The Christian Priest Today - A book by Michael Ramsey which has influenced me a lot in my life.
Ramsey begins the book by talking about the general decline in Christendom, and the decline in particular societies of religious sentiment and affinity. However, he also notes that "...there are priests and would-be priests as devoted and as intelligent as at any time in history. This book is designed to hearten them and to help them in their understanding of their calling."
It is for this reason that I consider it a valuable aid for reflection before ordination. Ramsey discusses the tensions that exist for priests: the tension between this-worldliness and other-worldliness; the problem between varying kinds and tempers of biblical interpretation; the difficulty of maintain a balance between traditions and modernity.
Ramsey's lectures are short and practical -- how to preach God today; how to preach Jesus today; the priest and politics; the priest as a person of prayer. These are all insightful snapshots of key issues that should be of concern to the priest, who is very easily distracted by the day-to-day cares of a parish or, in the cases of those of us who do not run parishes, in the rush of doing a 'real' job while also trying to give pastoral care to appointed communities.
Ramsey warns against a clerical hubris that seems to permeate the clergy of many denominations, but particularly those who have strong hierarchical markers. He urges humility that is ever-present in the gospel messages, especially the gospel of ordination. By your humility, you will prove that the authority entrusted to you is really Christ's. Everyone possessing authority is liable to become bossy and overbearing. Everyone possessing privilege and security is liable to a subtle worldly enjoyment.
Perhaps the most important chapter to me is the one entitled The God Who Calls, as it helped me clarify what I was being called to do. I have followed this God into uncharted territory, but still find support in the intellectual and spiritual grounding of my Anglican heritage. Ramsey ends on a note of hope, community, and inclusiveness. The priest, in the church and without, is called to empower all people.
This is not a book just for clerics, however. It is written with the intention of being useful to any who look for a deeper relationship with the church. Each of the chapters is short and meant to be taken as a piece of a larger whole while also being able to stand alone as a useful offering of wisdom.