By Porter C. Taylor
Written for Church of the Apostles, KC.

Collect: Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The evangelist and physician, Luke, has provided the church with a wealth of detail, historical context, and beautifully articulated depictions of God’s love for His people and His world. The feast commemorating St. Luke is a wonderful opportunity to explore and celebrate his writings and the collect for the day captures two central themes worthy of deeper examination: “the love and healing power” of Jesus. Year C of the Lectionary, the liturgical year which ends next month, has included a lengthy trek through Luke’s Gospel which will culminate on Christ the King Sunday with the scene of Jesus proclaiming forgiveness from the cross (“Father, forgive them”) and the promise of life after death to the repentant thief. Surely, there can be no better depiction of healing and love than this.

The images of Jesus’ parables in Luke 15 are particularly poignant when considering these twin themes because through the stories we see a God who seeks after the least, the last, and the lost. We find a father running to meet his wayward and rebellious son while he was still a long way off and then throw a party for him, complete with fatted calf and signet ring. Love personified in such a way is overwhelming, it is scandalous; it restores, redeems, and heals.

It would be easy to relegate references of healing in Luke’s gospel to stories of physical being ailments reversed, overturned, and wiped away. However, the deeper layer of truth to Luke’s telling of Jesus’ story is the power of God’s love to heal His people, their land, and His world. Early on in the gospel, we encounter Jesus in the synagogue where He stands up to read a scroll from the prophet Isaiah. The passage depicts the year of the LORD’s favor (jubilee) and Jesus read aloud to those gathered:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The steadfast, unrelenting, covenant love of YHWH for His people can be tangibly and palpably seen through the hope-filled promise of jubilee. Luke’s gospel shows what this healing love looks like in action: friends lowering their lame companion through a roof; a shepherd searching for the one sheep; a woman looking for a lost coin; a Father restoring his son; Jesus dying on the cross and yet forgiving those who were killing him.

The love of Jesus heals more than just the body; it affects the heart, mind, and soul. Our call, as Christians, is to then love God with all our heart, mind, body, soul, and strength and to love our neighbors as well. Through this type of love, we praise God in the fullest and purest sense. Luke’s Gospel invites us into such a loving relationship, it beckons us to die to self, to hear Jesus’ absolution from the cross, and to receive His promise of new life. Luke’s story continues in Acts as we discover the gospel bursting forth into the world through the power of the Holy Spirit and the faithful witness of the disciples, apostles, martyrs (Wednesday was the lesser feast commemorating Ridley, Latimer, and Cranmer who were martyred for their faith in the 16th century), and the early church. This heritage is what should inform us and urge us on toward sharing the love of God with neighbor and stranger alike, just as God has done, is doing, and will continue to do for us.

Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name.

(Note: The Eastern Orthodox Church recognizes St. Luke as the original iconographer. Here’s an interesting article attributing several icons of Mary to him.)

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“Poignantly Poetic” is the section of the blog devoted to the promotion and curation of poetry. Anglicanism has a long, rich history of poetry, far beyond the development of the Psalter and Book of Common Prayer. This new series seeks to offer a platform for Christian poets interested in sharing their work.

A poem by Jacob Graudin

The sun already risen, still I wait towards the east,
My mouth mumbles a liturgy mixed up with other forms.
In retrograde, my memory anticipates the feast.

My eyes have trouble focusing; I could have used more sleep.
My knees are quickly soring on the rigid kneeler-board.
The sun already risen, still I wait towards the east.

Again, I hear the beckon, ‘in remembrance of me,’
And in a mass I see the broken cup, the bread outpoured.
In retrograde, my memory anticipates the feast.

Then I remember forward, joined to those surrounding me:
All history sinistroversely read, Semitic lore.
The sun already risen, still we wait towards the east.

This world resounds: the elements converge upon one Priest,
Whose cupping hands communicate these gifts to be reborn.
In retrograde, our memory anticipates the feast.

Real presence of the grape and grain, we taste and then we see.
Our hopes renewed, our ears unstopped, we listen for the door.
The sun already risen, still we wait towards the east,
In retrograde, our memory anticipates the feast.

Jacob Graudin is a layman in the Anglican Church of North America and worships with his wife at Christ Church Anglican in South Bend, Indiana. Originally hailing from Charleston, SC, where he grew up and worked in the Episcopal Diocese, he is dedicated to discovering and expressing the fullness of beauty in the doctrine, liturgy, and art of the Anglican tradition.

By Porter C. Taylor

I have never been a fan of the sound of my own voice. For those who know me as someone who preaches, teaches, or talks about Manchester United and literary fiction, this may come as a bit of a surprise. I tend to use more words in a day than most people do in a week.

As I was driving away from Holy Cross Anglican Church in Loganville, GA during the summer of 2006, I thought it might be a good idea to listen to my recently recorded (and first ever) sermon. I put the CD into the disc drive in my Nissan Sentra–yes, I am that old–and waited for the audio to begin. This was my first mistake…

The opportunity to preach a sermon for the first time on a Sunday morning had been overwhelming. My previous speaking experiences had come within the context of youth ministry, but this sermon was to be one of my final acts as part of my summer employment. I had big plans for the sermon: I was going to re-write the Nicene Creed satirically and had dubbed the rendition “The Doubters Creed.” Rebecca gave me a loving and necessary nudge in the right direction and I abandoned my 20-year-old-know-it-all-full-of-arrogance plans and returned to the lectionary texts.

I preached at both services that morning with family, friends, and students from the youth group in attendance. I was nervous and excited and full of questions. What do you do with your hands? Should I stand still or move around? What if my voice cracks and I fall down the chancel steps and what if…? You can see how my mind was firing on all cylinders.

So, when I walked past the table outside of the Nave on the following Sunday, I was delightedly surprised to find a CD with my name on it. I grabbed the disc and immediately put it into the drive to accompany me on my 30-minute trek home.

Spoiler: I did not listen for long.

My voice came on through the speaker system in my Nissan and I was horrified. Is that how I really sound? Is that what my voice actually sounds like in real life? My ears were so attuned to the noises coming through the recording that I was distracted from everything else around me…including the pickup truck in front of me which had come to a stop (along with the rest of traffic). I did not stop my car until I had hit the rear of his bumper.

Yes, friends, that’s right: I was so anxious and disturbed by the sound of my own voice that I had a fender bender in the church parking lot.

Moving beyond that embarrassing and non-ticket-able-moment, I had the joyful privilege of recording two podcast episodes which went live last week. The first to “drop” was my segment on The Podluck Podcast with Megan Westra. I was asked to answer the question, “What does it mean to be saved?” in 20 minutes or less. A dangerous task because remember, I like using words. I opted to answer the question from the angle of narrative theology. You can listen to the whole episode.

The second podcast episode to go live was my interview with Ian Lasch of All Things Rite and Musical regarding the #schmemannvolume (We Give Our Thanks Unto Thee). Ian and I had a great time talking all things liturgical theology, Schmemann, and prayer book. You can listen to it here.

I would love for you to listen to both of these episodes, but reader-turned-listener beware: my voice can sometimes lead to parking lot fender benders. Listen at your own risk. Buckle your seat belt. Keep both eyes on the road. Let the dulcet tones overwhelm you…happy listening!

“Poignantly Poetic” is the section of the blog devoted to the promotion and curation of poetry. Anglicanism has a long, rich history of poetry, far beyond the development of the Psalter and Book of Common Prayer. This new series seeks to offer a platform for Christian poets interested in sharing their work.

Poem by Chad Bird

Good Friday
 
That head, which angels with ceaseless praise adorn,
            Is pierced with crowded thorns.
That face, which our God with grace and beauty lit,
            Is marred by sinners’ spit.
Those eyes, outshining the sun’s most piercing light,
            Are dull as sable night.
Those ears, accustomed to praise from heaven’s host,
            Must hear his haters boast.
That mouth, whose wisdom the wisest could enthrall,
            Tastes vinegar and gall.
Those feet, whose footstool is this terrestrial sphere,
            To bloody wood adhere.
Those hands, which stretched out the heavens like a tent,
            By spikes in twain are rent.
That tongue, uninjured, shall cry from that cursed tree,
            A prayer of love for me.
 
*Based on “An Exercise of Repentance from our Lord’s Passion”
in the Sacred Meditations of Johann Gerhard.

Chad Bird holds master’s degrees from Concordia Theological Seminary and Hebrew Union College. He draws upon his expertise as a former professor of OT and Hebrew to cohost the podcast, “40 Minutes in the OT.” Chad has authored several books, including his latest, Upside-Down Spirituality: The 9 Essential Failures of a Faithful Life. He has written for Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, and elsewhere. He and his wife, Stacy, have four children and two grandchildren.

A poem by Chad Bird. “Poignantly Poetic” is the section of the blog devoted to the promotion and curation of poetry. Anglicanism has a long, rich history of poetry, far beyond the development of the Psalter and Book of Common Prayer. This new series seeks to offer a platform for Christian poets interested in sharing their work.

Lord, Thee I Love with Half My Heart
 
Lord, Thee I love with half my heart.
The world has claimed the other part.
I pray Thy name be hallowed, Lord,
But want my name to be adored.
Thy kingdom come, Thy reign extend,
And rain on me wealth without end.
Thy will be done, my lips shall pray
And curse when I don’t get my way.
I thank Thee for my daily bread,
But cakes and steaks I crave instead.
My million sins forgive, forget,
While I collect a one-cent debt.
From tempting evils keep us free
Unless I find they pleasure me.
Lord, Thee I love with half my heart.
Destroy, reclaim, the other part.

Chad Bird holds master’s degrees from Concordia Theological Seminary and Hebrew Union College. He draws upon his expertise as a former professor of OT and Hebrew to cohost the podcast, “40 Minutes in the OT.” Chad has authored several books, including his latest, Upside-Down Spirituality: The 9 Essential Failures of a Faithful Life. He has written for Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, and elsewhere. He and his wife, Stacy, have four children and two grandchildren.

By Porter C. Taylor

The liturgical year presents the Church with many opportunities to reflect upon Christ’s work on the cross. On Good Friday we are invited to meditate upon the agony and pain, the love and obedience, the silence and awe of His crucifixion. One typically leaves the Good Friday liturgy full of sorrow and torment mixed with thanksgiving for God’s unrelenting love. We then return to the cross, in a way, on Easter as we come to flower the cross with our own blooms and blossoms, celebrating that what was intended for evil by man was ultimately used for good by God for the life of the whole world.

The cross is everywhere around us, and yet I wonder if we, both culturally and as a church, have become blind to its meaning and power. Is it possible that we have simultaneously become both desensitized to the brutality of Jesus’s execution and overly personalized/privatized the crucifixion (i.e. saying “Christ died for me”) that we have neglected the redeeming work accomplished on Calvary? We throw around the idea of “taking up our cross” and following Jesus as though we have forgotten what that meant for Him, and for His disciples, and ultimately for us. As with many things in our faith, the cross presents us with a paradox, for it is at once both a symbol of death and life, of agony and glory, of defeat and victory. The Feast of the Holy Cross is therefore an opportunity to think, reflect, and celebrate this paradox.

The Collect provides us with the guidance we need to read our lessons and understand the meaning of the Feast: “whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow Him.” Here we find both the universal and the particular co-mingling in the same sentence; Jesus is drawing the whole world to Himself, and we are called to take up our cross and follow Him. There is a connection here between the once and for all nature of Jesus’ passion and our invitation to live as a cross-shaped people.

Lifted High

The Bible is teeming with references to the Son of Man being lifted high for all to see. Our lessons for this Feast include Isaiah 45 and John 12 as examples of this, but we might also remember Moses raising the bronze snake in the Exodus story and then Jesus echoing this story when he said that he must be lifted up in the same manner. Jesus said, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” John’s gospel is richly imbibed with a theme we might summarize as “God is glorified in Christ crucified” and these passages point to the power Jesus’ crucifixion holds for all who believe.

As Paul reminds us in his epistle to the church in Philippi, Jesus went to the cross willingly, obediently, and faithfully. He did not end up on the cross as some sort of accident or coincidence; He was neither outsmarted by the religious leaders of the day nor caught while trying to escape. Jesus set His gaze like flint toward Jerusalem and then journeyed directly to the cross for the sins and life of the whole world. The cross is both the reminder of humanity’s wayward desire to life apart from God and the fullest expression of God’s self-emptying love for His creation. In order to view the cross as a symbol of discipleship, we must first see the cross as the place where our Savior willingly died that all might know God; that is, we cannot have an empty and clean cross without first embracing the cross with Jesus dying upon it.

Taking Up Your Cross

The invitation to take up your cross is not cheap. Culturally we have become so flippant with our references that it is common to equate a personal disagreement or verbal attack with the crucifixion. And yet, the apostles carried their crosses unto death; the martyrs and saints of the last 2000 years have done the same. To take up our cross is to similarly set our gaze like flint toward whatever your horizon the Lord is calling us and to journey there intentionally and with God’s love, compassion, mercy, grace, and mission overflowing from our hearts. As they say in AA meetings, “It’s simple, but it isn’t easy.”

A Christian who has been shaped by the cross is a person ready to lift that cross even higher that others might see Jesus and turn to him, as well. The cross we are called to bear is not an inconvenience or annoyance to which we can say, “We all have our crosses to bear…” as though putting a theological bow on it will somehow make it more palatable. The cross we are called to bear is the cross of Christ, nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else. Think about Simon the Cyrene who carried the cross for Jesus when He could no longer do so himself: Simon had to follow Jesus all the way to Golgotha with the cross on his back…how far are we willing to carry the cross?

Challenge

Here at COTA we have been blessed by the beautiful processional cross created for us by our own Tom McDonald. We bow when the cross processes past us as the verger carries it into the nave and again out into the world. If you are intentionally attentive, then you will notice the handle on the cross changes based on the liturgical season, a visible symbol of the tenor and theme at hand: penance, glory, ordinary time, etc. Allow yourself to be drawn in by the colors as you meditate upon Christ’s work. Allow yourself to be arrested by the image of Christ upon the cross, forcing yourself to gaze upon Him a second longer than you would normally do. Let the Feast of the Holy Cross be both a reminder of Jesus’ passion and of your invitation to take up the cross and follow Jesus daily, wherever He might lead you.

This was originally written for and published by our parish blog – Church of the Apostles, Kansas City – where I serve as Assisting Priest and Theologian in Residence. You can read it here.

“Poignantly Poetic” is the section of the blog devoted to the promotion and curation of poetry. Anglicanism has a long, rich history of poetry, far beyond the development of the Psalter and Book of Common Prayer. This new series seeks to offer a platform for Christian poets interested in sharing their work.

A poem by Clinton Collister.

“The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene”

“I see you’re reading Origen,” he said, 
And asked me to go out with him for lunch. 
A coder in ball cap, who spoke in blocks, 
He told the tale of when his grandma kept
Him Cooped up in her home for three long months. 
“I loathed her wooden cross and her old prayers, 
So I sought out the ghosts on my same side.”
They possessed me like light and cosmic truth
And when they left, I never felt the same.”
The pool balls cracked as Neil confessed and drank,
And my thumb moved from knot to knot in shock. 
“I could not make them speak to me again,
But I now felt the need for death or joy.
You call men like us players or artists.
Well, it’s a numbers game, and I asked hundreds.”
I sipped my beer and schemed to leave the hall.
“Yes, if there is lead in the air, you’re dangerous.”
I offered, paraphrasing my uncle’s
Go to advice for hunters and for basement
Dwellers. Then I put down cash and escaped
Outside into the cool September breeze. 

Clinton Collister studies theology and poetry at the Institute for Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at The University of St. Andrews and edits the Poets’ Corner at The North American Anglican. His articles have appeared at Forward in Christ, Front Porch Republic, and Solidarity Hall. He and Sarah live in Guardbridge and attend All Saints. You can hear them share their love of poetry on their podcast, Poetry for the People.

“Poignantly Poetic” is the section of the blog devoted to the promotion and curation of poetry. Anglicanism has a long, rich history of poetry, far beyond the development of the Psalter and Book of Common Prayer. This new series seeks to offer a platform for Christian poets interested in sharing their work.

Poems by Chad Bird

Hope Unveiled

As sure as the sun’s rise dispels sable night,
With plow-like rays, unearthing dawn’s light,
When yesterday’s darkness enshrouds today’s face,
Hope shall unveil tomorrow’s bright grace.

O Swaddled God

O swaddled God within a manger throne,
Blood of my heart and marrow of my bone,
Suffuse all you are in all that is me,
That I become what you’ve made me to be.

Chad Bird holds master’s degrees from Concordia Theological Seminary and Hebrew Union College. He draws upon his expertise as a former professor of OT and Hebrew to cohost the podcast, “40 Minutes in the OT.” Chad has authored several books, including his latest, Upside-Down Spirituality: The 9 Essential Failures of a Faithful Life. He has written for Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, and elsewhere. He and his wife, Stacy, have four children and two grandchildren.

This is Andrew Russell’s third installment in his mini-series on Anglican Spiritual Formation for our “Ecclesia Anglicana” series.

“There is a certain resemblance between the unity of the divine persons and the fraternity that men are to establish among themselves in truth and love. Love of neighbor is inseparable from love for God.”

Though this comes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it rings true for Anglicanism as well. Christianity has always been communal, and the depiction of the Church in Acts confirms this: “The whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.”  Christ is to be found on earth in his body, which is the Church, and there are no Christians who exist apart from the Church (though it is true, of course, that in some cases a Christian may not have physical access to a local body of believers).

Practically, Christian community is important for the building up of fellow believers and for providing loving instruction and, when necessary, correction. Anglicans are committed to caring for their brothers and sisters, even when it is uncomfortable. This comes from a long tradition that began in the monasteries, communities in which Christians submitted themselves to the loving authority of the abbot. St. Benedict’s Rule, the golden standard of Christian communal structure and a deeply influential one in the English monastic tradition, highlights this function of community in its preface: “Therefore we intend to establish a school for the Lord’s service. In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome. The good of all concerned, however, may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and to safeguard love.”  Anglicans believe that submission to ecclesial authority is beneficial for spiritual formation.

The unique contribution of Anglicanism to spiritual life, however, is the emphasis on the spiritual director-directee relationship. Not only is a right relationship to the community at large necessary for the Christian life, but an intimate relationship with an older, wiser mentor is also invaluable for the development of Christian character. The English monastic tradition understood the importance of this, as even many of those who dedicated themselves to the solitary religious life served as spiritual directors for the laity in their area (St. Julian of Norwich is probably the most famous example).

Spiritual directors help parishioners with their individual struggles, encourage them in their individual victories, and provide for their spiritual needs. Their primary role, however, is to guide the parishioner in her understanding of Christian doctrine and to help her integrate her theology into her prayer life (see my first post for Martin Thornton’s definition of spiritual formation). This, of course, includes theological education—and this must never be downplayed in a discussion on spiritual formation! In a day and age when people are looking for immediate “practical application,” we do well to remember that all theology is practical. What we believe deeply impacts how we live our lives.

One of the most significant ways this theological instruction will express itself in the life of the faithful is an encouragement to practice spiritual disciplines—the Daily Office, personal reflection on God’s character and activity throughout the day, silence, solitude, fasting, confession of sin, etc. It is the role of the spiritual director to hold those under her care accountable for practicing the disciplines, to help them practice the disciplines fruitfully, and to assign or suggest appropriate disciplines for them at times in which they may benefit most from their practice. In this way, Anglicans assure that each member of the congregation receives appropriate and beneficial care and further “equip the saints for the work of ministry,” as Paul describes in his letter to the Ephesians.

Though the implementation of this vision has not been perfect in the local church, the Anglican vision of spiritual formation via spiritual direction is consistent with the biblical witness and most effectively contributes to parishioners’ growth and ministry in the Church. Robert Mulholland, author of Invitation to a Journey, has described spiritual formation as “a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.”  Anglicans agree with this, but we also insist that this definition does not go far enough. Spiritual formation is not only an individual enterprise; it is intimately connected to the work of the Church and must not be separated from the liturgical and sacramental worship of the Body of Christ (as I discussed in my last post).

It is only through participation in the Mystical Body of Christ that the Christian grows in godly love, wisdom, and holiness. We need each other—our spiritual brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, and all the faithful who have gone before us—to live the Christian life. If you do not have a spiritual director, I strongly encourage you to seek one out. I can personally attest that it is one of the most important relationships I have had in my life as a Christian. God made his Church to be a community—a family of adopted sons and daughters who support, guide, and encourage each other on their path to final union with God in the new heavens and the new earth. Without our community, we cannot live as God intended us to live, but perhaps even more importantly we cannot fully express the image of the God who created us, the one God who exists as a community of three persons.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Next time, we will discuss why the Trinity is central to an Anglican understanding of spiritual formation. Until then, I’ll leave you with a collect that helps us thank God for our Christian community and ask him to help us strengthen each other:

Almighty God, by your Holy Spirit you have made us one with your saints in heaven and on earth: Grant that in our earthly pilgrimage we may always be supported by this fellowship of love and prayer, and know ourselves to be surrounded by their witness to your power and mercy; for the sake of Jesus Christ, in whom all our intercessions are acceptable through the Spirit, and who lives and reigns with you for ever and ever. Amen.

Andrew Russell is an M.Div. candidate at Beeson Divinity School. He is an ordination candidate in the Anglican Diocese of the South and hopes to serve the Church as a parish priest. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with his wife, Anna. Follow him on Twitter: @andrew_05.

This post is part of “Ecclesia Anglicana,” a series devoted to all topics pertaining to Anglicanism. This contribution is by Trystan Owain Hughes, Tutor in Applied Theology at St Padarn’s, Cardiff, Wales, UK. Stay tuned for more!

In recent years, the identity and distinctiveness of priesthood has been questioned. In functional terms, it has long been recognized that priests require certain gifts and talents to minister effectively. Vocations advisors and directors of ordinands will suggest texts to candidates that list these functions. Such lists can seem daunting to those exploring a call to ordination. In John Pritchard’s The Life and Work of a Priest, one of the principal texts given to candidates exploring ordained ministry in the Church of England and in the Church in Wales, sixteen distinct functional roles are presented, including “creative leader”, “faith coach”, “wounded companion”, and “spiritual explorer”. Traditionally, theological models of priesthood have grown out of a consideration of such functions. By doing so, such models often forged an ontology of priesthood.

During the twentieth century, in the UK at least, the model growing in prominence was the priest as, primarily, a pastoral care giver. In some ecclesial and theological circles, though, there was a sense of uncertainty about this model, with the question posed how much its functional roles actually differ from counseling and social work. By the time I went through the discernment process in the late 1990s, Anglican Churches had moved to regarding the principal role of a priest as an empowerer – a nurturer of the gifts of others. Before my own selection board, one priest even said to me: “as long as you slip in the word ‘enabler’ at least six times, you’ll sail through”! The concept of enabler certainly fits neatly into the contemporary emphasis on collaboration and the flourishing of lay ministries. However, questions should still be asked about the primacy of this model. It is, after all, weak in terms of its sacramental rooting and it could lead to priests becoming glorified creative administrators or, worse still, simply talent-spotters. As such, it is difficult to forge an ontology of priesthood from this model alone.

Towards a New Model

With such uncertainties in theological and ecclesial circles surrounding models of priesthood, it is little wonder that so many candidates struggle to articulate why they feel called to ordained ministry, despite the fact that most of them have read the classic texts of discernment and vocation. The purpose and nature of priesthood certainly needs more thought and clarity. In an issue of The Furrow in 1995, the Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, Robert Barron suggests a model that is both culturally relevant and spiritually uplifting, as well as firmly rooted in tradition and scripture. It is also a model that could appeal to the plethora of churchpersonships and traditions that make up the Anglican Communion. It can be summed up as the priest as “a bearer of mystery”.

Barron begins his exploration of this model by describing the fundamental loss of confidence within the priesthood in recent years. He attributes this to an underdeveloped and negative theology of ministry. As a result, priests have lost confidence in themselves and their identity, leading to a lack focus and orientation. While he is writing from his own particular ecclesial context, the loss of joy and hope, along with the increase of pessimism and cynicism, is reflective of some areas of our own denomination. Rooted in that same loss of priestly identity is the superior, and sometimes arrogant, attitude that is found in other areas of our Communion, which looks down condescendingly on what is perceived as the lack of zeal and spiritual fervor of other clergy.

To counter the loss of priestly confidence and identity, Barron therefore presents an image that he believes captures the unique and indispensable quality of a priest. The term “mystagogue” was used in the early church with relation to bringing catechumens into the faith. Barron chooses this word to flesh out the priest’s role in bringing the mystery of God’s being to people’s troubled lives. In other words, the priest’s role is to notice, to announce, or to bring God’s love, hope, peace, and compassion to individuals and communities. He roots this in Thomas Aquinas’s analogia entis, whereby we come to know and experience God through his creation – we experience the otherly-other Being through the very tangible being of this world.

In this model, the overriding call of priesthood is to explore and grasp the mystery and then initiate others into it – opening eyes to God’s presence, ears to God’s call, hearts to God’s love, and ways to God’s will. It is in this context that Theilard De Chardin described the priest as a “border walker”, bringing those on earth closer to the kingdom. They stand at the boundaries between the commonplace and the sacred, thus offering the possibility of relationship with the divine. Priests are, therefore, interpreters of Manley-Hopkins’s “grandeur of God”, Von Balthasar’s “patterns of grace”, and Philip Yancey’s “rumours of another world”. They hold, to use William Blake’s phrase, “infinity in the palm of their hand and eternity in an hour” and offer this to those to whom they are ministering.

Incarnation and Mystery

This model is profoundly incarnational in its scope. Paul Tillich describes preaching as “holding up a picture of Christ”. The mystagogue’s task is related to this image – it is the art of bringing Jesus down to earth by displaying of the wonder, inspiration, and complexity of his icon. We do this through our words, but also through our lives. Meister Eckhart pointed out that the incarnation is worthless and pointless if the Word is not also born in Christians. By stating that “the Word was made flesh” (John 1.14), the Gospel writer uses the inceptive aorist Greek tense which implies an action that has started in the past but is continuing into the present. The phrase might rather be translated as ‘the Word started to become flesh’. Thus, the Word continues to become flesh, even today, as Christians acknowledge that “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). The priestly calling is rooted in this and, in this sense at least, all church traditions will be able to affirm the priest as “in persona Christi”. The model of the bearer of mystery therefore allows us model ourselves on the Jesus of the gospels, bringing to our congregations as many questions as we provide answers, telling as many stories as we affirm facts, and challenging as much as we give comfort.

Yet, more than this, this ministry is a paradoxical process of being Christ to people we already regard as Christ. Cistercian Charles de Foucault regarded the recognition that all people are “the greatest treasure of all, Jesus himself” as integral to the priesthood. Likewise, in light of the radical incarnational call of Matthew 25, Alan Ecclestone went as far as to challenge his fellow priests to consider where they bow at the end of each service. They should, he suggested, be bowing where they truly believe Christ is. Rather than bowing to the altar or the host, he urged them to consider bowing to their congregations, where the real body of Christ resides and where the physical real presence is found. With the model of the priest as a bearer of mystery, then, we are compelled to see Christ in both ourselves and others, whoever they may be and however different they are to us.

Sacraments and Mystery

This model of priesthood is also sacramental to the core. On one hand, priests become witnesses to the wonder of the traditional sacraments, leading others beyond physical matter to spiritual beauty and benefit – to see beyond bread and wine to Christ’s body and blood, beyond the font to the transformational water of life, beyond the temporary joy of a wedding day to a spiritual covenant, and so on. On the other hand, priests become living sacraments themselves. They do this by, firstly, demonstrating, through words and deeds, God’s excessive and unreasonable love and compassion. To use Philip Yancey’s words, priests need to show people “what’s so amazing about grace”.

Secondly, though, priests become living sacraments by bringing others into engagement with the beauty and wonder of the whole gamut of human experience – theology, literature, film, music, nature, laughter, ecology, spirituality, art, architecture, poetry, and so on. G.K. Chesterton wrote that to see the world properly one must stand on one’s head. The priest’s role is to stand on her or his head, beckoning others to do the same and so to share this distinct, awe-inspiring, and life-giving vision of the world around. It is helping others to recognise the pearl of great price in their seemingly ordinary everyday routines. Karl Rahner, himself often referred to as a ‘mystic of everyday life’, pointed out the importance of leading Christians to God’s active grace in creation, his self-communication in the midst of our everyday lives. This is, to use the words of R.S. Thomas, “the turning aside like Moses to the miracle of the lit bush, to a brightness that seemed as transitory as your youth once, but is the eternity that awaits you”. Furthermore, there is also a healing aspect to this call to, in the words of Alan Billings, “make God possible”. After all, love, compassion, wisdom, and beauty are not only mystery bearing, but also profoundly healing. Barron employs the ancient term doctor animarum (doctor of the soul) to develop this aspect of priesthood and relates it directly to the priest’s pastoral calling.

To truly live out this model, though, priests themselves need time and space to connect with God and to engage with, and theologically reflect on, wider culture. The pace of modern ordained ministry, much of which is either non-stipendiary or encompasses the demands of diocesan or provincial roles alongside parish work, rarely allows enough time for study, contemplation, and prayer, thus making St Paul’s command to pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:16) seem a mere aspiration to most clergy.

Bearer of Mystery

With Anglican Churches embracing the healthy process of commissioning and licensing lay people for various roles, it is imperative that we ensure that the priestly role is not devalued. Embracing the model of the bearer of mystery may help give further life and purpose to priestly ministry, as well as to our ordinands and ordination candidates. Priests should certainly never be placed on a spiritual pedestal or elevated over and above the laity. No parts of the body should be elevated above the body itself (1 Corinthians 12). However, there has to be something unique and distinctive about priestly ministry. The concept of priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5) reflects that all Christians share something of the role of Mystagogue, but to the priest this is more than a role or function. Through ordination, it becomes a way of being.

While there is, then, no ideal model for which we can forge an ontology of priesthood, Barron’s work does provide us with a model that is both relevant to our times and rooted in the past. It also has the potential to inspire those who may feel the oars of priesthood have been lost on the shores of our rapidly changing culture. Furthermore, this model has the benefit of being accessible to all backgrounds and traditions. John Wesley once described himself as a preacher who set himself on fire and allowed people to watch him burn. This is at the root of this model of priesthood. The primary function of the priest, writes Barron, is not to preach, minister, or counsel. In fact, no function can define or confine priesthood. Rather, a priest is someone who is set on fire to the depths of their being by the mystery of God and then beckons others to draw near and be warmed or set alight by the flame.

Trystan Owain Hughes is Tutor of Applied Theology and Director of the MTh (Theology) at St Padarn’s Institute, Wales, UK and priest-in-charge of Christ Church, Roath Park, Cardiff, Wales. Previously he has been Chaplain at Cardiff University, Director of Ordinands at Llandaff Diocese, and Head of Theology at Trinity University College, Carmarthen. His theological training included extended placements in an asylum seekers deportation centre, an Oxford University college, and a large episcopal church in Washington DC. Trystan has attained an MTh from Oxford University and a PhD in church history from the University of Wales, Bangor. He is the author of Winds of Change: The Roman Catholic Church and Society in Wales 1916-1962 (UWP, 1999), Finding Hope and Meaning in Suffering (SPCK, 2010), The Compassion Quest (SPCK 2014), Real God in the Real World (BRF, 2014), and Living the Prayer (BRF, 2017). He has also been a regular voice on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Prayer for the Day’ and BBC Radio 2’s ‘Pause for Thought’ and was on the theological commission that assists the bench of Welsh Bishops for over 10 years. He is presently a member of the Church in Wales Evangelism Fund Committee, appointed as a cleric who has seen considerable growth in his parish in the past five years.