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The Life of a Priest
The life of a priest is one of sacrifice and service because it is the life of Christ. Wherever there is sacrifice, love abounds even more. The priest administers the Sacraments and cares for the people. He is the shepherd of the flock entrusted to him, just as Christ is the shepherd of the entire human family. He is also the person who mediates between God and humanity, sanctifying the people and bringing them closer to God.
Each new day brings its own unique challenges and its rewards; it is truly the life of the Gospel.
Every priest shares in the Mission of Jesus Christ, and therefore shares in the three roles of Christ:
Teacher – He instructs others in the faith, proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. He teaches by preaching the Word, instruction of the people and by the example of his own sacrificial life.
Shepherd – The priest as head of the peope entrusted to his care, becomes the shepherd of his flock. He guides, unites, and encourages his flock, his spiritual children to whom he is FATHER.
Sanctifier – Through the administration of the Sacraments, God’s work of sanctification of his people takes place. God is made truly present and active in their lives.
All of these roles are roles of service. At the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of the disciples and said “What I have done for you, you must do for one another.”
A priest must be a servant to the people. He brings the love and strength of Christ into the parish, the school, the hospital room, the prison … wherever God’s people.
The ministers of the gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost. – Pope Francis
A MAN OF PRAYER
The nucleous of the priesthood is to be a friend of Jesus … to be a friend of Jesus, to be a priest, means being a man of prayer. We can only be friends of Jesus in the communion with Christ. – His Holiness Benedict XVI
First and foremost a priest should be a man of prayer. His most important prayer of any day is to re-present the Sacrifice of Jesus in the Mass. Each day, his people will request of him ‘Father please pray for …’ and ‘Father will you please lead us in a prayer …’
A priest also spends time each day in personal prayer with the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office) and personal time with the Lord in silent prayer, deepening his own relationship with God and feeding his ministry.
A priestly ministry without prayer is a dry, arid ministry that does not bring life to the priest or to the people.
PREACHER OF THE WORD
Since the very beginning, the people of God have needed voices to help them understand the Word of God. In Old Testament times we have the example of the prophets, and in these times it falls to the priest to break open the Word that people may come to understand the will of God more clearly.
When a priest is articulate, vibrant and meditative when preaching the Word, his people are inspired about their faith and encouraged to put it into practice. Therefore, the priest has a duty to teach his people how Christ’s life is relevant to their own, answering the question “How can I live my faith today?”
The Church faces a particularly difficult task in her efforts to preach the word of God in all cultures in which the faithful are constantly challenged by consumerism and a pleasure-seeking mentality. – Blessed John Paul II
A MAN OF THE PEOPLE
There can be a tendancy among people to put the priest on a pedestal for the wrong reasons. YES the priest is a marked man … marked by God to continue the saving work of Christ. But it is important to realise that the priest is still a man. He is a vital servant of the Christian community, but also a member of that community.
Jesus came among us for the forgiveness of sins, but he also came among us so that God may experience humanity in its completeness. By experiencing the human condition and remaining faithful to his Father, Jesus open the gates of heaven to humanity and restore what was lost. He understood what it was to be human and the challenges we face “in all things, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15).
We believe that Jesus is fully human and fully divine. The priest is fully human, but with the divine character of Christ impressed upon him through the grace of ordination. We call this ‘ontological change’. This means that deep down in the fiber of his being, the priest is given the necessary gifts to complete his work. It does not mean that the priest is divine; Fr. Bob Smith is still Bob Smith!
Being a man of the people the priest is able to better understand the situations he faces. He engages with the people around him to come to know them and walk with them on the pilgrimage through life. In a priest can experience a whole lifetime of events from the Baptism of a new baby to the funeral of someone who has recently died. In all this, the priest is a man of the people and for the people, a part the one family of God.
[The priest] shares in the authority by which Christ himself builds up, makes holy and leads his body … [He is so configured to Christ the Priest that he can] act in the person of Christ the Head’ … [Priests] become living instruments of Christ the eternal priest, representing in a special way the person of Christ himself – Second Vatican Council Decree on the Priestly Ministry and Life
At the heart of the Church are the Sacraments. The inivisible Jesus makes himself visibly present through ordinary signs and symbols, in a concrete, human way. The Lord works among us in other ways, but he truly becomes present in the Sacraments.
The bishop is the key sacramental sign of Jesus as leader of his Church, sharing in the ministry of the apostles. Through ordination, the priest shares in the ministry of the bishop, he effectively becomes a co-worker with the bishop.
Everything a priest does in his ministry flows from his ordination, he is a ‘walking sacrament’ a ‘living icon’ of Jesus the Teacher and High Priest. When the priest acts in the sacraments, it is Jesus who acts. The priest is mediator just as Jesus is mediator between God and humanity.
Many men when they contemplate a Vocation to the priesthood have many doubts and (in their eyes) have many reasons not to become priests as though they somehow don’t fit a character profile. They feel a great sense of unworthiness and apprehension. This is quite normal.
No one is worthy of the priesthood. But the Lord calls the weak … just look at some of the apostles! Peter, the greatest, the Rock, the first Pope pleaded ‘Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man’ (Luke 5:8). What matters right now is not how you feel but whether Christ is calling YOU.
Priesthood is a free gift from God, we shouldn’t be asking ‘Why me?’ but saying ‘Here I am Lord, help me to do your will’. He doesn’t choose men because they are better than others or are more worthy. The priest is in need of salvation, forgiveness and healing just like the rest of us. He strives to live up to the call to holiness that we all were called to at baptism. So we shouldn’t be discouraged when God calls us to this great ministry, but we should take heart that he calls us to that which can help us to live up to the call of holiness.
The priest is a man of humility, realizing that in his weakness God calls him to do great things, and that in doing these things, it is God who acts through him in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Lord, wash away my iniquity; cleanse me from my sin. – Prayer of priest when washing his hands at Mass