ON All Saints’ Day 1974, a schoolboy, still enthralled by London and church, found himself in Mowbrays bookshop near Oxford Circus, and after half an hour or so of happy browsing, found himself a leather-bound copy of Whatton’s The Priest’s Companion, which he purchased for £1.50. It contained all sorts of strange, extreme and very un-Anglican devotions (Eastern and Western). And there was a series of essays, exhortations almost, about what it meant to be a priest. What were they supposed to do? Here were some of the answers.
I cherish that book still, and use it often. It’s not very popular stuff these days: we are so concerned to emphasise the priesthood of all believers that we forget the particularities of the ordained ministry.
Perhaps John-Francis Friendship’s book (Petertide Ordinations features, 6 July) can help to redress the balance. Friendship is an Anglican priest, a very experienced spiritual director, and a retreat conductor. For 25 years, he was a Brother of the Society of St Francis, and perhaps this goes some way to explaining one of his recurring motifs: devotion to what the Society calls the “Divine Compassion” (the “Sacred Heart of Jesus” in Roman Catholic terminology). This affective spirituality, dwelling as it does on the love and mercy shown to us in and through the humanity of Jesus, is intended as an essential counterbalance to more juridical and joyless interpretations of the gospel which can all too often hold sway (and envelop the life of the priest).
This is an interesting undertow throughout Friendship’s book: the cultivation of this kind of compassion is essential to the life of the priest. To show it to others, priests must nourish it in themselves. They need to be clear about what — or, rather, whom — they seek.
This properly evangelical passion for the Lord, the lifeblood of any priest, needs to be fed and watered daily, and this book offers many pointers as to how this can happen, among them: the honest acknowledgement of one’s sin and failure through confession; the importance of imaginative prayer as part of the priest’s personal prayer life; the importance of the Daily Office in imparting the language of scripture; the centrality of the eucharist; and the importance of truly being oneself: the bringing of what is properly “me” to that priesthood of Christ in which I am called to share.
There is a series of appendices that give practical guides to confession, imaginative prayer, and so on. More resources are available from the author online.
Some of this book might be unsettling to some readers. If so, good. We still need a modern version of my old favourite (and the principal of a certain theological college knows that I want him to write it), but Friendship’s book fills a gap in writing about what it means to live the life of a priest, and how it might still be possible to live both in sanity and sanctity as an ordained person in today’s Church. The book is to be recommended for the ordained and the non-ordained alike.
The Revd Peter McGeary is the Vicar of St Mary’s, Cable Street, in east London, and a Priest-Vicar of Westminster Abbey.
Enfolded in Christ: The inner life of a priest
Canterbury Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70