Friday, 17 April 2009
What IS the Priest?
This is a question I have been considering a lot recently, after a conversation with a priest friend. You might think it a no-brainer question, but what I am getting at is: what is it that makes an ordained priest different in vocation to a layperson who is a priest through his or her baptism? Yes he celebrates the sacraments, he does pastoral work, he preaches, and so on, but these things in themselves can be done by a priest who is not truly living out his priestly call. The priest I talked to seemed to think the essence of the priesthood lay in being an interceder, a bridge between God and men. This means having the heart of Jesus, who in John 17 prays for those whom the Father has entrusted to Him, and for all those who will believe in Him through their word. We see a beautiful example of this interceding love in the Old Testament, when Moses pleads on behalf of Israel who has abandoned God - and also later in the life of St John Vianney, who offered his whole life as a prayer for the conversion of his parish.
Pope Benedict, in his 2006 Chrism Mass (the first selection in Priests of Jesus Christ, edited by Fr Gerard Skinner), says that there is another aspect to the priesthood. "I no longer call you sevants but friends. This is the profound meaning of being a priest: becoming the friend of Jesus Christ." Of course everyone is called to be a friend of Christ, but the priest especially must have a close relationship with Jesus if he is to discern what Jesus' will is not just in his own life, but also in the life of his community.
The priest is also called to be the spouse of the Church, and a spiritual father to his people, caring for them and protecting them as Christ desired to gather Jerusalem under his arms. The fatherhood of the priest is something which is emphasised in this vocational video from Kenrick-Glennon seminary in America. Whether you like the style of the video or not (I think it's very well done), the seminarians come across as very confident in their understanding of what they are entering into, particularly their understanding of the priesthood as a giving over their lives for others. For anyone discerning the priesthood it is worth watching!