Nearly 800 New York Catholic priests received a message about how to maintain their moral integrity from Pastor Rick Warren, who used Scripture passages and his experiences from 40 years as an Evangelical Christian pastor, to speak personally to fellow pastors.
His talk, “Maintaining the Moral Integrity of the Ministry to Which God Has Called Us,” was delivered during the archdiocese’s biennial Safe Environment Convocation at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie June 6-7.
“Brothers, what we do matters more than what anybody else does in the world,” said Pastor Warren at the outset of his presentation.
“That’s because the only thing that’s going to last on the planet is the Church of Jesus Christ.”
He said the job description for a pastor can be boiled down to three basic criteria: having a message worth remembering, a lifestyle worth considering and a faith worth imitating.
“That’s our calling,” he said simply.
Pastor Warren, author of the best-selling book “The Purpose Driven Life,” is the founder and longtime senior pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of the largest religious congregations in the United States.
The pastor told the archdiocesan and religious order priests before him that, in his four decades of ministry, he has conducted training sessions with 480,000 pastors in 160 countries. He noted that there were at least “a dozen homilies” in the handout materials he was providing. “I willingly give this away to you…Use whatever you can. We are all in this together.”
The context for his discussion with the priests was that Satan has no new temptations. The three worldly temptations are outlined in 1 John 2:15-17, which says, “Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes and a pretentious way of life, is not from Father but is from the world. Yet the world and its enticement are passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever.”
The temptations can be boiled down to passions (pleasure), possessions and positions (power, prestige).
Antidotes to the three temptations are integrity, generosity and humility.
To illustrate the importance of the virtue of integrity in a pastor’s life, Pastor Warren said, “All leadership is built on trust, not title.” The first thing that happens when you go to apply for a loan is the bank runs a credit check to see if you are credit-worthy, he said.
“The people in my congregation do a credit check on me 24 hours a day,” the pastor said. “If I betray their trust, then I forfeit my right to lead them.”
Early in his presentation, Pastor Warren told the priests, “We need all of you to make it to the finish line,” with their integrity completely intact.
Later, he gave them an eight-step guide to protect themselves so they can accomplish that goal. He suggested sharing it with their staffs and parish leaders.
The third item on the list was to “know” their personal patterns of temptation, so they can be avoided. The priests were given a checklist of questions to consider:
• When am I most tempted?
• Where am I most tempted?
• Who is with me when I am most tempted?
• What temporary benefit do I get if I give in?
• How do I feel right before I am tempted?
Pastor Warren shared openly about “the worst day of my life,” when his youngest son, Matthew, committed suicide in 2013. The Cardinal Spellman Center, where the convocation was held, became pin-drop quiet, as he told the priests about the 16 weeks he went without preaching or teaching. He said he spent 12 hours a day alone with God.
“If I hadn’t handled my grief well, I would have been very vulnerable to temptations,” the pastor explained.
Pastor Warren, speaking briefly with CNY following his talk, said Christians must stick together in a world that is taking on an increasingly secular outlook. “We’re on the same team,” he said. “The enemy is not other believers.”
Father Francis Samoylo, pastor of St. Columbanus parish in Cortlandt Manor, said he likes the strategies Pastor Warren offered for dealing with temptation.
“We all have temptations,” Father Samoylo said. “The idea of refocusing and replacing that temptation with something else was good. You think about resisting temptation, but that keeps the temptation in your presence.”
Msgr. Leslie Ivers, director of ongoing priestly formation in the archdiocese, called Pastor Warren’s presentation “the best talk we’ve ever had.”
“He loves Christ and he loves the Church. That’s what we all need to be about.”