I came across this gem while preparing for a Bible Study class on the readings for the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee (esp. 2 Timothy 3:10-15). This mirrors the advice given to a friend by his doctor when my friend complained about the pain an upcoming procedure was sure to inflict. In his best pastoral bedside manner the doctor replied to my friend’s complaints by saying; “Suck it up, buttercup.” My friend went through the procedure and is better for it. Life is hard. Priesting is hard. People are often thoughtless or even mean. This doesn’t excuse their behavior, but it does help pastors frame their understanding of and place in it. Note that I have paraphrased parts of the translation to make it easier to read. – Fr. Anthony Perkins
LETTER CLXVII (St. Leo the Great, Pope of Rome)
Leo, the bishop, to Rusticus, bishop of Gallia Narbonensis.
I received your letter with joy, my brother. I understand that two of your priests, Sabinian and Leo, caused you problems and expressed their dissatisfaction with your leadership. I also note that they have withdrawn their complaints against you. It is up to you how and whether to discipline them, but I do advise you that love is to guide all applications of spiritual medicine to the sick. This requires that the healer follows the guidance of Scripture which says “be not over just”. As such, you should act with mildness towards these who in their zeal for chastity seem to have exceeded the limits of vengeance, lest the devil, who deceived the adulterers, should triumph over the avengers of the adultery.
Having said that, I am surprised, my beloved, that you are so upset by what happened that you say you would rather be relieved of the labors of your assignment and live in quietness and ease than continue in the office committed to you. But since the LORD says, “blessed is he who shall persevere unto the end,” where will this blessed perseverance come from, if not from the strength of patience in the face of such struggles? For as the Apostle proclaims, “All who would live godly in Christ shall suffer persecution.” Sword, fire, and the like are not the only sources of persecution against the Christian religion; the most common and most dangerous persecution is often inflicted by nonconformity of practice and persistent disobedience and the barbs of ill-natured tongues.
Moreover, seeing as how all members of the Church are always liable to these attacks, and no portion of the faithful are free from temptation, so that a life neither of ease nor of labour is devoid of danger, who shall guide the ship amidst the waves of the sea if the helmsman quits his post? Who shall guard the sheep from the treachery of wolves, if the shepherd himself be not on the watch? Who will resist the thieves and robbers, if love of quietude draws away the watchman from the strictness of his watch?
One must continue, therefore, in the office committed to him and in the task undertaken. Justice must be steadfastly upheld and mercy lovingly extended. Not men, but their sins must be hated. The proud must be rebuked, the weak must be borne with; and those sins which require severer chastisement must be dealt with in the spirit not of vindictiveness but of desire to heal.
And if a fiercer storm of tribulation falls upon us, let us not be terror-stricken as if we had to overcome the disaster in our own strength, since both our Counsel and our Strength is Christ, and through Him we can do all things, without Him nothing. He is the One, Who, to confirm the preachers of the Gospel and the ministers of the mysteries, says, “Lo, I am with you all the days even to the consummation of the age.” And again He says, “these things I have spoken unto you that in me ye may have peace. In this world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, because I have overcome the world.”
The promises, which are as plain as they can be, we ought not to let any causes of offense to weaken, lest we should seem ungrateful to GOD for making us His chosen vessels, since His assistance is powerful as His promises are true.