Recently some very good friends of mine have been ordained to the Priesthood and to the Diaconate. Back in the days when I used to have a salary I would have greeted each of these great occasions with gifts and cards, but now, being poor I have only my thoughts and prayers to go with people on their journey.
All the services I have been to have been beautiful and blessed; people, friends and family have shown their amazing generosity in pulling together an 'event', from the readings to the flowers, the outfits, the prayer cards, the music, the travel arrangements, the devotion, the laughs, the tears, the parties and the celebrations - all has been amazing. But for all these friends, five this year, and others from years gone by, my one prayer is for happiness. I do not know why, really. I guess ordained ministry strikes me as a challenge that when it strikes deep, can give great joy. But, no matter what your denomination, it is a hard way of life, often lonely and sometimes a bit frightening. Part of me thinks of it as life in the goldfish bowl - often you end up placed on a pedestal while everyone stares at you and makes sure you are doing okay by their standards. Are you gold and shiny enough? Are you on the right circuit? Have the right friends? Say the right things? I suppose this is the same in many other professions, but in ministry their seems to be no 'off' button. I only ever think that people should be doing alright with themselves and their maker, no one else is fit to judge - although many like to think they are.
So, for all my friends ordained this year, in the Church of England, the Lutheran Church and the Roman Catholic Church, I have special prayer: I want you to be happy. I hope that you will always know at least one person at whom you can shout, scream and swear about your frustrations with life, liberty and fruit of the loom. I would like you all to remain very good at laughing. I hope you have the tremendous faith in your work needed to make it inspirational for you and for others. I pray that you enjoy growing with, and learning from, the bunch of loons (I mean, congregation) you are sent to minister to; always try and see the good in people, even when they are really very annoying.
The Feast of Philip Neri has this summed up in the first reading, to many of you I sent it in a card, but for the record:
'I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord, I repeat, what I want is your happiness. Let your tolerance be evident to everyone: the Lord is very near. There is no need to worry; but if there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving, and that peace of God, which is much greater than we can understand, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honour, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise...Then the peace of God will be with you.' (Phil 4: 4 - 9)