Tuesday, March 18, 2008


This morning was the annual "Renewal of Vows and Chrism Mass" at the Cathedral. That means that most of the clergy in the Diocese gather to renew our Ordination Vows. Also during the service, the Bishops bless the oil that is used through the year for Chrismation and Unction. All the clergy tote bottles to the service to have them filled for the year's supply. (Of course, plenty more is kept at the Cathedral in case we run out.) It's an interesting tradition that helps remind us all of our connection to the Bishops and the Diocesan family.

Every year before the service Christian Swayne, OHC, sits in a side-chapel to hear Confessions before the service. Usually I take advantage of this opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation (aka "Confession"), but this year I didn't for two reasons: 1) I arrived at the Cathedral about 15 minutes before the service, and didn't feel like I was in the right head-space to confess for that reason, and 2) I couldn't think of anything specific to confess this year. Of course, often when I've gone for this sacrament I've confessed something vague and innocuous, which has some value, but it's not what we usually imagine Confession is for. As I sat in my Cathedral box-pew, I decided that Reconciliation is best received after suitable preparation, which I hadn't really done, so I should just try again next year.

The service itself was mostly about faithfulness and discipleship--worthy themes to preach to a church full of priests--but I wasn't really moved until I went up for Communion and passed through the choir while they sang some particularly lovely canticle (a setting of Ubi Caritas, I believe). At that moment, ascending the steps into the chancel and surrounded at once by the choir, the stain glass, so many clergy friends, and immanent Communion, I smiled and tilted my head back to drink it all in.

Then God pulled the rug out from my comfortable ego. By the time today was done I was made aware of several ways in which I failed people. Basically, several different people, in all love and charity, confronted me about some things I've failed to take care of recently. It's nothing that really hurts people or things in a major way, but it's just stuff where I let people down. I was expected to do certain things and I failed. I had to apologize and promise to do better. More than that, I was able to come up with some ways of correcting my behavior so that I should get a better result next time.

This kind of correction is hard. But, you know, we priest-types are always asking our people to accept loving criticism, and that's pretty hypocritical if we aren't willing to accept some ourselves. A senior priest told me a few months ago, "You need people to tell you when you are being an ass hole." So true.

The place where I really learned how to take criticism well was CPE. CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) is a training program for clergy that involves a combination of supervised pastoral care (in the form of chaplaincy) and what amount to group and individual therapy. One of the key experiences in this is learning how to criticize your peers and receive criticism in a healthy way. This is very, very difficult. But in CPE we spent literally hours and hours sitting in a circle listening to others criticize us. It's brutal. But if you survive, it's because you've developed a way to receive and process critique (and all the emotions that go with it).

Of course, some clergy would say that you should never admit to making mistakes in public unless you really must, because it undermines people's trust in your competence. But I think that's just baloney--if we can't repent openly, how is anyone else going to learn to do it? We are called to be models of the Christian life, after all, and that means continual amendment of life!

So now I need to get some cat litter and then work on a project due tomorrow morning that I have been procrastinating on. God help me, a sinner!


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