Seven years ago (has it really been that long?!), I found myself living in St. John’s Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois. I lived in the old building, in a small dormitory room overlooking the courtyard beside the chapel.
I had found a home in the Episcopal Church some months before, and, through the unfolding of certain events that I will save for another time, had just begun discerning whether or not this crazy priesthood thing was for me. My priest– an Anglo-Catholic with a monastic piety named Fr. Al– had been talking me through everything, assuring me that when the time came I would make a fine priest. I remained skeptical. (I still remain rather skeptical about whether I turned out “fine,” but that too is perhaps best saved for another time.)
I was looking for some kind of instruction manual.
“But don’t you have some kind of book I could read? Something to help me know whether I’m really called to this? I mean, what even makes a good priest?”
He produced a small, slim volume from the bookshelf behind his desk in his study. “Read this.”
The book was Michael Ramsey’s The Christian Priest Today.
I did not understand how such a small book could contain enough to help me make sense of such a vast and mysterious vocation (surely there must be something longer? a more systematic treatment?), but this collection of short pre-ordination addresses manages to cover quite a bit in less that 120 pages.
And so there I was, night after night in my room in Newman Hall, poring over each chapter by the light of a small lamp affixed to my bedpost. Fr. Al’s own annotations were scrawled in the margins around certain passages, guiding me along.
Though Fr. Al has since departed this life, I still have his copy of Ramsey’s book. I appreciate his margin notes even more now than I did then.
I felt it might be time to give it another read now that I’m out of seminary and a couple of years into my ordained ministry. And because I am always looking for blog material/accountability to actually write, I thought I might blog through each chapter as a way of processing and reflecting on Ramsey’s wisdom.
Other than the pronouns (in Archbishop’s Ramsey’s day, there were no women in the priesthood), Ramsey’s words feel just as fresh and pertinent as they did half a century ago– just as worth hearing, just as worth pondering, just as worth engaging– and are worthy of consideration not only by those in ordained ministry, but by any baptized Christian seeking to live out the Christian life.
Though I’ll likely blog about other things too– interspersing this series with other posts from time to time– I’ll try to stay fairly consistent.
Our next post in the series asks the question “Why the priest?”
(For more information on Abp Ramsey, here is a link to his bio page on the Archbishop of Canterbury website.)