Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Then Fell the Lord's Fire

The great Swedish Bishop and theologian Bo Giertz has a great chapter on how the Seelsorger (German for one who cares for the soul or Pastor) cares for his own soul.  I find the words compelling.

He begins with a statement that is as hidden as it is obvious.  The priest is just another man...  Surely it is painfully true to any Pastor that he is just a man – a man with a host of weaknesses, desires, strengths, and, yes, sins.  But as we are reminded.  The priest is not just a man...  He is a common sinner in an uncommon vocation – called to be a proclaimer of the Word of the Lord, His herald, and shepherd of His people.  As Scripture reminds us, if the shepherd is struck, the flock scatter.  If for this reason alone, the priest must be concerned with his own soul as well as the souls in his charge.

Even the Seelsorger has an Old Adam...  Look at the common caricatures of a priest – old, fat, pompous, self-indulgent, demanding, and cowardly all at once.  If the Old Adam can afflict the baptized after baptism, he can survive ordination to taunt the priest as well.  Unless he is controled, he will control everything.  The devil leaves the worldly alone and spends great energy upon those who presume to be servants of the Lord.  Anger, jealousy, envy, bitterness, impatience, and self-importance all portend against the identity and work of the priest.  Yes, every priest has an Old Adam and either he must be crucified daily or he will rule over the priest and destroy the flock of God.

Even the Seelsorger needs God’s Word...  Who does not know this?  Yet how easy it is to live as those it were not true.  The great temptation of the priest is to apply the Word of God to others without ever hearing the Word in His own heart, mind, and soul.  Remember how St. Paul warns Timothy to hold fast to the Scriptures he has known since childhood. 

Even a Seelsorger needs to be converted...  It is often true that a priest will be sent to a congregation whose needs will often prey upon the priest’s weaknesses.  In other words, it will tempt him to trust in himself and not hear the convicting power of the Law and the sweet voice of the Gospel.  How easy it is let the words of his confession be only words and to substitute the real sins he denies with the made up sins that are lies.

Even a Seelsorger needs the support of an external order...  Order is often seen as an enemy of true spirituality and prayer.  The press of time, the press of duties, and the press of professionalism often distract the priest from his devotional life.  Eventually it is easy to believe that one can get along without such devotional life and prayer.  Order is a friend of true devotion and a profound aid.

Even a Seelsorger needs Holy Communion...  I can recall when Lutheran Pastors did not commune with the congregation (albeit that the congregation was offered the Sacrament only four times a year or so).  The Pastor communed at the winkel or circuit meeting.  Lutheran Pastors are still guided by kind of humility which suggests that self-communion during the Divine Service is prideful and that he does not need the Sacrament as deeply that he offers to others.  The expectation until modern times was that the Pastor communed as often as he distributed it to others.  Even the Seelsorger has need of confession...  Just as the folks in the pew need to speak out loud the sins that afflict the conscience and hear in their ears the voice of absolution, so does the priest need this care of the soul.  It can be, no, it generally is difficult to find someone to hear his confession and absolve him but it is definitely worth the effort for the priest to have a father confessor.

Even a Seelsorger has a Merciful Savior who never fails to forgive...  It is too easy to believe that the demands so great, the responsibility so big, and the duty so heavy that the sins of the priest will not be forgiven.  As true as it is that of those to whom much has been given, much will be expected, it is also true that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.  Only the mercy of God can give the priest the means to carry out his service in the joy of the Lord who does not fail to forgive and who makes every morning new. 

1 Corinthians 15:58:  Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

Every seelsorger needs the prayers of those to whom he ministers, because he is a man.