What is it then, to be a priest? (part 3)
The Mass is the Sacred Action of the whole Church in a particular place and moment in time. It is the offering that Christ has made by his Passion upon the Cross and the fruit of that Sacrifice is that a new relationship between us and the Blessed Trinity has come about in a new Covenant, sealed by the blood of Jesus. This is an eternal offering made once and for all time, the graces of which continue in time and beyond it. It's effects hold out the promise of eternity. That is the intimate union with God which is mans destiny.
The mediation of grace through the Sacraments comes through the hands of the priest, in Persona Christi. On the human level this is an awesome responsibility because the priest is a sinner like everyone else. But the path of his own particular call to holiness is in being faithful to the call to "feed my sheep". His call is to give only what Christ gives. God chooses the weak and makes them strong if they are faithful to Him in love and service. He must preach and teach a supernatural faith so that he can be a signpost to mans eternal destiny. He cannot afford to be trapped in the worldiness of the world for his mission is to draw all souls to Christ.
It is true that he has many things to do each day and he must use that time well for it is given to him on trust. An internal discipline, formed by a life of prayer, will give him the discernment to know how to respond to his peoples needs. But whatever he does there is one fundamental thing that underlines every moment of every day, what St. Francis de Sales declares,
"at every moment of the day I am preparing myself to celebrate Mass".
What is it then to be a priest? (part 2)
The calling to the priesthood is a calling to spiritual Fatherhood through the love of the Heart of Jesus in the Body of the Church. As a Father the priest must follow the command of the Lord to "feed my sheep". When the Lord asked Peter three times, "Do you love me?", and Peter said "yes", the condition of that love was "feed my sheep". The priest follows the Good Shepherd by service and sacrifice. He is not himself because he is the servant and minister of Christ. Any by his Fatherhood he is the spouse of the Church. And so far as he does not understand that he is like the hired man who has no concern for the sheep. He just gives himself (stones) when his children ask for the True Bread (Christ).
But the priest who understands the depth and mystery of his calling has no fear in speaking the Truth in love. He is prepared to risk everything because God has given him everything.
In himself he is nothing so that in Christ he may be everything.
In all his lifes journey, despite all difficulties, he feels the hand of God upon him, waiting patiently at his side. In the secret harbour of the Sacred Heart of the Lord he finds rest and peace. Safe from error and the assaults of the Evil One, he is renewed and refreshed.
We are all dependant upon one another in some way. The meaning of all life only makes sense in relation to others. A child is utterly dependant on it's mother for food. Food that makes life grow. As adults, in a spiritual sense, we are utterly dependant upon our Creator and Redeemer, who gives us life, both physically and spiritually. We cannot understand the nature of His giving unless we make space within ourselves for Him to enter. A quiet recollected mind receives that Divine giving. This giving is a movement from God who gives, to us who receive or put it another way, a movement from contemplation to action . St Thomas Aquinas states that the highest spiritual perfection consists in this movement. This is shown, for example in the Gospel account of Mary and Martha. Martha's activity was not wrong, rather Our Lord says that we must begin from a state of receptivity to purposeful activity.
The essence of all worship begins in this way. Above all, in the Holy Mass we are fed with that which is given, the Bread of Life, that has come into the world. We do not take to ourselves that which we can barely understand but we receive it in child-like trust.
The Mass is always a communal act, it is the action of Christ Himself as head of the body, that is mediated through the hands of the Priest. The prolongation in time of the incarnation. Therefore the attention of the Priest and people does not lie in each other but upon the altar.
What is it, to be a priest?
This is an important question. We might say that a faithful Catholic priest allows all the little children to come to Christ (are we not all children?), and strives to enable everyone he meets to live and die in the state of sanctifying grace. A priest who tries to consider everyone whom God's Providence puts into his life to be his own potential companion in the way of the Vita Aeterna - in Beatitude - if he and they also both faithfully persevere unto the end, in Grace. For he knows that the gift of final perseverance is itself a great gift. That gift of God is never to be presumed upon. Until the moment of our death, we retain the permanent possibility of voluntarily defection from Divine Grace and from God Himself: in what Dante called "the Great Refusal". Such is the terrible gift of our human freedom, for we can only love God freely. It cannot be forced.
He must be a witness. A man whose life and faith are so completely one that when the challenge comes to step out and testify for his faith, he does so, disregarding all risks, accepting all consequences. This view is rooted in the incarnation and the incarnation's continuation in the Seven Sacraments of Christ; especially in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, where the Eternal Himself intersects with Time, where the Sacred Mystery and Concrete Intimacy are graciously joined. Such is the Sacred action of the Mass. The Universal is present in the Particular. It is also present to our senses, especially in the Mass's sacramental visibility which elevates and draws us into our contemplation of God, with love. That is to say, from the visible to the invisible beauty, the heart with love is raised in rapt attention to God.
The humble Cure of Ars does not, in his humility, realise that his own "spiritual childhood" would awaken the souls of his little village to a greater life of grace. But the cost is at times heavy. Faced with apathy, boredom and a lukewarm response to his pastoral care, he identifies with Our Lord's mental and moral agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. He is a man for others, a father and shepherd of his flock whose joys and sorrows he shares. Aware of his deflects and sins, he is an instrument by virtue of God's calling to teach, govern and sanctify his people, continuing in time the same work of Jesus Christ . Whatever his personality and human skills may be, he knows that they are dependent on Divine Grace.
We have to do all we can to preserve the inner silence that brings peace to our souls. If we really want to follow the Lord we will thirst for the water that Jesus wants to give us. Knowing and loving God is something that demands time and attention. Whatever is going on outwardly in our life, He wishes to pour into us the fullness of His peace. When we are still and at peace there comes the bliss of something that cannot be put into words. Life for many is stressful and busy. In that case, each evening before going to sleep, examine your conscience and see how much you can change by God's grace. Do not put things off , for the cycle of entanglements will continue. A calm and reflective self-examination will help us deal with attachments to the world, the flesh and the devil. When you are eating, eat. When you are going for a walk, walk. Don't say "I must be doing something else". What is important is not so much what we are doing but whether we give our calm and unhurried attention to it. For the eternity of God in this life is Now, in the present moment. That is all we have, For all is His gift.