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A Bishop visited a parish to administer the sacrament of Confirmation. The Pastor, a young progressive, approved a liturgical dance during the Mass and the Bishop was not advised. During the dance a young lady in flowing robes floated across the sanctuary and in the middle of the dance she presented the Bishop with a rose. As she continued her dance the Bishop leaned over to the Pastor and whispered: “You know of course that if she asks for your head – she will get it.”
Bishop Donald Parsons was my Ascetical Theology professor at Nashotah House. Over the course of the two semesters that I studied under him, I learned a great deal, but there were two very important points that I have never forgotten. The first I always share with congregations and St. Matthew’s knows it well: if you want to get along with God, don’t sit in his chair. The second point is one that is useful to the newly ordained, fail to take heed to it and you’ll find the bishop offering up your head (just ask any of the ordained present). The second is: bishop’s don’t like surprises. If you can manage those two things: not sitting in God’s chair and not surprising the Bishop, you’ll probably have a long career as a priest, but there is quite a difference between having a long career as a priest and a ‘fruitful’ calling as a priest. The career gives you all the perks of any job you might have and plenty of coffee. The other, the fruitful calling, makes disciples of Jesus, it heals the broken, shines the Light of the Gospel into the darkest corners, it does battle with the devil, it brings the Good News. But contrary to popular teaching, it is not accomplished by preaching to stadiums of people or by gimmicks or by following the latest “how to” scheme. So, how does the fruitful calling accomplish this good work of God? It may not be true for everyone, but for me, I go to another Bishop for the answer: Archbishop of Canterbury, Micheal Ramsey. In a series of lectures that he presented to a group of young ordinands, he said:
Amidst the vast scene of the world’s problems and tragedies, you may feel that your ministry seems so small, so insignificant, so concerned with the trivial… But consider: the glory of Christianity is its claim that small things really matter, and the small company, the very few, the one man, the one woman, the one child are of infinite worth to God. Let that be your inspiration… for the infinite worth of the one is the key to the Christian understanding of the many.
You accomplish the work of God, by recognizing the infinite worth of the one. Yet, our business and our desire to grow, improve the statistics, the ever nagging ASA—Average Sunday Attendance—we can lose site of the one. Fortunately, the priest has a reminder… it occurs during the celebration of the Mass.
In the fifth chapter of book four of The Imitation of Christ, my friend Thomas à Kempis writes about the priest and the Mass. He speaks specifically about holding and administering the elements of the bread and wine: “Had you the purity of an angel and the sanctity of St. John the Baptist, you would not be worthy to receive or administer this Sacrament. It is not because of any human meriting that a [priest] consecrates and administers the Sacrament of Christ, and receives the Bread of Angels for their food. Great is the Mystery and great the dignity of priests to whom is given that which has not been granted the angels.” In the Mass, Jesus becomes present to us and the priests are the ones who hold Him and administer Him. When we administer the bread and the wine, we do so with the greatest reverence, recognizing the very Body and Blood of our Savior, and it is in this act, that we have our reminder of the one. For as a priest, we are called upon to handle each individual soul, all of God’s people, in the exact same manner that we handle Christ, for they too are His most precious Body and they are each of infinite worth. They have his blood running through their veins. Janie, when you are made a priest, it is not just for Sunday morning, but for every minute of your life, recognizing the Lord’s real presence in everyone you encounter. Are you ready?
The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to that young Timothy who was just beginning his ministry. In greeting him, Paul said, “I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, and without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also. Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
Are you, Janie, ready? I believe you are, for I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Janie and your mother Vereda and your father Terry, and I am persuaded this same faith is in you also. Therefore, remind yourself always of the gifts of God which will be given to you through the laying on of Bishop Ed’s hands, and live into that spirit of power and love and sound mind, which comes from God alone.
One of my favorite stories from the Desert Fathers (you’ve probably heard it before): Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”
Janie, become all flame. Touch one soul at a time and in the process, you will “set aflame all the ways of the earth with the fire of Christ that you bear in your heart.” (St. Josemariá Escrivá, The Way, #1)
On the night before he was ordained a priest, Michael Ramsey wrestled with what was coming for him, then he wrote down a few words that reveal a great self-giving to God. I’ll close with them as a prayer and ask Janie to consider these words as her own, but not only her, because as a Christian people, as the Royal Priesthood of Christ, they apply to us all.
Let us pray:
‘My grace is sufficient for thee.’ How I do need to look away from self to God; I can only find satisfaction in him.
My heart to love Him, my will to do his will;
My mind to glorify Him, my tongue to speak to Him and of Him;
My eyes to see him in all things;
My hands to bring whatever they touch to Him;
My all only to be a real ‘all’, because it is joined to Him.
And this will be utter joy – no man can take it away.
Self, self-consciousness, self-will, the self-center cut away,
So that the center which holds all my parts is God.