you have sought nothing but the healthiest of nourishment for them in a world of junk food temptations. You are able to share this sacramental nourishment because you, yourself, first received it. You re-membered it.
You have received the Word which is truly a sacrament. You have devoured it with gusto, striving to make it a part of your very being. You have received the bread of fife in the fullness of re-membering. You have struggled to allow the reality of that bread to permeate every fiber of your being in order to bring you to the fullness of truth of who you are as a child of God. You have been washed in the waters of life through which you have been sanctified in truth. In that same baptism you were anointed with the very same oil by which Jesus became Christus. You have embraced forgiveness in the arms of God. You, as a priest of God and the Church, were ordained for your particular church. Why? In order to provide at the altar, wherever that altar may be, that which you have received.
Memory fails. When memory fails we are separated from truth. Remembering returns us to truth. It gives us life, substance, and definition.
As a man of the altar, therefore, you celebrate life in all its forms. As a man of the altar you draw your people to that life in your preaching for them. It is a preaching which articulates for their sake, on their terms, in their language, the call to re-member.
The altar is the image of Christ. It is the image of the death he encountered because of sin. It is the image of God's power to turn death into life. It is the very real representation of God's continual activity among and through us which brings all to life and truth through remembering.
All too often the integral unity and balance of word and sacrament can get off kilter. At one point I used to think that preaching was a presbyteral act while the celebration at the altar was a sacerdotal act -- both of them priestly, but in very different ways. This may be the case in some charisms but I have found a unity and balance between them in the diocesan priesthood.How do you understand the unity of presbyter and sacerdos in your experience of your priesthood?
How are these two aspects of the same reality of priesthood manifested to and for your people?
Where are the altars at which you serve?
Remember the times which you have approached the altar in a particularly weakened, vulnerable condition. How has the experience of being a man of the altar brought you particular strength?
How have you found the Word at the altar?
How have you found the altar in the Word?
All preaching is a sacramental event because it is meant to draw all to God through remembrance. It is also a source of grace in that task of remembering. Once again, consider the readings for next Sunday.Is there anyone in these readings who has forgotten something? Is anyone dismembered? How?
Is there any example of someone recalling them to what might have been forgotten?
Is there a particular sacrament you can see being exemplified? How? What is the grace this sacrament provides? How?
What are the memories of your people as a body? What has been forgotten? How might you articulate a call to remembrance?
As you well know, all of our sacramental rituals provide an opportunity for you to offer some scriptural reflection. Granted, this may not always be possible given particular circumstances. At the same time, however, the inclusion of the word is not a superficial appendage to the sacrament. It is an opportunity to articulate for the people the particular faith and grace to which the sacrament calls us.Recall a time in the last couple of weeks when you were called to a home, hospital, or nursing home to celebrate the anointing of the sick. Was there an opportunity to offer a word of remembrance for them? How did you do it?
How have you been able to incorporate your particular preaching charism into preaching at other times such as reconciliation, wakes, commissionings, or even meetings?
As a priest you are a man of God, a man of the Church, a man of the people, and a man of the altar. As a diocesan priest you have been given the grace to manifest this charism for a very particular people. It has been in your admiration of your people that you have seen a very concrete manifestation of God's presence. It has been in your affection for this same people that you have offered your life of service to offer a helpful word and hand. In your enjoyment of your people you celebrate with them. In your love for this people you care for them. It is because of this that you, as a diocesan priest, have your place as first among priests.
Thank you for this.
PREACHING AND THE DIOCESAN PRIEST
Some Theological Reflections
The basis for these reflections is, first of all, the scriptures. The revealed Word of God stands as the solid ground on which our faith and self-understanding are built. As we know there are many and varied ways of interpreting and using the scriptures. For many, especially with the influence of Jesuit spirituality, it is through scripture that personal meaning and direction is found.
A diocesan priest once told me that he has difficulty using scripture as primarily a personal prayer. His understanding is based on the fact that the scriptures were and are God's revelation to and for the community. (This is very different from the many more personalistic approaches to scripture which are currently popular.) His approach is that the scriptures were not intended primarily for individuals. His scriptural reading and prayer is to seek understanding and meaning through the message spoken to his community. There is a personal component because he is also a part of that community.
Many other diocesan priests were not willing to take so radical a stance, having found profound personal meaning in the scriptures. It is not necessary to choose either/or. This is one of those situations where we can have it all. The way, therefore, I am approaching the scriptures here is through the community of the diocesan priesthood.
The second tier of the foundation for these reflections is the documents of the Second Vatican Council. I have also included in this reflection what I consider to be one of the greatest hidden treasures the post-Conciliar Church has offered, the apostolic exhortation of Pope Paul V1, Evangelii Nuntiandi.
The beginning seems as good a place to begin as any.
IN THE BEGINNING
when God created the heavens and the earth,
the earth was a formless void
and darkness covered the face of the deep,
while a wind from God
swept over the face of the waters.
Then God said,
Let there be light
and there was light.
The initial revealed communication of God was firstly creative and secondly to offer light. In a very real sense this can offer us a paradigm of what all communication is meant to be: life and light giving. This has certainly been the standard to which God's communication, as well as communication in God's name, has been held ever since.
The fact that this articulation is described as having been a spoken word is also of significance to us as we consider our preaching. There is certainly an intimacy of personal contact which the spoken word offers over and above all other forms of communication.
And God saw that it was good.
God's spoken word not only worked but it worked effectively. The ultimate of God's creative output was the human person. Humanity, in God's plan, was to be the primary participant in the life of creation,
Then God said:
Lot us make humankind In our image,
according to our likeness;
and let them have dominion ...
Having created humanity in the divine image it was pretty natural for God to admire the handiwork produced. God so recognized this uniqueness in the human creation that it is upon them, over and above all the rest of creation, that a blessing is bestowed (1:28) as well as power and authority.
It seems that communication, then, was pretty effective. Effective, that is, until sin enters the picture. I have often thought that meetings are a direct result of original sin. As far as I can see, the only reason we have meetings is because we have to work constantly at communication. We have difficulty communicating, even in the same language, because of whatever dynamics separate us. Ultimately, that which separates us is sin.
The rest of the divine scriptures can be seen as God continually calling humanity back, constantly trying to shed light in darkness, unrelentingly speaking to us a message of life and love. Then God spoke the ultimate Word of life and love. It was a new communication but one that had been with God from the beginning.
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things come into being through him,
and without him not one thing come into being.
What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome It.
He was in the world
and the world came into being through him;
yet the world did not know him.
He come to what was his own,
and his own people did not accept him.
But to all who received him,
and believed in his name,
he gave power to become children of God,
who were born,
not of blood
or of the will of the flesh
or of the will of man,
but of God.
And the Word become flesh and lived among us,
and we have seen his glory,
the glory of a father's only son,
full of grace and truth.
(Jn 1: 1-5, 10-14)
Again the word is spoken and light shines. The difference this time is that the word and the light are not simply from God, they are God. The Word spoken is not only the communication by God, it is the communication of God. In a very real sense, the communication of the Word is God's preaching and that preaching is God's very self. Jesus' very being is God's preaching which brings life (creation). This new life brings a new vision and a new understanding (light).
The preaching became the preacher of the Good News. That Good News was, and is, that
The time is fulfilled,
the kingdom of God has come near. . .
What was that kingdom? It was the fullness of God's promise come to fulfillment. The infusion of divinity into the world through the incarnation of the Word of God offered the hoped for transformation. Transformation, however, if anyone was willing to listen.
The word of hope, meant to bring life and light to all, was ultimately received only by those who recognized that other "offers of a lifetime" were hollow death. These were the ones who recognized real light when they saw it. They did not hide their eyes from its brilliance.
When he came to Nazareth,
where he had been brought up,
Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day,
as was his custom.
He stood up to read,
and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.
He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he anointed me to bring good news
to the poor.
He sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
And he rolled up the scroll,. . .
and began to say to them,
Today this scripture has been fulfilled
In your hearing.
(Lk 4:16-19; cf. Is 42: 1)
God's preaching was to overpower sin, not to eliminate it. The preaching was to move humanity to participate in salvation through the grace of the same Spirit of the Lord which had anointed Jesus. To receive the grace of this anointing what was required was to acknowledge being poor, being captive to sin, being blind to the truth, and acknowledging the oppression under which all suffer who live a false life illuminated. by nothing more than the equivalent of a dimly flickering night-light.
The Word of God came to live with humanity to offer to all a chance to participate in the transformation of the world into the kingdom of God. And we killed him for it.
Even with that the power of God's love for us was so strong as to be able to pull life out of the death through the resurrection. God's preaching was not going to be silenced out of the fear of some when there were so many for whom it was life and light.
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week,
the doors of the house where the disciples had
met were locked out of fear.
Jesus come and stood among them and said,
Peace be with you.
After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again:
Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me,
so I send you.
When he had said this,
he breathed on them and said to them,
Receive the Holy Spirit. (Jn 20:19-22)
With these simple words of peace and commission, the preaching mission of Jesus, the Word Incarnate, was passed on to his followers. The spoken communication of God's saving Word to the world, God's preaching enfleshed as Jesus of Nazareth, conferred the preaching mandate on the Church. The preaching became the preacher; the recipients of the preaching became, in turn, the preachers.
And he said to them,
Go into all the world and proclaim the Good News
to all creation.
WHAT IS TRUE OF THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH ...
Jesus manifested to the world the nature of God. Jesus was a creative Word spoken in order to bring life. As this creative Word was spoken a new light dawned. Living in total fidelity to the nature of his very being, Jesus' own word and action, empowered by the Spirit, brought life and light.
The Church, founded by God through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, is heir to the power of God. That power, however, comes only when the Church acts as God has acted, in the example of Jesus. It is then that the power of the Spirit is effective.
The Church, therefore, is defined and empowered in the manner of her foundation from the Word incarnate. This was recognized by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council when they said:
The mystery of the holy Church is manifest in her very foundation, for the Lord Jesus Inaugurated her by the preaching of the good news, that is, the coming of God's kingdom, which for centuries has been promised in the scriptures:
THE TIME IS FULFILLED,
THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS AT HAND.
(Lumen Gentium ¤5)
It is from her understanding of her foundation that the Church comes to identify her mission responsibilities. Born of the Word of God, she raises her voice to proclaim the same Word which gave her life:When Jesus rose again after suffering death on the cross for humanity, he manifested that he had been appointed Lord, Messiah, and Priest forever, and he poured out on his disciples the Spirit promised by the Father. The Church, consequently, equipped with the gifts of her founder and faithfully guarding his precepts of charity, humility, and self-sacrifice, receives the mission to proclaim and to establish among all peoples the kingdom of Christ and of God.
By everywhere preaching the gospel, which was accepted by their hearers under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the apostles gathered together the universal Church.
(Lumen Gentium ¤5)
God's communication of the Word through the incarnation of Jesus led to the establishment of the Church through Jesus' preaching. This means of her foundation identifies for the Church her mission to preach. The message of the Church's preaching is to be that of Jesus: the manifestation of God's love which brings life and light. Those to whom the preaching of the Church is to be directed are also the same as Jesus: anyone who is willing to listen, anyone who might be vulnerable to the good news, especially the poor and the oppressed. The manner by which the Church's mission is to be carried out is also to be that of Jesus, "in the world yet not of the world."
What is true of the Church ...
... IS TRUE OF HER MINISTERS
It has been said, "God so loved the world that He did not send a committee. But one was formed soon thereafter." This was the Church. Though formed to be the living manifestation of the Body of Christ, Jesus' followers realized that no one person alone possessed the totality of the reality that Jesus had. This is an effective way of operating but hardly efficient. The creative love of God is effective but, as we have all learned, love is not really efficient in the way we may have come to value efficiency.
That totality of continuing Jesus' mission is meant to be shared by all through the collegial working together as that Body of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Now there are a variety of gifts,
but the same Spirit,
and there are a variety of services,
but the same Lord;
and there ore a variety of activities,
but it is the same God that activates all of them in everyone.
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit
for the common good ...
All these are activated by the one Spirit,
who allots to each one individually
just as the Spirit chooses.
For just as the body is one
and has many members,
and all the members of the body,
are one body, so it is with Christ.
For in the one Spirit we are all baptized into one body ...
and all are made to drink of the one Spirit,
(I Cor 12:4-8,11-13)
The issue of the many charisms; which live in the Church has been, as we well know, a source of tension from the very beginning. I, for one, have at times drawn consolation from reading in the Acts of the Apostles how Peter and Paul battled it out. How much easier it would have been, we might think, if Jesus had only stayed until the job was finished.
From the very beginning of creation God had another plan. In giving humanity dominion over the earthly creation (Gen 1:23) God intended for us to participate.
The incarnation continues this pattern of God's intention of human participation, even to salvation:
Since death come through a human being,
the resurrection from the dead
has also come through a human being;
for as all die in Adam,
so will all come alive in Christ.
(1 Cor 15:21-22)
Yes, he was God incarnate. But we also profess that he was fully human as well.
God's values are so often not ours. This, again, is sin. The best expression I have ever heard of God's intention in working this way is in The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena. In the dialogue of Catherine with God we find God saying to her:Why have I established such differences? I could well have supplied each of you with all your needs, both spiritual and material. But I wanted to make you dependent on one another so that each of you would be my minister, dispensing the graces and gifts you have received from me. So whether you will it or not, you cannot escape the exercise of charity! Yet, unless you do it for love of me, it is worth nothing to you in the realm of grace.
So you see, I have made you my ministers, setting you in different positions and in different ranks to exercise the virtue of charity (Dialogue ¤7).
There is a sublime unity to the ministries of the Church as they are directed by God to the proclamation of the Gospel. Each, with its particular charism, is united with the totality. In this unity they seek to live in the world and, in the language of the world, proclaim the transforming message that God has given to our trust.
The mission to preach belongs to all. The particularization of that preaching mission, however, is determined by the gifts of the particular life of mission to which each Catholic Christian is called through the Church. Pope Paul VI beautifully articulates these many and varied modes of evangelization in Evangelii Nuntiandi.
It is, however, central to the ministry of the bishop, as an heir to the apostles through apostolic succession, that he is to recognize that "the preaching of the gospel occupies an eminent place." (Lumen Gentium ¤25):In exercising their duty of teaching, [bishops] should announce the gospel of Christ to people, a task which is eminent among the chief duties of bishops. They should, in the power of the Spirit, summon people of faith and confirm them in the faith already living. (Christus Dominus ¤ 12)
From the very beginning the Church has recognized an apostolic responsibility to preach. Because of this we recognize that it comes to bishops that the preaching mission is particularly a responsibility in the apostolic tradition.
This tradition, however, is a living one. The gift of faith which we received from God through Jesus, and which was handed on (traditio) by the apostles, is dynamic. It is organic. It expands as the faith is expanded. It grows as humanity grows. As grace builds on our human nature so does our faith grow. This is true of the universal Church, it is true of her individual members, and it is true of all the elements between.
One of the most significant of those elements is that body of the people of God which the bishop heads. Whether you call it a diocese, a local church, a particular church, or an individual church, the dignity of that body stands in the fact that it is fully and completely the manifestation of Church. Pope Paul beautifully described both the local Church as well as the particular attention to be paid to the culture of that Church in the mission of preaching:The individual Churches, intimately built up not only of people but of aspirations, of riches and limitations, of ways of praying, of loving, of looking at life and the world which distinguish this or that human gathering, have the task of assimilating the essence of the Gospel message and transposing it, without the slightest betrayal of its essential truth, into the language that these particular people understand, then of proclaiming it in that language.
. . . And the word "language" should be understood here less in the semantic or literary sense than in a sense which one might call anthropological and cultural.
(Evangelii Nuntiandi ¤ 63)
The Conciliar documents tell us priests participate in the bishops' ministry of preaching. Priests are particular and active participants in the apostolic mandate of making the essence of the Church alive and growing.
The idea that the orders are absolutely distinct, one from the other is not true. When one receives the order of priesthood, for example, he does not set aside his diaconate. The diaconal ministry becomes incorporated into the priestly. The same is true with the bishop. Once he is ordained to the episcopacy he does not stop being a priest but is to incorporate his priestly identity into the new one of bishop. Presbyterorum Ordinis states:The bishop should regard priests as his brothers and friends. (¤ 7)
While this statement in no way negates the distinction between bishop and priest, it does indicate that the task of ministry is meant to be familially approached as fraternal.
Priests, and in particular diocesan priests by virtue of their particular association with their bishop, participate in a specific way in the apostolic mandate. We might ask, Is there a difference between diocesan and religious priests? My response would be that essentially there is no difference but significantly there is.
Essentially there is but one priesthood. That is the priesthood of Jesus Christ. It is from his priesthood that all others flow. Within the ordained priesthood, too, there is the same essential priesthood.
The significance of the difference comes in the ecclesial locus. Religious priesthood is at the edges of the Church and the gospel, seeking to push the boundaries. The diocesan priesthood is in the center or heart of the Church, seeking to maintain the life blood of the Church. In a sense we can see this as the distinction between the Pauline and the Petrine missions. Because of this:In securing the welfare of souls, the first place is held by diocesan priests who are incardinated or attached to a particular church, and who fully dedicate themselves to its service by way of pasturing a single portion of the Lord's flock. (Christus Dominus ¤28)
God is first revealed to us through the utterance of a creative word through which life and light come into being. With the perfection of creation fractured by sin, God uttered the ultimate Word through the incarnation of Jesus. Jesus continued to reveal the creative life and light giving essence of God through the proclamation of the kingdom of God. In word and action Jesus provided all that was necessary for those who would listen to reach that kingdom.
It was from Jesus' preaching that the Church was established. It is from her foundation that the Church finds her mission. That mission is to do what Jesus did: proclaim God's creative word which brings life and light. The primary responsibility for this mission lies with the bishops of the Church by virtue of apostolic succession.
Participating in the preaching mission is the priest. As a sacramental brother of his bishop, the diocesan priest holds a position and responsibility of particular dignity and import. It is through the mission of the diocesan priest that the heart of the Church is kept alive. It is through the affectionate proclamation of the diocesan priest that the greatest portion of the Body of Christ experiences God's creative word of life spoken to them. It is in his manifestation of enjoyment of both God and God's people that the diocesan priest models in a particular and vital way how that created life might be lived. It is because of his constant concern for the people in his care that the diocesan priest articulates a word which brings the light of God's truth to the people.
- Abbot, Walter M., gen. ed. The Documents of Vatican II. Trans. ed. Joseph
- Gallagher. New York Crossroad, 1989.
- Catherine of Siena. The Dialogue. Trans. Suzanne Nofke.
- New York: Paulist. 1980.
- The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. Nashville: Holman, 1989.
- Paul VI. On Evangelization in the Modem World. Washington,
- D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1976.
SELECTED RECOMMENDED BIBLIOGRAPHY
What I offer here are a few selected for your continued reflection on your preaching charism and ministry. It is hardly an exhaustive listing. Perhaps in conversation with your brother diocesan priests you can add to it.
Barron, Robert E. "Priest as Bearer of the Mystery." Church 10.3 (1994) 10-13. Bernardin, Joseph. The Gift of Peace. Chicago: Loyola P, 1997. Codd, Kevin. "The Homily as Icon." America. 173.14 (1995): 25-27. Cozzens, Donald B. "The Spirituality of the Diocesan Priest." Emmanuel 100 (1994) 224-33, 284-91.
______. The Spirituality of the Diocesan Priest. Collegeville: Liturgical P, 1997. Goergen, Donald J., ed. Being a Priest Today. Collegeville: Liturgical P, 1992. (Of particular interest would be the chapters by Don Cozzens, Eveline Whitehead, and James Whitehead.) Graham, William H. "Practicing the Art of Preaching." Church 2.1 (1986): 8-12. Hilkert, Mary Catherine. Naming Grace. New York: Continuum, 1997. Miller, Charles E. Ordained to Preach. New York: Alba House, 1992. Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi: On Evangelization in the Modern World. Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1976. Rahner, Karl. "Priest and Poet." Vol. 3 of Theological Investigations. 22 vols. Trans. Karl-H. and Boniface Kruger. Baltimore: Halcion, 1967. 294-317. ______. "The Spirituality of the Priest in Light of His Office." Vol. 19 of Theological Investigations. 22 vols. Trans. Edward Quinn. New York. Crossroad-Seabury, 1983. 117-38. ______. "The Spirituality of the Secular Priest." Vol. 19 of Theological Investigations. 22 vols. Trans. Edward Quinn. New York: Crossroad-Seabury, 1983,103-16. Ruane, Edward M. "The Spirituality of the Preacher." In the Company of Preachers. Ed. Regina Siegfried and Edward M. Ruane. Collegeville, MN.: Liturgical P, 1993.