No elite military unit in the world enjoys the level of camaraderie that is given to those who share a common confession and serve in the Office of the Holy Ministry. Of course, I’ve never been in any elite military unit, nor do I really know how to measure or compare levels of camaraderie. What I really mean is that I cannot imagine any greater camaraderie, any greater or higher union or bond, than that which I share with fellow confessional pastors lest it be the bond with Christ Himself – but that I know not apart from the Office where the bond is bestowed upon clergy and laity alike.
I’ve sought to articulate this throughout the years. I always come back to “comradery.” Our bond has been forged in the Church’s defensive combat against the devil for the souls of the saints. This joyous bond is distinct from that of the one fleshness with wife. It is likewise distinct from filial duty and affection toward parents or the paternal contentment that God can give for our children. I think that it is also distinct from the bond that all Christians know with one another and even from that which undershepherds feel toward those whom they serve. It is related to all those things, but is distinct. It is difficult to express because it is difficult to think about, but it is not difficult to recognize. The Greeks, for sure, would know it as philos, which was, for them, the highest form of love built, as it was, upon respect, trust, and knowledge.
To call these men simply “brothers” seems too weak and at least partially inaccurate, though I know not how else to address them. Some of them are more sons and others more fathers than they are brothers. Still others are like cousins or friends of a friend. They are recognized immediately. There is instant joy in their company, but it is not yet a knowing love. The bond is there but it is not as deep as it might be. As the love becomes knowing, and circumstances change, the relationships flow. A man once a cousin can become a father or a brother or a son. A father can become a brother. That happens with some frequency as sons come into their own.
We hope, however, that a father never become a son. But that happens also. Age and infirmity make men feeble. One-time sons sometimes are called upon to father their fathers. I’ve done a bit of that. Just thinking of it now brings a tear to my eye. It is humbling and terrible, but also, in a strange way, wonderful, because the Office is greater than the men who fill it and it endures beyond the life of even our greatest earthly fathers. We serve in the Office. The Office is what defines us. The Office also what defines and creates our bond. And the best of us, or, us at our best, know beyond all things that we not only serve in the Office, but, chiefly, we are served by the Office. So the hoary heads of our fathers bow over shaky hands to receive a blessing that leads out of this dying life.
The nurture of this bond is one of the main benefits of a gathering together with like-minded, faithful pastors. The gathering this past Tuesday at St. Paul’s in Brookfield served, for me, this purpose beautifully. Gently, but firmly, was I rebuked, encouraged, and instructed. I garnered enough sermon and catechetical material from table side conversations to last many weeks.