‘The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.’ (St John-Marie Vianney)
And with those few words the Cure d’Ars identifies the heart of the priestly vocation. Every priest is called to live out of the Heart of Jesus.
Often I hear of people saying they’re going to be a ‘vicar’ or asking what it’s like to be a vicar – but no one’s ordained to be a vicar! Or rector, chaplain, padre or whatever; these are simply some of the roles priests inhabit. What we need to do is to reclaim the centrality of ‘being priests’, priests of the Heart of Jesus. We should not be afraid to reclaim that word for it speaks of sanctification even though many of us fail in that calling. The role – vicar, rector, chaplain etc. can overwhelm anyone but the vocation will always be refreshing. For our vocation is rooted in Christ in whom we are enfolded and who feeds our hearts in His love. The book I have written concerns that calling.
It’s also apparant that people are being attracted by, and encouraged to consider, being a ‘leader’ as if priesthood and leadership were the same. They are not. When I was a Franciscan it was clear that priest-brothers were not, necessarily, called to be leaders of communities. If the church wants leaders then there is no need for them to be ordained. But if it wants priests, pastors of the flock and ministers of the altar that is a different matter. Not all priests are called to be leaders and not all leaders are called to be priests.
So my book isn’t about leadership but it is about priesthood and what needs to nourish and nurture that vocation. The way in which the Church of England is placing so much emphasis on leadership begs questions about the nature of the Church. I know that many sense a ‘business’ model is influencing the hierarchy and wondering whether this is what the church needs, wondering what has happened to the notion of the primary call of the Reign of God, of Christian sanctification and pastoral care. So my book is an attempt to address this growing imbalance; an attempt to re-focus into the Heart of Him who invites us to share what lies deeply in His Sacred Heart.