Feast of St Francis de Sales

Today is the feastday of St Francis de Sales (1567-1622), best known for encouraging people to find the form of spiritual practice that best suits their station in life.  Married people are not well advised to act like monks, and those active in the world should not have to hammer their spiritual life into a mode designed for those who are withdrawn from outer concerns.  We each have to find the way that matches “our character, our station, and our calling.”

The bee collects honey from flowers in such a way as to do the least damage or destruction to them, and he leaves them whole, undamaged, and fresh, just as he found them.  True devotion does still better.  Not only does it not injure any sort of calling or occupation, it even embellishes and enhances it. (from The Introduction to the Devout Life, 1:3)

We might learn something from Francis de Sales, as his comments about devotion could easily be transferred to priesthood.  Instead of trying to wedge our priesthood (lay or ordained) into some model inherited from larger churches with professionalized clergy, maybe we can take time to ponder how our priesthood is best expressed in accord with our character, our station, and our calling.  

Everyone will not wear a funny outfit, or have a title or a public ministry.   A priest might just as easily be a mother working at home, or a businesswoman in a corporate setting, whose ministry is largely invisible to those without eyes to see.   We can also ponder how priesthood (perhaps in very hidden ways) can “embellish and enhance” all the rest of our life, even our Day Jobs!

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4 Responses to “Feast of St Francis de Sales”

  1. Alexis Says:

    Ooooooo! Now this is a fun topic.

    One thing that strikes me – which I’ve played with in my own mind for a few weeks now is the inherited asceticism which so many within our movement both mis-understand, and mis-appropriate. Orders of this and brotherhoods of that – abolish them all I say! Not because the monastic vocation is not a true calling – but because these various “orders” are little more than mimicking (badly) what other churches have done.

    What is more this inherited asceticism has had a lasting and damaging impact on our ideas of priesthood, ministry, and even “church”. Yes, you’re right – its time we looked a new models – taking advantage of the benefits of our smaller communities and very personalised ministries in ways other churches simply cannot do.

  2. John Says:

    Yes, some of the (seemingly endlessly multiplying) religious orders can be silly – although I have had a good experience of others (e.g., Katherine Kurtz’s Order of St Michael). I’m more disturbed by indie clergy who are constantly trying to figure out how they can make a living as clergy, or pining over the lack of such a career path. It makes me want to give out copies of Roger Williams’ rather vitriolic little pamphlet – “The Hireling Ministry – None of Christ’s”!

    When priests were ordained in the Catholic Apostolic Church (the so-called Irvingites), they had to sign something attesting to their understanding that they had no right to receive payment for any of their services, and would regard any stipend (however regular and generous) as a gift, with no expectation that it would necessarily continue.

    To my mind, a non-professionalized volunteer ministry gives us a great deal of freedom and flexibility. No one’s conscience is held captive by a paycheck, benefits, or retirement account. We can explore all sorts of unconventional expressions of priesthood. In a setting where religion is so often commodified, we can model a way where the spiritual life is not one more product to be bought and sold.

    I often hear new priests (and some old ones!) talk about their need to create or build a ministry. Rather, Will Campbell has remarked that you don’t have to go looking for ministry. It is always right under your nose. Look at your life, right here, right now, and you will find your ministry – even if it is very different from preconceived notions.

  3. John Says:

    A further thought on indie religious orders — to my mind, the healthier expressions are precisely those which have re-imagined their inheritance in a way that is appropriate to those who belong to them. For example, the Michaelines vow stability on the spiritual path (keeping on keeping on), rather than stability in a particular monastery. As some of these orders are ecumenical and not tied to any particular church, they provide a place of shared spiritual practice for people from any number of independent jurisdictions, as well as from mainstream churches. The OSM has Roman Catholic members, Presbyterian members, etc. http://www.michaelines.net

  4. Alexis Says:

    “To my mind, a non-professionalized volunteer ministry gives us a great deal of freedom and flexibility. No one’s conscience is held captive by a paycheck, benefits, or retirement account. We can explore all sorts of unconventional expressions of priesthood. In a setting where religion is so often commodified, we can model a way where the spiritual life is not one more product to be bought and sold.”

    This has been my own argument for ages! Amen that someone else is saying it!

    You also mentioned the Catholic Apostolic Church’s practice. Our Grace Catholic practice is set out in our canons which all ministers (lay & ordained) are supposed to uphold. Two canons are explicit that ministers are not to receive, or expect to receive payment for their service (Can. 2.15; 8.1 (O) 4).

    Personally, I see it as an abuse of one’s vocation to expect renumeration. The gift of the charism of a particular ministry, recognised within the community, and exercised within the community ought to be done in thanksgiving for our ability to offer something to others.

    It is interesting that friends who I’ve met over the years who are salaried ministers in other traditions envy this aspect of our tradition – and it is an aspect that I’ve always been proud of. I am often annoyed, even distressed to come across indie clergy who are more interested in making money via their office, rather than actually serving in the office well.

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