A crie de coeur from a layperson to her priest

A crie de coeur from a layperson to her priest May 6, 2015

A reader sent along this beautiful letter she sent her priest:

“Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” (Pope Paul VI, Address to the Members of the Consilium de Laicis (2 October 1974): AAS 66 (1974), p. 568.)

I begin, as I said when I spoke to you after Mass yesterday, with gratitude for your faithfulness to the teaching of the Church in your preaching. It is truly a blessing that I do not take for granted. Thank you.

And yet….something left me restless, and it finally has a name.

I was looking for the element of personal witness to the transformative power of God in a life that I can identify with. 

“Jesus, through the Church, is calling us to… ” Yes, it is true. (Alleluia!)

But for those whose hearts have not yet been convinced (or have forgotten, or need to be reminded) that Jesus’ call is a good one, or that there is joy to be found in answering that call, or that there is real power available to bring real change and healing in my life and in the lives of those I love — for us, the crucial element is witness. Not only “we have learned these things from a trustworthy teacher”, but “here is how I (or those I know personally) have experienced this.” Because if what the faith calls me to is primarily aspirational, something I am called to pursue, but without an experience of real power for change, for transformation… then when I am discouraged, when things are hard (and when are they not?), when I lack the resources within myself to live up to that call (and those resources are always inadequate) — then the promise of life in Christ seems like a taunt, a mockery, a mirage.

I need to hear the stories of God’s power made manifest in the world, in the lives of real people. I need to know that it can, and does, make a difference – not just a difference, but a top-to-bottom transformation. Because, when I look at the various messes in my life and in the world, nothing less is enough.

And I know those stories are out there. I need to hear them from you. And from my brothers and sisters. Or hope becomes remote, and I lose my way.

The unspoken, implicit message my heart hears: “Don’t try this at home, folks.” This is for the exceptional, the saints, the others. Not for the ordinary — not for you.

Why are you a priest? Your priesthood empowers you to stand in the place of Christ, in persona Christi, that through you we may directly encounter Him in the sacraments.

You are a priest for the sake of the salvation of souls, beginning with your own.

And if salvation is real, it is not only something on a far-off horizon. It can be known truly, and powerfully (though not fully), here and now. That is the witness of the apostles, and of the saints through the ages.

Otherwise it is just a dream, and a dream is not enough.

What have you seen and heard and touched?

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us — that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing this that our joy may be complete. (I John 1:1-4)

Tell me the story of Jesus. Tell me your story of Jesus. Preach the Gospel.

In hope,

This letter, and million similar cries like I hear constantly (including from my own heart), is what Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples is all about.  Not for nothing has Fr. Robert Barron called it the most important book of pastoral theology in the past 25 years.  We have got to catch this vision.  The future of the Church (and therefore of the world) depends on it.

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