The same reader asked me both of the following questions, in two separate social media posts. but since they’re from the same person, I’m putting them together in this one post.
Questions Concerning Ordained Ministry
First, a question in response to Do I Have to be a Member of a Christian Church to be a Mystic? …
It’s interesting what you say about seminaries. I’m considering a possible call to enter the priesthood, but i just Dont know if I’ve got the time or desire to spend 6 or 7 years in a seminary, learning what other people have said about Jesus… Plus my approach to Christianity is very much ecumenical, I see part of our role in the church is to unite it, and heal the divisions… if I get ordained a Catholic priest, won’t that alienate my Protestant and Orthodox brothers in Christ? I guess maybe you just have to pick one denomination, and then work out from there? Any guidance on this issue is very welcome Carl! Thanks
I’m not able to guide you on whether or not you have a vocation — that’s something you need to pray about and discuss with trusted spiritual friends and mentors in your own community. Talk to a local priest to get some guidance. But I would like to address two points you mention in your question. First, the matter of “learning what other people have said about Jesus”… I would caution you against seeing that as a negative. After all, we all “met” Jesus through “other people” — beginning with Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul! Christianity is a faith built on relationships, and we all are continually giving Jesus to one another, through our compassion, our friendship, our kindness, our mercy and forgiveness, our struggle for justice and truth and peace. Part of the “job description” of being a Christian is that we bring others to Christ, and we bring Christ to others. So don’t close your mind to the idea that you can learn from the great theologians, Bible scholars, saints, and mystics of ages past. They really do have a lot to teach us. For example, I would say the single most important person in my life — when it comes to my understanding of who Jesus is and what a relationship with Jesus means for me today — is Julian of Norwich, the medieval mystic! Reading Julian really made Jesus come alive for me. Another good book, more contemporary, is James Martin’s Jesus: A Pilgrimage. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it! Anyway — allow yourself to learn from others. You can disagree when your conscience dictates that you do so. But still learn. See how other people relate to Jesus, It will make your relationship with Christ that much larger and deeper.
Now, the second point involves ecumenism. You are raising a good point, but there is more than one way to look at it. Becoming a minister of any church does mean you become a team player in that particular organization. So it is important to pursue ministry only in a church that you feel can be your spiritual home for life. Otherwise, it could indeed feel very constraining. As it is, many people do switch churches after getting ordained, but that can be disruptive to their career/income as ministers. So it makes sense to make your best effort up front to be clear that the church ordaining you is in fact where you feel you belong. As a priest (or other minister), you will be a representative of that church. If you are a member of a church but find you conscientiously disagree with many of its teachings, being ordained in that church might lead to you getting branded as a “maverick” and could even lead to being disciplined or dismissed (that’s what happened to George MacDonald when the Church of Scotland decided he was too liberal). Of course, the other side of that is that sometimes God raises up people to challenge a church to reform, so that’s another matter for discernment!
Having said all that, it’s not entirely out of the question that you could be the priest/minister of one church and still active in ecumenical activities. Becoming a Catholic priest does not necessarily mean that Protestants and Orthodox Christians will be “alienated” from you. Granted, they are probably not going to show up at Sunday Mass! But you could still engage in ecumenical ministries like Centering Prayer, Habitat for Humanity, or other activities that make it possible for Christians of different traditions to work and pray together. I’m not familiar with all the resources available to you in the United Kingdom, but I’m sure they exist. You might want to try to friend a priest or two who is sympathetic to your ecumenical leanings, and he can counsel you on what possibilities for ecumenical (or even interfaith) ministry are available to you.
Good luck with your discernment, and keep me posted as to how it’s going!
A Question About Spiritual ‘Style’
The same reader posted this comment a day later, in response to another one of my posts, Seven Blessings of Silent Prayer:
Hello Carl. My friend and I were talking about our different spiritual/worship styles yesterday. He said I am more about spiritual ecstasy/power/filling of the Spirit/charismatic/sharing the Good News with others in word and deed/Christian ecumenism. His style is more monastic/silent/still/contemplative/interfaith. I remember you did a piece on spiritual styles a while back. I guess your approach would be more like my friend’s, is that true? Personally, I think it’s good to have both. But its whatever speaks to you, I Guess. Pray as you can, not as you can’t…!
Well, since I don’t know your friend, it’s hard for to say for certain, but based on how you’ve described it, I would certainly say my spirituality tends to gravitate more toward the monastic/silent/contemplative dimension! And I agree with both of your points: that sometimes our spiritual “style” is based in our unique personality, and at least for some people, it’s helpful to cultivate more than one spiritual “style.” On a very simple, psychological level, you could say that “charismatic” spirituality is very extraverted, whereas “contemplative” spirituality is more introverted. But that is a broad generalization, and like all generalizations, there are plenty of exceptions to the rule!
Since you are interested in both charismatic and contemplative spirituality, there are two books you might find useful. Unfortunately one is out of print and the other is expensive, but maybe your local library would have copies. The first book is called Contemplation and the Charismatic Renewal, edited by Paul Hinnebusch; the other one is Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition by David Castelo. I think both of these books could be helpful as you seek to “connect the dots” between charismatic and contemplative forms of spirituality.
Thanks for the questions!