“To live in the midst of the world without wishing its pleasures”

This post is a continuation of a previous post. To read the previous post, click here: What Does it Mean to be a Priest?: Intro

Not Wasting any Time

Lacordaire doesn’t waste any time getting to the heart of what it means to be a priest. The first part of this quote seems pretty straight forward; a sort of “living in the world but not of the world” mentality. Certainly we can see the scriptural basis for Lacordaire’s words throughout the Old and New Testaments (Prov. 11: 28, Matt. 6: 19-21, 1 Tim. 6: 7-10, 1 Jn. 2: 16, etc.)  which lends itself to the possibility that out of all the attributes listed in Lacordaire’s quote, this one may be the most thought about and accepted. After all, this is the basic premise, not only for the priesthood, but for all Christian living. This phrase has two distinct parts “to live in the midst of the world” and “without wishing its pleasures.” These two parts, while they obviously work together and are connected, are also distinct.

“To Live in the Midst of the World”

This first part, taken on its own, seems a little obvious and maybe even a little funny. It’s like Lacordaire was saying “in order to be a priest you have to first be alive.” Duh. I didn’t think there is even an issue with zombies wanting to become priests (although that would make for a great Walking Dead episode; s/o Fr. Gabriel). But what does Lacordaire actually mean? What does it mean to really “live in the midst of the world?” I think Pope Francis has a great explanation as to what this means. Pope Francis said that we should be “shepherds with the smell of sheep.”  This classic quote from Pope Francis has less to do with personal hygiene and has everything to do with how we should live our Christian lives.  Notice that Lacordaire says to live in the midst of the world, not simply be in the midst of the world. What is the difference between simply being and actually living; between merely surviving and truly thriving? To live in the midst of the world is to go to the peripheries of that world and surround yourself with those who are found there. Those found in the peripheries are not just the ill or the homeless or the persecuted, sometimes those living in the peripheries are those in our own family or in our own home. We can so often think that “the world” is some far off place, away from where ever we are. But the reality is that the world is exactly where we are, and those on the peripheries are exactly who we are with. To live in the midst of the world is to open our eyes to what is right in front of us and to show love and mercy to those people who surround us every day.

“…Without Wishing it’s Pleasures”

This part is a little more difficult. Once again the wording of this phrase is of the utmost importance. Notice that Lacordaire does not say “with out partaking in it’s pleasures.” He takes it a step further and says “without wishing it’s pleasures.” Understand the difference here. Not only does being a priest mean that you do not engage in “worldly” activities but being a priest means that you don’t even want to. That’s a very important distinction. To not do something bad is one thing, but to not want to do it is something entirely different. I am reminded of the quote from St. Augustine who prayed “Lord, grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” Augustine shows here a classic example of not wanting to let go of his “favorite sin.” I think we all have that one sin (or two or three sins) that even if we have the strength to resist the temptation, we still wish we could commit. This is a natural part of our human condition that takes the supernatural gift of grace to be able to consistently conquer. To be a priest means to constantly rely on the gift of grace to be able to live in the midst of the world without wishing it’s pleasures. Which, obviously, is much easier said than done

I’ll end part one of this series with a quote from Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati (pictured above) who said, “True happiness does not consist in the pleasures of the world and in earthly things, but in peace of conscience which we can have only if we are pure in heart and in mind.” As priests, both ordained and lay, we are called to actively live in this world full of pleasures and desire none of them. Because in the end the happiness gained from those pleasures is fleeting but the joy we receive from our Father that comes along with being a priest, is everlasting.