July 17, 2006

It’s Not Easy Being Pope

“Mortal, I have set you as a watchman to the house of Israel.” Note that Ezekiel, the one the Lord sent to preach the word, is called “a watchman.” A watchman or sentinel takes a post on the highest point, in order to see whoever may be coming from a distance. Similarly, anyone appointed watchman to a congregation should live a “higher” life so as to keep all things in sight.

As I say these words, I realize I am reproaching myself. For I do not preach as I ought, nor does my personal example accord with these principles that I’m preaching even now. I can’t deny my guilt, for I’ve become lethargic and negligent in my work; though perhaps by recognizing my failure I’ll win some sympathy and pardon from the judge. Before I started this work, while living in a religious community, I was able to refrain from talking about idle topics and to devote my mind devotedly to prayer. Since taking up this new pastoral position, I have been unable to concentrate on prayer, because I’m so distracted by my responsibilities.

For example, I have to consider questions about churches and communities and make assessments about people’s lives and acts. One minute I’m involved with a public policy issue, and the next minute I have to worry over outside threats to the well-being of the church under my care. I have to accept a public role in political matters in order to support good government. I have to bear patiently with law-breakers, and then confront them with an attitude of charity.

I am split and torn to pieces by the variety of weighty things on my mind. When I try to concentrate and pull myself together to preach, I feel inadequate to that sacred task. I am often compelled by the nature of my position to associate with worldly people, and sometimes I become casual in my speech; because if I spoke my conscience dictates with all formality, I know some of them would simply drop me and that I could never influence them towards the goal I desire for them. So I endure their aimless chatter in patience. Then, because I am weak myself I am drawn gradually into idle chitchat — and I find myself saying the kind of thing that before I didn’t even want to listen to! I’ve come to relish wallowing where once I would have been ashamed to stray by accident.

What kind of a watchman am I? Far from the heights to which I aspire, I am constrained by my weakness. And yet — the one who created me and redeemed me and all humanity can give me, even in my unworthiness, some grace to glimpse the whole of life, and the skill and ability to speak of what I see. So it is for the love of God that I do not spare myself in preaching.

— Gregory the Great, from a sermon on the Book of Ezekiel


Closed said...

Fr. Tobias,

Abba Gregory is of course to me an example of how to consider doing inculturation well in his instructions to Augustine of Canterbury. He's to my mind an example of the via media, as would expect from a good Benedictine monastic.

I've been in conversation with folks like Fr. Knisley, and though I've just posted some thoughts on this myself, I would be curious if you could elaborate further about some things you've posted on before: reception within catholic tradition and consensus.

It seems to me that what is being talked about with regard to consensus means unanimity or complete agreement (as guarantor of not being in error), and this seems to me a standard which we cannot apply to many other things else in our Communion, some things of a much higher order than homosexuality or same gender affectional relationships.

Also, it seems to me, in conversation with works like those of Alan Bray, Mark Jordan, and Frank Senn, and of course primary sources, that this seeming insistence on historical coherence and consistency on this matter is quite modern and modernist in ways that betray the real complexities and inconsistencies and differences within the Great Tradition around a variety of pastoral theological/moral matters. Why is it here that we must move toward what seems to be an unanimity?

I think, for example, of the radical revision in a very short period of time that the Anglican Communion did around contraception with nary the type of theological reflection we would expect when reassessing nearly 2000 years of tradition around sex that even in the likes of Luther is reticent to divorce procreation from sex on purpose. Why is this radical revision not questioned? This says nothing of my agreement or not, but with the process and lack it would seem of rich reasoned theological discourse. Am I missing something?

What I think most fascinating is the Enlightenment and modern division of the secular and the ecclesial and the slow but steady clericalisation of marriage may in fact be undone by lgbt Christians should an in the meantime insistence on "consensus" be that which drives pastoral responses in terms of rites or not. Which wouldn't be a bad thing in my opinion.

Closed said...

My first portion is up: An Act of Uniformity: Shall We Finally Have Our Trent?

Anonymous said...

Am I alone in having read this passage personally?

I started reading, thinking this was a confession of Br Tobias', feeling myself drawn into the feelings described, seeing my own falling-short, commiserating with my brother, then, just a paragraph before the end, seeing the attribution to St Gregory... and suddenly finding it hard to finish!

How is this? Somehow "Religious are just like the rest of us" is somehow more comforting than "Doctors of the Church are just like the rest of us"? Or is it that I can hear such words from a pastor of a multicultural Epsicopal Church in the Bronx, and not from a sainted Bishop of Rome>

I wish I knew.

Austin, TX

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Oriscus,
I did indeed put this citation up because it reflects my own feelings sometimes: the tensions and strains, but also the hopes, and ultimately the realization that God gives the grace to do what needs to be done. It is when I try simply to rely on myself that I find myself most stressed; but when I rely on God I find there is always more: just like that loaves and fishes experience, or the wine at Cana. God is abundant.

The fact that I could stumble on this text in the writings of my "patron" make it all the more relevant -- but the sentiment is what counts, I think, and the trust in God, whether it comes from the Bronx or the Vatican!