The Sacred Heart of Ministry.

This reflection was first offered as part of a homily for the thirtieth anniversary of priesthood of my friend Bernard Cotter which fell on the feast of the Sacred Heart 2014.  (with reference to 2 Cor 4:1-6).

Thirty years, twenty years or one year of ministry is first of all a matter of the heart. Think of  all the things you might learn in those years of ministry. When to speak, and when not; what our gifts are; where we’re challenged; what annoys people; the teaching of the Church and where the rubber hits the road.. After a time we get the hang of things and may even become proficient. After a time we know what in our ministry makes us dance for joy and what parts make us want to hit the snooze button and turn over. But the heart is another thing.

These years are about the sacred heart of ministry. This is to be found where the heart of the minister meets the heart of Christ. The heart of ministry is a human heart which holds the love of Christ and freely shares it.  I want to look at some qualities of the heart of the minister which may be so ordinary we barely notice them.

The heart of the minister is open to receive. Paul says – ‘truly the love of God has been poured into our hearts.’  The heart of the minister has heard God call him or her by name. Has heard the words – ‘do not be afraid – you are precious and honoured in my sight and I love you.’  The minister’s heart has moved from being empty to being full.  It has received faith, hope and love as free gifts and shares them wholeheartedly. The heart of the minister continues to be open and continues to receive. The day the heart closes is the day its ministry is over.

The heart of the minister perseveres. Paul says ‘we do not lose heart.’  Our ministry comes from Christ and it is Christ we offer, not ourselves. This sustains us through the challenges we face. We meet and share in people’s suffering and this soon means that the heart of the minister is a bit broken too. We meet our own failure and the failure of much of what we hoped for.  We come to integrate brokenheartedness into our spiritual journey, perhaps coming closer to the broken heart of Jesus. We are sometimes downhearted and definitely fainthearted. But we do not lose heart.

The heart of the minister is truthful. Our perseverance comes from neither strength nor delusion.  It comes from the truth that we are clay jars. But we believe that the treasure we hold is extraordinary and precious. So we don’t have to hide who we are, but just keep it real for ourselves and others. If we hide ourselves we hide the treasure that lies within.  If, as Paul says, we cultivate habits of cunning or truth-bending we simply forget where we put it and the treasure is lost.

The heart of the minister is the heart of love. Not because we are the touchy feely types, and not because we feel it always, but because love is what we have received. Not because we are nice, but because love is the heart of Christ.

The U2 song says

We can’t fall any further if we can’t feel ordinary love
And we cannot reach any higher if we can’t deal with ordinary love

Ordinary love gives us access to ultimate reality in Christ.

Jesus says to all of us – ‘learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart.’

I see in many colleagues the sacred heart of Christ’s minister. It is a full heart; a weathered heart; a heart open to the grace and wisdom which comes from long haul prayer. It is a listening heart; a pastoral heart willing to bend to include and accommodate. It is a quiet and patient heart in the face of trouble, and a rebellious heart when it comes to injustice or nonsense.  It is a gentle and humble heart. It is a loyal heart. It is a heart which can be trusted. It is a heart full of sincerity, presence, prayerfulness, integrity. It is a sacred heart. It puts love first.


Author: realmofsparks

Anne Francis is a Pastoral/Practical theologian and spiritual care practitioner. She has a Pastoral Supervision practice and is author of 'Called: Women in Ministry in Ireland.'

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