ONE OF THE REAL CHALLENGES, and for me perhaps one of the greatest joys, in the life of a parish priest is that part of the task that requires the sharing of the old Wisdom – the received Tradition – in language that can be understood today. And in both the challenge and the joy there are reminders for the priest that The Story is not his or her story, not the work of his or her own art or talent. It’s a Shared Story. An epic!
Today I’ve engaged in at least a dozen very different pastoral encounters. All, in their different ways, were “asking” for some pertinent, relevant, cringe-free sharing of Christian faith. And I’m never happier than when I hear the sound of the “penny dropping” in my own life, and in the lives of the people I encounter and converse with. Never happier than when it becomes obvious that people’s misconceptions of who the priest is likely to be, of Religion with a big R, of fear or confusion – are replaced by what I’ve often called “relieved relationship.”
And when we allow ourselves simply to relax in our day-to-day relationships The Story often unfolds naturally and thus the more relevantly … constantly drawing upon, constantly bringing to mind, the stories and experiences that have illuminated our own lives and the lives of our fellow pilgrims.
It’s important that I remember that I’m not primarily about telling “my” story – though I ought not to hold back on that story either. But the priest, like the poet, is about telling “everyone’s” story … many, many combined distillations of over 2000 years of Christian history … and of a much bigger canvas reaching back much, much further than that – and reaching forward much, much further than that.
Priests, then, will always and everywhere feel that they’re telling their own AND someone else’s story in order to communicate everyone’s story in a hundred thousand different ways. Because they are! The Christian, not just the priest, is like a magpie, says Bishop Michael Marshall. Always “borrowing” from the combined experience, from the “tradition”, from the nests of saints and fatheads alike – in order to “translate” the Word; to fan sparks into flames; to encourage the leap from enquiry to a new knowing, and a new world’s growing.