Ruth,

You will notice in the top corners of this icon two angelic beings. Angels are messengers of the divine. They remind us that the hidden mystery we call “God” does speak.

The author of the Cloud of Unknowing has a favourite expression he uses to characterize God’s mode of communication. He describes God’s voice as an “inward stirring”.  God seldom shouts. God speaks most often in a gentle whisper. The “stirring” of the Spirit is subtle; it moves as an

inward stirring toward the secret spirit of God whose judgments are hidden. (The Cloud of Unknowing)

If I hope to perceive this “inward stirring”, I need to listen carefully.

Jesus, instructed his followers,

whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:6)

In prayer we enter the terrain of the secret. Priesthood travels in the domain of mystery. A priest does not operate in the world of carefully crafted answers or tidy solutions to the problems of peoples’ lives or the conundrums of the world. We are not here to promote any great self-help program or to chart a course of remediation in the midst of the mess of the world. A priest is a person who is willing to sit with the brokenness of life and perceive in the suffering little glimmers of light and truth.

It is an unenviable task to spend your life seeking to coax people to open to the deep realm of the “unknown.” The job description lacks the appeal of the practical.  Priesthood is not practical. The priestly “profession” seeks to penetrate beyond this time-bound material realm of achievement and strategy into the deep secret places of the spirit.

We travel here, not by good works or knowledge, but by rest and trust.

Jesus performed the priestly task when he invited weary and burdened people to,

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

It is tempting at times as a priest to become distracted from this strange nebulous calling. I want to be useful and productive. I feel responsible for running the machinery of the church, or for fixing the ills of the world. But when these distractions take centre stage, I lose my way as a priest. There is a danger that I begin to view people as a means to achieving my ends. I seek to enlist in my grand plans the support of people whose lives are often already overwhelmed with the demands of daily living.

Jesus described the anti-priest when he spoke of the scribes and Pharisees as leaders who

tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. (Matthew 23:8)

As a priest I am called to encourage people to stop, be still, to “rest”. The starting point for a life lived in the Spirit realm is the wisdom of Psalm 46:10 where God speaks through the poet saying,

Be still and know that I am God.

Before anything else, we need to stop, stand still and allow our consciousness to reconnect with that deep well-spring of living water Jesus promised when he said,

let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water. (John 7:38)

If I am going to fulfill this radical function of priesthood, I must first myself be manifesting from that river “of living water”.

Paul once wrote,

I wish that all were as I myself am. (I Corinthians 7:7)

I am not quite there yet; but it is a noble vision. Ideally, a priest is a person who can commend her own life to others saying, “I wish you were as I myself am.”

I know that you have already discovered the seductive temptation of over-work in ministry. Like all addictions, workaholism is not a disease to be taken lightly. Workaholism destroys our ability to live authentically opening to the power of love which is the only force from which truly life-giving action will flow.

When I work too hard; it is because I am demanding too much. I am looking for something in ministry that it should never be asked to provide. I am not a priest for the perks. A priest is a servant.

But don’t ever forget what or who you are serving. As a priest you exist to serve the God who brings life and flourishing. A priest is one who is set aside for the unusual function of creating open spaces for love to emerge. And love never brings burnout, resentment, bitterness, or heavy burdens. Love creates openness and freedom.

So, this icon of Mary points to the essential nature of priesthood. It is an icon of the type known as “panagia platytera.” Mary is “panagia“, “all holy”. To be “all holy” is to be thoroughly dedicated, set apart for the call of God. That is what you did in the beautiful ritual of ordination we shared on Saturday. You committed yourself to be set apart as a person who seeks before all else to live like Mary in response to the gentle “stirring” of God’s Spirit.

But it is the second word that points most deeply to the call of priesthood. The Greek world Πλατυτέρα means “wider” or “more spacious”. She allowed the Divine to be conceived within her and born through her into the world. Mary chose to make space in her life for the divine Presence. A priest is a sacrament of spaciousness.

As I priest I trust deeply that where there is space, love will emerge. And love is a powerful generating force. When hearts become spacious they open to love. And people who open to love will live naturally as instruments of healing and peace in the world. Love never leaves us inert or passive. Love brings us to the place where we can be authentic truth-tellers and genuine advocates for life in whatever way is our unique call. No one needs to pressure a person who has been touched by love. It is not necessary to tell a love-surrendered person how to live. Love will tell and Love will empower.

Love enables us to live as instruments of healing towards all creation. The power of love shapes people into signs of redemption.

Love is the goal, the source, and the means for all genuine priesthood. And Love knows how to work within you and through you in the way that is perfectly suited to the person you are and the priest you are becoming.

Ruth, may you live deeply in this energy-field of love and trust fully in that power that has brought you to this place in your life and that will sustain you in the deep ministry of priesthood.