21 March 2007

The Ambassadors of Christ

Monsignor Ronald Knox

The Church ordains its ministers at the four seasons; this is our spring sowing. Hence today's epistle (The Epistle for the first Sunday in Lent, II Corinthians, vi, 1-10) gives us St. Paul's picture of the ideal minister of religion. He is not to be a mere town-crier, announcing doom, but an ambassador, making himself loved and respected by the people he is accredited to. He must have the patience that can take any kind of discomfort; nine instances are given, three of them just ordinary bad luck, three of them arising from human enmity, three of them incidental to the work itself.

More positive qualities are demanded, and we are given a list of four -- purity (not a morbid horror of sex, but the love of beauty untarnished); familiarity with God in prayer; unresentfulness (nobody must imagine that our remonstrances are dictated by personal feeling; graciousness, that kindly spirit towards everybody which makes a man loved. Then follows another list of the four resources which lie at our disposal; constant expectation of guidance from the Holy Spirit; a love of souls which sees the image of Christ in each; a conviction of the supernatural; and perhaps, now and again, one of those special providences which unexpectedly lighten our task.

The soldier is content to be armed against attack on his exposed side, the left; we must be armed right and left against flattery no less than against criticism. "That was a wonderful sermon of yours!" will do us no good in eternity. It doesn't matter what people say about us; we shall be called hypocrites, nobodies, a Victorian survival, unpopular, kill-joys, money-grubbers, other-worldly--it doesn't matter, so long as we do our best not to give real ground for offence.

"A pity we don't get more men like that!" says the layman, as he hears his spiritual pastor reading out this improbable list of qualifications. But that is the whole point of the Ember Days; we ought to be praying for more "men like that." Every church gets the ministry it deserves, and we shall do more good by expecting much of the clergy than by complaining of what we get.

Msgr. Ronald Knox
Lightning Meditations