Saturday, October 23, 2010

The "Second Temptation of Christian Ministry" - The Temptation to be Spectacular (From Henri Nouwen's "In the Name of Jesus")

The second temptation to which Jesus was exposed to was the temptation to do something spectacular, something that would win him great applause. “Throw yourself from the parapet of the temple and let the angels catch you and carry you in their arms”. But Jesus refused to be a stunt man. He did not come to prove himself. He did not come to walk on hot coals, swallow fire, or put his hand in the lion’s mouth to demonstrate that he had something worthwhile to say.

“Do not put the Lord your God to the test”, he said.

When you look at today’s Church, it is easy to see the prevalence of individualism among its ministers and priests. Not too may of us have a vast repertoire of skills to be proud of, but most of us still feel that, if we have anything at all to show, it is something we have to do solo. You could say that many of us feel like failed tightrope walkers who discovered that we did not have the power to draw thousands of people, that we could not make many conversions, that we did not have the talents to create beautiful liturgies, that we were not as popular with the youth, the young adults, or the elderly as we had hoped, and that we were not as able to respond to the needs of our people as we had expected.

But most of us still feel that, ideally, we should have been able to do it all and do it successfully. Stardom and individual heroism, which are such obvious aspects of our competitive society, are not at all alien to the Church. There too the dominant image is that of the self-made man or woman who can do it all alone.

What discipline then is required for the future leader to overcome the temptation of individual heroism? I would like to propose the discipline of confession and forgiveness. Just as the future leaders must be mystics deeply steeped in prayer, so also must they be persons always willing to confess their own brokenness and ask for forgiveness from those to whom they minister.

Confession and forgiveness are the concrete forms in which we sinful people love one another. Often I have the impression that priests and ministers are the least-confessing people in the Christian community. The sacrament of Confession has often become a way to keep our own vulnerability hidden from our community. Sins are mentioned and ritual words of forgiveness are spoken, but seldom does a real encounter take place in which the reconciling and healing presence of Christ can be experienced.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)