BY DOM HUBERT VAN ZELLER
SHEED & WARD : NEW YORK
A. M. YOUNG, O.S.B.
Censor Congreg. Angliae O.S.B.
NIHIL OBSTAT: D. RICARDUS DAVEY
CENSOR DEPUTATUS CONG. ANGLO-BEN.
IMPRIMATUR: H. K. BYRNE
AB. PRAES. CONG. ANGLO-BEN.
DIE XXV MARTII MCMLV
NIHIL OBSTAT: JOANNES M. T. BARTON, S.T.D., L.S.S.
IMPRIMATUR: E. MORROGH BERNARD
WESTMONASTERII: DIE V JULII MCMLV
© 1956 SHEED & WARD, INC.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 56-6128
MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
the essential priesthood?1
the identified priesthood?8
the mortified priesthood?16
the risen priesthood?24
the compassionate priesthood?32
the sacrificing priesthood?40
the militant priesthood?48
the preaching priesthood?56
the directing priesthood?64
the accessible priesthood?72
the praying priesthood?80
the common priesthood?88
the vigilant priesthood?98
the selfless priesthood?107
THIS book represents a series of articles which appeared in Emmanuel throughout the year 1954, with two added from 1955, and it is by the generous permission of Father Raymond Tartre, the Editor, that they are reproduced here. In writing them it was the purpose to cover the liturgical year, taking the dominant idea of the month or season, and applying some of the liturgy's more practical principles to one or other aspect of the priestly vocation. It might be felt that though this may work well enough when the articles are read at monthly intervals, it must make for confusion when the mysteries of the year are taken in one piece. It would-if the programme were strictly followed. Thus it has here to be admitted that the frame set by the Ordo and the Missal has been made deliberately flexible: thoughts besides those suggested by the appropriate season or feast have been developed. The priest-reader who is envisaged is not the harassed preacher who finds himself hunting at the last moment for something which will do for a sermon; it is the humble soul who is looking for something which will stir a desire for prayer. The reflections contained in the pages which follow are designed to awaken dormant or deluded consciences. That is why they are written in the form of thrusts, of jabs from the short sword. That is why the book is a slim one. That is why a day of recollection, rather than a full-length retreat, is probably the more suitable occasion for its use.
Finally it is to be hoped that the presumption of a religious who dares to write for the enlightenment of diocesan clergy may be forgiven: the undertaking would never have been begun had not the invitation from without been as pressing as it was.
THE GOSPEL PRIESTHOOD
The Essential Priesthood
In most countries the cry is raised about the shortage of vocations to the priesthood. The first need, however, is not for more priests but for holier priests. A lowering in the level of sanctity is obviously a greater menace to the Church than a reduction of numbers. One reason for this is that whereas recruitment depends entirely upon the Holy Spirit–and we can always count upon the Holy Spirit to safeguard the necessary work of the Church by calling enough men into the ministry to do it–the standard of fidelity to the vocation, on the other hand, is to a large extent a matterof personal determination. The priest, under the operation of grace but with his own very individual responsibility, fashions the shape of his priestly sanctity. It is the nature of this sanctity, and the obligation relating to it, that will form the material of this series of considerations.
The priestly vocation is, in essence, twofold: its end is personal sanctification and the salvation of souls. The priesthood, though complete in itself, does not exist for its own sake but for the redemption of mankind. It exactly follows the pattern of the priesthood of Christ: worship through union with the Father's will, redemption through sacrifice. To say this is not to say anything original–it is probably the answer which every priest would give to the question "what are priests really for?"– but because so much connected with the ministry inclines us to forget it, it is a truth which we priests have need to remember. "The first function of the priest has for its object the corpus Christi verum," says St. Thomas, "the second the corpus Christi mysticum."1 Men are ordained not to make good use of their abilities, not to maintain themselves in a congenial way of life, not to be builders or writers or preachers or theologians, but to be men who will lay down leisure and life in reclaiming, with Christ, the world from sin. The vocation, to see it in a slightly different light, is not only to say Mass, to be faithful in the practice of mental prayer and the recitation of the Divine Office-vital as it is that these things be given primacy of place–but to give the Christ-life to souls. "For them do I sanctify myself": the Christ-life lived, the Christ-life spread–and in that order.
Is this to pitch the ideal too high? Read the prayers in the ritual for the ordination of priests. Read the First Epistle to Timothy, chapter four. Take the words "apostle," "minister," "pastor," and get down to what they really mean. Leave aside for a moment the more comfortable associations which have gathered round the idea of the priesthood; forget the allowances which are made by the charitable laity; dismiss the kind of excuse which we priests make for ourselves when we compare our own way of life with that either of worldlings or of other priests in other countries or other periods of history. Yes, yes, we may be living in exceptional times, we may have to find a new technique, we may be saints without knowing it, but what, to get down to it, is the idea in everybody's mind at the mention of priest? The Buddhist conception would be not much different. The man of prayer, the man who spends himself for the love of God. To the heathen and the heretic, the idea is the same. Whatever the doctrine, whatever the discipline, the essence of the thing is perfectly clear. All that we Catholic priests have to ask ourselves is "how do I fit into that?" If I have any other idea of it I have got the priesthood wrong, and must think again. I must recast myself, my ordained self, anew. The Catholic priest, like the Catholic Church, must be holy and apostolic–in that order. It is not enough that he receives his orders, in lineal descent, from the authority of the Apostles: he must be an apostle. It is not enough that he be one with his fellow Catholics by virtue of allegiance, sacraments, and belief: he must be one with the tradition of the Church's holiness. Indeed it is difficult to see how a priest can come anywhere near to the fulfilment of his vocation unless the marks of the Church are at the same time the target of his own endeavour.
if our vocation is to be viewed in the light of what has just been said, we might choose as a suitable background for the investigation of its responsibilities the liturgical cycle of feasts and seasons. Such an approach should, properly, start with a review of the priesthood in relation to Advent; since, however, it is probably more convenient to follow the ordinary rather than the liturgical calendar-the Ordo Divini Officii is, after all, issued at the end of December and not, as would be more liturgically fitting, at the end of November–we open with the Epiphany and shall close with Advent.
Epiphania: manifestation. Three distinct "manifestations": Trium miraculis ornatum diem sanctum colimus: hodie Stella Magos duxit ad praesepium; hodie vinum ex aqua factum est ad nuptias; hodie in Jordane a Joanne Christus bap-tizari voluit. There is enough in each aspect of this threefold feast to provide us with material for an entire retreat.
For the feast and its octave we have a glittering array of Fathers to act as commentators. It is unfortunate that to many priests the nocturn lessons in the breviary are so many cross-bars in a hurdle race. In the effort to reach the finish, or even in the effort to reach the next group of psalms where we feel we are on the flat again, we skim lightly over the particular Doctor of the moment. Sometimes, particularly if he is one of the Greek Fathers rendered precisely into Latin, we do not even pay him the compliment of studying him as a hurdle: we use our professional licence, and run through. The Fathers chosen by the Church to proclaim the mysteries of the Epiphany are Saints Leo, Gregory, Augustine, Jerome and Ambrose. But if the nocturn lessons are felt to be either too formidable or too familiar, we have modern writers who can provide us with material not only for prayer (which is the main thing) but also for the particular kind of inquiry and speculation which it was the function of the ancients to promote. Read for example what Bishop Sheen has to say about the Epiphany in the opening chapters of his Eternal Galilean.
"For the priest and religious there is no middle course. It is either perfection–at least desired and pursued, if not actually acquired–or progressive decline." And this from Cardinal Lavigerie: "If the search for perfection is fundamental to the priest's vocation, the offering of self is its primary expression."
Gold, frankincense, myrrh. The formula of self-oblation springs readily enough to the lips, but, having made the grand gesture of handing ourselves over to God, are we quite so ready to let Him have the freedom of the things that we possess? Do we give tithes to God, but rather larger tithes to comfort, entertainment, private interest? Leaving the other two aspects of the Epiphany Feast to be considered on an ensuing page, we have here the searching business of our expenditures to review. "But," it will be objected, "you are meant to be telling me how to be a good priest . . . and you talk about accounts." Father, be honest. Can you sincerely claim to be building the house of the spirit–while the temporal house doesn't bear looking into? Hostiam puram, hostiam sanctam, hostiam immaculatam: here is your cue to what you became on your ordination day . . . and to what you are called to renew when you kneel in spirit with the wise men at the yearly repetition of the Epiphany.
THE IDENTIFIED PRIESTHOOD
The thought of Christ present in the poor is familiar enough. That He is more particularly present in the priest is often overlooked. The imprisoned, the hungry, the sick: "as long as you did it to one of these My least brethren you did it to Me." Nothing could be more clear. If the presence of Christ in His priests is less clear, may it not be that this particular kind of identification has never been fully learned? We know the texts: "he that heareth you heareth Me . . . whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven ... do this in commemoration of Me . . . feed My sheep ... as My Father hath sent Me so I also send you . . . go ye and teach all nations . . ." But perhaps we feel that possessing Him so, we are getting Him less immediately than if we were sick or imprisoned or without shelter. Perhaps in the back of our minds lurks the thought that the words of our Lord just quoted were addressed to "the Church," to "the bishops," and that we are getting the benefit of them at one or two removes. We have inherited, yes, the grace of Christ's priestly presence, but more (we feel) by delegation than by our Lord's individual act of identification. To see it thus is to see it incompletely.
"in virtue of the priesthood of Christ," writes Père Bourgoing, the Oratorian who edited the works of Cardinal Bèrulle, "we priests are clothed with the very Person of Christ: we speak, we act, we consecrate as though we were His very self." Thus if the needy are extensions of Christ in need, the clergy are extensions of Christ ministering to those in need. It is not even as if Christ, the first priest of the New Law, projected Himself into the labours of priests who were to come after Him, sanctifying, for example, our own ministry from the distance of nearly two thousand years. He does much more than this. He shares His priesthood with us now. It is all in the present tense. He is identified with the priesthood which operates through me. "Priests are the express form and figure of Christ," writes M. Olier in his Traitès des Saintes Ordres, "and so should reveal the form of Christ in themselves." And again, "the priest is in the Church like a living Jesus Christ; and a Jesus Christ as Head of His Church."
the doctrine of the Indwelling, applying to all baptized souls who are in a state of grace, finds an altogether fuller interpretation in the case of the priest. The man who can say every morning "this is My Body . . . this is My Blood" is personified in Christ: he is saying more than his own human individuality would entitle him to say. In a very real way the priest should be able to claim with St. Paul, "I live now not I but Christ lives in me." And if this be so he can go on to proclaim that "I work now not I but Christ works in me; I pray now not I but Christ prays in me; I love, suffer, make decisions and take responsibilities, now not I but Christ who develops His life within me. He does all these things through the me-that-was, and that is now trying more and more to recast himself in the image and likeness of his Model."
Thus it is not only when the priest is at the altar or in the confessional that the Person of Christ catches him up into Himself. The process is continual. It is intensified according to the soul's union with God in prayer; it is interrupted by sin. If the priest makes himself worthy of the relationship, he ends up a saint; if he neglects its implications, he endangers his salvation. Like perfection itself, it invites a never ceasing surrender to grace, a progressive readiness to meet the unfolding of the will of God.
since the identification of Christ with the priestly character is a relationship and not just a trick of the intellect–since it is a habit of soul and a positive fact–it does not depend upon whether the priest happens to be thinking of it at the time. The priest may forget about it while he is performing his duties as a priest. The relationship goes on, giving direction to his act. In the case of the saints the relationship is dominant the whole time: the saints may be said to live more or less in the awareness of it. To them it finds its fulfilment in perfect love, and "to them that love God all things work together for good." For them there is the spiral ascent whereby inward love prompts acts of outward charity, which, in their turn, bring fuel for further fires of inward love. So much for the saint. What of the would-be saint, the man who is not so sure about this spiral ascent? What of the average priest (if there be such a person) like you and me? The process may be less easy to trace, but the principle is the same. To them that love God less, but love Him nevertheless and are faithful to their state in life, all things work together for good–but less effectively. Every work which is done in virtue of his priesthood is, whether the priest happens to be conscious of it or not, made holy. A good act performed by a priest is, by reason of his share in the priesthood of Christ, more sanctifying than the same act performed by a layman. An evil act all the more condemning. With a deepening of the spiritual life engendered by the grace of ordination, the soul of the priest comes gradually to produce all his operations after the model and under the impulse of Christ. At the same time it must be remembered that spirals can work downwards as well as upwards.
the mysteries of the Epiphany which still remain to be considered may be found to take on new significance when examined in the light of the above.
First, then, Christ at the marriage feast in Cana. Here we have a gathering which was part religious and part social. Commentators tell us that there were several reasons why our Lord worked this particular miracle at this particular time. He was bearing Divine witness to the sanctity of marriage; He was sparing the purely natural shame of His host, and so providing us with an example of thoughtfulness and charity; He was preparing Galilee for the campaign of teaching which He was about to launch, and, with a wider public in view, providing precedent for the changing of one substance into another. If water into wine, why not wine into His own precious blood? Thus far the commentators. But an application which we priests might do well to dwell upon is this: Christ's attendance at semi-religious and semi-social occasions as reflected in our own duties of the same kind. Do our so-called priestly engagements relate sufficiently to the priesthood? Is our manner, while we are engaged in these affairs, of Christ or of the world? Leaving the question of recreation proper to be dealt with on a later page, we are here considering those secular contacts to which our ministry directly renders us liable. They either bring us nearer to God or draw us further away. Designed for our advancement and for the advancement of others, these opportunities can never be entirely neutral in effect.
in his novel The Woman who was Poor Lèon Bloy makes one of the characters tell a story about the Cana wedding. A guest, a merchant of the tribe of Issachar, sensing the possibility of hidden powers in the wine that had been water, and noting that more was provided than was necessary for the feast, made an offer to the host and bought up the remainder. At intervals during the next three years this wine was sipped, rousing each time the mood of rebellion. It was this same wine which, on the night of Maundy Thursday, inflamed the minds of those who mingled with the crowds later on and shouted "Crucify Him." There is much about our priesthood which is like the wine in Bloy's legend. And this is only what you would expect when Christ Himself "is set for the fall and resurrection of many in Israel."
Then there is the third of the Epiphany mysteries: Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan. In the anointing of the priest the Fathers see another and a mystical baptism. As Christ rose from the Jordan to begin His ministry so the priest re-dedicates himself to his baptism's promise. The dedication is sealed, consecrated, ratified by the Father and Holy Spirit. From now on we are other Christs. "This is My beloved Son."
THE MORTIFIED PRIESTHOOD
ith Lent comes the need to review the priest's attitude towards the whole range of self-denial: its necessity, its purity of intention, its practical expression. There is nothing related to the priestly life–not even prayer–which is so easily explained away as the duty of doing penance. Yet there can hardly be anything more obvious than the association in the mind between Head and members of the mystical body: "If the Head be crowned with thorns," says St. Augustine, "the body must suffer correspondingly." The priesthood, if it be Christ's, is the priesthood of self-sacrifice. "Your Lord is pierced with nails," says St. John Chrysostom, "and do you live in luxury? Is this the act of the generous fighter?" It is the glory of the Christian priesthood that this specific quality of sharing in the sacrifice by co-oblation is something proper to ourselves, something left undeveloped in earlier cults. In the ancient religions, even in the Old Law itself, the priest is seen as one who stands at the altar: he offers, he prays, he slays: he is not thought of as part of the sacrifice itself. In the Christian priesthood there is not this division.
the man who celebrates Mass is, mystically and figuratively but nevertheless significantly, on the paten at the Suscipe and in the chalice at the Offerimus. When the words of consecration are pronounced it is the priest's as well as Christ's body that is being re-dedicated to the praise of the Father. And at that level the priest is invited to live his life. It would be a mistake to think of our Mass and our position in it as separated into parts: I, the man, as the subject; the sacred species, the material element, as the object; God, Father and Son and Holy Ghost, as the end. But because Christ is at once priest, victim, and end of His own sacrifice, so we can think of ourselves, made one with Christ in His sacrificial act, as reflecting in our bodies and souls and outward lives the same continued immolation directed towards the same Father in the same redemptive act. It follows from all this that penance of some sort, down-to-earth mortification, must find its essential place in our scheme for God's service. "The sacrifice of Christ is not offered with the sanctity belonging to it," says St. Cyprian, "if our oblation does not correspond to His Passion." The Fathers all say the same thing . . . and we, who are supposed not only to be their followers but who are supposed also–even to the extent of being called by the same name "father"–to reflect their paternity towards souls, tone down their doctrine about voluntary asceticism until there is practically nothing left of it.
But even if Christ were never to demand the cooperation of His priests in the self-surrender of the Mass, it would still be the function of the priest to do penance for himself and for mankind. "Parce, Domine, parce populo tuo" cry the priests, as we are reminded on Ash Wednesday from the prophet Joel, "immutemur habitu in cinere et cilicio: jeju-nemus et ploremus ante Dominum quia multum misericors est dimittere peccata nostra." It is for the priest to be the go-between, the mediator. Who can look Joel's exhortations in the face? How many of us dare study the whole liturgy of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday? To remind our flocks that they are dust and into dust they shall return calls for no great effort on our part; to kneel three times while creeping to the Cross on the annual celebration of Christ's death calls for no great effort on our part; but it does rather go against our comfort-loving selves to say and mean "let us amend for the better ... let us fast and lament." At least during the weeks of Lent there should be a serious response to this challenge, a practical realization of the more salty element of our vocation as being the most appropriate reflection of His own essential manifestation to the world.
if, then, penance is an integral part of the vocation, the next question is how is it to be done? "We are called by God to labour at a masterpiece; the training of a good priest is a master work–so difficult and lofty that only God Himself can carry it to effect." This is from St. Vincent de Paul, and it shows us the source of our penitential impulse. The first condition of true penance is dependence upon grace. Christian mortification is supernatural and positive or it is nothing. Natural asceticism, physical toughness, might of itself be more of an obstacle than a help: it could well lead to ruthlessness, pride, hardness. Those penitential practices which do not bind the soul closer to Christ's Passion are not of the least use either to the soul or to God. If the act of penance is not at the same time a virtual act of prayer–that is to say a work directed in the will towards God's glory–it is much better left alone. (This is not to claim that throughout the renunciation, any more than throughout the set exercise of prayer, the mind must be fixed upon God. The word "virtual," included above, must be considered.) Renunciations undertaken for motives other than the love of God are spiritually so much dead wood. "When you fast, be not as the hypocrites . . . when you give alms, let not your left hand know what the right hand does . . . lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth." This is told us on the first day of Lent; there is no excuse for getting our motives and direction wrong.
turning now to the third problem–the practical one of what penances to adopt–we have to allow that not all priests have the health for the complete Lenten fast as it appears in the books. Reluctantly the allowance is made, because again and again it is found that a generous attempt to keep the Church's traditional Lenten observance is aided in a quite remarkable way by grace, and that men of frail constitution but determined purpose can do violence to themselves during Lent without any of the harmful results which might be expected to follow at other times of the year. Two or three days in each week would hardly tax the body: it is the idea of the fast, not the actual observance, which is the main difficulty. And if prayer can strengthen the body it can also strengthen the mind: we ought to be able to get over obstacles which are ideas only.
A generation of lay people is growing up which scarcely knows what the Church requires at this season of Lent: it should be for the clergy not merely to tell the people but to show the people. An immortified clergy, however skilled in theology and pulpit oratory, can never truly shepherd the flock, can never really drive home the lessons of the Gospel. For the layman to notice that the whole year through, even during Lent, his priest smokes, eats, drinks, spends money on sport and entertainment as lavishly as he himself does cannot but be disedifying. When the standard of living is noticeably higher in the presbytery than in the rest of the parish the disedification can amount to scandal. The priest is meant to rise above luxury, must train himself to be indifferent to (even a little scornful of) personal comfort, should give a lead in the procession towards Calvary. A priest is, after all, a leader. Not for him to sit behind closed shutters and control by telephone. "And no man should dare to become a leader of others," says Dionysius the Areopagite, "unless in all his habits he be deiform and godlike." Denis may be thought to set too high a standard, but even St. Thomas, who is certainly more down to earth than Dionysius, says that priests "must shine before men by their goodness." Sad indeed if all that the flock sees of its shepherd is his mastery of worldly affairs and his assurance in worldly society.
To conclude. The priest may not be departmental in his relationship to Christ and Christ's members. He cannot choose to follow Christ in His preaching but not in His suffering, to worship His Incarnation but neglect His act of Redemption, to preach His Transfiguration and not to practise His doctrine of the Cross, to follow Him in His charity but not in His Gethsemani. The disciple must be as His master, the servant as His lord. If Christ is the Divine Mediator, the priest is the divinely appointed human mediator. "The function of a priest is to be a mediator . . . that ministry is spiritual to which priests are vowed, and by which they are constituted mediators between God and the world." Where there is no penance there can be no true mediation.
THE RISEN PRIESTHOOD
THE life of the priest, indeed the life of every Christian but more especially the life of the priest, should be based upon the Holy Week sequence of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday. With Christ the priest accepts suffering, dies to sin, rises above the world in the new life of grace. Each stage, each movement towards the ultimate triumph, is necessary: without the endurance and the death, the drawn-out defeat cannot be turned into the climax of victory. Mystically, the priesthood must follow the life of Christ, the death of Christ, the resurrection of Christ. The liturgy which proclaims these mysteries is not a piece of historical pageantry; it is doctrine, it is fact, it is as peremptory a statement as a notice pinned on a board. The cycle of feasts, and among them more significantly those that move from Passion Sunday to the Paschal season, are not the expression of a literary fancy but are as practical as a bishop's pastoral and as searching as an examination of conscience. They are an examination of conscience.
"You are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God . . . with Christ I am nailed to the cross . . . our former nature has been crucified with Him . . . and if we have died with Christ, we have faith to believe that we shall share His life . . . we have been buried with Him, died with Him, that so, just as Christ was raised from the dead, we, too, might live and move in a new kind of existence." These scattered quotations from St. Paul (Colossians, Galatians, Romans) combine to stress the same staggering fact. The Epistle for the Easter Midnight Mass states the Christian's duty in two verses: "If you be risen with Christ seek the things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God: mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth." We priests, of all men, are made worthy to stand before God without reproach. Christ has caught us up to His side on the cross, has kept us close to His lifeless body in the tomb, and now has given us, if we accept the position on His terms, His own mastery over the devil, the world, and the flesh. For us there must be no room for evil, no compromise with the spirit of the world, none of those tolerant little commonsense concessions to the concupiscence of the body and the pride of life. Easter Sunday restates the message of Jahveh to His chosen followers: "You shall be holy unto Me because I the Lord am holy; and I have separated you from other people that you should be mine."
we, like the sons of Levi and Aaron, are a race apart, and only in the measure that we remain apart, not trying to ape the ways of other tribes, shall we be able either to bring souls to God or to advance our own perfection. It is the standing paradox of the apostolate that we help the world most by being as little like it as possible. It is equally the standing paradox of the spiritual life that we help ourselves by denying ourselves. In the last analysis the good that we do, both to others and to our own souls, is measured by how closely we conform to what we are meant to be in the eyes of God. There is a pattern. We are men and we are ordained: we have to be ourselves, as priests. This is how God sees us.
Our vocation then is in this sense twofold: we find our salvation at once by mixing with mankind and by being unworldly, by doing all in our power to draw mankind and by being ourselves withdrawn. Our problem, obviously, will be how to safeguard the side of our life which is reserved for God alone from a contamination which for most of us the circumstances of our ministry must inevitably force upon us. How, without becoming a hermit, can I avoid becoming a worldling?
No priest could, left to himself, resolve without loss to one or other the apparently conflicting responsibilities. But the whole point is that no priest is left to himself. Unless he dispenses with the extra dimension of grace, and unless he also rejects the helps which are essentially bound up with his state of life, every priest is more than adequately equipped to meet precisely this twofold pull. It is in the terms of the contract. If the dual responsibility is the very stuff of his vocation, the grace to cope with it is equally so. "The grace which is in him by the laying on of hands" can at any moment be stirred up.
Now this supernatural assistance need not be thought of as a charisma, an extraordinary power which comes to the priest who is faced with rival claims. It is not a tightrope-walker's gift, miraculously bestowed, enabling the priest to preserve his mental balance; it is the joint effect of ordination, confidence in God, and readiness to abide by the conditions of life. It is not so much an act of faith which reconciles opposing loyalties as a habit of fidelity to grace which sees to it that neither loyalty goes unfulfilled. The soul who yields unconditionally to the mould of the priesthood has his approach indicated to him; his setting is fashioned for him as he goes along by the Providence of God.
in the development of God's plan through the Christian centuries the priesthood has acquired for itself a defensive armour against the assault of evil. Thus you have the recitation of the Divine Office, the submission to the bishop and the consequent dependence upon authority, the vow of chastity, the use of a distinctive dress, the various customs of the diocese relating to retreats and other occasions of association–all making up the protective covering which shelters the essential vocation. Historically what has happened is that tradition has justified experiment, and authority has set its seal to tradition. Ecclesiastical discipline is a thing evolved. And evolved moreover not for the sake of discipline but for the sake of ecclesiastics. Evolved under God, and for the good of souls. Thus observances which might look to be somewhat haphazard in the process of their formation are in fact seen to be, once they have taken authoritative shape, not natural contingencies at all but supernatural necessities. God has planned ecclesiastical discipline, just as He has planned the rules of religious orders, as providing the best setting for the risen Christian, for men who are to live above the world which it is their vocation to serve.
there may be nothing in the Scriptures about clergy retreats or wearing the clerical collar, but these things are to be taken seriously nevertheless. They, together with the other regulations, form part of the skin which is necessary to the growth of the fruit. For a fruitgrower to peel his oranges before removing them from the tree would be no less lunatic than for a priest to divest himself of the protective skin with which centuries of Christian practice have surrounded his priesthood. The fruit of a vocation is not meant to stand the strain of being peeled in mid-growth; it is entitled to its natural, and in this case its supernatural, safeguards. All the time the priest is growing in holiness, is developing in Christ, is putting on the new man. He dare not allow the common clay of his nature to be exposed.
when a priest, for example, assumes the disguise of a layman, he forfeits his right to a particular kind of spiritual protection. (I am not of course here considering the priest-worker movement, nor any other where the laying aside of clerical dress is sanctioned by episcopal authority.) Enjoying easier access to the hotel bar, mingling more unobtrusively in the country club, the priest in lay clothes has shed a skin which the soul may not be able to do without. The devil, noting that the defences are down, makes capital out of the transformation. The orange is hanging precariously . . . has already lost something of its freshness and its proper taste. "Great spiritual wealth," says St. Vincent de Paul, "is only preserved with as much care as is devoted to great earthly possessions." A priest will insure his car, take trouble to know all about his investments, make detailed provision for his vacation, and then go cheerfully risking his state of grace. This is the world all over. But the priest, like Christ Himself, is not of the world. Like Christ, the priest has triumphed over the world, and minds now the things that are above and not the things that are in the world.
THE COMPASSIONATE PRIESTHOOD
it is the priest's job–since God, surveying His work, pronounced it good–to love as many of God's creatures as he can. With the eyes of faith he must look for what the poet or painter sees with the vision of his particular gift. And this is none too easy; it does not come to him naturally. But since it comes to him supernaturally, this new perspective should not be too difficult to cultivate. Once he has learned–and he can learn it only in the unremitting practice of prayer–to see God in creatures, he has found the answer to the main problem of his apostolate. Any man who loves all other men enough to treat them as God means them to be treated is in a fair way to becoming a saint. By the time he is a saint he sees creatures in God, which is something different again.
if, then, the key to the priest's work for souls is seeing each individual as the reflection of Christ, the more he sees mankind–and particularly that portion of it with which he has to deal–as individuals rather than as a crowd the better. God can save mobs but we cannot. God can save mobs because He does not have to look upon them as mobs: He looks upon them as being a million images of Himself. It is as an image of God that the priest has to study and love every single soul who comes his way. He will never serve his parish, or his public, unless he serves the individual member of it first. It is through the isolated soul–one isolated soul after another–that we come to know the race. We cannot love humanity as we are meant to love it unless we love its single human beings. If we think the individual is worthless it means that we think the human race is worthless. Mere quantity cannot give to man his importance–either in the sight of God or in the sight of men. If we want to serve humanity we must serve its types. Not its sublimest types but its every-day types. And we do not have to look far to find them. Having found them, we see that they are sublime.
in proportion as the world is viewed in God's perspective not only do souls appear in the likeness of Christ but more and more does the soul viewing them take upon himself Christ's own attitude towards them. As Christ in the Garden of Gethsemani "became sin" for man, so the priest in the development of his union with God by prayer and charity bears a share in Christ's vicarious guilt. The priest comes to know sin, not only as having himself sinned but, and far more comprehensively, as having "put on Christ" who "became sin" for man. The whole approach to human weakness must be different to one who has looked at sin from Gethsemani.
only by entering into the sufferings of Christ, then, do we enter into the sufferings of man. This is compassion in its fullest sense, in its twofold direction. There can be surely no higher title given to Mary than that of Mother of Compassion. Since in the calendar of the Church we have reached the month of Mary we can examine for a moment the co-suffering of our Lady, relating our conclusions to the attitude of the priest towards his flock. Entrusted with the care of mankind, Mary became mother of the whole man–man weakened by original sin, tempted to actual sin, broken by the suffering of having sinned. More closely identified with her Divine Son than any other, Mary came closer than any other to the sinless, accepted, understanding and loving "guilt" of Christ in the Garden. If the relationship between any mother and any son is intuitive, the relationship between this Mother and this Son leaves no possible room for misunderstanding or non-co-operation. Consequently if Christ enters into the wayward heart of man, Mary does the same. Mother of the Man Christ, she is mother of His mystical body, and the mystical body is still being tempted and tortured as the actual Body was tempted and tortured on Maundy Thursday. It is perhaps our tendency to imagine that the Immaculate Conception puts Mary so far outside the common weakness as to let her see sin only as it were academically: pitied, yes, but because never experienced not fully understood. Far from making her less understanding of sin, the Immaculate Conception makes her more so. Where in the rest of us sin blunts our sensibilities –causing us to condone, certainly, but not always to compassionate in its purest sense–in Mary the sensibilities are in any case all the sharper, and there has never been anything to blunt their edge. Her sympathy for the sinner is not less human than ours but more human; not theoretical or notional but actual and real.
apply all this now to the compassion which we, as priests, must show to those who come to us as penitents. It is not simply a matter of forgiving those who have sinned–most of us can manage that without great difficulty–but of "presenting every man perfect in Christ Jesus." For this we have to possess sympathy, for this we have to exercise endless patience, confidence, tact. With Christ we have to enter into the minds of men and share their difficulties. The allowances which we shall be called upon to make will seem out of all proportion to human reason, to worldly convention, to common prudence. People will bore us, misquote us, let us down, show us a hideous ingratitude and quite fail to benefit by the advice which we give them, but we must nevertheless go on trying to do Christ's and Mary's work in them. So long as there are people who need to lean, we must be there to be leaned on.
for us priests the principle of dealing with souls is unqualified: we interest ourselves, as Christ did, in all who stray into our lives; we devote to them as much of ourselves and of our time as they may need so that they may in turn devote themselves to Christ. It is a selfless and often a thankless purpose, but then God has called us to a vocation which is meant to be selfless and–though not entirely even in this life–thankless. Men whose work is with material things may expect material results: we whose work is to guide the minds and wills of men must expect to operate largely in the dark, must expect to feel the sense of insufficiency and crushing failure. Men are free to follow or reject what we tell them, so of course we miss the assurance that our work for their souls is successful. We should always be reminding ourselves that those to whom we are useless are precisely those for whom Christ must feel a special responsibility. Provided we have nothing with which to reproach ourselves, He can be relied upon to work direct. "Think what an office is that of priests," says St. Vincent de Paul, "who are bound to guide souls of which God alone knows the movements. Ars artium, regimen animarum. This was the employment of the Son of God when He was on earth." To show us that for the work of helping souls we have more than our own practical judgment to rely upon, St. Vincent goes on to ask: "What means are to be employed in order to carry out this office of opposing the torrent of vices and inspiring a people with a love for Christian virtue? Surely there is nothing human in such an undertaking; it is the work of God ... it is to continue the work begun by Jesus Christ, and, furthermore, human industry can here do nothing but spoil it all if God be not a sharer in the work. Neither philosophy, nor theology, nor sermons operate on souls: Jesus Christ must work with us or we with Him. Let us work with Him and let Him work in us. Let us speak as He spoke and in His spirit."2
on the eve of Solomon's consecration as King, the Lord invited His servant to make any request he wished. I will grant you whatever you want, said the Lord, be it peace or wealth or triumph in battle ... all you have to do is to choose. But Solomon asked for none of these things: "Give unto me an understanding heart" was his prayer, "with which to judge Your people." We priests might do well, every day of our lives in the Mass, to ask for the same favour. Whether many or few of God's people come to us for judgment we shall need the gift of understanding. Is it said of us, "I could never go to confession to him; he wouldn't understand"? Why, even the pagans know the beauty of compassion: "having tasted sorrow"–so Dido to AEneas–"I have learned to compassionate the sorrowing."
THE SACRIFICING PRIESTHOOD
Il r’y a rien de plus grand dans I’univers que Jesus Christ," says Bossuet, "il n'y a rien de plus grand dans Jesus Christ que son sacrifice." If everything in our Lord's life led up to Calvary, everything in the priest's life leads up to the Mass. The trouble is for most of us that we get the balance wrong: the Mass takes half an hour, and the other claims upon us go on for the rest of the day. But to have the Mass rightly placed in our lives is to have the effects of the Mass going on all day and the claims upon us coming under cover of its grace. Such is the ideal, such is the theory. In order to reach up to the ideal, the priest must make very sure of the practical. The morning Mass must be the most important act of the day: must be prepared for, performed with the strictest care, allowed a reasonable thanksgiving. St. John Chrysostom says in his pleasantly explosive manner that God "prefers the barking of dogs to the praises of man that are uttered in an unbecoming manner." If we had only a lively enough sense of the Mass's apostolic force–let alone of its impact upon our own souls–there would be no question of our saying it in an unbecoming manner. St. Vincent de Paul tells how on one occasion when he was at St. Germain-en-Laye he saw seven or eight priests all saying Mass differently. "It was enough to make a person weep. But now, God be praised, the Divine Goodness has remedied the disorder." Not, alas, altogether; persons might still weep at the way in which some of us say Mass.
for a layman the outward sameness of the daily Mass might reasonably be an excuse for a certain boredom in its attendance. But for the priest, who does not attend but actively participates in the sacrifice of Christ, there should not be this difficulty. The power of the Church's liturgy as it varies from day to day should be strong enough–even if the theological aspect of it has grown so familiar to the mind of the celebrant as to make no immediate appeal–to carry the soul along in its tremendous movement. The priest is liturgically undernourished if it does not. Even apart from the words of the Missal which must remind him in every paragraph of the significance and implication of the sacrifice, there are the ceremonies and the actual forms used in its celebration which bring the added weight of an unmistakable but almost inexhaustible symbolism into play. Whatever it is for the layman (and happily the idea of the faithful actively co-operating with Christ, Priest and Victim, in the Mass is more and more taking hold) the Mass invites of the priest a total offering of himself with the elements to be consecrated, a real and positive reproduction of Christ's dispositions both at the Last Supper and on Calvary.
since in our series of considerations on the priesthood we have reached the season of Corpus Christi, a few notes on the incidental symbolism contained in the Mass might not be out of place. The more fundamental symbols are familiar to us –how the corporate character of eucharistic worship is shown in the oblata of bread and wine (each being the product of separate entities: in the one case the ears of wheat together making up the single host, in the other the grapes losing their separate existence in the wine offered from the chalice)–but even in the apparently accidental details are to be found suggestions of the same truths. The candles on the altar, for example, deriving their material from the collected result of countless individual efforts . . . and giving their light, moreover, by the act of sacrificing themselves. The altar-stone, again, consecrated by means of oil (a corporate product once more) and sealed with the relics of separate, yet now combined, martyrdoms. If it be a High Mass there is the incense to point the same moral–namely that though we may be hard and angular by nature, we mingle with other hard and angular entities in giving common worship to God. In the thurible the bitter is made sweet. In the thurible, as in the case of the candle on the altar and the salt in the gospel, the incense loses its Me–its own private life–so that it may give what is required of it to the element which it is designed to serve. Sacrifice, always sacrifice. The seed dying that it may live. The soul losing itself in one life and finding itself –its real and finished self–in another. If a priest does not come away from the altar more ready each morning to live his day as if on the paten it is not the Mass's fault.
"But no sooner do I get back to the sacristy," the pastor of souls will object, "than I am expected to answer questions, and the daily blinding sandstorm of petty little importances begins." With all respect and humility it is here suggested that, excepting only such manifestly spiritual duties as taking Holy Communion to the sick, no outward affairs whatever should be allowed to interfere with the quarter of an hour after Mass. At least this amount of time is needed if the soul is to breathe properly: without it the lungs of the spirit will remain cramped all day. Just as architectural masterpieces do not normally rise sheer from the sidewalk and are not wedged in between a whole lot of other houses, so neither should the Mass be exposed immediately to the street nor sandwiched between lesser occupations. In England our cathedrals are fronted and flanked by lawns of cut grass which are called a "close." The town is kept at bay; there is no traffic across the close. The priest must contrive to lay down a "close" round his Mass: no traffic, no business; before and after Mass–silence. The alternative is spiritual suffocation. With the eucharistic part of his day safeguarded and allowed to give impetus to his charity, the priest will be able to meet the demands made upon him by his parish, by his studies, by his correspondence. Steeped in the spirit of his Mass he will be able to take the Mass with him into his work. Otherwise he will be a priest only when he wears his vestments. To be a priest throughout the day is difficult enough in any case, but it is doubly so if he starts off as a quick-change artist.
"But I do all that you recommend," may be the objection, "and still I find that from breakfast till going to bed the claims of outward duty so assert themselves as to leave the spiritual duties to be fitted in at odd moments." Temporal cares are always cited against spiritual obligations, and nearly always the spiritual is seen to give way to the temporal. But after all it is we who make our duties temporal. If we thought less of duties and more of the way they might be done, we would not be bothered by the label "temporal." We are surrounded by the spiritual from morning to night if we only take the trouble to look.
"yes, but you don't have to do accounts, coach teams, produce light musicals, run a school. . . ." Try the symbolism of the Mass on all these things and see what happens. Look upon them as so many particles scooped onto the paten and dropped into the chalice. Say to our Lord both during Mass and during the day, "These crumbs are Yours, they are part of Your Body. ... I put them back where they belong." As for fitting in the Divine Office, the time of mental prayer, the rosary and the visit to the Blessed Sacrament, here again we get our cue from the action of the Holy Sacrifice. Does not the celebrant at High Mass have to fit in the Epistle and Gospel while something else is being done in the sanctuary? At the spaces of the Memento which interrupt the otherwise unbroken sequence of the Mass, does he not redirect, as he redirects during those tip-and-run prayers which break into the sequence of his day, the arrow of his intention? Souls of the living and the dead referred to God at Mass: work for the Church referred to God at intervals during the day. The principle is much the same.
As we stand at the altar, then, so shall we stand for the rest of the day. We are facing the sacred species; everything else–relatively important but not as infinitely vital as what is going on in front of us–is being taken care of in piano behind us.
THE MILITANT PRIESTHOOD
in the foregoing essay we saw that the source of the priest's active ministry lay in the Mass. The Mass is his first consideration as an apostle–let alone as a man of prayer. "The primary function of the priesthood has for its object the corpus Christi verum," says St. Thomas, "the secondary the corpus Christi mysticum; the second depends upon the first." Having dealt with the sacrificial side of the priest's life we turn naturally to examine the apostolic. But always it must be remembered that the two go together: there is no conflict: the altar-priest and the pulpit-priest are one. You do not have to serve two masters; you serve one Master in two ways. If upon you lies the responsibility of bringing others to perfection, of "presenting every man perfect in Christ Jesus," you may not satisfy your obligation merely from the predella. "Souls come to us priests," says Pére Ginhac, "in order to find Jesus. Give them Jesus, and in their turn they will give Him to their children, to their parish, to all with whom they come in contact." Not only must we have Him; we must be prepared to share Him, show Him, open men's eyes to what He is really like. Diocesan clergy, then, and those religious who belong to active orders, have the vocation and duty to leave the precincts of the temple and mingle with the tribes. They even have the call, not the whole time but some of the time, to do battle in defence of the Faith. A percentage of them, the best, have the call to martyrdom. Priests belong, if any do, to the Church Militant. Not to a Church quiescent, still less to a Church dormant. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit, coming upon our first fathers at Pentecost, that provides priests with their vocational resilience.
if, as St. Bernardine of Siena says, "the power of the priesthood is as the power of the Divine Persons," then by the sacrament of Holy Orders amore abundant, or at all events a more potentially effective, grace of Indwelling is conveyed. "You are fulfilling the office of the Holy Spirit," writes St. Vincent to a fellow priest, "to whom alone it is given to enlighten men's minds and inflame their hearts. Or rather it is the Holy sanctifying Spirit Himself who does so through you." Now the doctrine of Divine Indwelling means surely this, that not only is Christ's spirit so within the soul as increasingly to draw the human thoughts, desires, affections and intentions into conformity with His own mind, but that the soul, living in and for God, is able to transmit to others without loss to its inward union the graces of which it is now the human channel. God could have chosen to work directly upon souls, but normally He chooses to make use of human agents. The reason why no loss is sustained, but on the contrary grace is amassed, by the human agent, operating as it were away from his base and among the distractions of the active life, is that he is re-enacting the ministry of Christ. Christ lost nothing in leaving His Father's will at Nazareth in order to do His Father's will on the roads and in the cities. For us the tendency is to make for the roads and cities before the Divine Indwelling has declared the time ripe for outward action.
it is here that obedience comes to the rescue. So long as the priest does not press for new assignments, or in any way manoeuvre towards them, but waits for the word from authority he need not have the least worry. His business is to attend to the Divine Indwelling; the Divine Mission can be taken up when it comes along. It is for the secular priest, no less than for the religious, to follow the will of his superior and not to get in front and pull.
given, then, the mandate to go into the world and preach the Gospel to every creature, the priest must be particularly careful about two things: success and failure. (He must be careful about a number of other things as well–some of which will be indicated as this series develops.) He must realize, with the Apostles after Pentecost, that the response he meets with is the response of the soul to Christ. Detachment from the purely personal element in his work is an absolute necessity to the resulting good. All the time he is meant to be perfecting souls in Christ, forming Christ in men's souls, labouring for the Word and not for the applause which greets the Word. There is nothing that stifles the spirit of Pentecost so surely as a courted popularity. The success that is not founded on indifference to success is an ephemeral affair; the priest who shines by the light of his natural gift, and not by reason of the supernatural life he is trying to lead, is a cardboard star. "Woe to them," says St. Bernard, "who merely shine." Failure, in the same way, is to be taken in the priest's stride. The Godward direction of the work, the spiritual motive and effort, the accompanying mortification (or charity or patience or trust or any other virtue which has been brought into play) ... all these things are not wasted merely because the final result has been a disappointment instead of a triumph. The house that burns down on the day of its completion does not nullify, or even waste, the labour that went into building it. Outward failure resulting from long and conscientious effort denotes no more than that God has seen fit to dispense with the part of the work which, to Him apparently, matters least. The material of the sacrifice is consumed; it is the fact of the holocaust that matters. Seen against the Passion of Christ, no failure should have power to discourage. Failure, like the Cross itself, is not a punishment but a privilege.
thus the work of the priest (whether in the pulpit, in the confessional, in his correspondence or in his instruction of converts and children) is to light up the paths that lead to God–while himself remaining suspicious of publicity, unafraid of frustration. "It is a greater thing to give light," says St. Thomas in a famous passage, "than merely to see light oneself." But he goes on at once to say that "it is a greater thing to contemplate in order to hand on the fruits of one's contemplation to others than to contemplate alone."3 Back again always at the balance between the inward and the outward charity; back again always at moving the fingers of Martha with the mind of Mary.
at this point we leave the ordinary run of pastoral life for a consideration of the specifically militant. It is not enough, accordingly, to confine our duty to a holding operation; we have more to do than prevent our flocks diminishing. We must know how, when, and what to attack. The moment we lose our zest for evangelization, we find ourselves falling back upon prepared positions. If our Lord pointed to the highways and byways, if He spoke of fields white for harvest, if He wanted His disciples to be fishers of men and shepherds of sheep that have gone astray, it is a sad unconcern that keeps priests tethered to their desks, their armchairs, and their television. The opportunity for pressing the Catholic claim is as varied now as it has ever been. If the Apostles went out from the cenacle at Pentecost to the market-place, the courthouse, and to death, we of this generation should not be slow, given the dispositions outlined above, to mount the platform, to importune the editorial office, to bring what influence we can upon the radio and screen. The Holy Spirit must grieve to hear the formula "it is none of my business." Is it none of my business that error goes uncorrected, that the Word is drowned, that corrupting literature is accessible to the young? "It's for the hierarchy, not for me, to move . . . am I my brother's keeper? ... I don't hold with this priest-worker movement . . . we've managed well enough up till now." These are evasions, escapes, admissions of defeat. Leave your defence-mechanisms for a moment and read what our Lord said when He sent out the twelve and the seventy-two; read the Acts and see how St. Paul went about his job; read any period of Church history. The Christian tradition is a combative tradition. The Church does not have to apologize for its existence. If history, from St. Augustine's day to this, proves anything about Christianity it proves these two things: first, that where religion is preached without the backing of the Cross you get heresy; second, that where power is given more attention than prayer you get apathy. We should, during this time of Pentecost especially, invoke the Holy Spirit qui docet mantis meas ad proelium. In His Spirit we shall preach Christ crucified by living Christ crucified; and in carrying the truth to a bewildered and materialistic world we shall be able to risk ridicule, jealousy, misrepresentation, and–if we are among the favoured–persecution and death.
THE PREACHING PRIESTHOOD
still under cover of the Pentecostal season we come to the question of our responsibility as "voices of the Word." If the first Whitsunday sent out the Apostles to preach and teach–as well as to offer sacrifice and baptize–the day of our ordination launches us on identically the same mission. As subdeacons and deacons we have received the book of the Gospels from the bishop; as priests we have received the commission to hand that book on to others and to explain it. "Let your teaching be a spiritual remedy for God's people" are the words addressed to the ordinand, "that both by preaching and example you may build up the household of God." A fisherman one day, a preacher the next: yesterday a clerical student, today an exponent of the word of God. And if the word of God is not to return to God void, the preacher of the word must put into its exposition all that God has given to him in the way of nature and grace.
"It is the duty of a pastor," says St. Gregory in one of his letters,4 "to have in his thoughts constantly the ministry of preaching, pondering with the most earnest fear those words of our Lord: Trade till I come." St. Gregory, it might here be noted, rarely uses the word praedicare; nearly always his word is docere. This is significant, because though the whole purpose of his Regula Pastoralis is to make pastors speak effectively to their flocks, his emphasis is on the moral aspect of the duty rather than on the method to be employed. Indeed he is not interested in questions of rhetoric or any of the tricks of production. St. Gregory's preoccupation throughout the Regula Pastoralis (which will be taken as our principal authority for this section of the work in hand) is one of disposition: first how to get the disposition of the pastor right, second how to dispose the flock to listen. For St. Gregory the problem is simply this: who can expect to spread the Gospel whose private life is not in keeping with his spoken utterance or who does not study and try to understand the human beings with whom he has to deal? The pastor's office is therefore not only summa dicere–to speak things of supreme moment–but summa monstrare–to show by his conduct that they are supremely momentous to him. This is only another way of saying what we find in the opening prayer of the ordination ceremony: imitare quod tractas. All so many reminders–as if we needed reminding–of the priest's daily summons to be one with his prototype in the Mass: hostiam puram, hostiam sanctam, hostiam immaculatam.
when we have read up what the spiritual writers, psychologists, orators, and instructors in elocution have to say about it, we realize with a certain relief that the work of carrying conviction by means of the publicly spoken word is conditioned by the simple quality of truth. If the matter is true and if the man propounding it is true–that is to say if he is sincerely following what he conceives to be his nature and his vocation–there is every reason to believe that the hearers will benefit by what is said. Since for the moment it is not our hearer's dispositions but our own that we are considering, and since our present purpose is a more practical one than St. Gregory's in the Regula Pastoralis, we may treat the priest's work of preaching under three heads: how he is to prepare for it, what he is to say, and whether there is anything he may do towards cultivating a delivery.
the priest, not merely during his time of training in the seminary but throughout his whole life, is fitting himself both to penetrate deeper and deeper into the fundamental counsels contained in the mysteries of the Incarnation and Atonement and to distribute the fruits of his study and experience to a more or less purblind world. The priest prepares for his office of preaching, as he should prepare for every sermon that he preaches, by seeing himself as no more than the messenger of God and the ambassador of Christ. "We speak as from God," says St. Paul to the Corinthians, "and before God." The truths that the priest learns from the Holy Spirit he imparts–just as Elias imparted after he had learned on Horeb, and Moses imparted after he had learned on Sinai–to the multitudes in the plain. But all the time he is in the sight of God and will have to render an account of his imparting. He mounts the pulpit as a prophet to teach, direct, admonish and exhort those souls for whom Christ died. Declaratio sermonum tuorum illumined et intellectum dat parvulis; os meum aperui, et attraxi spiritum. We recite these verses from the breviary, but do we ever relate their thought to the main work which we are expected to do for souls? Do we face the fact that the words of our sermons must be God's words, that they are designed to give light and understanding? What powers we have, we priests! And also what responsibilities and temptations in our preaching. "The ear that heard me blessed me" says, surely in the person of every priest, the holy man Job, "and the eye that saw me gave witness to me. Because I had delivered the poor man that cried out. The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me, and I comforted the heart of the widow. I was an eye to the blind and a foot to the lame. They that heard me waited for my sentence, and being attentive held their peace at my counsel. To my words they durst add nothing, and my speech dropped upon them." There are few things more humbling, and in some ways more frightening, than being listened to and believed. We priests must handle the word of God with fear.
it would seem, then, that the qualities to be looked for in the preacher are humility, sincerity, and the desire to bring souls straight to God. Next comes the question as to where to begin and what to say. Surely the first and last subject for the Christian priest to preach about is Christ. "I preach Christ and Him crucified," was St. Paul's proudest boast, and it should be ours as well. Nevertheless from the pulpits of Catholic churches one hears philosophy, culture, education, hygiene and heaven knows what else before one can catch an echo of the Gospel. Time and time again the moral and spiritual development of the faithful is sacrificed to their purely natural well-being. The social services can be preached from the platform; for heaven's sake leave the pulpit free for the Gospel. What if the time which it took our Lord to preach the Sermon on the Mount had been spent in asking for money, in explaining architect's plans, in giving statistics about conversions and school-attendance, in urging the Jews to sing up in their choir practice and advising them how to use their vote? And the Sermon on the Mount has never really come to an end: it can be continued by us every time we get up to speak in church. Not even by us but by Christ Himself, speaking through our lips.
lastly there is the question as to how we preach, the manner we employ. Provided we make sure of the matter and the motive, we need not be greatly exercised about the manner. Again it is a question of being genuinely oneself and not acting a part. To become a slave to a system is as bad for preaching as to become a slave to a sermon book or even to one's own notes. There are practical dangers to be avoided–such as mannerisms, witticisms, a too frequent use of quotation–but because a person's style is such a highly individual thing and must be evolved in the course of his experience, there are few, if any, positive rules which will be found helpful. The principle of sincerity will be further examined in the ensuing study, and if the conclusions arrived at in connection with the priest's work of spiritual direction are applied equally to his work of preaching–the preacher, after all, is the spiritual director of the many–then the mere matter of delivery, the mechanism of it, will be seen to pale into relative insignificance.
To conclude. The whole aim of the preaching apostle might be stated in a text from St. Augustine: ut veritas pateat, veritas placeat, veritas moveat.5 (And of these the middle clause is nothing like as important as the other two.) If the truth, as handled by us, be either muddled or unmoving–if we have either wrapped it up too much with smart thinking or thrown it to our hearers without personal feeling–a terrible reproach will be ours. On the day of our ordination we heard these words: "The Lord chose seventy-two and sent them forth to preach before Him, thus teaching by word and example that the ministers of His Church should be perfect in faith and action." Of all our actions as ministers of God, the act of repeating His word comes nearest in importance to that of repeating His sacrifice and conferring His sacrament. Imitare quod tractas– this is the code of the priestly vocation.
THE DIRECTING PRIESTHOOD
In some ways the duty of directing the faithful is a more difficult obligation for a priest to fulfil than that of preaching. For one thing he will find that a high percentage of his fellow priests will not admit its necessity. That he will have to preach is a horror which the student has faced since his first day in the seminary and before. That he will hear confessions is again part of the general undertaking. But that souls will come to him for guidance in prayer and the ways of the spirit is not always allowed for, not always prepared for, not always thought to be a good thing. Seen to be variously interpreted, the obligation is then brushed aside. Neglected obligations tend to conform to a sequence: belittlement, denial, attack. If the paragraphs which follow are couched in strong terms it is because direction, both inside the confessional and out of it, is felt to be a responsibility which is laid upon every priest with the grace of ordination and one moreover which is in need of restoration. For a priest to say that he is no good at it and that he is unworthy to give it is one thing–though as we shall see a completely misconceived thing–but either to say that there is no occasion to provide spiritual direction or to attack the practice as a waste of time, as ministering to the vanity of old ladies, as creating an atmosphere conducive to false mysticism, is contrary to the mind of the Church and its traditional usage.
in his book The Spiritual Director Father Gabriel makes the position perfectly clear. Quoting Pope Leo XIII who declared it to be a "common law of Providence that souls should be led to the loftier spiritual heights through being helped by other men" Father Gabriel would claim that the question is not open to personal opinion at all. Souls are groping in the darkness; true spirituality is the only thing that will satisfy them; the need is not being adequately met. Whose fault is that? Priests are all too ready to imagine that if they have done their duty by dogmatic and moral theology they can leave ascetical and mystical theology to those who have a taste for these things and who can teach from their own experience. To argue thus is not an act of humility but an act of evasion. Granted that a director is helpful to souls in the measure that he has himself been through the trials which are put to him, it is at least a preparation towards being helpful that he should read up the subject and get himself acquainted with the experience of the saints. From having studied the authorities it will be not such a long step towards walking in their footsteps. Cultivating a taste for spiritual literature is like cultivating a taste for any other kind of literature: you have to read it. St. Teresa, St. John of the Cross, the author of The Cloud, Walter Hilton, de Caussade . . . these are the theologians whom an increasing number of penitents are hungering to know. How can the bewildered flock find an entry to such pastures if the shepherds are constantly shrugging their shoulders and saying that the hills are out of reach?
the priest does not exist solely to keep his penitents out of mortal sin and to help them up again when they have fallen into it. He exists in order to sanctify them . . . and in doing so to sanctify himself and give a particular kind of glory to God. If God is glorified by the sacrifice offered by His priests, He is glorified also by the special sort of assistance which it is in the power of priests to give. The layman is the amateur, the priest is the expert. "Expert?" you say in horrified humility, "but some of the laymen who come to me are far more experienced in the life of prayer than I am ... it is I who am the amateur." Quite so, but why? Is it not because the layman has made more of his lay graces than you of your priestly ones? The layman may well be advancing more rapidly in the way of perfection than you are, but this– except in so far as it should act as an additional spur to your endeavour–is not the point. The point is that the priest is the professional, the leader, the director, and however insufficient he may feel himself to be by reason of quite obvious shortcomings, he is, by reason of his state, qualified to direct. If he is not qualified, if he is genuinely unequal to the task, there is something gravely wrong which needs attending to.
suppose a penitent in the confessional finds great difficulty in producing matter for absolution and at the same time begs to be brought nearer to God; suppose someone who has been recently married is eager to hear more about the counsels of perfection with regard to the Sacrament of Matrimony and less about the evils which threaten it; suppose a man or woman in business is troubled at not Being able to maintain the practice of the presence of God during office hours and wants to know why meditation books do not help. Does the confessor have to admit that he is familiar enough with the problems of drunkards and adulterers but that this sort of thing is beyond him? Is he content to fall back on the formula, that last plank of the confessional box, along which so many puzzled and well-intentioned souls are ushered back into the aisle: "You just have to try your best, that's all, and leave the result in God's hands"?
As we saw in the question of preaching, so we see now in the question of giving advice in the confessional or by correspondence: a man has to be himself, but the self must be responsive to the lightest touch of grace. It is personal holiness, more than learning or a ready flow of words, that is going to tell in the end. Whether in the pulpit or in private conversation, the one thing fatal to the work of direction is an assumed sanctity. For one thing it is as easily detected and exposed as an assumed learning or an assumed wit. But the idiom of the saints does not have to be learned; it is the quality of sanctity that has to be reproduced. And it is this, in the last analysis, which deters the majority of priests from the apostolate of direction: they know that the souls who come to them for help are a challenge. Let them be a challenge, let their very need call our bluff, let us come away ashamed both of our ignorance regarding the subjects raised and of our lack of personal experience.
To conclude. Our words of advice are not expected to be infallible pronouncements–it would be very bad for us if they were–but they are expected to be forthcoming when required. In the Regula Pastoralis St. Gregory says that just as those whose function it was in the Old Law (Exodus 25) to be ready for the carrying of the Ark of the Covenant from one place to another–which they did by means of rods inserted into rings which stood out from the sides of the Ark–so the Church's pastors, constant in their study of Scripture and holy reading, must always be ready to do their share of lifting. The sacred burden of teaching, whether of dogma or morals or pure spirituality, is overlaid with the gold of perfect practice. St. Gregory goes on to note that the rods which have been passed through the rings may never be withdrawn: there is to be no dilettante eclecticism in our application to supernatural things.
"the divine word is a sacrament in which the priest has a more personal efficacy than anyone else," says St. Peter Fourier, "and one which demands on his part a great labour and a great respect." So it looks as if there is no escape: labour, personal holiness, identification with Christ whose words flow through us. "With thee is the fountain of life," we say with the Psalmist, "and in thy light we shall see light." It ought not to be difficult for the priest, drawing from the inexhaustible sources at his disposal, to find the right course to suggest. At least he can recommend the right authorities to be studied. If his own principal authority is Christ, and if he makes it his primary object to draw souls to Christ, he has little to fear. "This is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God": this is the knowledge which we are called out of the unbelieving world to teach. Our own minds nourished by the Gospels, the Fathers, the traditional spiritual literature of the Church, we who are called pastores will be able to live up to our name by feeding the flocks of Christ. "There is a wisdom which comes from above," says St. Thomas,6 "which judges divine things in virtue of a certain affinity with them. This wisdom is a gift of the Holy Ghost . . . through it a man becomes perfect in divine things, not only by learning about them but also by experiencing them." Of all gifts granted to priests, this is possibly the most neglected. It should not be only the canonized saints who can say with St. Hilary: "I acknowledge that I owe my life's occupation to God, so that every word and thought of mine may speak of Him."
THE ACCESSIBLE PRIESTHOOD
there are some truths, some ways of acting, some attitudes of mind which are hardly worth writing about. Experience–particularly the experience of having made mistakes–reveals far more to the soul than the mere reading of articles. What follows, therefore, will be found virtually useless–except insofar as it warns the soul where to look for its pitfalls.
The question under review is the tightrope one of walking between an excess of concern for souls on the one hand and an excess of indifference towards souls on the other. St. Macarius tells us that the pastor must "sit as in the theatre and see what goes on upon the stage . . . while interiorly conversing with God." He must cultivate such spiritual detachment that his approach to souls is impersonal: he sees them from the auditorium. He prays for the players, but avoids getting entangled in the plot. Clearly St. Macarius is steering for safety. Most priests with the care of souls would today feel that St. Macarius was wrong, and that the course to follow would be to get onto the stage as soon as possible after ordination and mix with the performers ... or at least to hang about in the wings and to catch them for a talk about their religious duties as they come behind the scenes.
in our doubt about the wisdom of St. Macarius we turn to our authority St. Gregory. In the fifth and sixth chapters of his Regula Pastoralis St. Gregory lays down his doctrine of accessibility. Singulis compassione proximus is to be the extent of the priest's human sympathy. The interest which he is to take in the lives of those entrusted to him is no academic thing: he is to feel sympathy –not merely feign it and show pity–for his fellow men. The flock must be made to know that here is a father who is acutely sensitive to the sufferings, temptations, weaknesses, follies of his children. Nothing distant and doctrinaire about this. St. Gregory, in his development of the idea, reminds the shepherd about the equal rights enjoyed by his sheep. Here surely, in this second part of the thesis, we see the corrective for which the followers of St. Macarius have doubtless been looking. Since it is only sin that has caused some men to be placed under others (runs St. Gregory's argument) so it must be Christian charity that causes all men to take their equal place before God and one another. Now the priest can sit in his stall and view the players on the stage. All are in the chorus ... all are stars. The individual is of infinite worth; the whole company is made up of likenesses to Christ. All are playing the one part, Christ's. In applauding and loving those who play it well, as in excusing those who play it ill, the priest may never forget that it is primarily Christ's act. Christ's play, Christ's function–as Producer–to allot the praise and blame.
the priest, then, has to remember two things: first, that it is no use getting so excited about the souls of his parish that he comes to look upon them as belonging more to him than to God; second, that because all souls are alike valuable to God it is not his own superior excellence that has placed him in his position of responsibility over others. Cuncti qui praesunt, non in se potestatem debent ordinis sed aequalitatem pensare conditionis. They should think less of their status as priests and more of their state as souls: less of their dignity and more of their dependence: less of the authority which they possess and more of the Authority whence it derives. Unless the priest is class-oblivious in his service of others he inevitably judges them as social and not as spiritual beings. The soul is hidden in the class. In every civilization, however socialist, men fall readily into classes. Where at one time the main distinction was clear –the distinction between freemen and slaves–the divisions which have come with progress are now less clear. But they exist nevertheless, and are very real. The idea of caste, whether the aristocracy be one of blood or of money or of power, can become so extreme as to deny the essential implication of the Incarnation. An error which gives supernatural dignity to rulers is not likely to give even natural dignity to the ruled. Exaggeration in the rights enjoyed by one section of the community inevitably leads to a corresponding exaggeration in the wrongs endured by another. Though there can never be a classless society, there can be a just order in the classes which make up the society. If there cannot be equality, there can at least be equity. And this is where the Christian, all the more the priest, comes in.
we preach the dignity of the ordinary individual. However ordinary, he is individual. Every man's soul has its own supernatural purpose–which is every bit as important as the next man's. All are heirs to eternal happiness, all are redeemed by the blood of Christ. No human being comes into the world for the convenience of another; each one comes that he may belong to God from whom he has his being. Thus if an obstacle–namely sin or error, or a set of circumstances which disposes towards sin or error–gets in the way of this supernatural purpose, it is the work of those responsible for men's direction to go to all lengths in combating the evil. If the shepherd is to look after his flock he must see the members of it not as flesh and blood but as what they are in the sight of God. He must work for them in the same way that he prays for them: seeing them as classless, weak, impulsive, at the apparent mercy of fashion and propaganda, sometimes painfully ungrateful, always a little uncompromising . . . but infinitely worth while.
one of the notes of twentieth-century Catholicism is the stress which is laid upon the sanctification of the commonplace. We have St. Teresa of Lisieux to thank for this. Not only the common-place but the common person. Again St. Teresa bears witness to the sacredness of what is not immediately seen. If the feast of a saint can give its character to a season, then we have come to a time in the liturgical year when the doctrines of St. Teresa deserve examination. In the light, then, of what is generally known as The Little Way, we can consider some of the consequences of the foregoing paragraphs as relating more directly to the ministry.
in the first place a priest is not priestly on special occasions–any more than a saint is saintly on special occasions–but is priestly all the time. It is, indeed, the unspecial occasions that are the test. If he is unpriestly when he is off duty, there is reason to suspect the sincerity of his priestliness when he is on duty. And when is a priest not on duty? The quality of his service is not in the heroic moments but in the unheroic months–even years. The mountains may represent the triumphs, but it is the molehills which give us the practice. Mountains may be more challenging, but they are also more exhilarating. Nor do we stub our toes against mountains. Molehills are more our measure. This is not only St. Teresa's doctrine. The whole New Testament seems to teach, beginning with the example of Christ and Mary, that we do not mount to conquer but rather stoop to conquer. From the Magnificat to the Consummatum est the Gospel is the good news of the humble, the everyday. The Christian priest does not rescue the drowning by leaning over a deck-rail and throwing down a life-belt: he dives under their struggling bodies and carries them on his shoulders.
To conclude. The priest must find a just balance between the personal and the impersonal. He must know that when a man is fighting for life in the water it is not his home address that matters but his soul. In the waters of this world all are fighting for life, and we priests have taken an elaborate course in life-saving. The priest must be at everybody's call every day and every night. Accessibility, willingness to be used, readiness to risk misunderstanding, ingratitude, neglect, and the drawing of the completest blank among those whom one chiefly wished to impress and attract . . . these things are of the marrow of our vocation. Personal love for every soul: impersonal detachment from the response with which that love is met.
THE PRAYING PRIESTHOOD
certain lecturer in dogmatic theology was both so swift and so uncertain in his delivery that the students who sat under him found the greatest difficulty in taking notes, or indeed in following the drift, of what he said. On a particularly bad morning–cries of "Slower," "Louder," "Clearer" proving of no avail–a voice brought the course of this particular professor's lectures to an end by shouting "You're not saying Mass now, Father."
there are few surer rules in the spiritual Me than that we are before men what we are towards God. If we pray as we are meant to be praying, we inevitably serve God's creatures as they are meant to be served. This is not to press the above story too far, and to claim that the priest who races and mumbles his Mass will come to speak inaudibly, but it does mean that if a man is at home in his Father's house he is safely at home in other people's. It means that the priest who begins to neglect the direct, and interior, worship of God will give himself away in his work for souls. The words "direct and interior" are here deliberately chosen. Indirect and exterior expressions of worship–such as pilgrimages, ceremonial occasions, and so on–are not enough. The priest must work his way further into the Mass than the rubrics can take him, must read between the lines of the spiritual reading book until he comes to know the feel of God's will, must see in the psalms and lessons of the breviary a personal and secret appeal to his own soul. Not until he can look the challenge of the interior life in the face is he fit to embark upon the exterior. Not until his work for souls is informed by the work which is going on in his own soul can the ministry be either truly fruitful to the faithful or further productive of good in himself. "To those who love God, all things work together for good." Can we be said to love God– we priests anyway–if we do not seriously attempt to unite ourselves with Him in prayer? And if we fail to do this, can the good works that we do be seriously accounted to us for good?
it is only the man of supernatural faith, which is tantamount to saying that it is only the man of prayer, who can see God's creation in anything like its true shape. Without prayer, without the focus of vision which gradually comes to one who is habitually trying to adapt his mind to the mind of the Prime Mover, creatures are seen simply as things moved–as pieces on the board. To the man who lives by faith–particularly of course to the saint, whose prayer takes him to the perfection of faith–created things are part of a pattern as existing in the mind of the Creator. Nothing haphazard here; no question of the unaccountable and the irresponsible. Where the materialist may feel free to arrange the given symbols on the squares to suit his pleasure or his policy, the man of prayer knows with the wisdom which his increasing faith is unfolding to him that all these contingencies are in fact dependent upon God, and that therefore he must learn from God, in prayer, how to handle them. The materialist philosophies are not so far removed from us: there is always the danger that we view the universe only from the outside. Starved of prayer we see plenty of secondary causes and a whole world of contingent effects; but what we need, if these outward circumstances are to have a meaning and to be fitted into a plan, is to see more of the working of the First Cause, God. A parish would have much to fear from the leadership of a priest who was scornful of the value of prayer.
apart altogether from the question of disedification–and sooner or later the faithful would come to know that their pastor never prayed except when it would be a mortal sin not to–there is, as we have suggested, this invisible and unconfessed materialism in the minds of those who should be revealing the will of God to souls who are looking for it. If practical common sense, experience, quickness of wit, useful connections, were all that were needed for the guidance of a congregation, why not set up an office and have done? Why have a confessional and a pulpit and a waiting room for private interviews? It is just because the natural judgment of a politician or a youth leader or a psychiatrist goes only a little way towards the mind of God that the man of prayer, who is supposed to be going a much further way, has to be called in. What an anomaly it is when the so-called man of prayer is not a man of prayer at all, but a man of works only. Without the light which comes of prayer–and it is a light which the faithful are entitled to see in their spiritual guides–layfolk up and down the world are wastefully groping their way in the darkness. In God's mercy the balance is presumably somehow redressed: the flowing of grace is not dependent upon this or that channel. But this is not the point. The point is that we priests are the appointed channels, and if we fail in an essential–even though that failure is known to God alone–our people fail in an essential. We are all in it; we are part of the pattern; we are moving beings owing existence and purpose to the First Mover, God.
As in the earlier studies in this sequence we find that it is once more a matter of relating the outward to the inward, the inward to the outward. One of the encouraging features of contemporary spirituality is what might be called the return of the symbol. In the liturgy, in the study of psychology, in the application of Scripture, symbolism is at last coming into its own again. In the East, where the idea of contemplation has a stronger hold on men's minds, the created order has always taken second place: the inward has always seemed more important than the outward: Easterns have searched the outward for the inner meaning which must underlie the concrete appearance: hence the appreciation of symbolism. In the more hard-headed West, however, the concrete appearance of an entity is inclined to be identified in the mind with the entity itself–with its substance. With us the study of a thing tends to go no deeper than its surface . . . why bother to investigate further? This is death to symbolism. This is death to mysticism. This is death, ultimately, to faith and prayer and religion generally. Thus the revival of interest in the meaning of familiar forms is healthy: it is a return to a purer mentality. The child who asks why the grain of wheat looks so different from the field about to be harvested–and still more different from the loaf of bread he sees at breakfast or the Host he receives at Holy Communion–is nearer in his mental operation to the way in which God wants men to think than is either the scientist who can tell you the component parts of every different specimen in the corn category or the financier who can tell you how to make money out of it. So long as we want to know why life is what it is we are still open to the light: If we confine our examination to what matter consists of and how it can be turned to our advantage we may well miss the point of creation. It is when men miss the point of creation that they are in danger of destroying creation. Neither of these conditions would be possible if men prayed.
if it is the function of the priest to draw men back to the truth from which they have strayed, the work will be done primarily by means of prayer. The prayer will communicate itself, multiply itself, give life. The life which prayer imparts is not merely a way of living: it is the Christ-life itself. Where the Greeks and Romans educated man so that he was able to live in a certain way, Christianity educates a man so that he may think in a certain way. We form in him the mind of Christ. How can we even begin to do this unless we ourselves, the educators, have the mind of Christ? It is not even enough to present the mind of Christ –in the sense of exhibiting it and preaching about it–when what the faithful are hungering for is the sight of it in those who represent Him. Given "other Christs" to work with and imitate, given men among them who "live now not they but Christ liveth in them," there is something for them to strive after. Where men and women sense the presence of prayer they head straight for it. Like sanctity itself, of which it is both the preparation and expression, prayer has a magnetic force beyond all other forms of religion. The reason for this is that in its exercise are contained the three theological virtues. And you can't ask much more of any work than that it should combine at once faith, hope, and charity.
THE COMMON PRIESTHOOD
or many years now the complaint has been that the clergy are out of touch with the faithful. "The unity which is suggested in the Acts of the Apostles" they say, "is hardly at all apparent today: priests and people are in different streets." The complaint, though it has been raised at various times and in various places over many centuries, is more strongly voiced in the present generation than in the generation immediately preceding. In France it has given rise to the priest-worker, in other countries to the priest-bridgeplayer. Some put the blame on the clergy, some on the faithful. The clergy, alive to the danger of a widening gulf between themselves and their parishioners, look for a lead from their bishops. The faithful leave it to the clergy to take the initiative. Nothing happens.
While it would be in poor taste for one who is neither a layman nor a member of the diocesan clergy to say on which side he believes the greater weight of blame to lie, or even to suggest what practical steps he thinks should be taken to counter the defect, it is surely less presumptuous to recall the minds of both faithful and clergy to the principles underlying their unity in Christ and to note a few of the main obstacles which hinder its realization. Where two parties in a discussion are crying out for the same good thing it is permissible for an outsider to shout with the rest: wiser and more responsible minds will thus eventually be brought to bear in the forming of a policy.
It is natural that we should look to history, and particularly to the history of the liturgy, for evidence of a common society made up of priests and laymen. If St. Paul and the Acts give hints merely as to the place of the priest in the social hierarchy, we have in the earliest liturgy of the Mass, namely the Didache, a form of worship in which all the faithful present join together in the corporate sacrifice. It was left to the priest to pronounce the words of consecration, and the powers granted to him by ordination were accepted in the same sense then as they are today, but the act was one in which everybody had a share: the Mass was referred to as the "common sacrifice." Indeed before the time that Egyptian monasticism had got under way, the faithful and the clergy were so closely united in their official as well as in their everyday lives that Tertullian had to restore the differentiation between clergy and people. The idea of the common priesthood was so popular in the time of Marcion that ordination was, among the schismatics, regarded almost as an extra.
In the catacomb of Priscilla in Rome the action of the Mass is represented on one of the walls. This mural is probably the oldest picture of the Mass in existence. The priest is sitting at the head of the table, everyone else is sitting round. The priest breaks the Bread, the people receive it on to their plates. Certainly the artist who painted this mural in the Capella Graeca in Rome had a clear enough idea of the unity of priest and layman in community.
It is therefore a most gratifying sign for the future of social and spiritual relations within the Church that there is everywhere a mounting interest in liturgical reform. To return to the primitive usage where active participation in the sacrifice of the altar was the accepted thing is not only a benefit as regards worship: it is also a move toward closing the gap which exists between clergy and laity. It is a movement moreover which is working the right way round. Social communion must come from Eucharistic Communion. Practices such as the dialogue Mass, the Missa Cantata in which the congregation render the parts hitherto reserved to a picked choir, the Easter Vigil and the observance of other ceremonies in which the vernacular finds a place, are all highly significant as revealing the thought of the Church responding instinctively to the modem need. The priest and the layman need have no fear of drifting apart so long as they are united in their sacrifice. If the layman is what in the plan of God he is meant to be–namely in the words of St. Peter, a member of "a holy priesthood to offer up that sacrifice which God accepts through Jesus Christ"–then he meets the ordained cleric on familiar ground. According to Pope Pius XI men and women in the world are "sharers in the apostolic hierarchy": the normal Catholic, instructed and confirmed, is an apostle. No less than the priest himself, the normal Catholic has a mission in the world.
The priest and the layman should be able to make common cause in Christ. The rift occurs only where either the service of God is confined to the sanctuary or the priest is dictated to by his parishioners; where the parish is afraid of having its enthusiasm damped, or its endeavours diverted, by its pastors. Spiritually, socially, and sometimes economically and culturally, there come to be two quite separate camps. The empire of the rectory is narrowed to the confines of the sacristy and parish hall; its citadel is the sanctuary, the pulpit, the confessional box, the pamphlet rack in the porch. The rectory may rule in matters parochial but it does so by remote control. This can only mean that, in a greater or less degree, the parish is an isolated spiritual unit. The spiritual and the social may not, in the Mystical Body, be divided.
Lacordaire, in his eulogy of the priestly state, expresses ideas which might profitably be pondered by layfolk as well as by those whom he was primarily addressing. "To be a member of every family, yet belonging to none; to go daily from men to God and to return from God to men; to have a heart of iron for chastity and a heart of flesh for charity; to teach and instruct, to pardon and console, to bless and to be blessed for ever." This purpose cannot be realized unless there exists a corresponding disposition among those to whom such priests are called to minister. "Feed my lambs, feed my sheep" is possible of fulfillment in the measure that the flocks are willing to eat. These commissions imply a dual responsibility, binding both sides of the proposition.
If the Church is the true vine of the one Christ there can be but a single plant: the parish is not on one branch, the rectory on another. An isolationist clergy would be no part of the vine. However elaborate its liturgy would be, the service of man is left to the welfare society. It is not enough that men are ears of wheat on the stalk or grapes on the vine; men, lay and ordained alike, must work with the harvest and tread out the winepress with Christ.
So much for the theory. And it is a theory which both layman and cleric propound. You have the layman Justin, in the middle of the second century, writing in his Dialogue with Tryphon about how he belongs to the true highpriestly race of God; you have the ecclesiastic St. Augustine writing in his City of God how "not only is it said of bishops and presbyters who properly are called priests in the Church, but as we call all men Christians because of a mystical anointing so also are all called priests as being members of the One Priest." The layman Origen insists that "not only they who sit in the priestly congregation but they who live in a priestly and holy state, acting in a priestly way" are the levites of the Lord; the head of the ecclesiastical body itself, Leo the Great, claims for the confirmed Christians that the "anointing by the Holy Spirit consecrates men as priests so that all who are Christians in spirit and in truth know themselves to be of kingly race and priestly degree, with duties quite distinct from those of our special order of ordained priests. What is so priestly as the dedication of a clear conscience to the Lord, as the bringing to Him from the altar of the heart the immaculate sacrifice of Christian charity? . . . through the grace of God this has become the common property of all ... the consecrated oil is spread most profusely onto the upper parts, but, though in a small measure, it overflows and sanctifies the lower." The ideal of the twofold priest-hood in the Church, resting on confirmation, is the one which needs to be very much more preached than it is at present if clergy and laity are to go forward together in harmony. If there is to be a closer relation between the centre and the circumference–if the well-being of the parish and rectory is a single well-being and not two separate goods to be aimed at–both elements must be keenly aware of their purpose, both strongly charged with grace.
But on the part of the laity is there any real awareness of the theory of common priesthood? On the part of the clergy is there any particular desire to preach it? To the present writer it has come as something of a surprise to find, in preparing candidates for confirmation, that among the priests whom he has consulted as to the method to be employed there has been no talk at all about the reality and importance of the doctrine. Among the faithful, already confirmed and presumably well instructed on other aspects of their religion, there is consequently found to be complete ignorance of what is even meant by the common priesthood. So long as the sacraments of penance and Holy Communion are grasped, and so long as the statistics for these sacraments are judged to be satisfactory, the implications of confirmation are treated almost with indifference. Yet in the Decre-tum Gratiani, as Laros points out in his book Confirmation in the Modern World, Canon Law itself, though concerned with the juridical affairs of the Church, recognizes the existence of this common priesthood.7
If this is the principle, what of the practice? Do we not as frequently hear "put the layman in his place" from the rectory as "keep the Roman collar out of this" from the Catholic society or club? The priest is afraid of being no more than a luxuriant but unhealthy growth, a fungus. An independent but nominally subject parish would be no better than an off-shoot, a rebel and rival cutting, an unblessed branch. The Church of Christ is neither the clergy nor the lay people, but both. And both, moreover, united in the bond of charity. "You are one body with a single Spirit," says St. Paul to the Ephesians, "with the same Lord, the same faith, the same baptism . . . some He has appointed to be pastors or teachers; they are to order the lives of the faithful, minister to their needs, build up the frame of Christ's body until we all realize our common unity through faith in the son of God." Unfortunate perhaps that we think of the "faithful" as meaning the lay, the "priestly" and "religious" as meaning the professional. All in the Church are the faithful. God means everyone to be religious.
THE VIGILANT PRIESTHOOD
his is a story which might be true but isn't, and which might point a moral but doesn't. There was once a parish priest who was so punctual, and even so punctilious, about his duties that members of the congregation, unaccustomed to such regularity, would often ask him how he managed it. "We have never had Mass beginning on time before," they said ... or "Pastorals are read on the right Sunday now" or "Weddings and funerals never seem to clash as they used to." Always the explanation was advanced: "My assistant takes care of it ... my housekeeper has a wonderful memory . . . my sacristan is a treasure." Then one day a very eloquent little man came to the town, and Communism so swept the parish that the people gave up coming to church. All because neither the curate, nor the housekeeper, nor the sacristan had come across the Encyclicals.
Priests who are content merely to mark time will find themselves doing it on a conveyor belt going backwards. There has to be an alertness about the priest's outlook which refuses to allow the enemies of Christianity, or even the competitors within the allegiance of Christianity, to hold the initiative. The priest's mind may not close on a certain date (say with the Vatican Council) and thereafter receive no further impression. His reading must keep pace, the subjects of his discussion must be open, his judgments must be ad hoc and not according to formula. Unless he is constantly on tiptoe to enlarge the stock of his ideas, he will never be wide enough awake to enlighten the minds of his parishioners.
Now if it is true that religion is meant to form moral human beings who will so live and die that they bring glory to God in both this world and the next, then it must also be true that the official propagators must be habitually on the watch against any new error–or old error under new impulse-such as might threaten that moral and spiritual purpose. This on the negative side. On the positive side the apostles of truth must be equally ready to pounce on the opportunities that are offered. "You mean I must preach sound doctrine," says the priest at this point, "but, thanks, I do that already." Certainly preach sound doctrine; but you must do more in your preaching than reproduce in modern language the sermons of St. Augustine, St. Bernard, Bossuet and Newman. You must present the contemporary Church's answer to whatever the contemporary challenge happens to be. The Church is a living Church and you must live with it. If you stopped growing when you left the seminary, you are now virtually a corpse. For example, it is no good telling your people where the Arians went wrong, when what they want to know is where some of the priest workmen went wrong; it is no good explaining the shades of difference between John Wesley's approach and Savonarola's, when the immediate difficulty is seeing any difference between Mr. Graham's and Father Peyton's. Or again, if Communism seeks to deprive the modern citizen of the highest object in the order of knowable being–namely God, the concept that explains the universe–then it is for you, as a spokesman for the cause of Christ, to establish that object in the minds and hearts of men in such a way that no attack will dislodge it. And you cannot do this without reading up the case.
Note that we have said "in the minds and hearts of men." The human intellect and the human will are alike moved by grace. But in either case the process is normally operated through the instrumentality of other human intellects and other human wills. We priests, with our training and our prayer to help us, have the twofold duty of shepherding human intellects toward the knowledge of truth, and of shepherding human wills toward the choosing of good. No wonder we are called shepherds. Not enough to impart the knowledge by instruction: the will must be roused by exhortation. Of the two, the second responsibility is more enduring than the first: the reason which sees a truth can be more or less depended upon to go on seeing it; the will which applies its knowledge must be kept at it till the choice of good becomes a habit and even second nature.
"I am in labour," says St. Paul to the Galatians, "until I can see Christ's image formed in you." It takes time. And the image is not of the dead Christ but the living Christ. The Christ who is today facing Communism, materialism, indifferentism, must today be formed in Christians. The faithful must come to think as Christ thinks: must have the mind of Christ on topics of the hour. How many people ask themselves what Christ thinks of television, atomic power, abstract art? Unless Christ's thought is reflected in our own, we are thinking to no purpose.
"Other foundation no man can lay but that which is laid," St. Paul reminds the Corinthians, "which is Christ Jesus." The trouble about us priests is that we lay the foundation and then start building somewhere else. The faithful respond to the personal, the immediate; they get bored by the abstract, the remote. The ordinary Sunday - Mass -and-Holy-Communion Catholics are not vitally interested in wide concepts like "the priesthood," "the religious life," or even alas "The Church." What they are curious to know more about is this priest, this religious, this particular discipline or dispensation. It may show a faulty or frivolous attitude, but it is a very natural one. That is why it is easy to teach children about our Lord–He is a Person. That is why there is no difficulty about the Sermon on the Mount–Christ wants this and that done.
And now to apply all this to shepherds, vigilance, and the priesthood. Priests are persons, and the faithful expect to see the person of the priest and the Person of Christ in some way identified. Not only have the faithful an instinctive ideal or picture of Christ, but they have an instinctively idealized picture of the priest. It is not their fault, but his, if they measure the priest against Christ and see more difference than they bargained for. Sheep know the Good Shepherd and they know their own pastors. If they find their pastors unconcerned at the approach of wolves, if they come to feel that they and their fellow sheep are just so many units in the fold which can be fed from the pulpit on Sundays with any sort of hashed-up mess that can be collected at a moment's notice, if they have a shrewd suspicion that the study of their problems (which they themselves cannot resolve, and which they feel may admit of some spiritual solution) is of less importance to the shepherd of their souls than the returns which he has to make to the bishop (or than the sports news, or than the bridge dates, or than the new electric laundry in the presbytery) . . . and if, concluding that there is a discrepancy somewhere, they come to feel beyond a certain point of endurance the departure from the Gospel as they know it, they will cast about for other flocks and other shepherds.
In our liturgical cycle we have arrived at the season of Advent. Christmas should make us priests more conscious than ever of our office– with pastor meaning "feeder" as well as "shepherd." It is as if Christmas were telling us to nourish, as well as guard, our flocks.
In the Nativity group there are oxen and asses but no wolves. Wolves, for this holy night, have either made a truce with man and cattle or else have been kept in the dark as to what is going on. (There was peace, it may be remembered, throughout the Roman Empire at the time when Christ was born.) But when the Christmas cave becomes the ordinary stable again, we who have been witnesses to the wonder of God's mercy return once more to our state of alert. Christianity is from its beginnings an underground movement: the state of emergency, declared at the crisis of the Holy Innocents and Herod's decree, has never been lifted.
To conclude. Starting in the seminary where he feels he is living in the cross between a barracks and a kindergarten, the man who is called by God to the ministry discovers that the actual thing is like living in a combined watch-tower and clinic: the priest is always either scanning the horizon or offering his arm for a blood transfusion. The danger is that he goes to sleep on the watch-tower and lives on other people's blood in the clinic. To correct these tendencies he must remember that the wolves which prowl are live wolves and not dead ones (duelling and slavery are wrong, but forget about them–they are dead; and anyway they are not as serious as their modern counterparts) . . . and that the blood by which he lives, and which
106?The Gospel Priesthood
he gives to others, is the blood of Christ. "Christ is our life," says St. Paul in the person of every priest, "that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal flesh."
THE SELFLESS PRIESTHOOD
he season of Advent opens in the way that we would least expect–on a note of warning and apprehension. The Sunday gospel is all about the second coming of Christ, about the Judgment, about the end of the world. Not that these things are put before us as being terrifying–rather they are put before us as being desireable–but there is no doubt about the seriousness of our vigil. In whatever form it is that Christ comes to us, whether in the liturgical revelation of Himself at Christmas or in the sacramental revelation of Himself in the Holy Eucharist or in the historical and final revelation of Himself on the last day, we are to prepare for Him with a certain holy fear as well as with confidence and love.
Naturally we prefer that our relationship with God be one of tenderness than one of dread. We like the idea of waiting for Him in a state of holy wonder: the idea of cowering in the face of His justice is displeasing to us. But perhaps one reason why we fail to get the full benefit of our Christmas graces year after year is that we have sentimentalised the approach to Bethlehem and have not been earnest enough in disposing ourselves by penance for His coming. Perhaps one reason why we do not benefit sufficiently from our Holy Communion is that we take contrition for granted, and remember only the advantages of frequent reception. "Lift up your heads for your redemption draws near" . . . but do so from a kneeling position and not from an armchair.
But though the Infant at Christmas is the same God who will judge the world with infinite power and majesty, it would be a mistake to imagine that a worried and self-deprecating reverence was the quality which He most wanted to see in those who tried to assimilate the spirit of Advent. Awe, yes, but the awe of humility and not the awe of terror. If love casts out the wrong kind of fear, humility introduces the right kind. And without the right kind of fear we cannot even begin to be wise.
It is a false confidence–born of a false love and a false humility–that hastens towards the coming of Christ without bothering to make acts of sorrow and surrender. Our confidence is founded upon His mercy, and there is no guarantee that the mercy of God will come into play where there is no attempt to ask for it–much less where there is no acknowledgment of the need for it. From the first vespers of Advent till Midnight Mass, the prayer of the Church is as much an act of contrition as an act of expectation. From the psalm at the foot of the altar to the moment of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ the prayers of the Holy Sacrifice are as much petitions for pardon as acts of adoration.
"See the fig-tree and all the trees" we read in this same Advent gospel, "when they bring forth their fruit you will know that summer is drawing near." Nature reflects the supernatural: the law of natural growth and harvest mirrors the law of grace. There is no harvest, no fruit, where there has been no labour, no cutting. And there are some trees (notably the khardal-tree or sinapis scelerata) that give out the best of their qualities only when their bark is bruised.
It is sometimes frightening to think that all the time the fruit of grace is ripening, and that we are doing so little towards the development. Are we justified in always saying to ourselves "Nothing that I can do can make much difference . . . these things operate according to their own laws," and is it wise–let alone becoming in the pledged servant of God–to assume that because God is for ever ready to make allowances for us we may make them too? Is it not a little presumptuous to act on the supposition that our dispositions are invariably of such a quality that the formalities of penance, the actual expression of contrition and the actual confession of sins, can be reasonably dispensed with? It must be the experience of many priests that penitents who come to them in the confessional are apt to take lightly the conditions required by the Church for the frequent reception of the Holy Eucharist.
If "affection to venial sin" is a thing to be deprecated in respect to daily Communion, ought not priests to assure themselves that the faithful to whom they cheerfully recommend the practice are in fact determined to rid themselves of all bad habits?
Always, then, it is the question of striking the balance between presumption on the one hand and over-anxiety on the other. The faithful soul must avoid becoming either casual or scrupulous, either too self-confident or too self-regarding. Learned aright, the lesson of Christmas and the lesson of the Holy Eucharist teach the same doctrine, evoke the same response, engender the same disposition. Bethlehem is the "house of bread," and it is here as well as at the altar that the soul receives its nourishment: the bread that the soul receives is the bread of love, and there is nothing stronger in the world than the power of love.
It is the property of love to draw the thought of the lover away from self and towards the contemplation of the beloved. The bread of Bethlehem should make us forget ourselves and remember only the Object of our desire. Holy Communion should lift us out of our pettiness and put us on a plane where we have something better to worry about than our own small temporal needs. It is then, when we kneel with the saints before the nativity group at Christmas, and when we join our Communion prayers with those of the whole mystical body, that the idea of objective worship should be uppermost and that any sort of devotion which is self-regarding should be laid aside.
Yet how many of us allow our souls to be thus caught up into a selfless prayer of praise? Are not most of us too anxious to make use of those rare moments of conscious recollection for purposes of self-interest? Though the prayer of petition is undoubtedly a prayer of praise, the urgency with which we too frequently press our needs is apt to crowd out the element of praise and leave us at the end of it with nothing but a list of requests duly accounted for.
Last Christmas a small boy made his first Communion at the Dawn Mass. Instead of immediately joining his relations and friends when it was over, he spent some considerable time on his knees, first before the Blessed Sacrament and then before the crib. Much edified by this, the Sister who had prepared the boy during the time of Advent, whispered to him over his shoulder: "And may I know what it is that you are asking our Blessed Lord to give you?" "I'm not asking Him to give me anything," was the immediate reply, "I'm saying grace." If our attitude towards the gifts of God, whether Eucharistic or any other, were more nearly that of small children saying grace we would give great glory to God and at the same time advance our own spirituality. If the Hebrew meaning of the word "Bethlehem" is anything to go by, there is contained in it a hint about saying grace. To conclude. A certain reverential fear is a salutary ingredient in our prayer: it is the salt which gives savour. It is not to be so sprinkled over our prayer that it kills the taste, but neither is it to be left out as being unnecessary. More important than the condiments is the prayer itself, and this is to be seen simply as an act of love. Whatever helps towards love is to be cherished, whatever wastes it is to be rejected. And love's most immediate expression–apart from the desire which is the essence of love itself–is that of gratitude. So long as the soul feels instinctively like saying grace there cannot be much the matter with it. In the gospel for the first Sunday of Advent we have from our Lord the signs which will accompany the end of the world. We have from the lives of the saints, no less than from His own life and teaching, the signs which must accompany the true service of God. Of these, earnestness and gratitude are the first.
1 Sum. Theol., Suppl. Q. xxxvi, art. ii, ad 1.
2 Saint Vincent de Paul by Father Leonard, p. 29.
3 Sum. Theol, II-II, Q. clxxxii, art. i.
4 Lib. 11, Ep. 39, ad Dominicum Episcopum.
5 De Doct. Christiana 1, 4.
6 Sum. Theol., II-II, Q. xlv.
7 Corpus Juris Canonici, Ed. Friedberg, i, 147-48.
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