A Vade-mecum for Priests
Review by Fr. Peter Edwards, Cong. Orat.
The Rule of St Augustine, that of St Benedict, and Pope St Gregory the Great’s lesser known ‘Pastoral Rule’, have set a certain genre which is mirrored even in the modern Rule of Taizé and is reflected in Fr. Michael Woodgate’s helpful CTS booklet A Rule of Life which guides the composition of a personal Rule for people in any state of life. A Rule for the Clergy is quite different from all of the above and - for those who might be led by the title to expect something along those classical lines - will be a disappointment. Its subtitle ‘Meditations on Ordained Pastoral Ministry’ more accurately describes what it sets out to do, in which it covers a fair field and follows the format of Fr. Gerard Bogan’s other CTS booklet A-Z of Spiritual Living.
Prayer and Pastoral Activity
In his preface the author refers to the original title of the Rule of Taizé, ‘A Parable of Community’, as ‘an encouragement for the Brothers in their search for God as part of a community of faith’. It is this which gave him the inspiration for this book, in which he offers short but comprehensive coverage of many aspects of prayer and pastoral activity, drawn from his personal experience, and presented in an engaging manner.
The thirty-eight brief chapters treat Action & Contemplation, Administration & Finance, Alone with the Alone, Building on Each Other’s Work, Celebrating Sacraments, Celibacy, Confession and Spiritual Direction, Creative Space, Daily Mass and Prayer without the Priest, Deacons, Developing a Culture of Space, Devotions, Divine Office, Ecumenical Relations, Finding Silence, Free Time, Homiletics, Identifying Gifts, Leader or Servant, Lectio Divina as a Model for Ministry, Mary the Contemplative, Mysticism and the Saints, Obedience, Open Church, Pastoral Planning, Personal Prayer, Preferential Option for the Poor, Priest or Minister, Prophecy not Survival, Schools of Prayer, Searching for God, Simplicity & Marginality, Stabilitas, Study & Reading, Sunday Mass, Visiting the Sick & Housebound, We are the Same but Different, and Young People. Each chapter is less than two (A6) pages, except for four pages each on Silence, Lectio Divina, Prophecy, and Searching for God.
‘Whoever directs his own spiritual life has a fool for a director’ - a maxim variously attributed to Cassian, St Bernard of Clairvaux and St Philip Neri – should encourage us all to seek out a Spiritual Director. This little book could serve as a useful vade mecum for topic-by-topic discussion with one’s Spiritual Director, or could be recommended for such a purpose to a priest’s own clergy penitents, or his spiritual directees.
The thought-provoking and refreshing reflections help the reader to re-examine our own prayerful and pastoral practices and what we draw from these experiences. Fr. Bogan encourages priests and deacons, for example, to see Spiritual Direction as ‘an important element in our journeying into the depths of God’s love’; and wisely
advises that ‘if our pastoral ministry is so busy at the expense of our search for God, then we need to re-balance things.’
Time to Challenge
His longer section on Silence sees us as ‘people ready for transformation. No longer distracted by our escapist media, we can be attacked by demons. They do not bother us when we are living on the surface; however, once we attempt to move deeper, they target us.’ He encourages us to ‘live with as much silence as possible’, and provides practical hints from Thomas Merton and a Buddhist monk. Perhaps prophetically he says: ‘Maybe we have passed the time of trying to fit in with the wider society, telling ourselves that in such a way we might bring influence to bear. Maybe now is the time to challenge the wider society with our simplicity, with our marginal living. Then this form of asceticism might proclaim the Gospel in a fresh way to a world lost in pleasure seeking.’
Quotations and Prayers
Addressing the wide variety of circumstances in which Priests and Deacons engage day by day, Fr. Bogan both reassures and challenges us in our search for God, and in doing his will. He reminds us of familiar ground, while pointing us to see beyond the immediate. Each section concludes with a related quotation or prayer from such as St John of the Cross (2) St Paul VI St John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis, St Teresa of Calcutta, the Atlas Martyrs, Henri Nouwen (3), Jean Venier (3), Thomas Merton (2), Br Roger of Taize (3), Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Rowan Williams, Edward Schillebeeckx,
T. S. Eliot, Karl Rahner, R. S. Thomas, and the Congregation for the Clergy (2). On one of his summer visits to Taizé the author composed twenty ‘Prayers of Wonder’ which feature as a supplement.
‘I am advocating’, he says in conclusion, ‘that we keep looking afresh at traditional practices. I am not, however, sympathetic to ways of speaking about the spiritual and pastoral life in terms of trendy pseudo-psychology. We are not self-help gurus. Nor should we see ourselves as religious equivalents of health professionals or care workers. Both of these groups have very important responsibilities in our society, but who we are is of another order’.
This handy little volume, handsomely bound in black flexi-leatherette, will slip into the car’s glove box or cassock pocket for those moments between engagements when it can be dipped into for reminder and refreshment, like the scribe ‘bringing from the treasury things both old and new’.
Fr. Peter Edwards is Moderator and Parish Priest of the Bournemouth Oratory in Formation (www.bournemouthoratory.org.uk) and co-founder of the Academy of the Annunciation (www.aoa-edu.com).