Wineskins Archive

December 21, 2013

The Pain of It All (Dec 1992)

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by Larry Bridgesmith
December, 1992

8The young Catholic priest was disarmingly attractive. His middle-aged mentor was equally distinctive in bearing and demeanor. Neither wore traditional vestments or collars. Only their language gave them away.

I was alone and sitting at the table next to the one where they were seated by the host. If I had been with my usual lunch companions, I probably would not have noticed the two men. However, sitting merely inches away, there was nothing I could do to void overhearing their intimate conversation.

The young priest began by assuring his older friend that he had just visited his therapist and that things were going as well as could be expected. The young man noted that there were areas of his life in which he found happiness. He enjoyed working with life’s victims: the AIDS afflicted, the homeless, and the orphaned. In those activities he found purpose and value.

However, the frustrations of religious life which brought on depression and the need for professional help came from the liturgy of his church. He spoke passionately of worship forms frozen in time, of a generation of believers without a means of praise and of traditions which have assumed an importance not originally intended before worship activities became sacraments.

The older priest urged patience. Consolation came in the form of personal encouragement and referral to monastic retreats where the young priest could find spiritual renewal and emotional healing. yet, through the calm and measured tones this uninvited eavesdropper could hear the desperation in his voice. The older man knew that he was dealing with a victim, not a survivor. The young priest had already given up. He was looking to regain his self-esteem. His religious fire already had been extinguished. He had lost all hope that the church to which he committed his life would reach out in love and ministry to the prodigal sons and daughters of this age. His hope for spiritual renewal and worship revival in this era now seemed like distant and foolish childhood dreams. All the older man could suggest was, “Hang on.” But the thread to which he clung was meager and frayed. The young priest’s grasp was weak.

Beyond the poignancy of the portrait, I was troubled by its parallels. How many worshippers had shared similar concerns with me? Born of a different faith and fellowship, how many times have I heard parallel pleas about relevancy, revitalization, and renewal? Most distressingly, how many times have I witnessed “young priests” simply let go of the thread that tied them to the Church of Christ?

Thankfully, some landed in sister congregations more open to the renewing work of the Spirit in our age. Others felt forced to fellowship with denominational alternatives seemingly more suited to their search for spiritual awakening. Tragically, some “dropped out” altogether and no longer claim Christ as King. What responsibility do I have for the choices they made?

Jesus’ personal encounters spanned the religious spectrum from the established protectors of the status quo to the disenfranchised and the spiritual outcasts. His message rarely varied. To each he instructed submission to the living God and loving others as yourself. Our religious turmoil is the product of violating one or the other of these core Christian principles.

Often we worship our notions of righteousness and established correctness. Jesus said, “Love God with all your heart.” It is deceptively easy to place our sense of what is right on the throne of our heart. Jesus admonishes us to empty ourselves and allow the constantly transforming work of his Spirit to change us into new creatures. The process of spiritual transformation never stops, unless we choose for it to do so. To accept any moment in time as perfect without further need for change is idolatry. Our deepest need is to love and submit to the God who created us, knows what is best for us, and wants us to continue to become like him. This requires constant change and renewal.

The other cause of religious turmoil is self-centered lovelessness. Even “right-thinking” people can cause disharmony by their insensitivity to those who do not “have it quite right.” The elder brother had done al the right things. But when his prodigal brother returned home, his jealous, unforgiving spirit spoiled the great reunion. The father spent little time trying to make things palatable for his oldest son. The return of the lost one with all his faults was of far greater moment than the selfish “pity party” of the son who had done everything right.

May God help us stop discarding the “young priests” among us. may we learn to love God and let him change us. May we learn to love as we have been loved. May we always remember that Christ was the young priest of his day and that the religious establishment was unable to accept him for who he really was.Wineskins Magazine

Larry W. Bridgesmith

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