Monday, September 04, 2006

The Contemplative Man

I am currently reading the book "The Wounded Healer" by Henri Nouwen and one of the chapters caught my attention. It's called "The Contemplative Man." Here Nouwen speaks of the characteristics of a minister who is able to contemplate his present age with clarity and compassion. He states,

"The contemplative is not needy or greedy for human contacts, but is guided by a vision of what he has seen beyond the trivial concerns of a possessive world. He does not bounce up and down with the fashions of the moment, because he is in contact with what is basic, central and ultimate. He does not allow anybody to worship idols, and he constantly invites his fellow man to ask real, often painful and upsetting questions, to look behind the surface of smooth behaviour, and to take away all the obstacles that prevent him from getting to the heart of the matter. The contemplative critic takes away the illusionary mask of the manipulative world and has the courage to show what the true situation is. He knows that he is considered by many as a fool, a madman, a danger to society and a threat to mankind. But he is not afraid to die, since his vision makes him transcend the difference between life and death and makes him free to do what has to be done here and now, notwithstanding the risks involved."

The above quote (especially the bolded passages) really hit home with me during recent events in my life where I was put in particular situations that I felt were inappropriate and which everyone else believed to be acceptable. Furthermore, when asked why I was not thrilled about the situation, I was chastised for being too radical, too fanatic, and being a "party pooper."

I am finding more and more, as priesthood approaches, that many of the so-called "social norms" of our society are not for me and more and more I am realizing the extreme clericalism that our people impose on their relationships with priests. They believe that priests are the one's who are supposed to be holy and mature, while at the same time exempting themselves from such behaviour as if they were not Orthodox. I found myself recently contemplating why in certain situations (Eg. in the club) it is considered inappropriate for a priest to be present and yet totally acceptable for all other Orthodox Christians to attend. It is inappropriate because what the priest stands for is ultimately incongruent with what the "club life" stands for. And if we are all attempting to be "Christ-like," and the priest is our spiritual leader in that quest, why do we separate our behaviour from his? Why is it OK for us to do things he cannot?

It is truly a daunting task attempting to preach a message that no one wants to listen to. It is even more disheartening when even your closest friends and family don't understand the message either; when they are part of "the illusionary mask of a manipulative world" and they are unable to take that mask off because they have been conditioned to wear it for as long as they can remember. And even when they dare to remove it, their friends make sure to put it back on them immediately.

Henri Nouwen says that such a ministry can only be done with support and never alone. Yet, I see that in our day an age, in many cases, it will have to be done alone because there is no one else to lean on for support. I find the task sometimes too daunting, too disheartening, too difficult , having no one I can turn to except my fellow priests, among who, only a handful understand the true nature of things. The only solace is Christ's words "with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." May He give me the courage to bear the inevitable ostracization that will ensue in my upcoming journey.

1 comment:

Fr. Kosta said...

This post reminded me why I miss having you around.

Since my ordination, it sometimes feels as though the longer I go on with my ministry, the less support I seem to find from some of the sources I relied on the most. At the same time, the more I realize that the only unwavering support I will ever have is Christ Himself.

However, if I may briefly add to your post...

You said, "...only a handful understand the true nature of things." I believe that most priests understand. However, of those that understand, many have chosen to block out this understanding, or have been too preoccupied with the business part of a parish for too long and in too much depth to lift their heads and see what's happening around them.

I have noticed that with many priests, as time goes on, their ministries become less spiritual and more business-like. Without going into too much detail, some of the factors (that I face as a priest every day) which contribute to this change are: the construction/expansion of a church building or another similar project, fear of being transferred if the parish's bank account does not show success (because, God forbid should we measure a priest's success by anything else besides how much money he can bring in), or, priests get too full of themselves, forget they are there to serve, and become dictators instead of spiritual guides. Because of those factors (and many others, I'm sure), competition is created among the clergy, especially in bigger cities, where there are many parishes. Competition not only hinders support between brother priests, but even creates animocity and mistrust between them.

A year and a half into my ministry, I find that I have to constantly be cautious of myself, so I do not fall into that trap. Believe me, sometimes it can be hard, especially as I only have very few people that I can constantly rely on.

I pray that I may find the spiritual strength not to sway from the right path. At least, not too much. After all, I will never be perfect.

Please keep us in your prayers. You are always in ours.