Stewards of mysteries and the master touch
Who would be a Priest? It was the title of a pamphlet published in 1953 by SPCK. It opens with a priest in hospital recovering from an operation. Sunday morning had never been an opportunity for lying in bed, which was only a place to sleep in till the alarm dragged you out on your knees for another day’s work. He couldn’t remember the last time he missed a Sunday at the altar. As he dozed and awoke with the ward buzzing around him, a phrase kept coming into his mind, ‘loving people into holiness, loving people into holiness.’
The Hospital Chaplain was relieved to find another priest to whom he could talk of his difficulties. This young harassed Chaplain told the old story of a difficult matron, agnostic doctors, lack of response from nurses and patients. He told the Chaplain, ‘All you have to do, my dear brother, is to try loving them into holiness.’ He wondered if it would help the Chaplain in the same way that it had certainly helped him as an ideal. Is it too far removed from the week-day and Sunday chores of the parish priest he thought? Then he remembered that it is just what our Lord did to Peter and Mary Magdalene and the rest. Also, he does it to us and he wants us priests to do it to our flock.
Scouting had brought Bernard into contact with Skip Marten, a chronic asthmatic, an untiring priest of young people who ‘so lived that he magnetized,’ without fussiness. He had no aspirations for a living as he was best when second in command. His example, rather than any word from Skip, had inspired Bernard’s vocation.
Skip Marten is an example of those who preached Jesus Christ in a way that had not been preached for many years. The strength of Catholic Anglicanism has been the recovery of the parish as central to the Church’s mission, where there emerged a Christian sanctity not seen in England for decades, even centuries. Today it has not been seen anywhere else.
It was a missionary sanctity, an evangelistic holiness that was rooted in the deep convictions of great parish priests living austere and disciplined lives and in consequence with the evangelists’ love for human souls. Hidden daily with ‘Christ in God’ and praying without ceasing, they lived in the milieu of heaven. In their company one became conscious that the unseen world is the real world, and Christianity is caught before being taught. From such priests it was caught and taught as well. ‘Loving people into holiness’ is the most effective preaching of all, because unmistakeably it demonstrates the self-sacrificing love of Christ in which such priests live. ND