Monday, August 30, 2010
No one but the priest can say, with Christ's approval: 'I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.' We say this with the authority that comes from Christ himself: 'Your sins are forgiven… go in peace' (Lk 7:48.50). What a blessing this is for God's people! No one can forgive sins, but God alone. Every priest is called to minister forgiveness to others, in Christ's name. We also feed God's people at the Eucharist. These changes happen, in the elements we take and to the people to whom we minister as priests. The priest helps to build Christ's Church, offering a service to the people of God that no one else can give. This is most humbling and very rewarding, when we ponder our role in the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ.
At baptisms, we are with couples and their newborn children. We welcome children into the Christian community, which is a great privilege and joy. The sacrament of confirmation, usually a ministry reserved to the Bishop, which I confer at St Anne's in his name, is a wonderful experience. To be with children as they receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit gives great hope. On First Holy Communion day, we see children receiving the great gift of the Eucharist for the first time. St Thérèse of Lisieux referred to her own First Communion as 'that first kiss of Jesus'. Holy Communion builds community, as it is meant to do. Being with children and parents is a real privilege for every priest. Weddings bring us very close to couples as they prepare to celebrate their marriage. Being with God's people, in this way, is truly a life-giving experience for every priest.
Priesthood, like all walks of life, has its ups and downs. When I neglect prayer and my spiritual exercises, as it were - when I am busy with doing - things can take a dive. I need prayer in all I am and do as priest. I cannot do the work of the Lord without having close contact with the Lord of the work. At times of low energy, I experience the goodness and kindness of brother priests, who are now Christ to me and welcome me when I need their care. I experience the Prodigal Father's welcome home for his wayward child, and am renewed. Receiving God's mercy 'seventy times seven' makes me aware of the need for my own ministry, and encourages me. I know at first hand my need of God's mercy! I know the wonder of it for myself and others. I know He is reaching out, reconciling and forgiving me. I can then go to others and minister to them, with this personal experience of God's mercy urging me on.
To sustain us, we always need the prayer of the Christian community. I particularly cherish the prayer support of our Carmelite nuns who, in the tradition of St Teresa of Avila, pray for priests every day, as a central aspect of their life and ministry. I am also aware that my wonderful mother and many faithful friends pray for me each day. This is a lifeline and a gift beyond price. 'How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me? The cup of salvation I will raise; I will call on the Lord's name' (Ps 115:12-13). This I try to do every day.
I would love to see many young men respond to Christ's call to follow him in priesthood and religious life. Yes, even in today's world. Yes, especially in today's world! When our Church is under siege and faith under attack, the priest must stand for what he is and what he believes. The priest welcomes every person in love - to love and to be love. 'God is love, and those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them' (1Jn 4:16). This is what St Thérèse wished for: to be 'love in the heart of the Church'.
As a priest, I must strive to love in my ministry - for that is why I am sent. I cannot be Christ to others if I do not love! Just as love is central in every marriage, so, too, it must be what being a priest is all about! All priests - like people who live marriage - surrender their lives to God. Every good priest would, I believe, make a good husband and father, just as most fathers would make good priests. The essential thing is to respond to the call we have received from God, which determines how and where we serve Christ and his people."
-- Called to serve as priests: bringing Christ to others and others to Christ by Fr Willie Moran, ocd
** Picture of discalced friar Fr Willie Moran, who currently serves at St Anne's Church in Glasgow