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by October 22, 2012

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Depth of Psychotherapy and Spiritual Direction, By Fr. Gene Geromel. Review for Religious, 36.5 pgs. 753-763 [PDF]

In Sweat and Tears: "Working it Through" with God, By Fr. Gene Geromel. Review for Religious, 43.3 pgs. 396-401 [PDF]

Balanced Preaching, By Fr. Gene Geromel. Review for Religious, 42.5 pgs. 778-782 [PDF]

To Have a Priest

By

Fr. Gene Geromel SSC Ph.D.

 

            I was called to the Flint area as a full-time Vicar twenty-eight years ago.  Our ‘mother parish’, St. Paul’s Episcopal, had two full-time priests, one part-time and a parish visitor.  St. Jude’s in Fenton had a full-time priest.  So did the churches in Flushing, Davidson, Owosso, Lapeer, Bridgeport and Holly.  Three other in and next to Flint – Christ, St. Andrew’s and St. Christopher’s – had full-time priests.

Things have changed.  My parish and I left the Episcopal Church twelve years ago.  I am told that only St. Paul’s, St. Christopher’s, St. Jude’s have a full-time priest anymore.  The other parishes either share a priest or have a part-time (frequently, a retired) priest.  These parishes can no longer afford a full-time rector.

            As deployment officer for FIF I have received numerous requests to find this or that parish a part-time pastor.  Can you imagine leaving seminary with about $60,000 in debt and then being asked to take a parish which has only a part-time salary?  Yet, our men have this experience regularly.  But how can small parishes ensure that they can be competitive?

First, and foremost, can you yoke with another parish?  Many of us older fellows have served two or even three point parishes.  But they were all under the same jurisdiction (Episcopal).  Now we find that even if there are two parishes within driving distance they have different initials on their letterhead. Sometimes, the two exist because of a split years before. It goes without saying that everyone must give a little if such sharing can happen.

            When you tell someone that you are offering them a part-time position have you found him another part-time job so he can feed his family? At least, made inquiries about job possibilities? Or is he just to fend for himself?  Could you imagine being offered a job in the middle of nowhere or, in any event, a place you know nothing about, without any help in finding employment?
 

If you have decided that you would like to call a Rector have you appointed someone, or preferably a committee, to find out all the available jobs in the area?  Are there any openings at a local college or community college?  Remember most Anglican clergy have a fair amount of education; most have at least one Master Degree.  Do any businesses in the area have a position open?  Have you checked with the local home health care or hospice provider which might be looking for a chaplain.  Many of our seminary men have at least one quarter of Clinical Pastoral Education.  If you really want a priest, shouldn’t you do some homework?  Why go to the bother and expense of bring someone in for an interview where there is no chance that they can support themselves?  Could you live on what you are offering the candidate?

Do you have a place for your new priest to live?  I know many small churches share or rent a building.  Therefore you cannot help but think, “We don’t have our own church building and you expect us to have a Rectory?”  Yes.  Is there someone in the congregation whose maiden aunt is in a nursing home?  Couldn’t you suggest to the rest of the family that it would be nice to have someone live in the building?  They could donate the rent value to the church. Are there elderly people in your congregation with no heirs (or no one they want to leave anything) who would remember your church in their will?  Is there someone in the congregation who has decided to live in their second house for a few years and would donate or lend their first house to your church for you new Rector?

Finally, as you prepare to call a new priest, first examine your stewardship.  You are preparing to ask a priest to sacrifice for you, monetarily, physically and emotionally, by serving your parish to his utmost.  Yes, it is part of his ministry.  But part of your ministry is to tithe to your church.  Even a parish made up entirely of retirees can afford a minister if everyone follows the Biblical injunction to give ten percent of their income to the church.

Before you call me as deployment officer it would be helpful if you considered the above items.  I know very few independently wealthy priests who want to move to your parish and underwrite your budget. I do know very many fine young (and not so young) priests who are willing to consider a move to your parish if you will meet them half way.

Forward in Christ Vol. 5 No 2  September/December 2012


In Quietness and Confidence

By

Fr. Gene Geromel SSC Ph.D

In seminary I did an independent study on mental prayer. I remember my professor Dr. Jones saying, “In any form of meditation there are really three questions: what does it say; what does it say to me; and what am I going to do about it.” Before looking at particular forms or types of meditation it might be helpful to ask: what is Christian meditation? Christian meditation is a form of prayer. Like all prayer, its purpose is to communicate with God – the Father, the Son & the Holy Ghost. All communication is two way or it is supposed to be. There are times in prayer when we tell God whatever is on our mind or heart. There are other times when we listen. Meditation is listening. In fact, some authors have called it “listening prayer”.

But it should also be Christian. This is an important distinction. There are many forms of meditation. Most of us have read about how eastern meditation – Zen or yoga – may lower blood pressure and have other medical benefits. I have never seen a study on the medical benefits of Classic Christian meditation, but I suspect that has more to do with the biases of researchers then it does the benefits of Christian meditation. There is, however, one great distinction about Christian meditation. Most non-Christian forms of meditation have one thing in common; the purpose is to get in touch with oneself. The purpose of Christian meditation is to put us in touch with Christ, not ourselves. The paradoxical truth is that the person who sees himself in the light of Christ ends up knowing himself as well, and very likely better, than someone whose search is for himself alone.

When we read the classic authors, we see that all meditation begins with a preparation. In the old days, if you were a runner, you were told that you had to do stretches before a run. A golfer stretches and practices her swing. When it comes to God, most of us are too busy to prepare. Many years ago, a priest I knew, Fr. Titus Oates, told the story of a couple he used to visit every couple of months. They lived in a remote part of the desert and he would usually give advance notice before he flew there. One day his plane has engine trouble and he happened to land near their house. He said to them, “Isn’t it wonderful we can have mass tomorrow morning”. They looked at him strangely and said, “We couldn’t receive. We aren’t prepared.” You see, they spent the week before his visit in prayer and fasting. A good lesson to us all. Usually, the night before your meditation, you say a prayer and read the material. In the least, when you have little time, before your meditation, you should ask for God’s presence, His wisdom and His guidance.

This is not to say that suddenly the Spirit won’t move you to meditate on a passage you have read, or a prayer you have said, or a stain glass window you have seen. Some prayer is formal, like reading Morning Prayer, and other prayer is spontaneous, as when something wonderful happens and you enthusiastically exclaim, “Thank you, Jesus!” The same is true of meditation. When you have decided to practice meditation, it is helpful to choose a topic upon which to meditate. You may decide to meditate on one of the lessons for Morning Prayer or Mass. You may even choose a book of theology or a life of a saint.

One of the earliest forms of meditation is that practices by the monks of St. Benedict. It is known as Lectio Divina, which means ‘holy reading’. It is very simple. One reads a passage of scripture until struck by a line or a word. This usually means that the Holy Spirit is sending an inner prompting to consider this passage more fully. One would concentrate on that word or phrase until it has no more to offer. A helpful image is a sponge full of water. It is squeezed until there is no water left. At that point one goes on reading until something else intrigues.

This method is very cerebral. The emphasis is on thinking, analyzing, deducing, all with a view to understanding exactly what God wants us to learn from the passage’. One concentrates on what is mentally brought forth. Using Professor Jones’ model, we read the passage. We then ask “What is going on here”? Let us assume we are meditating on John 4 – the Samaritan woman at the well. Obviously, it would be helpful to know something about the place of women in Israel, the relationship between Samaritans and Jews at the time and the sexual mores of the two cultures. Perhaps the night before one could read William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible or Raymond Brown’s work on the Gospel of John. This could be part of the preparation or just part of the holy reading.

During the actual meditation a person could concentrate on what this fourth Chapter of John means to him or her. In guiding such a meditation, I might ask, “Do you yourself raise theological questions so that you don’t have to deal with Jesus? How did your baptism and its living water affect you? What does Jesus know about you that you would prefer that he didn’t?”

Another type of meditation is Ignatian. This comes from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. He has several types of meditation. The role of imagery plays an important part. After your preparation, you imagine what is going on in a scene or story of the Bible. Let us assume you are meditating on Peter walking on the water. Imagine you are sitting on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. You observe all that is happening in this story (Matt 14:22). Jesus has just fed the five thousand. He sends them, the disciples, ahead in the boat. He goes off to a quiet place to pray. They have difficulty sailing across the lake. They see him walking on the water and they are afraid. He comforts them with the words, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” Peter tries to walk on the water but fails when he takes his eyes off Jesus. Depending on your imagination you may be able see, hear, feel and smell all that is going on. Certainly, this form of meditation has the potential of being more emotional than the Lectio Divina. It moves both the heart and the mind.

Ignatius has another type of meditation which appears quite ‘Eastern’. One says a prayer and very slowly breathes in and out as the prayer is recited. It is a wonderful way to meditate during stressful times. Any prayer or passage of Scripture can be used – Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, Anima Christi, Jesus Prayer, 23 Psalm. It takes a while to learn to breathe in and out in a rhythmic way but it is worth the effort.

Many years ago, I was asked to do a series of talks on meditation. The week I discussed the Ignatian method, the Rector of the parish where I spoke came to me after the presentation. He said, “What do you do if you cannot imagine?” I assumed he was kidding but it soon was apparent that he was absolutely serious. It turned out that he could not imagine any of the bible stories. His mind did not work that way. While the Ignatian method fits my personality perfectly, he got absolutely nothing out of it.

There have been a number of books and articles about prayer and temperament. Just as each person learns with some methods better than with others, so do different forms of meditation fit certain personalities better. An excellent older book on this is Prayer and Temperament by Michael & Norrisey. It is based on the Myers-Briggs Type indicator, a test based on Jungian ‘types’ of personality. One of the classic books on meditation is Bede Frost’s, The Art of Mental Prayer. In this classic Anglican work he describes in great depth various types of meditation. Another way to choose a meditation method that agrees with your personality is to speak with your spiritual director.

Remember Dr. Jones said all mental prayer has three aspects: What does it say; what does it say to me; and what am I going to do about it. The last may be the most difficult. All mental prayer must end with some resolution. It should bring a change of heart in a very practical way. In other words, one resolves on some new action, or concentrates on some new insight. St. Francis De Sales describes it as a spiritual ‘nosegay’. When you walk through a field of flowers, you might pick a few flowers to remind you of the glory of the walk. Do not try to make changes in your life which are monumental. Rather, intend to make a small change which you have learned from your meditation.

One of the questions we frequently ask is: how long should we practice meditation? This is not a simple question. Most people try to do too much. They then give up because it is too difficult. Try starting at ten or fifteen minutes several times or even once a week. Having said that I would like to share a story one of my spiritual directors shared with me. He told me that he was at a conference with Archbishop Michael Ramsey. The Archbishop said he sometimes prays a minute a day. The audience gasped. Then he smiles and said, “It may take me an hour to do so.” All prayer is in the hands of God, give him the time and he will give you the grace.

Forward in Christ Vol.4 No. 3. July-August 2011

The Ungrateful

By

Fr. Gene Geromel SSC Ph.D.

 

I once served under a Bishop who told me that he left the parish ministry for nearly a decade because he felt like the servant in the parable of the Prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) It seemed to him that no one in his parish wanted to hear the joy of the Good News. We do not often think about this character, the Father’s servant. Usually when we read this parable we focus on the “Prodigal son” or the loving Father.

St. Ignatius Loyola tells us that when we meditate on a passage of Scripture we should reflect on each character individually. Each one has something to tell us about our relationship with God and our neighbor. The servant is a case in point. If this were a play he would be a “walk on” with one line. “Your brother has come and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.” Now the servant works for the father. We do not know if he is a slave or a paid servant. But we do know that he serves the father and does his will. It is no secret that in this parable the father is God the Father.

The father is overjoyed that his wayward son has returned. He orders that a feast be prepared. The servant carries the good news. Just like a parish priest who carries the promise of heaven, he announces joyful tidings, but so many ignore the joy of that promise. Some day watch your priest as people shake his hand after Mass. They have been fed with the Bread of Angels. They have heard the Word of God. They have been blessed by Word and Sacrament. But listen closely. “Isn’t the air conditioning working?” “It was too cold in the Church, can’t we afford the gas bill?” “The toilet is clogged in the ladies room.” “Can’t we do something about those children in the back pew? My children were always quiet.” “Why doesn’t this parish have a children’s choir?” “You forgot to announce the Christmas Bazaar.” “The wrong hymn number was in the bulletin.” You can understand why some priests want to run away from their parish.

However, the person we really need to meditate on is the eldest brother. His reaction is classic and sad. But first let us look at the whole parable. A man has two sons. The youngest son goes to the father and says, “Dad, someday some of this estate will be mine.” In other words, “Pops, when you die, I am going to get a third of your estate (under the law at the time the eldest brother would get two-thirds) give it to me now so I don’t have to wait.” The father does just that – liquidates a third of his estate and gives it to the son. A few days later the young son takes the money and goes off to the bright lights of the city. He then “squandered his property on loose living.” Eventually the money is gone and hard times fall on the land. He is forced to find a job feeding pigs – which was an abomination to any Jew. He finally repents and decides to go to the father and ask to be just one of the servants. The father is waiting for him. The son begins his confession and prayer of contrition, but the father calls a servant and says, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry.” It is after this that the servant informs the elder son what is happening.

The eldest son is furious and refuses to go to the party. The father comes to bring this son into the festivities. The venom flows from the son’s mouth, “Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf.”

If you remember you introductory Psychology class you know about the defense mechanism of Projection. Nowhere in the account does it say that the younger son was with “harlots”. But the eldest son knows what he would be doing if he went to the big city. His actions, working so hard for his father, were not done out of joy or love, but . . . quietly, without a word spoken, he envied the young brother. If he only had the strength, he would have done the same thing.

Consider how this way of thinking would have affected the eldest brother’s whole life. Undoubtedly he was married. Would not any wife know that deep in his heart he would like to be “with other women”? Would she not think that “I have done everything to please him, but he still acts as if something is missing”? Would she not have a sense of inadequacy which would have affected their entire relationship?

The loving father tells him, “Son you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” As Christians our heavenly Father has given us everything. Life, love, redemption, eternal life are ours for the asking. Yet, many of us are like the eldest son, feeling aggrieved, underpaid, overworked, longing for something different, not seeing the bounty that is under our nose.

We work for the father. We serve his church. We may be Senior Warden or treasurer, sing in the choir or even lead it, but do we ever truly understand what we have and have been given? Christ died for our sins – yes, but the Rector is too active in the community. You have the consolation of the sacrament, the Body and the Blood of our Lord – yes…. But the parishioners never wash their coffee cups after coffee hour! Your children have the promise of eternal life – yes, but if I have to choose between a sporting event and confirmation class, well . . .

Like everything in life we can choose the attitude by which we live. You can sit in choir and complain that the director or Rector always chooses the wrong hymns. Or you can remind yourself that worshiping God, just as the angels do, is a wonderful privilege. You can give to the church and charity freely and joyfully or you can complain about how the vestry does its job. You can rejoice that the Rector brings you the Blessed Sacrament at home or resent the fact that he only does it twice a month.

Have you ever worked for an unhappy and ungrateful person? Have you ever walked into a business run by such a person? As soon as you walk in door you know that this is not a nice place to work? When people walk into our church, what do they see and feel. Is it the resentments of the ungrateful elder son? Or do strangers feel joy of the loving and forgiving Father? It all depends on whether or not we are grateful for the Fathers presence.

Forward in Christ Vol. 3 No.5- November -December 2010

 

 

 

 

 

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