St Charles Borromeo on Parish Work

Speaking of S Clement’s… One of its former members, Br. Stephen, posted a great selection yesterday from the writings of St. Charles Borromeo whom we celebrated at mass last night. Again, I confess, I don’t know the writings of the Counter- and Post-Reformation Roman saints very well. What little time I have for study these days tends to go to the patristic and medieval saints who, happily, we have in common. In any case, these words deserve to be more broadly circulated:

Would you like me to teach you how to grow from virtue to virtue and how, if you are already recollected at prayer, you can be even more attentive next time, and so give God more pleasing worship? Listen, and I will tell you. If a tiny spark of God’s love already burns within you, do not expose it to the wind, for it may get blown out. Keep the stove tightly shut so that it will not lose its heat and grow cold. In other words, avoid distractions as well as you can. Stay quiet with God. Do not spend your time in useless chatter.

If teaching and preaching is your job, then study diligently and apply yourself to whatever is necessary for doing the job well. Be sure that you first preach by the way you live. If you do not, people will notice that you say one thing, but live otherwise, and your words will bring only cynical laughter and a derisive shake of the head.

Are you in charge of a parish? If so, do not neglect the parish of your own soul, do not give yourself to others so completely that you have nothing left for yourself. You have to be mindful of your people without becoming forgetful of yourself.

My brothers, you must realize that for us churchmen nothing is more necessary than meditation. We must meditate before, during and after everything we do. The prophet says: I will pray, and then I will understand. When you administer the sacraments, meditate on what you are doing. When you celebrate Mass, reflect on the sacrifice you are offering. When you pray the office, think about the words you are saying and the Lord to whom you are speaking. When you take care of your people, meditate on the Lord’s blood that has washed them clean. In this way, all that you do becomes a work of love.

This is the way we can easily overcome the countless difficulties we have to face day after day, which, after all, are part of our work: in meditation we find the strength to bring Christ to birth in ourselves and in other men.

One of the enduring problems that I see in the Episcopal Church is this confusion about the role of the priest. Most parish expectations are not clear, diocesan expectations are not clear, and in the seminaries where I’ve been this topic seems to be assumed far more than discussed. As a result, most clergy come out thinking that they are a mash-up somewhere between non-profit CEO, social activist, witch doctor, and entertainer. Throw in “being missional” into the mix and you have a guaranteed recipe for confusion.

One of the most encouraging things I heard from M concerning our diocesan clergy conference was that our bishop emphasized the importance of clergy as people of prayer. Prayer is not something that clergy should do when they have time to fit it in around the tasks of ministry—rather, it is one of the fundamental tasks of ministry. Now all we need is for the bishop to post that prominently on the diocesan website to inform congregations and vestries and to remind the clergy…

8 thoughts on “St Charles Borromeo on Parish Work

  1. Scott Knitter

    Very well said. I once witnessed an encounter between a retired priest and a midcareer one. The older one listened intently to an energetic recitation of projects and accomplishments from the younger one, then looked the younger one straight in the eyes and, without seeming to discount anything he had heard, asked, “Do you pray the Office every day?” Big pause, and I imagined a big gulp on the younger priest’s part. He admitted this was an area he needed work on.

  2. Hoosierpalian

    I’m not so sure that I fully agree. Whereas it would be tremendous to have all parish churches open daily for MP and EP, I’m afraid that it would become just one more thing that “the priest does for us.” I would rather have dozens of people in each parish saying the office at home or on their iPhones on their way to and from work, than just the few usual suspects joining the priest. Perhaps this is one of those Anglican “both/and” situations instead of “either/or.”

  3. Paul Goings

    Well, I would certainly hope that those who couldn’t join in at the parish church would still pray the Divine Office in their homes, on trains, at work, etc., but I still think that the offices should be prayed publicly in the parish church, or at least in one parish church in a geographical cluster. And I don’t think that it needs to be something that the priest does for us, but I do think that it’s proper for the clergy to attend, even if they’re not scheduled to lead; this is far too common in my experience.

  4. Derek Olsen

    I think we have two different topics here, both of which need to be addressed.

    The first is whether clergy should be saying the Offices and the answer is yes.

    The second is whether parishes should offer the Offices publicly and that’s a different question from whether clergy should.

    It’s easier to say that clergy should be diligent about saying the Offices. (It’s also easier to say that the laity should–as they should…) When you start discussing public Offices you open up a much bigger can of worms. Public offices require consistency and, no, I don’t think it’s acceptable to pile the responsibility onto a priest, particularly when they are the only priest at their parish. That means no days off, no vacations, and no commitments that might impinge upon two particular time slots each day. I can see daily offices with the clergy at a place like Smokey Mary’s where (in my time there) you had three clergy available, none of whom had children, all of whom lived in a building attached to the church. Consider the situation that we’re in: M lives 20+ minutes from her parish, she’s the only priest there and we have a host of activities involving dance, violin, and seasonal sports for both kids.

    Is it reasonable to expect M to say the Offices? Yes, it is.

    Is it reasonable to expect her to say them publicly at the church at a set time every day? No, it’s not.

    Hooserpalian is right—the offices need to be promoted within the parishes, but the idea that a parish is a discrete geographic area where access to the church is both quick and easy for all is not the American situation and has not been for some time.

  5. Paul Goings

    Well, in this day and age I’d hardly expect a parish priest with no assistance to be responsible for fourteen public offices. But with lay assistance, and with the office being centralized at one or more designated parishes, it is eminently practical. Of course this doesn’t work in truly rural areas, but I’m not suggesting that it does.

    If suburban Baltimore is at all like suburban Philadelphia, many of the parishes are a ten minute or so drive from each other. So pick one, and establish Mattins and Evensong there, making use of the combined clerical and lay resources. If you still can’t fill fourteen slots a week then so be it, but I’d hope that this activity would be prioritized over many others that parishes seem to want to put on. On Sunday afternoon/evening you’d have all of the clergy and the laity from the several parishes; at other times select representatives–what Thornton called “the heart of the parish.”

    Nowhere do we see something like this implemented; not because it’s impossible, but because it’s not valued.

  6. Scott

    I’d say there’s a long way to go toward widespread familiarity with the Daily Office, let alone widespread participation. But on the local level, in any medium to large parish, it should be possible to staff the fourteen offices in a week.

    We’ve done so for many years, although with a rather thin bench, so lately a few people have been doubling up or even leading five or six of the 14 offices in a week. I was glad to hear the MC say he’s been discussing with the rector the idea of offering a class on the Daily Office: both the why and the how of it. I want to be in on helping with that, as I’m the Daily Office coordinator. If we get one or two more officiants out of it, that will help a lot.

    Only very rarely does an office get missed out: an officiant forgets about a schedule switch, or there’s a weather problem, or something. Morning Prayer doesn’t get dropped, because there’s almost always a Mass immediately following it.

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