We’ve learned about the Letter to the Hebrews the other week, the last topic we tackled in our Catholic Epistles class before we wrapped up the semester which is now gone.
I never thought that this relatively short letter—only 13 chapters in all—is brimming with richness about the priesthood. It hit me when the teacher tells us, nay warns us, that priesthood is not just for the faint-hearted, selfish people ought to stay away from it, too!
In the Bible, priesthood has a cultic significance. We know what priests basically do in the Bible: He prays in behalf of the people.
In the celebration of the liturgy, a priest goes on to pray, “This is my flesh…my blood which I give to you.” Again, the teacher points out that the flesh and the blood do not just refer to Christ’s offered on the altar, but these words are also directed to the very person from whose lips those prayers originate from.
Hence, it would be an outright lie if a priest goes on to say those lines, day in and day out, without going through an experience of sharing oneself, of giving, and ultimately, of dying. A priest does not just run a business, minister the sacrament perfunctorily but more than anything else, he prays in behalf of his people.
The last sentence is loaded with meaning, which is succinctly enclosed in this idea: His very person mediates the human to that of the Divine. Hence, his celebration of the Holy Mass is not just one of the items in his to-do list. It is, ultimately, the most dignified deed he is entrusted to carry out as embodied in his priestly identity.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s 24-chapter reflection on priesthood dovetails with what the anonymous author of the letter to the Hebrews points out. Singling out my reflection on that beautiful chapter about the Priestly Zeal, the good Cardinal highlighted that fact that at the moment of his ordination, a priest is reconfigured to Christ, and a priest is a priest before God and His Church.
His identity is not traced to some cozy, comfortable possession he keeps to himself and holds over others. This identity is oriented toward service.
Cardinal Dolan’s treatment on Priestly Identity is awe-inspiring. He writes, “The priesthood is a call, not a career; a redefinition of self, not just a new ministry; a way of life, not a job; a state of being, not just a function; a permanent, lifelong commitment, not a temporary style of service; an identity, not just a role.”
A priest ought to sacrifice, not just to offer sacrifice. He is an alter Christus, a living symbol of Christ whose words and deeds direct people to Christ. In his ordination, a priest becomes a sign which leads people to the beauty and the goodness and the truth that is Christ.
It is refreshing to see a priest who is very much in love with His parish, which he considers as if it were his own bride. I’ve witnessed this myself and I recall that my eyes grow envious of his parishioners for having a pastor like him, “They’re in good hands,” I thought.
But then again, I’ve also encountered priests who appear to be an ugly sign of contradiction. People complain not just about the quality of their homilies, but also how they manage the parish. And instead of inspiring faith in them, they lead them astray.
As I endeavor to prepare myself for the big challenge ahead, I ask for God’s grace to uphold this priestly identity that I may only lead others to God, and the zeal for His kingdom may only be my only preoccupation.