Priests are another Christ

Pope Benedict XVI, in the Year of Priests, told us that we are another Christ (Alter Christus). We can never forget that, first and above all, we are men taken from among men.

Aug 04, 2018

Pope Benedict XVI, in the Year of Priests, told us that we are another Christ (Alter Christus). We can never forget that, first and above all, we are men taken from among men. We are human beings, with all of its significance. As a result, we must live a true humanity. The priest is expected to develop his talents, his abilities, his mind, his sentiments, his affections. He must be a true man, and not afraid of who he is, even the weaknesses and failures that are implied in being human. Actually, grappling with our humanness enables us to be understanding. When we fail, we are in need of God’s forgiveness, that is the time we become more compassionate.

Think about just listening to confessions. Is it possible that, most likely, most of us have never heard a mortal sin in the true sense of the word; yes serious sins, but ones which have ruptured one’s relation with Christ? Not many, and yet the people in their sincere faith come and lay bare their souls to us, who have also sinned. Recognising our humanness at that moment should unleash an enormous sense of compassion and mercy.

It is the very reason for which Christ was compassionate and merciful, because he could connect with, and feel the depth of, suffering and anxiety coming from the consequences of sin, the reality of being human. That is why he is always ready to forgive, to feed, to heal and to raise to life.

The relevance of his priesthood and the newness that he brought to the ministry of the priesthood are fundamentally based in his humanness. Actually, the Letter to the Hebrews affirms the essentialness of his being human and, consequently, of our humanness: “He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness” (Heb. 5:2).

As Pope Benedict so beautifully stated: Of course, the heart of Christ was always fixed on God, but he bore the whole of human reality in the whole of his own humanity.

Consequently, to be another Christ begins with being a simple man, a human being. And this is what we brought to the altar on the day of our ordination, our humanity. Therefore, the development of our humanness is essential in priestly formation and subsequent continued formation.

I recall so well, one formator in the seminary reminded us: if you go to the altar on the day of your ordination ignorant, you will walk away from the altar ignorant; if you go to the altar lacking in emotional balance, you will walk away from the altar lacking in that balance; if you go to the altar lacking the basic human qualities of kindness, gentleness, openness and humility, you will walk away lacking those qualities. It was a concrete and poignant manner in explaining the fundamental Catholic theological dogma: “Faith builds on nature.”

All of us have presented ourselves at the altar, yes, to be anointed, and it was that anointment which made us men of God. At that moment, men of men become, at the same time, men of God.

This aspect of our lives as priests comes from our ordination, because only God can attract us, only God can call us, only God can authorise us and only God can introduce us into the divine mystery in which we will participate as his priests. I am sure that we have all been asked, why did you become a priest?

When I was a seminarian, I remember being asked this question so many times, especially within the context of consumerism, careerism, not to mention the sexual revolution underway at that time in the United States. I recall, offering so many possible answers which not only did not convince the one asking me, but they did not convince me either, because there is only one answer, “I became a priest because I truly believe that the Lord has called me.” It is the only answer and should remind us always, “It is I who have chosen you, you did not chose me” (John 15:16).

The priesthood does not belong to us; we do not create it, and we certainly do not possess it for personal, social or monetary gain. It belongs to Christ; he is the High Priest, and it is he who calls us to share in his priesthood, this great adventure of offering self to others through his consecration

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