Archive for June, 2018

Priest2Chapter 4 of What Is the Priesthood?

Among the many vocations needed in Christ’s Body, the Church, there is one of peculiar significance: that to the sacred priesthood. There must be men who will give their whole time to a representation, in an intense degree, of that priesthood which inheres in the whole Body. Here is a vocation of the priestly Body, and for the priestly Body: of the priestly Body because those called to the sacred priesthood are from baptism members of the Body; and for the priestly Body because such men are commissioned by Christ to exercise priestly functions within and on behalf of the priestly fellowship. The authority for the office is derived from God through the Holy Spirit who gives grace to the ordinand to act as God’s representative. The authority of the sacred office derives not from beneath but from above.

The first question which the Bishop is directed to ask of the ordinand, in the service for the Ordering of Priests, runs as follows: “Do you think in your heart, that you are truly called, according to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, and according to the Canons of this Church, to the Order and Ministry of Priesthood?” Book of Common Prayer at 541. To the question the ordinand is to reply, “I think it.”

A keen sense of vocation is an essential element in the life of the priest. There must be a very real sense of God’s prior action calling forth the response that the ordinand makes. As the Epistle to the Hebrews phrases it, “No man taketh this honor to himself but he who is called of God.”

The young man facing this vocation must be able to affirm that he is conscious of an inward call. There must be a true realization that God “has searched him out and laid His hand upon him.” In brief, there must be a sense of the priority of God’s choice and a belief that this is what God wills.

Once again, though, a question raised in the previous chapter requires answer. What is meant by such an inward call? Must there be some dramatic, perhaps immense spiritual experience? Certainly not. A vocation normally is a growing conviction, and it may have very tentative beginnings. God does not always, or even often, work in violently catastrophic ways. He works, so to say, naturally and with the “still, small voice”. An old teacher once remarked, out of his deep experience of the spiritual life, “It is most natural for the Supernatural to work naturally.” There is a profound truth in that. Those who believe that the heart of the Christian faith lies in God’s incarnate action in redeeming the world will hardly find it difficult to believe. that He loves “the lowly spot,” and often chooses the quiet way.

This is true in His calling of men to the priesthood. God calls in quite natural and undramatic ways most of the time. To be sure, we do not always hear His accents clearly. Yet He calls all the same and gradually our ears become attuned to His voice.
He may call through our childhood interest in the Church and its ways, through the experiences we have as choristers or as acolytes, through the prayers of our parents and friends, through affection and admiration for some priest we have known. We may be called through the confusion and heartbreak in the world about us, through personal sorrow met with, through delight in the Church’s worship and orderly life, through sermons and books. In and through any and all of these and through countless other interests and concerns, God calls to the priesthood.

At first ordained ministry may seem to be but one possibility among many. It should be considered seriously and thoughtfully for it just may be that God is calling. Particularly for students, they should be relaxed about the matter, test their growing vocation, and try to live by a rule of life that may lead to its healthy development. Do not talk about it with all and sundry, but a man would be well advised to discuss his concern with those who know him best and with some experienced priest trained to recognize valid signs of developing vocation. To the faithful Christian man any indication at all that God may be calling him to the priesthood should be treated with the greatest care and conscientiousness. If this should be the divine will for a member of the Body of Christ, it is not a will to be treated lightly or dismissed selfishly.

The question to be faced at the outset and thereafter is not, “Is the priesthood suited for me?” As well, it is not merely: “Am I suited for the priesthood?” Both of these questions are irrelevant at the end of the day. The question to be faced is “What does God mean me to be-a priest, or something else?” If God means a man to be a priest, He will give him the aptitude necessary. He will fit a man and give him grace sufficient for his calling.
Ultimately, a man will not think much of the honor and dignity of this particular vocation. He will not be too greatly swayed by its perils and losses. He will not be drawn to the priesthood simply because he may deem it to be easy and safe (how very wrong he would be to suppose it either of these things!). He will not be “put off” from the priesthood because it is a poorly paid profession with few prizes paid in the currency of the market place. He will not elect to follow this vocation because it presents a chance to escape from the world into some sort of ivory tower.

A man will heed the divine voice because of his faith in the Redeemer of us all and because he believes that here, in the priesthood of the priestly Body of Christ, there is opportunity to make an offering of his heart and mind and will that Jesus Christ Himself wants made. He will have a growing conviction that his Lord’s words apply to him, “Ye have not chosen me; but I have chosen you.”

In many Protestant denominations the “call” of God seems to be the only determinative matter in the ministry. The more extreme of these sects seem to have few other criteria by which to judge whether a man is to become a minister. If an individual feels himself unmistakably “called,” that very fact is his sole warrant. This is something akin to the prophetic vocation in the Old Testament. It is just at this point that a difference emerges in the concept of the ministry between many Protestant denominations and Anglicanism of a truly catholic sort.

Clearly, Protestant denominations have no intention of conveying a ministry of “holy order.” For them, the ministerial vocation is wholly constituted by a call directly from God. There is no conception of “order” on the horizontal level from man to man, in the Holy Spirit, for Christ and His Priestly Body. Anglicanism insists upon a realization of God’s prior calling, but this is not the sole qualification for ordination. The candidate for holy orders must be made a priest by the action of Christ’s Body through the laying on of hands by the Bishop. The ministry of the individual must be thus authenticated by proper commissioning. Otherwise, a man is not a priest of the priestly Body no matter how strong may be his sense of vocation. The authority of the office of priest requires this act of certification and ordination.

In all honesty, it should be noted that men in the priesthood frequently wonder even after ordination whether they possess a rightful vocation to this office. In the life of the Spirit there are ups and downs, times of discouragement and doubt. There may be periods, perhaps extended periods, of “spiritual dryness.” The greatest saints have known these dread experiences.

A man’s office as priest does not grant him any immunity from such spiritual sickness. At such times the ordained man is indeed thankful that there are these two criteria of vocation- internal and external. The internal criterion is, of course, a man’s own strong sense of call, that he is doing what God wills. The external criterion is the belief of those with whom one works, to whom one ministers, on whom one relies for counsel and guidance, that one is indeed a person who ought to study for, or remain in, the ministry. Very often those most closely associated with us understand our motives, intentions, and possibilities much more accurately than we ourselves. It is hard for us to see ourselves objectively.

The most common objection to the priesthood heard by those who counsel youth in our colleges is the simple, blunt, “I’m not worthy.” Surely no one is worthy of this holy estate. The fact is that God chooses very unworthy and sinful men to be His witnesses. Essential to the priestly life is humility, and this perhaps above all. A man who felt himself fitted for the priesthood would have a very faulty knowledge both of himself and of the profession. Frequently those who at the outset are least sure of their calling, least ready to claim worthiness of this high calling, are those who turn out later to be the most consecrated and effective priests of the Church. Archbishop Temple has written: “It is a man’s business to surrender as much of himself as he knows, to as much of God as he knows.” Vocations are never full-blown in their initial stages. There is of necessity much groping about and doubt, much questioning and many uncertainties. The man who is humble about himself may very well have a call for that precise reason.

The psychology of the postulant for holy orders and of the priest himself is no different from that of anyone else. The grace of orders does not convey any new psychological equipment. Study in a theological seminary does not dramatically alter a man’s personality at least as far as psychological processes are concerned. The priesthood is a vocation that comes to men in very different, and usually quite simple ways. It will have varying intensity from man to man and in any one person from time to time, but it is not just another profession. It is the special functioning for Christ in His Body the Church, the means whereby all the members of the Body are enabled to make their full contribution to the witness of the whole Body.

The priesthood involves a character of a special sort, for it is authorized to exercise priestly functions within and on behalf of the priestly fellowship. It ought always to be held in the highest respect and esteem, but so far as this attaches to the man, such respect must be merited. It should be merited by fidelity to the demands of the office, through consecration of character and growing holiness of life, through love of the brethren, through a sincere devotion to God and His will.

This, then, is something of the vocation to the priesthood. In its inception it may have almost imperceptible signs. There may be no blinding light from heaven, no voices heard, no rending of the veil. The disciple may not be given a pillar of cloud by day nor a pillar of fire by night. However, God will be speaking and the soul must make its answer however slowly or tentatively. Then if in the divine economy the disciple makes affirmative response and the fellowship of the priestly Body ratifies the call with appropriate commissioning, the die is cast. There will be times in the future, as in the past, of uncertainty and doubt. Yet, there will be the conviction beneath it all that He who has called will not desert his messengers and stewards. For still His word is given, “Lo, I am with you alway.”

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Chapel at St. Simeon’s Skete


As many of you know, I spent just over a week in May on spiritual retreat at St. Simeon’s Skete in Taylorsville, Kentucky. The Skete is home to Grace Church and the Nazareth House Apostolate. With St. Simeon, the God receiver, as patron and with Grace Church, the Skete seeks to practice the ideals found in our Rule, The Thousand Day Nazareth. In simplicity and poverty, the Skete embraces the struggle of the inner life through the practice of the Prayer Rope.

As noted from its website (http://www.nazarethhouseap.org/) , the Skete’s “parent” NHA, began long before the establishment of the Skete and was forged in a worn-torn Sierra Leone. The humanitarian work in that nation became a center of energy, expenditures and focus. The humanitarian aid work that was accomplished was an outpouring of the prayer life and ministry of Grace Church merged with NHA and its supporters. The work of Nazareth House in Sierra Leone and throughout the world is prayer – linking man and God in all situations – be it need, turmoil, healing, grief, joy, glory or thanksgiving. The NHA prayer ministry-praying the Light of the Name into the darkness-has lead to some amazing results and many miracles.

The path has always remained the same. The soul of the apostolate lies less in the belief that they have something to contribute but in the simple willingness to be used by God. Their goal has always been to establish houses of prayer, quiet unassuming homes of prayer, infiltrating the darkness silently and unassumingly whether in a village hut in Africa, an Adobe in the desert, an apartment in Chicago or in the Skete. As these resident forces pray, the outcome of their prayer is shown as Christ grows in their lives-Christ working as the leaven in the dough.

Certainly, that is my own experience over days spent in prayer, fellowship, and pilgrimage along the northern and southern Rosary trails they have established with visits to shrines, rural parish churches, abbeys and arch-abbeys, and an inspiring community-built holy site known as Our Lady of Valley Hill. The pilgrimage, particularly at Valley Hill, was trans-denominational, yet always Catholic and rooted in the ancient traditions of the church. This allowed for a spiritual “refresher”, if you will; and extensive writing and other work long delayed in the daily bustle of parochial ministry.

In addition to taking on retreatants, the regular work of the allied parish Grace Church, publishing, and the other ministries, the Skete sends a daily meditation on the 1928 Lectionary passages, along with the appointed Psalms and readings for the day. Apart from great inspirational readings and photographs, these e-mails enable those of us weary of “prayer book juggling” as we say Morning and Evening Prayer to print out the readings and have them at hand. It is, as they say, better and more convenient than sliced bread, and helps avoid distraction.

You can receive this resource by getting on their e-mail routing. Before doing so, I encourage you to make a contribution great or small to the Skete. The links to do all of this are below.  You will be very glad that you did.


Canon Nalls

The direct PayPal link to benefit the Skete


And here is the email address to join the group daily readings and greetings.

or, for both in one place, go to


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