Today’s Office, the First Reading from Deuteronomy 32:48ff. includes the account of the death of Moses:
“The Lord spoke to Moses that same day and said to him, ‘Climb Mount Nebo, that mountain of the Abarim range, in the land of Moab, opposite Jericho, and view the land of Canaan which I am giving the sons of Israel as their domain. Die on the mountain you have climbed, and be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. Because you broke faith with me among the sons of Israel that time at Meribath-kadesh in the wilderness of Zin, because you did not display my holiness among the sons of Israel, you may see this land only from afar; you cannot enter it, this land that I am giving to the sons of Israel.’”
As we read, Moses cannot enter the Promised Land because of the incident in the desert of Zin, where he, the prophet, and Aaron, the priest, failed to display God’s holiness to the sons of Israel. From the entire text you get the impression that, great as he was in the eyes of God, Moses did not “make the cut” and ended up in Limbo, because he had not mortified himself sufficiently in accordance with God’s will.
It is only an impression on my part and one more than anything provoked in me as I look at myself, a sharer in the ministry of priest, prophet and king, which Jesus, the Holy One of God, entrusted to His Church.
Time for an examination of conscience! Not because Limbo is an option for this priest, but because beyond Hell confinement in Purgatory for however long is an undesirable consolation prize, unworthy of all I owe to the One Who first loved me, the Christ, and to His Church.
Thomas à Kempis in The Imitation of Christ, in the part reserved for the worthy reception of Holy Communion, devotes Chapter VII especially to the priest, his examination of conscience, and purpose of amendment (Kindle Locations 2854-2881). Here are the points he offers, which to my way of thinking have lost none of their relevance toward shaping a priestly heart and obedience, capable of manifesting to those entrusted to his care, the holiness of God:
“Above all things the priest of God must draw nigh, with all humility of heart and supplicating reverence, with full faith and pious desire for the honour of God, to celebrate, minister, and receive this Sacrament. Diligently examine thy conscience and with all thy might with true contrition and humble confession cleanse and purify it, so that thou mayest feel no burden, nor know anything which bringeth thee remorse and impedeth thy free approach. Have displeasure against all thy sins in general, and specially sorrow and mourn because of thy daily transgressions. And if thou have time, confess unto God in the secret of thine heart, all miseries of thine own passion.”
Here are his points for which he invites the priest to… Lament grievously and be sorry, because thou art still:
- so carnal and worldly, so unmortified from thy passions,
- so full of the motion of concupiscence,
- so unguarded in thine outward senses, so often entangled in many vain fancies, so much inclined to outward things,
- so negligent of internal;
- so ready to laughter and dissoluteness, so unready to weeping and contrition;
- so prone to ease and indulgence of the flesh, so dull to zeal and fervour;
- so curious to hear novelties and behold beauties, so loth to embrace things humble and despised; so desirous to have many things, so grudging in giving, so close in keeping;
- so inconsiderate in speaking, so reluctant to keep silence;
- so disorderly in manners, so inconsiderate in actions;
- so eager after food, so deaf towards the Word of God; so eager after rest, so slow to labour;
- so watchful after tales, so sleepy towards holy watchings; so eager for the end of them, so wandering in attention to them;
- so negligent in observing the hours of prayer, so lukewarm in celebrating, so unfruitful in communicating;
- so quickly distracted, so seldom quite collected with thyself;
- so quickly moved to anger, so ready for displeasure at others;
- so prone to judging, so severe at reproving;
- so joyful in prosperity, so weak in adversity;
- so often making many good resolutions and bringing them to so little effect.
The language of my edition might be antiquated, but the message has lost none of its application, in our day and time, to priests and bishops, young and old. The chapter ends on a frank, but truly encouraging note:
“If a man shall have done what in him lieth, and shall repent him truly, then how often soever he shall draw nigh unto Me for pardon and grace, As I live, saith the Lord, soever he shall draw nigh unto Me for pardon and grace, As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted, and live. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him.” (cf. Ezekiel xviii. 22, 23)
Deuteronomy says that Moses died and was buried in a ravine on Mount Nebo at 120 years of age, still vigorous and having his eye sight. He must have been clearly aware of the price he had to pay for his unmortified behavior (his impatience with the people?).
My prayer would be that The Imitation or some other aid or person would rescue us, priests and bishops, from whatever the distraction which keeps us unmortified and thus hindered in showing forth to God’s people His great holiness, His loving will for us to enter into His rest.