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Posted October 20, 2004

Book: On Being A Priest Today
Authors: Rosalind Brown and Christopher Cocksworth
Cowley Publications, Cambridge, MA, pp.215

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

This important book on priestly identity embraces the many contemporary varieties of priestly ministry: male and female, paid and unpaid, parish and work-based, catholic, evangelical, charismatic. Examining the “root,”the “shape,” and the “fruit” of priestly identity, On Being A Priest Today is essential reading for priests, priests in training, and everyone considering the ministry. Part One “root” a priest’s human and church life in the theological convictions derived from the Christian understanding of God as being for and with others. Part Two explores the “shape” of priestly life in relation to worship, word, and prayer, each supported by the three key virtues of love, faith, and hope. Part Three examines the “fruit” of priestly life by focusing on three fundamental features of priestly identity: holiness, reconciliation, and blessing. With its applicability to various denominations, this exciting book offers welcome new perspectives on what it means to be a priest today.

An Excerpt from the Book:

In a sermon on “Holy Ground,’ Rowan Williams points us to a view of holiness that is not static but ecstatic, not dependent upon perfection but upon faithfulness:

A human being is holy, not because he or she triumphs by willpower over chaos and guilt and leads a flawless life, but because that life shows the victory of God’s faithfulness in the midst of disorder and imperfection. The church is holy — and this congregation here present is holy — not because it is a gathering of the good and the well-behaved, but because it speaks of the triumph of grace in the coming together of strangers and sinners who, miraculously, trust one another enough to join in common repentance and common praise — to express a deep and elusive unity in Jesus Christ, who is our righteousness and our sanctification. Humanly speaking, holiness is always like this: God’s endurance in the middle of our refusal of him, his capacity to meet every refusal with the gift of himself.

So, one vital characteristic of holiness is that it is manifest in the mess of life as well as its glorious moments. One way of exploring what being holy means in practice is to use the framework of the evangelical virtues of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Far from being the preserve of monastics, the virtues are essential to us as people who bear the priestly calling to be holy so that we can enable others to be holy. “We must begin by purifying ourselves before we purify others; we must be instructed to be able to instruct others; we must become light to illuminate others; we must draw close to God to bring God close to others; we must be sanctified to sanctify and lead by the hand and counsel prudently,” said Gregory of Nazianzus in his fourth-century catechism. It is our being, as well as our doing, that is at the heart of our priestly identity and character.

Poverty is usually construed in terms of deficiency or shortage, but it actually has far more to do with simplicity and adequacy. That immediately puts a positive construction on it, freeing us to live gratefully and graciously. Unlike poverty that is enforced rather than chosen and is not a virtue, poverty as a virtue enables us to live with openness to God and to others. Knowing our poverty and being open to God are two sides of the same coin as we come face to face with the truth of ourselves, with our limitations and strengths, our inability to be omnicompetent and our riches in Christ. Acceptance of our limitations is integral to holiness. Quoting Johannes Metz’s book, Poverty of Spirit, in which he suggests that we have only two choices in life — to accept our innate poverty or to be a slave to anxiety — Macrina Wiederkehr observes:

Anxiety robs me of my peace. It comes from forgetting that I am not in control. The moments when I have been most deeply in touch with God are those moments when I have been able to embrace my utter poverty. When I accept my poverty, my total dependence on God, I become vulnerable and God can more easily reach me because I’m not busy resisting being reached. When I am not resisting my poverty, I can more easily experience God in other people also, for I am more willing to allow them to minister to me. I am able to sit at their feet. Until we learn to sit at one another’s feet, we will starve at our lavish banquet tables.

Table of Contents:

Part I: The Root of Priestly Life

One: On being called
Two: On being for the other
Three: On being for God

Part II: The Shape of Priestly Life

Four: On being for worship
Five: On being for the Word
Six: On being for prayer

Part III: The Fruit of Priestly Life

Seven: On being for holiness
Eight: On being for reconciliation
Nine: On being for blessing