In the classic treatise on prayer, by Gregory Mabry, “The Priest and His Interior Life, ” the point is drive home time after time that the real work of the priesthood is the practice of prayer. In these days in which there has been a certain amount of influence from the secular world in the church—sometimes referred to as “creep,” vestries and congregations and even clergy themselves are susceptible to confusion about this.
Some have the idea that the work and role of pastor is to be the CEO of the parish, or function as the director of a social club, or some such a thing like that. And in fact confusion about this is so widespread that there was a recent article published by the Pennsylvania Pastors’ Network in which the President Sam Rohrer wrote:
“The reality is that most people, including pastors, wish to be comfortable and to avoid controversy,” Rohrer said. “ (As) If the primary goal is to see people leave on Sunday morning feeling good about themselves and feeling comfortable rather than seeing the holiness of God and the ugly reality of sin…
He went on to allege:
that when asked how they measure the success of their churches, most pastors (and people) look to five factors: “attendance, giving, number of programs, number of staff and square footage.”
So, in contrast to image of the clergy as the benevolent despot, the executive officer, the CEO of the parish, the president of the board and all of that, Father Mabry reminds us that the clergy is supposed to be the person of prayer, the intercessor. The one whose job it is to stand as it were between the porch and the altar and to offer prayers, tears and intercessions for the whole of the sorts and conditions of all humanity, after the manner of the description of Jesus’ vocation from the Epistle to the Hebrews:
“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up loud prayers and supplications to Him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of His reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.”
In the book, Father Mabry describes the instance (and it might be biographical) of the priest who spent his time saying the daily office regularly, and who was caught by critical members of the parish who discovered him sitting in the church reading the newspaper. They were scandalized. “How dare he do such a cavalier thing?” “Is this what we pay him for, to sit in the church, reading the newspaper!”
But in reality, the priest was at prayer. He felt compelled to pray his way through the newspaper, offering intercession for and about those headlines of the day. The point that was made in the book was that while it might not look like it, he was indeed doing the work of a priest—offering prayer and intercession for the human condition.
I realize that it might not be the most popular message: those things that Jesus had to say in the Gospel today:
He criticized Peter for offering temptation away from his fundamental mission as the suffering servant,
He tells people that if we really want to be his disciples, that we will have to take up their crosses and follow,
He asks us to consider what it would profit us if we gained the whole world, but sold ourselves out, forfeiting our lives in the process,
Yet if we are faithful to our calling to serve as Christ served us, we MUST proclaim that message:
For live in a world in which people don’t realize that we all have to bear crosses of one sort or another, whether or not we are Christian; but in Christ, one at least learns to carry the cross redemptively,
We live in a world where there is great confusion about power, and success, as though money can buy happiness,
We live in a world in which there are many broken and shattered dreams, which only the grace of Jesus can heal.
We live in a world in which we need strong intercession to teach us the art of prayer, who can demonstrate that a vision of hope is possible, and who have credibility because they have spent long hours doing the work of a priest, looking and longing for the face of God.