Tag Archives: priests

Priests and a Priestly People

Are priests a class apart, separate from the rest of humanity? The Letter to the Hebrews, our weekday reading at Mass, offers an extended reflection on the priesthood of Jesus in the light of Jewish tradition of priesthood as it was found in the temple of Jerusalem. It throws light on the meaning of priesthood today.

Jesus is our new high priest, but he did not separate himself from the rest of humanity. He became fully human to bring humanity to God in sacrifice and praise. Here’s how St.Fulgensius of Ruspe explains it:

“When we speak of Christ’s priesthood, what else do we mean than the incarnation? Through this mystery, the Son of God, though himself ever remaining God, became a priest. To him along with the Father, we offer our sacrifice. Yet, through him the sacrifice we now offer is holy, living and pleasing to God. Indeed, if Christ had not sacrificed himself for us, we could not offer any sacrifice. For it is in him that our human nature becomes a redemptive offering.

When we offer our prayers through him, our priest, we confess that Christ truly possesses the flesh of our race. Clearly the Apostle refers to this when he says: Every high priest is taken from among us. He is appointed to act on our behalf in our relationship to God; he is to offer gifts and sacrifices to God.”

A priest embraces the mystery of the Incarnation, the saint says. Like Jesus, priests should embrace humanity in its weakness. Following him, they must embrace their own times and place and not isolate themselves from the world they live in.  Otherwise, how can they bring it to God?

All who are baptized share in the priesthood of Christ. Every Sunday, we gather as a priestly people. The priestly call belongs to us all. “Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God,” we say at Mass. We’re all called to a priestly role.

Called by Name

Last weekend I was over at our monastery in Jamaica, Long Island, to participate in a program: Called by Name. It’s for young men who might be interested in joining our community.  No one came. Maybe the weather had something to do with it, but I don’t think it had that much.

Afterward,  three of us who were there to offer some input sat around and talked about vocations to the priesthood and religious life; our conversation gradually went beyond those callings to the whole question of vocation itself.

The word “vocation” comes from the latin word, “vocatio,”  meaning a call, an invitation. The first vocation we have is God’s call, God’s invitation to life in this world. We have been invited to life on earth by God, and he calls us to do certain things in our time here. We have been called by name, individually. The human family has a collective destiny here on earth, but each of us has something to do.

Then, God invites us to another world, we’re called to another life when our years here are done.

It’s important to remember this, because we tend to believe that we choose life and everything involved in it, and God has nothing at all to do with it. That’s not so; God has invited us to live, and our happiness depends on how we accept the call we have received.

One of the priests I was with last week told us the story of his own vocation. He’s a young priest, who was raised in a Catholic family that gave him the best of everything.  “But I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life,” he said, so his parents persuaded him to study to be an engineer.  It’s a good job, good pay. So he studied and got an engineering degree and landed a good job. But he said he wasn’t really happy with his life; he felt it wasn’t what he was meant to do. Finally, after praying about it and discerning about it, he became a priest. This is where he belongs, he told us.

Our call by God is not just a one-time call. God calls us over a lifetime It’s important to remember this. A vocation unfolds over the years.  I decided to become a priest 52 years ago. But I have to answer God’s call today. God’s call is ongoing, so I must ask continually: “What do you want of me now, Lord? Let me hear your call.”

The tragedy that’s just occurred in Tuscon may remind us of the on-going nature of a vocation.  A congresswoman goes out for an ordinary meeting with her constituents, her assistant goes along in her company, a federal judge in her community stops by to say hello, a husband and wife join the group, a little girl interested in politics also joins them. You never know the consequences of your life.

That day they had to live their lives in exceptional circumstances.

I suppose that 9 year-old Christina Taylor Green was one we noticed particularly in the tragedy. It wasn’t just because she was so young, but because she was so alive with so much promise, so much spirit. There was so much of a calling in her. She seemed to be someone our world needs.

She makes us aware that vocation is a mystery. It’s important to remember that too. So much of it is in God’s hands. That’s why we must pray about it. In the Our Father we say  “Your will be done,” We must try to know God’s will, to hear what God is calling us to do now, and to accept it.  “Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will.”

That the theme of today’s scripture reading at Mass. Our first reading from the Prophet Isaiah says that that we called from the beginnings of our lives, from the womb, to serve God. That call from God goes on to the end of our lives. It’s not something small or negligible that we’re called to do. “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.” We have a role to play in the mysterious plan of God.

Every few months, a man from California calls and asks for 1,000 or 2,000 little leaflets that we distribute from our place in Union City. It’s a leaflet entitled “Be With Me Today, O Lord.” He gives them out to kids in school and puts them in the back of churches. It’s a simple little reminder that God calls us. We have a vocation.

“Today is new unlike any other day, for God makes each day different.

Today, God’s everyday grace falls on my soul like abundant seed though I may hardly see it.

Today is one of those days Jesus promised to be with me, a companion on my journey, and my life  today has consequences unseen, my life has a purpose.

“I have a mission…I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. God has not created me for naught…Therefore will I trust him. Whatever, wherever I am I can never be thrown away. God does nothing in vain. He knows what he is about.”

May all I do today, begin with you, O Lord. Plant dreams and hopes within my soul, revive my tired spirit: be with me today.

May all I do today continue with your help, O Lord. Be at my side and walk with me; Be my support today.

May all I do today reach far and wide, O Lord. My thoughts, my work, my life–make them blessings for your kingdom; let them go beyond today, O God.

Maybe someone will hear that message someday and say, “I think God is calling me to be a priest.” I hope so.

Who are Priests?

“When we speak of Christ’s priesthood, what else do we mean than his incarnation?”

Fugentius of Ruspe, a learned bishop from 5th century Africa, touches on a truth we easily forget. Christ is a priest because he became flesh and part of creation, which he then represents before the Creator.

He does not represent creation from a distance, untouched by it, or partially, hesitantly, protected,  but he became fully one with it, emptying himself and taking the form of a slave. “He humbled himself even accepting death.”

Being a priest, therefore, is not to become a person apart, but someone incarnate. That’s true for all those baptized into Christ and share in his priesthood, as well as those ordained for a ministry in the church.

“The living, the living give you thanks, as I do today.”