Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Priesthood Prep, Part 4 of 4: Humility

Medieval flagellants.
In the first three parts of this reflection, I've tried to emphasize some of the learning that I've experienced during my six months as a transitional deacon that will hopefully make me a good priest.  I don't know that my insights are all that original, but the lessons have been meaningful to me all the same.  This final installment addresses a priest's humility.  Now, I know what you all are thinking.  The word, humility, conjures up medieval notions of a self-effacing monk, eschewing earthly pleasures and glory and flagellating himself regularly for his many sins.  It's an outmoded stereotype more useful for film, such as the albino Silas of Opus Dei in the DaVinci Code, than for modern notions of priesthood.  Humility doesn't mean self-denigration, mortification of the flesh, or servile obedience, but putting oneself in proper proportion.

Reserving the Sacrament in the chapel on Maundy Thursday.
A few Sundays ago, as I was putting on my cassock, Fr. Reid called up the stairs and told me that he was quite ill and might need to go to the hospital. He asked if I would lead Morning Prayer and, if need be, do a deacon's mass afterward.  Seeing no signs of Fr. Reid after the Office as people were filing into the chapel for the 8 a.m. mass, I instructed the server that we were going to do a deacon's mass and sent him to the church for a dalmatic, stole, and the Blessed Sacrament.  Now, Fr. Reid had said when he first started instructing me in how to say mass that it was possible that I could be called upon in an emergency to say a deacon's mass.  This is essentially a low mass, with the consecration excised, and the administration of communion from the Reserved Sacrament.  Neither Fr. Reid nor I imagined that this scenario would ever arise, but since no other priest was available, here I was vesting to say the Tridentine mass--or at least all the front and back ends of it--for the first time.  Fortunately, the server was a seasoned pro and made an outstanding MC for me.  It was a wonderfully uplifting experience, and I was grateful to stand at the altar on my own for the first time.  By 10 a.m., Fr. Reid was out of danger but still not well enough to say mass, so again we improvised.  Since we couldn't have a solemn high mass, we moved everyone from the church into the chapel, and I did another deacon's mass, this time singing all the celebrant's parts, with the choir singing the service music acapella.  I also, of course, had to improvise a sermon on the spot.  Needless to say, I felt a great sense of accomplishment and relief as I finished the Last Gospel and returned to the sacristy.

As a self-professed Trekkie, I would quote (tongue-in-cheek) one of my favorite Klingons, Kor, The Dahar Master, who declares, "The way of the warrior is not a humble path.  Show some pride in your accomplishments.  You've earned it."  Kor's hubris notwithstanding, he makes a good point.  It was a fine personal achievement following so much training, and I am proud of it.  In truth, however, nothing could have been more humbling.  Humility means putting oneself in proportion, in perspective.  A priest does nothing alone, but relies upon the contributions of many people, all of whom have unique gifts and charisms that make his ministry possible.  In this particular situation, it was not just I that stepped in to enact the liturgy:  Fr. Reid's fine training, the experienced MC, the professional organist and choir, and the generous and supportive congregation all had critical parts to play in allowing the liturgy to happen.  And the Holy Spirit was also probably working some magic, too.  So, to put myself in proportion, I was not really up at the altar by myself, but was standing alongside a number of brothers and sisters, who were supporting me and each other.  After all, the word, litourgia, translates as "the work of the people."

This understanding leads me to a final "H" that should be part of a priest's life: hope.  In moments when people pull together and there is genuine love and support, a church ceases to be a place where random people gather and begins to be a community where hope is born and an unimagined future can begin to emerge.  It has been my great privilege to come to St. Clement's and to see it transform over the last six months into a more open, more welcoming, and happier place.  A year ago, so many of the positive developments we are seeing today at St. Clement's would have been unthinkable, and yet, the spirit of love from the rector, the vestry, and the congregation has turned the parish into a place where visitors consistently tell me how friendly and warm St. Clement's is.  The church historian, Diana Butler Bass once told me that "nostalgia is the enemy of hope."  Well, St. Clement's may have a deep fondness for tradition and for the patrimony of the Church, but nostalgic notions that "our best days are behind us" have given way to the excitement of the parish for the future that lies before us.  It will be a great honor and pleasure to be ordained a priest here and to say my first mass at the high altar, to continue the message of hope that has always been at the core of the Gospel and of our Mother, the Church.

1 comment:

  1. Best wishes on your ordination this Saturday Ethan. I was hoping to attend, but have to work. Besides, the heat index is supposed to be over 100. Ugh! Better hide some ice packs under your vestments. ;)