Yesterday afternoon, after walking around a bit, I visited the Lake Junaluska Methodist Bookstore and Chapel. The Bookstore reminded me of how much I miss the big bookstores that used to enrich our mid-town Manhattan neighborhood, but which are all gone victims of the post-modernity they themselves had earlier seemed to herald. The Chapel is a veritable gem of traditional Protestant church architecture (complete with stained glass windows featuring the Wesley brothers). I spent some quiet time there, leafing through the Methodist Hymnal, imagining singing some of its theological and spiritual treasures.
Then, last night's conference focused on The Priest as Physician of Mercy, the priest's participation in the healing and comforting ministry of Jesus. We began with the existential fact that we live in a time when the Church is emphasizing mercy, that is, God's love for us in the face of our sins, weaknesses, and needs. From Blessed Pope John Paul II, whose first encyclical was Dives in Misericordia ("Rich in Mercy") and who promoted the modern devotion to the Divine Mercy to Pope Francis, this is a time when the Church has chosen to emphasize mercy.
In ordinary human situations, priests are challenged to be physicians of mercy by being men of prayer in whom people have the right to expect to encounterJesus' healing presence. So the question posed to us was: Are we "encounterable"? Is our human personality a bridge to Jesus Christ?
For those of us not naturally gifted with attractive and pleasing personalities, that can be no small challenge!
In contrast to the 1970s "wounded healer" mindset, it was stressed too that a priest must be a "healed wounded healer." A priest must himself receive and experience what he purports to minister to others. Hence the recommendation for such traditional means as "daily examen, open and honest spiritual direction, and regular confession." And we need to pray, as in the Votive Mass for the Sacred heart of Jesus, Clothe us, Lord God, with the virtues of the heart of your Son, and set us aflame with his love ...