|Friday, Jan. 19, 2007|
The Care and Nurture of Your Parish Priest
by Canon John
from a sermon preached Jan. 4, 2007, at the service of institution of Fr. Michael Heidt at the church of St. John the Evangelist, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Your priest was ordained and set apart by God to teach you the good news of Jesus Christ, to help you accept His salvation, and to understand all this involves for the life of the society in which you live. By careful study of the scriptures, by examining the traditions of holy church, by prayer and meditation, he has been prepared to enlighten you with the revealed truths of God and of His mighty acts within our world.
Listen to him.
But you may protest – “We have heard all this before.” And so you have! You have already been taught by faithful and wise priests each in his own particular way, each with his special emphasis and understanding. But with each new priest, though you will hear the same gospel yet again, you will hear it in another way and with special insights you have never heard before.
Listen to your priest. Question him in love when he says or does something you do not understand or cannot accept. He is not infallible; he will make mistakes, and there will be times when he will have to apologize for what he has said or done. Through his confessor he will have to acknowledge openly before the whole church his besetting sins. Nevertheless, he does not speak as one of the Scribes or the Pharisees but as one who has the authority of Jesus Christ, our Lord and God.
So listen to him! Listen to his sermons, ask for continuous instruction, take every opportunity to attend whatever classes he offers, and, yes, eavesdrop on his every conversation. Cling to him as an oracle of God, and then let the Holy Spirit guide you to sift the wheat from the chaff, so that from his simple and sometimes faltering words the radiance of divine revelation may shine forth in our all too often distracted hearts.
Listen to him. There are those who are rightly distressed by the church today, troubled that the church does not seem to speak in a clear and certain voice. Pray that he may speak with such a voice, that voice that not only you but the whole world is yearning to hear, but often dreads.
Do not only listen to him, but pray with him, for he will not only speak to you, but will bless you as he does. He is ordained to make you and the whole world holy. You will call him Father, and rightly so - for he is more than just a teacher. If he was only that, you might just as well call him rabbi or perhaps master or even mister. But he is your priest. He is a priest because he is a man of sacrifice. He has been made a walking sacrament of the sacrificial priesthood of Christ. He is your priest because he is God’s priest and you are the people of God. You call him father because, in the imitation of Christ, he will sacrifice himself for your well being, nourish you with the sacraments, and guide you with wise council. You will be as his children, though never childish. You will respect him but never be subservient to him, because, like Our Lord, he is among you as one who serves. He will have authority, but he will dare not be authoritarian. Nor will you be childish priest-worshippers. Instead, under his priestly care, you will become more childlike so that with the simplicity of children you may enter the kingdom of heaven.
As your teacher, your priest will speak to God of your sufferings and temptations and sins – as well as your successes and virtues. He will speak to God just as we speak to God at the beginning of mass – in the Kyries and Gloria, Confession, and Intercession. And God will speak to you through your priest as in the mass God speaks to us in the Collect, Epistle, Gospel and Sermon.
Then, as your priest he will offer each of you to God the Father as a living sacrifice united to the sacrifice of His Son, and He who is both priest and victim will give Himself to you in Absolution, Consecration and Communion.
Be then faithful participants in the mass for here is the heart of our faith; here is the mystery of God. And along with the mass use all the other sacraments. I am amazed at how many Anglicans, and even devout Anglo-Catholics, seem to believe in only six sacraments – all but the sacrament of confession and reconciliation. I know it is not always easy to make our confessions: the distance is too great, the time too inconvenient. I am reminded of a story the Dean of the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Pittsburgh once told me about a parishioner of his who lived out of town up in the mountains. In the Winter he never showed up for mass because he would have to rise while it was still dark and the trip was too difficult. Finally the Dean visited him and said: “You can at least come to make your confession. To which the man replied: “Oh father that is the one thing I cannot do. With all that snow and ice, if I am not in mortal sin the trip is not worth it, and if I am, the trip is too dangerous.”
All the Christian life is difficult and often dangerous. As mature Christians you should know this all too well, having fought bravely the battle for orthodoxy. Continue that battle whatever the cost. Our religion is the religion of the cross. We are each called to suffer our crucifixions. Do not shy away from them, for on the other side of crucifixion is resurrection, and the radiance of glory.
Let your priest guide you through the maelstrom of ecclesiastical chaos - in gentleness, charity, and in good sense. He is your ruler, your monarch, as well as your teacher and priest, for he is among you, though unworthy, to represent the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Heaven is not an egalitarian democracy but a constitutional monarchy, and every local church on earth is founded to reflect this heavenly order. Allow your priest to govern you, aided by the godly admonitions of his bishop and the council and support of all the faithful.
Finally, you call him father, not only because you are his children, but because as you mature in the faith through his ministry you also become the bride of Christ whom he represents. Your priest is called father because the church is called mother and when priest and people work together, your children are the twelve fold fruit of the Holy Spirit. He is an Alter Christus, another Christ among you, called out from the church to represent God the Father in the name of God the Son, just as the mother of Christ is also your human mother – you who are living members of that very Body taken from her, and present in every age for all the world to see.
|Fr. Michael Heidt is the son of John and Katherine Heidt.|