Reflections on the Priesthood
"You are granted to know that you have a dignity that distinguishes you from all who aren't priests.
You are allowed to have the consciousness that you are doing something great, that you are allowed to do something great."
-- Abp. Georg Gänswein (personal secretary to Pope Benedict XVI)
Religious Customs in the Family -- The Priesthood
“A new priest’s blessing is worth a pair of shoes.” This ancient proverb is inspired by the high esteem
our ancestors had for the holy priesthood. What it means is this: The blessing of a newly ordained priest
is so precious that, in order to receive it, a person should willingly walk even so far as to wear out a
pair of shoes on the road. This appreciation of the “first blessing” of a priest is still fresh and keenly
alive in most of our modern Catholic families, and children are deeply impressed by it, especially if the
purpose and power of a priest’s holy calling is explained to them.
However, the blessing of a priest should not only be sought in the fist days after his ordination but later
on as well whenever the occasion arises. Hence the age-old custom in Catholic families that parents try to
have some priest drop in for a short visit once in a while. Before he leaves they ask for his blessing which
is received by the whole family kneeling devoutly in front of him. This custom is also helpful in teaching
the children respect for the priesthood, coming, as they do, in personal contact with the priest at an early age.
They experience something of what the children in the Holy Land must have felt when our Lord in His loving-kindness
took them into His arms, talked with them and blessed them.
On the first possible occasion older children should be taken by their parents to an ordination service.
There are appropriate booklets which explain all the details and meanings of this beautiful and impressive
ordination rite. Thus our youngsters will gain a deep and lasting appreciation of the priesthood, its various
duties and powers, its great holiness and dignity. Attentive participation in these ceremonies might achieve more
than words could do in planting the seed of a priestly vocation in the hearts of boys.
Here again our ancestors had the right instinct and “feeling with the Church”. It was a general practice to
keep ordination day as a public holiday in European cities during the past centuries so everyone could attend
the solemn rites in the cathedral. Similar customs prevail even today for the first solemn High Mass of a new priest.
In the Catholic sections of Europe the entire town celebrates the first High Mass of one of its sons.
All buildings are festively decorated, the young priest is conducted in solemn procession from the house of his
parents to the church, and the whole day is kept as a feast day by all inhabitants.
It was the general custom among Catholics to greet priests on the street and in public in order to profess the
faith and show reverence for the holy priesthood. When I was a little boy my mother told me: “You must always
joyfully greet a priest whether you know him or not. Your guardian angel, too, greets the priests with great love
and reverence”. These simple words of my mother made a deep impression on my; I never forgot them. May God inspire
our Catholic parents to keep this wonderful custom alive in our time, to honor God in His priests and to bear
witness of our union with the Church.
Finally, there is the practice of common family prayer for priests and for new vocations to priesthood.
These “priest-prayers” (usually the Rosary) are said by the family on Ember Days because the Church has officially
designated those days for such prayer according to our Lord’s word, “The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are
few. Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:37). Lately the
laudable custom has spread the devoting of Saturday every month (Priest-Saturday) to the reception of holy communion
and prayer for the priests, asking God through Mary’s intercession that he bless and sanctify our priests and grant
the Church many holy vocations.
-- Rev. Francis X. Weiser, S.J. 1956
Jesus Christ Himself gave to the Church the precious gift of the Priesthood.
He is the High Priest who goes to the Father on our behalf. In the Mass, the
Priest continues this offering of Christ to the Father so that all of us may live
and so that His work of redemption may continue.
To celebrate just one Holy Mass is the greatest honor. I think that if we could really see what was taking place
in the mystery of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we would be filled with joy and
fright at the same time. Joy at what God has done through Christ and fright by
how completely unworthy we are in His sight. Why anyone would want to do anything
else is beyond me. It is in the Mass that we find our deepest identity.
We are different after the Resurrection and so desire to thank God constantly for
His generous love. Some people search for the greatest thrill in life like climbing
Mt. Everest or sailing around the world but to God, these are merely His creations.
If we could only see that there is something greater out there to climb. It's the altar.
Every time we climb the altar we encounter Christ and His promise. When one climbs
the stairs to the altar and lets himself go in His service, he discovers the
Creator in all His wonder. He constantly thinks of us. If He failed to do so,
we would cease to exist. How wonderful to be loved like that! All creation hungers
to know God, to love Him and to serve Him.
-- Father Philip Tighe
Homily for Sunday, 30th Week of Ordinary Time, Year B (Hebrews 5:1-6)
Today's second reading, is one of the few times in the three-year cycle of Sunday Mass readings
when Sacred Scripture explicitly talks about the priesthood. There is a lot of confusion and
questions about who or what a priest is. He is a mystery. St. Paul talks about those who are
ordained to act in the person of Christ the High Priest: "Every high priest is chosen from among
men and put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices
for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to
weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the
people. And one does not presume to take this honor on himself, but takes it only when called by God,
just as Aaron was."
The first thing we learn is that priests are "CHOSEN [BY GOD] from among men," taking on the priesthood
"only when called by God." Priests are not elected or appointed by the people, but are chosen directly and sent out by Christ, who himself has entrusted them with the "things pertaining to God" for the sake
of God's people. He's entrusted them with the word of God; the priest is, in some respects, the voice
of Christ, proclaiming His Gospel. He's entrusted them with his priestly work in the sacraments, investing
them with the power to bring his own body and blood down to earth. He's entrusted them, whose role is to offer Christ's own self-gift and sacrifice for sins, with the power of the Holy Spirit to forgive
sins in his name (Jn 20:19-23). He's made them shepherds of His flock, so that they might be foster- fathers of the family Christ came from heaven to earth to establish. For the sake of God's people —
for YOU — Jesus did this, to perpetuate his saving work. And how important the priest is for this saving
work! If the Blessed Mother appeared here live today, she could not give you Jesus again as she was able
to do to the shepherds and the Magi in Bethlehem. Even if all the angels and archangels were here, acting in unison, not even all of them together could forgive even your least venial sin. The priest is
the only person in the entire universe capable of doing this, and he does this, not by his own merits and powers, but because he has been chosen by God and given these powers for your sanctification.
He is not chosen by men, because even if all the seven billion men and women in the world got together and elected one person to act on their behalf, they could not give this person the power to change bread and
wine into the Lord's body and blood or to forgive your sins, which only God can do (Mk 2:7).
God calls him, which is why we call the priesthood a vocation, because he is "called" by God himself.
That's the first thing the letter to the Hebrew teaches us.
The second reality is that the priest is chosen from "among MEN." He's not selected from the angels.
He's fully HUMAN just like any other man in this Church today. We read in Hebrews: "He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and the wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness." The priest has
human emotions, desires, struggles. God has chosen "earthly vessels" (2 Cor 4:7) to minister his sacraments, and this is one of God's great gifts. To preach the great news of forgiveness from sins,
the Lord has chosen to send out ordinary reconciled sinners, men like St. Peter, whose first words to the
Lord were "Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man!" (Lk 5:8 ). They are human instruments,
subject to weakness, who trust in and receive the Lord's mercy. Priests do not stand outside of the human mess of sin, but are in solidarity with sinners and are meant to tangible witnesses that forgiveness
and liberation from sin is possible. They're first sheep, and then shepherds; first disciples, then apostles.
There are two important things to understand. First is that the priest is ordained to offer sacrifice
for sin. Most especially and perfectly at every Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This is who the priest is, in the person of the High Priest, Christ Himself.
Second is that the priest is a man that is all about absolution not condemnation.
Sometimes people see the priest coming up the aisle for Mass and they think, "Oh no, not Father, that guy has ruined everything. He has ruined the bedroom, no more contraception, the voting booth, I can't vote for
candidates who support any of the five intrinsic evils; homosexual marriage is out the window, I can barely watch TV because of the immoral content in most shows. What else is he going to ruin this week?
Priests tell you these things not to condemn you, but because they love you and want you to go
to heaven. Christ has given every priest the apostolic mandate to preach. Saint Paul says: Woe to me if I do not preach. And to preach and teach the truth, clearly, as Christ has taught it and revealed
it to His Church. Our eternal souls are wrapped up in this. Always remember the priest is a man of absolution.
What are the faithful of the Church called to do in the face of this two-fold reality of the priesthood?
The first thing is to be grateful to Christ for the gift of the priesthood and for the divine gifts He gives us through the priesthood. Without the priest, there would be no Eucharist. Without the priest,
we would have no way on earth of assuredly having our sins absolved. Without the priest, the sheep would be scattered. We need first and always to thank God for the gift of the priesthood, for the
sacraments the Lord makes possible uniquely through it, and for the priests who have said yes to the Lord's call. We're also called, at Christ's own command, to pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send more of these
laborers into Christ's vineyard so that Christ's work of salvation may continue and be expanded (Mt. 9:38). Today, let us pray for priests that they will be good and holy priests who truly exercise the
priesthood of Jesus for the salvation of souls.
Gift of the Priesthood
I have been praying about my vocation for many years. It is often one of the most difficult decisions a Catholic has to make - how does Christ want me to serve His Church? We know from the Catechism that one of the reasons we were created is to serve God, but this can be accomplished in many different ways and through many different vocations. I have felt a constant pull towards serving God as a priest ever since I was young. With the help of a Spiritual Director, I eventually heard God's "still, small voice" which gave me great peace in pursuing the wonderful and unbelievable gift of the priesthood.
The priesthood of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the greatest gift imaginable. As Fr. John Hardon explains, "The priesthood is simultaneously four things: it is a sacrament of the new law instituted by Christ, it is a state of life to which some men are called by a special vocation from God, it is an institution without which there would be no Christianity on earth today, and it is a ministry of the Catholic Church by which Christ continues His own priestly work of saving and sanctifying the souls for whom He shed His blood on Calvary."
The priesthood is not a job; it is a permanent state of life which imprints an indelible mark on the soul of a Catholic man which lasts for all eternity. A priest remains a priest forever, no matter what may happen to his body, mind, or even his soul. It is the absolute highest honor that God could possibly bestow on one of His sons. Why is this great gift feared, avoided, and refused by so many young men?
The priesthood is a calling for real men. It is not a "job" for men who "can't find a wife" or "have nothing else they can do." It is not a backup plan, nor is it a door to a comfortable, easy life. It is a vocation which requires much sacrifice, labor, struggle, and love for others. The priest shares daily in the joys and sorrows of God's people, and he gives his entire self to the Church, just as Christ also sacrificed Himself for our sake. The priest becomes "everything to everyone" in his imitation of Our Blessed Lord. It is a divine calling, and it takes a real man who is willing to suffer and die for Christ, if necessary. Our Lord holds out the priesthood as a very special gift which is not offered to hundreds of millions of other men. By offering this gift, Our Lord invites certain Catholic men to manifest Christ's love to the entire world in a most beautiful way.
Fr. Hardon continues: "Without the priesthood, there would be no Christianity left on earth. Remove the priesthood and you remove the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in the world. Remove the priesthood and you remove the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass from the world. Remove the priesthood and you remove Holy Communion from the world. Remove the priesthood and you remove the Sacrament of Reconciliation from a very sinful world. Remove the priesthood and you remove the divinely assured teaching of God's revealed truth from the world. Without the priesthood, Christianity would be a memory but no longer a reality." While we have assurance from Christ that the Church will always exist and the gates of hell will never prevail against Her, Our Lord needs more laborers in a world that is much in need of Catholic truth and the Word of God.
When we contemplate the priesthood, it is often tempting to consider it a calling for "someone else," assuming that we could not possible be called to serve God in this way. Before a priest was even conceived in his mother's womb, God knew this future priest, called this future priest, and designated this future priest from all eternity to share in the salvific priesthood of Jesus Christ. It must be a conscious, selfless, and courageous choice to accept this calling after much prayer and guidance.
God wants to use us as Catholic men to strengthen the Church even though we are sinners. He wants to take our lips which may have spoken foul words or cursed others, and use them to proclaim the Gospel and give sacramental absolution in the confessional. He wants to take our hands and use them to offer Holy Mass and to bring Jesus Christ in His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity to the people of God. Jesus Christ is calling us, but so many of us refuse to answer or take this calling seriously. So many of us simply do not care. Sadly, we often have our "own plans" which seem to be more important, but what can be more important than the salvation of souls?
As I deal with a brain tumor, I am not sad that it may eventually cause me to suffer and die. This will eventually happen to all of us, and we must be prepared to face death at all times by remaining in the state of grace. One sadness that I face every day is that because of various circumstances - some of which are beyond my control - I may never know what it is like to serve God as the alter Christus I desire with all my heart to be. It brings tears to my eyes to imagine departing this world without pronouncing the words of Christ at the Last Supper, "This is My Body; This is My Blood," before gazing upon Our Eucharistic Lord in the greatest miracle ever known to man. I pray fervently that I may one day have the privilege of absolving sins - even if I only live long enough to absolve one - showing the same mercy that God has so often shown me despite my weaknesses and sinfulness.
As we continue this "Year of Faith," please pray for all seminarians, especially my brother seminarians in the Diocese of Raleigh, and for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life around the world.
-- Raleigh Diocese Seminarian Philip Johnson