Every now and again one gets a vivid awareness of the great privileges one has as a priest. There is the supreme privilege of offering the Holy Sacrifice, by which every grace is brought into the world; there is the privilege of remitting original sin and filling the soul with sanctifying grace as he or she is grafted into the Mystical Body of Christ by Baptism; there is the privilege of Anointing those about to leave this world wherein we help the soul present itself to the Lord without spot or wrinkle (even if there is still some reparation to be done) and the privilege of reconciling sinners in Confession, by which reunion with God and heaven is effected and peace restored to the soul.
Though celebration of the Sacraments is always perceived as a wondrous privilege of our spiritual fatherhood, the daily life of serving the people may not look so wondrous. Yet it is a great privilege: when we priests touch the lives of those in the distress of terminal illness, bereavement or relationship breakdown, we wipe the face of Christ on the cross; when we touch people at times of great joy such as a birth or marriage, we are rejoicing with Him in His Resurrection as a new life begins. We have a duty but no right to be involved in people’s most personal life experiences, yet we are invited in, and while a physician too may feel the great privilege of healing bodies and minds for a period of time, we priests provide ministrations which bring life eternal; a life of perfect happiness and peace with God. We should never underestimate the time we spend with the housebound, the sick, the bereaved, the distressed or the children in the school, when the reality is that at such times we are ministering to Christ.
I venture to say that we should never underestimate our teaching or governing roles either. By teaching we bring the light of Christ into minds and hearts which are tarnished by the shadows of this world’s false lights; by governing with charity we keep the people of God one in mind and heart. Our Lord prayed that all might be one, and this must be a oneness of truth and charity, since Christ is Truth and Charity. It is our privileged task to facilitate this oneness by opening doors in hearts and minds to His grace.
While I do not and would not suggest that a very debilitated, worn out man should stumble onto the sanctuary to offer Mass or struggle through the front door of the next housebound soul (we have a duty to self-care), a privilege I have come to value recently is ministering during times of ill health. When we are stressed by life’s events or are physically ill, when we go to make a visit when we are not 100% ourselves, the words of the consecration can be uttered with a sincerity that cannot be present when life is going well and our body is fighting fit, for then, in a truly amazing way, we “imitate the mystery we handle” and live out the sacred words: “This is my body, given up for you”.
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