I write to you desiring to strike a new mutual understanding between us. Perhaps, for some time, we lived under the happy expectation that I would join the ranks of your pastors; that I would engage, in a very direct way, in your care; that both generally and individually, I would administer to your needs as you are--as souls--and perhaps be a reservoir of grace in the service of your salvation and my own as well.
That expectation was, I should not like to say destroyed, but rather transformed. Souls, please understand, I never lost my desire or my care for you. In truth, I lately discover that it is you I care about above any of the accessories you carry about you. My reasons for leaving the track that would lead me into an official position of responsibility for you, are not that I discovered a lack of love for you. Let us think of it instead in these terms. In the short course of my years, as much as I have learned about your inner movements, your most important concerns, your longings, your thrills, your sadnesses, and your loves--this much have I lost regard for the games you play on the outside. So much distaste have I developed for those games--especially where they contradict you--you souls--and where they serve only to increase your sadness, that the games now terrify me with their ugliness. I flee them wherever I encounter them.
And so I ceased long ago to develop skills that would aid me in playing your games effectively. For that reason I confess, I am not able to command or politick or schmooze; I cannot lead, organize, empower, or otherwise motivate. I cannot administer, govern, delegate, compromise, or bargain. One great irony of my life is that, while I am no stranger to public speaking--an art I continue to enjoy--it is precisely the public I loathe. You, you souls, you I love. The public I hate. The priest must preach, he must teach, and he must govern. He must macro-manage; he must maintain a social machine, oiling the gears, cleaning the debris, preserving appearances and customs. He must carefully guard his own soul from all while you bare yourself to him... but ever so selectively. All is safe, all is appearances, all is proper, all is routine. A priest no doubt cares for souls. But he is ever more the custodian of calcified public images; cardboard cutouts of "okayness" that come to life only to thrash those men reluctant to preserve them unchanged.
Souls, I hope you do not misunderstand me. I do not criticize public religion nor public service. God created us as social spirits, and because of sin our societies need order--public order. This is a mercy, and one we may celebrate. But why do some personalities (like my own) feel justly more alone in a room full of people than with one or two? Is there not something even mildly sinister in how little honesty, transparency, humility can survive the group setting? That here, I am no longer in a room with many souls (many of you), but with only so many strategically programmed automations, deployed for survival in hostile territory, with all defenses go?
[post-script insert: the liturgy is an entirely different entity than this!]
And so, souls, I have retreated, not from you, not away, but toward you. Yes, I have pulled away from the allergens that I never developed the ability to tolerate; I have receded indoors, into air-conditioned space, protected from the pollen, as it were, within the deep underground floors of libraries and acadamia. I have done so for three reasons, here in order from least to greatest. Number one, for myself, because the games have become painful to me. Number two, for you, so that when you, too, tire of being other than what you are, you can find some comfort in my company, without judgment or reprisal. Number three, in service to truth.
A note on that last. Our salvation is fulfilled in the grace of charity which has its source from God via the sacraments. No book learning is necessary. But the professor and the priest serve complimentary roles in the Church's mission to bring Christ's salvation to all. In analogous ways both offer Christ to people in Word and Sacrament; the priest in persona Cristi; the professor as a minister to the unfolding of the written Word. The professor is the technician to the priest; he is the Q to the priest's 007--ever vital, ever ancillary, ever developing further the instruments by which the priest can accomplish his task.
And yet, souls, please do not think that by taking this path I place between you and me the priest as a buffer; that I seek to insulate myself from you behind the security of book-laden walls. It is here where I find that you are easier to reach than within the parish offices and halls; where what is really you rises to the surface, both in the words of men who knew you better than I, and in your own words responding back, ever new, ever completing the picture.
Thus I hope we have a new mutual understanding. I am not, I think, your pastor, but I can be a friend, perhaps, or a counselor, for it is in the heart-to-heart that I serve in my element. Let us learn from one another, and let that learning serve the Church in whatever way is fitting.