November 27, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Priests are intercessors for God’s human family

I continue my reflections on the priesthood in this Year for Priests. On Dec. 9, Bishop-designate Paul D. Etienne will be ordained to the fullness of the priesthood.

A priest chooses to accept God’s call to live at the very heart of human and divine reality. We can’t imagine a way of life that touches people more deeply and that lives more closely to God.

It is a beautiful and challenging life that mirrors that of Jesus. The life and ministry of priests help countless numbers of people understand more fully the beauty of the Christian life. They help countless numbers of people grasp a little better how the mystery of our Christian life can make “life-giving poetry out of the hum-drum prose of everyday life” (Cf. In Conversation With God, Sixth Week of Easter, Friday, p. 546).

Priests are intercessors: intercessors in mystery, intercessors in prayer, intercessors in blessing, intercessors of the Word, intercessors of the sacred and intercessors of love and mercy.

One time, people asked a lawyer from Lyons in France who was returning from a pilgrimage to Ars where a simple priest, Father John Vianney, was pastor what he had seen there.

He answered, “I saw God in a man.”

A priest is a mediator between God who is in heaven and our human family which is still on pilgrimage in this earthly world. That aspect of priestly ministry can be overwhelming!

The Curé of Ars gives us consolation—he was not learned, he was not healthy or wealthy. He did have love for the Lord in his heart. Carrying that love worked pastoral miracles.

That simple priest’s love for God was the vehicle that broke open the mystery of God’s love for people; his love for God broke open the mystery of the supernatural. Love for God—not for self—made this simple man an intercessor of mystery.

A priest mediates divine mystery as an intercessor in prayer. By ordination, priests are invested with the office of lifting up to God, in the name of the people of God, praise of God’s goodness and beauty and the gift of salvation.

Priests intercede for the people of God in prayer. Often, we intercede for the community at prayer, often we pray for and in the name of the community in private.

Though most often we pray the Liturgy of the Hours in private, we do not pray for private things.

Already at the transitional diaconate ordination, future priests promise to be an intercessor in prayer, and not just at Eucharist. Our prayer goes beyond private piety, important as that is.

As conscientious intercessors, we are obliged to foster a profound love for the Liturgy of the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours.

Priests are intercessors of blessing. Often folks ask us for our blessing. They ask us to bless things: medals, rosaries, candles, their homes and Bibles and other things.

Msgr. Ronald Knox once wrote: “Watch a Catholic ordination and you will see that the priest is being dedicated to God not only in soul and body, not only as a man but a thing. When the ordinand lies prone and motionless during the litanies, you would take him for an inanimate object. … The priest in fact corresponds in a sense to Aristotle’s definition of a slave—he has become a living tool. … In priest’s consecrated hands the faithful catch an echo of the supernatural” (Knox, The Belief of Catholics, p.151).

And so they ask for blessings. Difficult as it may be for a priest to see how his consecrated hands can bestow God’s blessing, by our ordination we become intercessors of mystery and blessing.

A primary role in ministry is to be intercessors of God’s Word revealed in Jesus Christ. At ordination, we are invested with the charism of proclaiming God’s Word.

We are authorized as stewards of the Word of God. We are charged to be faithful stewards of his Word in season and out. The words of our diaconate ordination ring in our ears: “Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.”

Priests are intercessors of the Sacred Mysteries on the journey of life wherever they are called to serve. We accompany sisters and brothers from birth to the gates of heaven.

From the cradle to the grave, we are to be a guide, a consolation, a minister of salvation and an agent of sacramental grace at the side of countless sisters and brothers.

Celebration of the sacraments, above all the Eucharist, is an incredible privilege and responsibility. It is true to say that it is the primary reason for our ordination.

Christ calls us through the Church, through the voice of the bishop, to bring his salvation to the People of God. †

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