29 March 2013

"A new commandment I give you: Love one another"

On a night when we remember the institution of the most wondrous thing ever given to man, it might seem a bit odd for me instead to reflect on the gift of the priesthood, but I have to share some of the homily I heard at Holy Mass this evening.

Father began by pointing out how "This is my body, which is given for you" can be used outside of the realm of the Holy Eucharist -- both of the transformative vocational sacraments, matrimony and holy orders, also contain this complete gift of one's own body.  In matrimony, the gift is truly of one's body to provide the instrument for God to create new life.

He then spent a while explaining how the priesthood is a complete gift of self in service of the people of God, though in a different manner.  Priests cannot do anything for themselves -- they cannot absolve, anoint, or counsel themselves.  As he put it, every priest needs a priest, just as every Christian needs Christ.

Pope Francis touched on the relationship between priest and people in his homily at the Chrism Mass this morning:
People thank us because they feel that we have prayed over the realities of their everyday lives, their troubles, their joys, their burdens and their hopes. And when they feel that the fragrance of the Anointed One, of Christ, has come to them through us, they feel encouraged to entrust to us everything they want to bring before the Lord: “Pray for me, Father, because I have this problem”, “Bless me”, “Pray for me” – these words are the sign that the anointing has flowed down to the edges of the robe, for it has turned into prayer. The prayers of the people of God. When we have this relationship with God and with his people, and grace passes through us, then we are priests, mediators between God and men.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI expounded even further on priests' gift of self during his homily for the Chrism Mass in 2012:
“Are you resolved to be more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to him, denying yourselves and confirming those promises about sacred duties towards Christ’s Church which, prompted by love of him, you willingly and joyfully pledged on the day of your priestly ordination?” After this homily, I shall be addressing that question to each of you here and to myself as well. Two things, above all, are asked of us: there is a need for an interior bond, a configuration to Christ, and at the same time there has to be a transcending of ourselves, a renunciation of what is simply our own, of the much-vaunted self-fulfilment. We need, I need, not to claim my life as my own, but to place it at the disposal of another – of Christ. I should be asking not what I stand to gain, but what I can give for him and so for others. 
. . .  
We are concerned with the salvation of men and women in body and soul. And as priests of Jesus Christ we carry out our task with enthusiasm. No one should ever have the impression that we work conscientiously when on duty, but before and after hours we belong only to ourselves. A priest never belongs to himself. People must sense our zeal, through which we bear credible witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us ask the Lord to fill us with joy in his message, so that we may serve his truth and his love with joyful zeal.
On a personal note, it was a great joy for me to be present at my own diocese's Chrism Mass this morning and to see almost all of our priests renew their priestly vows to the bishop, and, by extension, to all of the people of the diocese.  May we lay Catholics always pray for our priests to Jesus, the great High Priest, and ask Him to keep all of His priests close to His heart.

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