December 18, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Grateful prayer for priests would be a welcome Christmas gift

One of the entrance antiphons for the Mass commemorating a holy priest reads: “I will raise up for myself a priest; he will do what is in my heart and in my mind, says the Lord” (1 Sm 2:35).

We know well that we are ordained a priest to proclaim God’s Word, to celebrate the sacraments, and to serve God and the people of God humbly and generously and in the person of Jesus Christ, the High Priest.

Priestly ministry is awesome. We are able to serve because of God’s unique grace, which we received in the sacrament of holy orders and accompanies us all the days of our priestly life.

We are realistic enough to know that living our priestly commitment in the real world also brings challenges. And so we count on his grace, we trust in God’s Providence.

Two years ago in his Chrism Mass homily, Pope Benedict XVI said: “The theology of baptism returns in a new way and with a new insistence in priestly ordination. Just as in Baptism an ‘exchange of clothing’ is given, and exchanged destination, a new existential communion with Christ, so also in priesthood there is an exchange: in the administration of the sacraments, the priest now acts and speaks in persona Christi. In the sacred mysteries, he does not represent himself and does not speak expressing himself, but speaks for the Other, for Christ.”

In baptism, we received the white garment that symbolized our new existence in Christ. At ordination, we were clothed with liturgical vestments that symbolize yet a radically new relationship with Christ.

Priests put themselves at Christ’s disposal. We offer ourselves to serve the people of our local Church generously in the person of Christ the High Priest and bridegroom of the Church. At ordination, we pray that Jesus takes us by the hand again and again, and leads us in our priestly ministry.

At ordination, we pray that we priests will serve our sisters and brothers with an unwavering and enthusiastic missionary vision—like the two missionary pioneers of our local Church, the Servant of God Bishop Simon Bruté and St. Theodora Guérin.

These saints gave themselves entirely into the hands of Divine Providence; they devoted their lives entirely to Christ, especially in the poor and the people in the shadows.

Like our pioneer founders, we pray that our ministry may be filled with a deep and heartfelt love. As it was for them, may it be for us a pure love nurtured before the tabernacles of the churches where we serve.

Through the imposition of the hands of the archbishop, the Lord himself lays his hands upon the ordinands. Each priest in his own way heard the Lord’s call, “Follow me.”

Perhaps, to start with, we followed him hesitantly, looking back and wondering if this really was the road for us.

Maybe like St. Peter, we may have been frightened by our inadequacy so that we were tempted to turn back. St. Peter said to Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8). Then, however, with kindness, Jesus took him by the hand.

So he does for us priests. He draws us to himself and tells us do not fear. I am with you. I will not abandon you. We need to keep in mind Bishop Bruté and Mother Theodore, who are courageous witnesses of Christ’s companionship along our missionary journey.

At ordination, priests place their hands in the hands of the archbishop and renew their promise of obedience. I like to recall the words of Benedictine Cardinal Basil Hume. He said: “Let us link two gestures together: the kiss of peace exchanged with the bishop and the promise of obedience. The sign of peace sets the tone for the promise; your promise is an expression of your willingness to be part of the bishop’s responsibility for the people of God” (Light in the Lord, p. 47). He also remarked: “I think obedience is very close to love, indeed it is an aspect of love” (p. 90).

There is something else about obedience: Pope John Paul II once remarked about the gesture of the ordinand putting his hands in those of the bishop: “A priest must be able to feel, especially in moments of difficulty, of loneliness, that his hands are held tightly by the bishop’s.” Isn’t it a mutual gesture, symbolic of safety in the hands of Christ?

I end with a final thought: St. Charles Borromeo once wisely admonished his priests: “Are you in charge of a parish? If so, do not neglect the parish of your own soul, do not give yourself so completely that you have nothing left for yourself. Be mindful of your people without becoming forgetful of yourself.”

Please pray gratefully for our generous and dedicated priests. It would be a welcome Christmas gift. †

Local site Links: