Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,
The month of July is dedicated to increased devotion to the Precious Blood of our Lord Jesus. Let us ask our good Lord for the grace to know and understand the power of His Precious Blood over evil! This Sunday I share with you a meditation on the Ordained Priesthood. I encourage you to reflect over this message a few times this week:
“Love and Veneration for the Priesthood - the priest’s identity and mission: All baptized persons can apply to themselves St. Paul’s words to the Christians of Ephesus which we find in the Second Reading of today’s Holy Mass: He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. (Eph. 1:3-14) Through Baptism and Confirmation all the Christian faithful belong to a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people. (1 Pet. 2:9) The baptized, says the Second Vatican Council, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated to be a spiritual house and a holy priest-hood, that through all the works of Christian men they may offer spiritual sacrifices. (Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, 10) By their sharing in the priesthood Christ, the faithful take an active part in the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Altar. They sanctify the world through their secular tasks, sharing in the one mission of the Church by means of the different vocations they have received from God. Housewives, for example, sanctify the various aspects of motherhood and related duties; sick people are called to offer up their suffering lovingly to God; each one makes a pleasing offering to God of his daily tasks and circumstances.
From the ranks of the faithful, all of whom have this common priesthood, some are called by God, through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, to exercise the ministerial priesthood. This second priest-hood builds upon the first one, but they are essentially different. By means of the consecration received in Holy Orders, the priest be-comes an instrument of Jesus Christ, to Whom he offers his entire being, in order to bring the grace of Redemption to all mankind. He is a man chosen from among men and appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. (cf. Heb. 5:1) What then is the priest’s identity? That of Christ. Each one of us Christians can and should be not just any other Christ, ‘alter Christus’, but Christ Himself, ‘ipse Christus!’ But in the (ordained) priest this happens in a direct way, by virtue of the sacrament. (J. Escriva, In Love with the Church, 38)
Our Lord, Who is present among us in many ways, is so particularly in the person of the priest. Every priest is a great gift of God to the world. He is Jesus who goes about doing good; he cures illnesses, he brings peace and joy to men’s minds; he is the living instrument of Christ in the world. (cf. Second Vatican Council, Presbyterorum Ordinis, 12) He offers Our Lord his voice, his hands, his whole being. (J. Escriva, In Love with the Church, 39)
At Holy Mass, he renews in persona Christi the redemptive Sacrifice of Calvary itself. He makes Christ’s Redemption present and effective within history. Pope St. John Paul II reminded the clergy of Brazil that Jesus identifies Himself with us in such a way in carrying out the powers He conferred upon us, that it is as if our personality disappears before His, since it is He Himself Who acts through us. (St. John Paul II, Homily, 2 July 1980) It is Christ Who changes the substance of bread and wine into His Body and Blood at Holy Mass. And it is Jesus Himself Who, in the Sacrament of Penance, utters the authoritative and fatherly words ‘your sins are forgiven.’ It is He Who speaks when the priest, carrying out his ministry in the name and in the spirit of the Church, announces the Word of God. It is Christ Himself Who cares for the sick, for children and sinners, when He enfolds them with the love and pastoral care of the sacred ministries. (ibid.)
A priest is of more value to mankind than the entire material universe. We must pray constantly for the holiness of priests, helping them and sustaining them with our prayer and our affection. We must see Christ Himself in them.
The priest, a steward of the mysteries of God: Jesus selects the Apostles, not only as messengers, prophets and witnesses, but also as His own representatives. This new identity, to act in persona Christi, must be expressed in a life which is simple and austere, a holiness which inspires a wholehearted dedication to the welfare of others. The Gospel of today’s Holy Mass tells us that Jesus sent His disciples and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. (Mark 6:7-13) He told them to take a staff for their journey, but nothing else: no bread, no haversack, and no money in their God takes possession of the man He calls to the priesthood and consecrates him to the service of his fellow men, and bestows upon him a new personality. And once he has been chosen and consecrated to the service of God and others he is not just a priest at certain moments only, for example while he is carrying out sacred functions. He is a priest always and at every moment, whether he is performing the highest and most sublime office or the most vulgar and humble action of his ordinary life. Just as a Christian cannot leave aside the fact that he is a new man, that Baptism has given him a particular character, and act ‘as if’ he were just a man purely and simply, neither can the priest leave aside his priestly character and behave ‘as if’ he were not a priest. Whatever he does, whatever attitude he adopts, whether he likes it or not, it will always be the action or the attitude of a priest, because he is a priest always and at all times down to the very depths of his being, whatever he may do or whatever he may think. (F. Suarez, About Being a Priest, p. 8)
The priest is a messenger from God to the world, sent to announce to mankind its salvation, and is constituted a steward of the mysteries of God. (cf. 1 Cor. 4:1) These mysteries include the Body and Blood of Christ, which he offers the faithful at Mass and Holy
Communion; the grace of God in the Sacraments; and the Divine Word which he utters in preaching, in catechesis and in Confession. To the priest has been confided the most divine of Divine Works, the salvation of souls. He has been made an ambassador and a mediator between God and men.
It warms my heart to think of the quiet human and supernatural dignity of those brothers of mine, scattered throughout the world. It is only right that they should now feel themselves surrounded by the friendship, help and affection of many Christians. And when the moment come for them to enter God’s presence, Jesus will go out to meet them. He will glorify forever those who have acted on earth in His Person and in His Name. He will shower them with that grace of which they have been ministers. (J. Escriva, In Love with the Church, 49)
Let us meditate now in the presence of God on how well we pray for priests, how we treat them, how grateful we ought to be to them for having responded positively to our Lord’s call, how to help them persevere and be saints. Let us ask God our Lord to give all of us priests the grace to perform holy things in a holy way, to reflect in every aspect of our lives the wonders of the greatness of God. (ibid., 39)
How to help priests. Praying for them. Respect for the priestly state: So they went out and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them. Priests are, as it were, an extension of Our Lord’s Sacred Humanity, because they continue to perform in souls the same miracles which He Himself did while He was on earth: the blind see, people who can scarcely walk recover their strength, and those who have died through mortal sin recover the life of Grace through the Sacrament of Confession. The priest does not seek worldly compensations or the enhancement of his reputation, nor does he measure his task according to this world’s scale of values. His task is not that of an arbitrator of differences (cf. Luke 12:13) nor of caring for people’s material welfare: that is a job for every Christian, and for all men of good will, whereas the priest’s role is to bring people eternal life. That is what he has to offer. It is also what the world needs most. That is why we must pray to God that the Church will always have enough priests, priests who are really trying to be holy. We must ask for and encourage priestly vocations, if possible, among the members of our own families, children, brothers and cousins. It is indeed a great joy for a family if God blesses them with the gift of a vocation. The laity have the very pleasant duty to help priests, especially with their prayer, so that they celebrate Holy Mass with dignity and spend many hours hearing Confessions, eager to administer the Sacraments to the sick and the elderly, and particularly keen to teach catechism.
We pray that priests will always be very concerned for the upkeep of God’s House, and cheerful, patient, generous, friendly and indefatigable workers in spreading the Kingdom of Christ. We have to be generous in contributing financially and helping their work in whatever way we can. And we should never speak badly of them: One should speak about Christ’s priests only in order to praise them. (cf. J. Escriva, Furrow, 904)
If we sometimes see faults and defects in our priests, we have to make excuses for them and behave like the good sons of Noah, covering over their failings with the cloak of charity. (cf. J. Escriva, The Way, 75) That can be yet another reason to help them with our good example and our prayer, and - whenever it is opportune - with a correction which will be fraternal and filial at the same time. To help us grow in love and veneration for priests, we can meditate on these words which St. Catherine of Siena places on Our Lord’s lips: I do not want the respect which priests should be given in any way diminished, for the reverence and respect which is shown them is not referred to them, but to Me, by virtue of the Blood which I have given to them to administer. Were it not for this, you should render them the same reverence as lay people, and no more… You must not offend them; by offending them you offend Me and not them. Therefore I forbid it and I have laid it down that you shall not touch my Christs. (St. Catherine of Siena, Dialogue, ch. 116, quoted in J. Escriva, In Love with the Church,38) (From: In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez)
Through the intercession of Mary, Immaculate Conception, St. Joseph, St. Michael and St. Paul, may God grant us many more vocations to the Ordained Priesthood!
In Christ through Mary,