“Therefore, …be worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, marking every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace…” Ephesians 4:1-3
“Benedict does not want people in positions simply to get a job done. He wants people in positions who embody why we bother to do the job at all.” Sr. Joan Chittister, O.S.B., May 13 entry of The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages.
Saint Benedict insisted that each man or woman joining the community would hold rank according to their date of entry. Whether born into slavery or into royalty, peasant or priest—all came in at the bottom and rose as the years went by.
However, Saint Benedict had an exception for every situation, and when he found a good soul who embodied “why we bother to do the job at all” he could and would change a person’s status for the good of the community.
This entry got me thinking about church leadership.
I have had the honor and joy of being ministered to by priests who “embody” their vocation, beginning with the Episcopal priest who baptized me when I was 13, and the one who received me when I reunited with the church after leaving for a decades-long absence. Also included in this category are the priests who received me into the Catholic faith, “Bullet Bob” Mahoney and Fr. Everett Trebtowski, both of blessed memory.
Recently we ran into a youngish old friend, an Episcopal priest, Fr. Mike. He shocked us by saying he was retiring. Still young and vigorous, the head of a large and wealthy parish, and all in all an enormous success, we wondered: Why the early retirement?
“Because I was called to preach and teach!” he said, “And that’s what I want to do and that’s all I intend to do. I’ve had enough of roof repairs and building funds and budgets and committee meetings. I just want to preach and teach.”
We reminded him of a quote by Jean Vanier: “Things begin in mystery and end in administration,” had a good laugh and wished him well.
I’ve no doubt Fr. Mike was as excellent in his capacity as administrator of his parish as he was in shepherding his flock, but he recognizes that the vocation he embodies is to preach and teach, and wisely, has chosen to do so. But then, Episcopal priests are well compensated, making that choice possible.
Few of us appreciate the breadth of the sacrifices a Catholic priest makes when he says “yes” to his vocation. He forgoes marriage and children, receives meager compensation, and is—for all practical purposes—on call 24/7. Yes, he gets to preach and teach, but he also spends plenty of time making sure the employees get paid on time and the roof doesn’t leak. (I wonder how much time in seminary they spend on that?)
We at St. Louis have been blessed in the extreme with priests who embody the reason the job needs to be done in the first place. To tell the truth, I never really understood as a Protestant the awe in which Catholic priests were held by their flock. My Protestant priests taught me much and helped me grow in the faith, and I respect them enormously, but I never had the sense they’d laid down their life for me.
It took me a while to get it. And I first saw it during a soul-wrenching period early in my Catholic journey in a poor, tiny rural church. As hard as times were for our little parish, those dear people showed such Christian charity that it literally took my breath away, and strengthened my faith like nothing else ever could.
I pray we are all mindful of the treasure we have inherited in our vibrant parish, served by priests who “embody” the faith.
And I am so thankful.
Photo by Jun Acullador on Flickr.