I was stunned the other day to have a good man, 25 years a priest, ask me for advice. Not with a specific situation either, just “Do you have any advice for me?” I didn’t know what to say to this priest of God, this man who speaks and the Word is made flesh, who grasps the hands of sinners to drag them back from the edge of that unscalable cliff, who leads people to Christ in a more real way than I ever will.
“Pray,” I said. “Love Christ and his Church and pray.”
But he wanted more. And I always have an opinion, even when I have no right to. So add this to the list of things I have no business giving advice on.1
If I could ask one thing of priests, it would be this: celebrate the Sacraments like you believe that they’re real. I imagine that most of you do believe that they’re real. And I’ve been privileged to know many priests whose love of the Lord is so powerfully evident in the way they lead their people in prayer. But that’s not always the case. Imagine if you celebrated Mass completely attentive to the fact that you were about to call God down to earth. Wouldn’t it be slower, more reverent, more intense? Wouldn’t you be awestruck, holding the host in your hand? Would you really make do with a quick bow if you honestly believed—or maybe remembered is the word—that Jesus Christ was truly there? More than just doing the red and saying the black (which is a great start), what if you treated the sacred mysteries like they are sacred and mysterious?
In a sacristy in Avila, the words surrounding the crucifix on the wall say, “Priest of Jesus Christ, celebrate this Holy Mass as if it were your first Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass.” If you can’t excite the emotions your first Mass stirred up, can you try to imagine how you would say Mass if you knew you were about to meet God face to face? You are, after all.
I don’t mean to imply that all you really need is emotions—or that if you try hard enough you can manufacture pious feelings. I just mean that your people don’t need good homilies.* They don’t need good administrators. They don’t need friendly guys. Those things are all nice, but what they need are pastors who are showing them what holiness looks like. They need to see you and wonder at your love of the Lord. They need to believe that it’s possible to know Christ, and you can teach them that by coming to know him better yourself.[ Go to Meg's blog to read the rest. ]
* This is the only statement of Meg's with which I disagree. Christians do need good sermons. We are fed by both Word and Sacrament--in precisely that order. Clergy need to preach every sermon as though we are calling God down to earth as well as lifting souls to heaven. To follow Meg's analogy, we need to preach as if every sermon were our first sermon, our last sermon, our only sermon.