Austin Farrer on the priesthood

Austin Farrer on the priesthood

It is useless for a Christian apostle or a Christian bishop or a Christian priest to pretend he has nothing to give, no spiritual gift to share with his friends; or what is the good of him? He dare not deny his commission. Has not Christ promised to bless the preaching of his word, and the ministry of his sacraments? Confess to me and you shall be absolved, listen to me with faith and you shall hear God speak; I bring you the sacrament in my hands, it is the Body of Christ.

from The Essential Sermons, (SPCK, 1991), 14.

No one’s calling or profession shows them up as a priest’s does. And indeed, as I began by saying, there is nothing to prevent a priest from being a very ordinary man; most priests must always have been so. Being a priest does not make a man more helpful to his fellow-Christians in matters of wisdom or kindness; what it does do is give his fellow Christians a right to his services. It might well be (to take another case) that the woman next door to you had greater gifts for teaching small children than the school-mistress; but that doesn’t mean you can expect her to teach your little family for you. You’ve a right to the school-mistress’s services; she’s given herself over to be eaten alive by the children of the place. And so with the priest: go on, eat him alive, it’s what he’s for; you needn’t feel shy of devouring his time, so long, of course, as it’s to fulfill a need.

Or again, in matters strictly of religion. Anyone may be a better Christian than the priest, more holy of life, more deeply versed in prayer. But the priest has a special obligation to lead a devout life, to study divinity, to pray; and so to be fit to give some help to his fellow-Christians in these supremely important concerns. Other people may expound the faith, and speak or write in Christ’s name, more wisely and more competently than the priest. They may do such things, and even do them better; the priest must: he must keep the congregation supplied with its staple diet: he must keep giving them some word from God.

I’ve been talking all this while (have I not?) about the priesthood as ‘they,’ as though I wasn’t one of them. But of course I am, and I’ve been thinking about my own office. And as I talk to you I hope that you will be listening to me as to a priest — that is, you won’t just be pulley my (no doubt inadequate) remarks to pieces, but that you’ll be listening for something from the voice of God, spoken over my shoulders; for God commends to you, surely, his new-made priest, for you to take him to your hearts; to receive from him the blessings with which he has been entrusted

from The Essential Sermons, (SPCK, 1991), 103.

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