Thursday, 3 January 2008


It rarely astonishes but is quite astonishing, that we expect a particular group of people to be something other than the ordinary and apparently normal people we comfortably allow ourselves and almost everybody else to be.

By virtue of their title, their presumed vocation and training, and an expectation of a form of separation from ourselves and the rest of run-of-the-mill humanity that results from that same acquired distinction of description, learning or calling, we regard them as something different, unreachable, above and beyond: something superior to ourselves in a way we do not really understand but which many of us never seem to question.
I refer to our priests, vicars, rectors, pastors: any who have become, in one way or another, members of what could be described as the professional class of spiritual leaders: those who preach and spiritually lead and shepherd others as the main occupation and interest in their lives.
The base line for all such people is that they share with us every aspect of our physical existence; they are men and women just as we are, but through their chosen specialization they have become separated from the rest of us in a way that is often more real and more distant than is the apparent difference between, for example, bus-drivers and neurologists, or cosmologists and gardeners.

We can quickly make assumptions, but it is not necessarily the case that a cosmologist is more aware of the complexity and the mysteries of creation than is the gardener, and it is not necessarily so that the neurologist is more intelligent than a bus-driver, nor that such intelligence is better utilized or more productive in the former than in the latter. We separate such people according to their recognized skills and achievements as well as their perceived status, and these separations can be immense, but, at the same time, we still include all such people in the general hold-all of ordinary people. If we had them as neighbours we would not be particularly concerned about such differences; our relationship with them would be dependent upon their personalities and the way they interact with us and others in the everyday happenings of life.

When a life is devoted to God, to religion, to church, to a life of faith, we can become very aware of something other about the person, and this otherness can take them and us in any one of a variety of different directions. The consequences of this can become a wonderful blessing for everyone who knows them but can also be the cause of a drastic severing of all contact, trust and affection. This can occur even while the individual in question continues with the rest of their life apparently unchanged, still going to work and maintaining the outward shape of their usual worldly routines, but when somebody has transformed that devotion into a full time occupation we so easily react with a corresponding transformation in our way of seeing them; we no longer simply regard them as being either blessed or foolish but otherwise still within the limits of what we accept as a wide-ranging ordinariness; instead, we place them apart, as though they have ventured to a place into which we can never follow and from which they can never return. We cease to regard them as normal people.

I find it difficult to imagine a life spent without any form of wondering, questioning and an underlying longing that generates at least some form of spiritual search, but I must assume there are many people whose lives follow this course, and they also live within the normal range of ordinariness. This, however, does not exclude them from an awareness of this sense of otherness, and when we consider those who do ask themselves questions, and who are searching for something but do not belong to any church community, and who are possibly without even a tenuous link to any form of Christianity or other faith, we find ourselves amid the majority of the people we are likely to meet, and here too the distinction is maintained. The priest is set apart.

As someone who has always attended church services, and who has always been blessed by those set apart in the priesthood and who have for a time been my own parish priests, I have become aware of how much I have taken these people for granted at times.

Their presence within our community has been an ongoing blessing, and their humility, piety, reliability and trustability have blended with their ways of teaching and preaching, guiding and edifying, befriending and loving, in ways that have manifested the presence of Christ among us. It has been so easy to recognize them, not just as men apart, but as men of God.

My failure to fully acknowledge this fact in the past has been presented to me as precisely that: my own failure.
I wish I could have become this aware of their true worth by some means other than by way of contrast: without having to endure an apparent lack of such a presence and the destructive effects of that lack on people around me, in someone duly appointed but for whom I am unable to confidently suggest those attributes.
The contrast was greatly highlighted for me on Christmas Day, when, with a determination to avoid all unwanted and inappropriate annoyance and distraction, I returned once again to my fertile ‘home ground’.
The quiet, the peace, the holiness, the saturation in truth and the wonder of Christ’s birth, all brought home, brought to life and brought into the light of day at a dawn mass in a much loved place by a much loved Man of God.

May He who touches me through them pour endless blessings upon the community at Stanbrook Abbey, and upon the fruitful ministry of Fr Hugh Sinclair.
I give thanks for the presence of such places and such servants of God in this troubled world.

And let us pray for all ministers in God’s Church, for those we so easily take for granted, and for those by whom we are so easily troubled, that rather than asking what they can do for us, we may come to know what they most need from us.


About Me

Who I am should be, and should remain, of little consequence to you. Who you are is what matters; who you are meant to be is what should matter most to you. In coming closer to my own true self, I have gradually been filled with the near inexpressible: I have simply become "brim full", and my words to you are drawn from those uttered within myself, as part of an undeniable overflowing that brings a smile to my every dusk, and to my every new dawn.
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