The ministry of reconciliation

“For me, the one thing that makes me happy about being a priest is… seeing people reconciled to each other.” – Fr. Tyler Strand, rector of Holy Trinity Church, Makati

Last Friday, Brent International School played host to an unprecedented event. A Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Tony de Castro, SJ, was invited along with Fr. Tyler Strand to address a group of upper school students on ministry as a vocation. A third participant, the senior pastor at Union Church, could not make it for undisclosed reasons. Having a Roman Catholic priest address students at chapel time is considered unprecedented; in recent years, Brent did not have anyone from the majority religious community there speaking to students. Such a deplorable development is contrary to their founder’s high regard for the Roman Catholic Church. It was this that led Bishop Brent to refuse signing a concordat that would assign areas of the Philippines for Protestants to “Christianize.” He believed that Roman Catholicism had already done that, for better or for worse.

The two priests addressed questions concerning their calling to ministry, their best and worst experiences of it, and the very difficult issue of women and the ordained ministry. The latter was handled with candor and honesty by both priests. Fr. Tony decided to introduce, albeit without naming it, aspects of the Ignatian process of discernment and how it applies to answering the call to ministry. The other memorable part for me was how Fr. Tyler placed an emphasis on the role of an ordained minister as a minister of reconciliation. I think that, considering recent events in the ECP and the wider Communion, this particular aspect needs to be highlighted.

It became clear that apart from the flexibility of the Episcopal/Anglican tradition in some parts of the world when it comes to ordaining married men and women, the Anglican/Roman Catholic consensus on the nature of ministry and vocation in general showed in today’s discussion. I think both highlighted the nature of vocation as a universal call to holiness and the individual response taking a particular form. This is a necessary corrective to a largely individualistic conception of vocations which ignores the role of the Church as the community wherein that call is given form and the response discerned. This was a point made clear by Fr. Tyler when he emphasized that in the Anglican tradition in particular, the community’s role was important. (He had in mind of course the canonical processes shared by the ECP and the ECUSA for ordinations.)

The good thing was that the event was well-received. The sad thing though was that there was little time available, and I am hoping that a smaller event for a smaller audience, taking more time, could be held. However, such a forum opens doors for more to be done to enable both the Catholic community at Brent and the Anglican ethos of that school to flourish. It can be done and last Friday was a promising start.

*****

I think that Fr. Tyler hit it on the head when he mentioned what made him happy as a priest. I wonder, though, if being a minister of reconciliation requires that sometimes one becomes a sign of scandal. Sometimes, the standards we use to judge the leaders of the world are hard to apply in respect of some people, for whom the good they have done would be misinterpreted in their lifetimes.

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