The WCCM: Priests

In the Christian vision all the people of God share in the priestly ministry of Christ. For this reason, as Pope Francis reminded us, clericalism – the power structure of the clergy dominating the laity – is one of the temptations that all Christian denominations must avoid.

Contemplative experience builds community and equality and so a healthy priesthood demands a deep spiritual life.

The ordained ministry is a special and sacred way of service. It also requires a deep spiritual dimension if activism and distraction, burnout and dysfunction are not to happen in the lives of those who serve in this way.

Many priests meditate and share the gift with those they serve. “The witness of a good life is better than any sermon”.


John Stroyan, Bishop of Warwick:

Ignatius of Antioch, on his way to martyrdom in Rome, wrote ‘It is better to be silent and to be than to make fluent professions and not to be.’ Yet as a Church and as Church leaders it seems we have forgotten – if ever we really knew - how to be. Evelyn Underhill, Anglican mystic and friend of Baron von Hugel, writing in The Spiritual Life in 1936, asserts that we, as the Church, ‘spend our lives conjugating three verbs, to Want, to Have and to Do, ... we are kept in perpetual unrest forgetting that none of these verbs have any ultimate significance, except in so far as they are transcended by and included in the fundamental verb, to Be.’ The name of God is ‘I AM’, the One who is. In the Pantocrator icon, either side of the face of Christ, are the Greek letters which say ‘The One who is’.

Christian Meditation helps us to be. In helping us to be it helps us to become the ones we are called to be. Like many clergy, I plead guilty to being ‘distracted by many things’ (Luke 10.40) at the expense of ‘the one thing necessary’ (Luke 10.42). The phrase Luke actually uses for ‘so many things’ is ‘pollen diakonian’ – much service. As clergy we can get so caught up in the ministries (diakonian) of the priest and of the Church that we can lose our rootedness in the presence of Christ, the One who invites us to make our home in him, and who tells us ‘apart from me, you can do nothing’ (John 15.5). It is not that the ministries of the priest and the Church do not matter, in the purposes of God, they matter very much indeed. It is simply that ‘Unless the Lord build the house, those who build it labour in vain’ (Ps 127). Our engagement with the sufferings and joys of the world are to flow from our life in Christ and His life in us. I remember readings the words of Pope John Paul II in the early 1980s when he wrote ‘What the world needs most are heralds of the Gospel who are experts in humanity who have shared to the full the joys and the hopes, the anguish and the sadness of our day but who are at the same time contemplatives in love with God.’ To be experts in humanity, a wonderful description of what priests are called to be, we need also to be contemplatives in love with God.

The secret is this’, writes Paul ‘Christ in us.’ All true prayer derives from Christ in us. It is the Spirit that prays in us and through us at a level deeper than our conscious minds – ‘with groans too deep for words.’ (Romans 8.26). Christian Meditation invites us to let go of being in charge and directing our own prayer time. It invites to take our hand off the tiller and to allow God to pray His prayer in us. Mother Maribel of Wantage, founder of the Community of St Mary the Virgin (CSMV) wrote:

If Christ lives in us then he prays in us and our chief concern should be to provide him a place in which he can pray. We know the joy of slipping into a silent church out of the din and roar of the traffic. What joy for him to push open our swing doors and find in us a place of silence where he can pray his prayer.’

Perhaps most importantly of all, it invites us to a poverty of spirit, a kind of helplessness, a nakedness before God, in the stillness with our word or phrase. It calls us to a deeper trust, knowing, in the words of Paul that ‘You are no longer your own but God’s.’

In Christian Meditation we have to let go of any instrumentalist approach to prayer. We have to hand over, to let go of, our thoughts, hopes and desires, trusting in God who knows our needs better than we know them ourselves. I’m reminded of words from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets:

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope                                                     

For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love

For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith     

But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting. (East Coker)

In another passage from the same work, Eliot writes of ‘a condition of complete simplicity costing not less than everything.’ (Little Gidding) – words which are also, perhaps, pertinent to Christian Meditation.

Commending Christian Meditation as I do, I confess my own struggles in it and with it. As has been said, it is simple but not easy. But I do know, I do see that it is changing lives and - in God’s grace - my own. The kingdom of God, Jesus tells us, is like the master who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old (Matt.13.53).  In Christian Meditation, Fr John Main and Fr Laurence Freeman, are bringing back in to the Church something that is truly life-giving that is deep within our tradition, going back through Benedict to Cassian and through Cassian to early desert monasticism and indeed back further into the Holy Scriptures themselves. I give thanks for the clergy who, in the chapters that follow, share their stories, frankly, engagingly and sometimes humorously, stories of God’s wholemaking and deepening work in and through Christ, the One who Is. I give thanks to God for the renewing of the Church in her witness and service through Christian Meditation.

 


Uruguay - Cardinal Daniel Sturla speaks on Christian Meditation
 
 
Laurence Freeman in Uruguay
Carninal Sturla (then Archbishop of Montevideo)
meeting with Laurence Freeman in 2014
 
Programme on Radio Oriental “The Joy of the Gospel” Cardinal Daniel Sturla 3/7/2016, Montevideo, Uruguay.
Transcription, minutes 14:10 to 14:44 approx.
 
Interviewer: “This Thursday 30th of June and Friday 1st of July the “Proeducar” meeting took place. Tell us a bit what “Proeducar” means and what were the aims of this meeting that took place during these two days”. 
 
Cardinal Daniel Sturla: “Well, organized by the Uruguayan Association of Catholic Schools, “Proeducar” was the twenty second “Proeducar”. It’s a meeting that already has its importance amongst catholic educators, organized by AUDEC, Uruguayan Association of Catholic Schools. Usually held in February and July these encounters always bear many fruits. In this case, the plan was to work around a document that has been produced: “Catholic Education, a value proposal for a country in transformation”.  There was a presentation on the Uruguayan reality by political scientist Adolfo Garcé.  After this, there were several workshops and team work. 
I was able to participate on Friday morning, I went by to say hello.  There was a very beautiful moment of prayer of Christian Meditation and teaching of how to practice Christian Meditation with children. Really wonderful; it is something that one day we will have to explore in depth and talk about it because it is worthwhile.  Christian Meditation is a movement that has already been around for a while in the universal Church and also here in the Uruguayan church. What they offer is very interesting for everyone, children and adults so that with much simplicity we can pray a bit better and become better people because after all, when one prays one becomes better and here lies the deepest sense of life.”  

 

 

You can watch below to a conversation between Fr Frans de Ridder and Fr Laurence Freeman on Priestly Life and Meditation: