Presenting the living Christ
This, to me, is one of the big challenges a priest faces in carrying out his ministry. He has to strive to present to those he is tasked to shepherd, the living Christ himself, and not just a Christ that is constructed by some nice words and ideas.
As priest, he is already sacramentally conformed to Christ as head of the Church. It is now his concern that the sacramental Christ in him be transformed into the living Christ — obviously with the constant help of God’s grace. Otherwise, he will just be an empty suit, a mere doll or ghost.
He has to adapt the very mind and heart of Christ, his sentiments, his mission and concerns. He has to have the appropriate lifestyle.
As the sacramental image of Christ as head of the Church, a priest has to act like a mediator, a bridge that connects two ends — God and men. He therefore has to be identified with both God and men, a never-ending task that requires grace and everything that a priest can do.
Like Christ, he has to have the mind of God and assume the conditions of men, since this is the very heart of Christ. This, of course, can be hard and very demanding, but it is not impossible. With training and determined effort, this can be done. On God’s part, his grace is never lacking. In fact, it is poured out abundantly.
The priest should be constantly aware of who he radically is and what he is supposed to do. His priesthood is not only a title or a suit that he can wear from time to time and take off at other times. He is a priest all the time and, in fact, forever, in Christ.
This will require a certain self-emptying, akin to what Christ himself did in order to carry out his mission here on earth. That is why the priestly virtue of poverty and detachment is indispensable. The priest should avoid getting spoiled by privileges and entitlements that can easily enter his life due to his position in society.
Without poverty, there’s no way he can be another Christ as priest. Without it, we can again hear Christ’s reproach to the rich man: “It is easier for a camel to enter the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” (Mt 19,24)
If all Christians have to be “alter Christus” (another Christ), if not “ipse Christus” (Christ himself), then this is more so with respect to priests who are meant to pastorally nourish the Christian faithful. Everything in the priest should somehow reflect the presence and redemptive action of Christ. Nothing in his should be extraneous to that ministry.
Christ himself told his apostles, “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me." (Lk 10,16)
The priest should learn how to blend the highly mysterious and supernatural character of his priestly identity with his human and natural condition. This, certainly, will involve some effort, adjustments and adaptation, even of the drastic kind. But this simply has to be done.
With the appropriate plans, strategies and programs, this can be done. That is why the priestly formation can be nothing other than ongoing and increasingly deepening. As for the tools and means, they are always available. The priest should seriously and faithfully make use of them.
Of special importance are a life of constant prayer and sacrifice, and frequent recourse to the sacrament of penance and the daily celebration of the Holy Mass.*
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