On this the Monday that follows a long and joyful weekend that witnessed the ordinations to the priesthood and diaconate of Fr. Cecilio Hernandez, Dcn. Roberto Gurrola, and Dcn. Andy Kmetz, a Eucharistic procession and First Masses, and which happens to be the second anniversary of my priestly ordination, I came across a few words of Fr. Boylan that I had taken note of a few months back. I share them hoping that they may be of benefit to my brother priests, but above all I want to share them for the sake of our seminarians so that they may aspire to our priestly ideal. Fr. Boylan writes, “If our lives as priests are not so holy as they should be, it is very often because the ideal which animates them is not sufficiently high.” 1
Rereading these words made we stop and reflect on my own ideal of the priesthood. In doing so, I began to recall all that my formators had taught me about the priesthood during my time in formation. I am certain that what they passed on to me had been imparted to them by their formators and ultimately it is part of our Charism.
What is this priestly ideal that has been handed down to us? We are called to be not only priests, but also victims. In the words of Bishop Sheen, “if the priesthood and victimhood in Christ were one, how can they be dual in us?”2
Our priesthood is for the sacrifice.3 The sacrifice of Christ at the altar and the sacrifice of ourselves. We must have the clear idea as priests that we are called to be pontifices, bridges.4 We are called to lay down our lives every day to be “stepped on” by men. Our ideal is that of St. Paul, “to gladly spend and be utterly spent” (2 Cor. 12:15). This is not only the highest priestly ideal, but, it is also the secret to our priestly happiness. It is the “great mysticism” of the priestly life.5
We are called to be bridges, “to spend and be utterly spent”, to be in a word, priest-victims, not for the sake of being humiliated and destroyed, but for the sake of the encounter; so that God may encounter men and men may encounter God.6 The priest is the great facilitator of man’s encounter with God, for by his priestly character he has been given “power over Christ’s physical Body and over His mystical Body.”7 He enacts this power principally in making Christ truly, really, and substantially present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Each time he steps foot into the sanctuary to prolong the mystery of our redemption in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass he brings God to men and men to God.
Some today have the ideal that the priest should “go out” and acquire the “smell of the sheep”. It is true that the priest is called to a life of charity. But, everything starts at the altar. The first and greatest act of charity a priest makes each day is the offering of the Holy Sacrifice on behalf of his people—his flock.
In our devotion and love of the Holy Sacrifice we must not forget that as priests we are called to offer ourselves as well. We will have no strength from on high to tend the flock, if we do not daily unite ourselves to the Eucharistic Christ in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The altar is His Cross and ours. The altar is where our priesthood comes to life, because on the altar, in union with the Lamb, we lay down our lives and take them up again.
Each time we celebrate the sacrifice we say, “This is my body”, “This is my blood”. They are the words of Christ, but they come from our lips as well. And just as He showed us that the Eucharist is a sacrifice by saying, “given up for you”, “poured out for you”, so also, we must stand behind the altar daily and make that same offering of ourselves, and then go and live it every moment there afterwards.8
This was one of the great truths proclaimed by our spiritual father St. John Paul II when he wrote Ecclesia de Eucharistia.
Priests are engaged in a wide variety of pastoral activities. If we consider the social and cultural conditions of the modern world it is easy to understand how priests face the very real risk of losing their focus amid such a great number of different tasks. The Second Vatican Council saw in pastoral charity the bond which gives unity to the priest’s life and work. This, the Council adds, “flows mainly from the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which is therefore the center and root of the whole priestly life”.64 We can understand, then, how important it is for the spiritual life of the priest, as well as for the good of the Church and the world, that priests follow the Council’s recommendation to celebrate the Eucharist daily: “for even if the faithful are unable to be present, it is an act of Christ and the Church”.65 In this way priests will be able to counteract the daily tensions which lead to a lack of focus and they will find in the Eucharistic Sacrifice – the true center of their lives and ministry – the spiritual strength needed to deal with their different pastoral responsibilities. Their daily activity will thus become truly Eucharistic.
There is no greater service to God or mankind that to be a priest-victim with Jesus Christ. Blessed are those who are called and persevere in the call to offer and be offered with the sacrifice of the Lamb.
Amor sacerdos immolat!
Fr. Christopher Etheridge, IVE
May 28th, 2018
1 Fr. Eugene Boylan, O.C.S.O., The Priest’s Way to God, 174.
2 The Priest Is Not His Own, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 18.
3 Cf. Directory of Spirituality, 133. See footnote 162.
4 “Me gastaré y me desgastaré”, http://www.padrebuela.org/me-gastare-y-me-desgastare/#more-2251.
6 “To contemplate Christ involves being able to recognize him wherever he manifests himself, in his many forms of presence, but above all [emphasis added] in the living sacrament of his body and his blood. The Church draws her life from Christ in the Eucharist; by him she is fed and by him she is enlightened” (St. John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 6).
7 Directory of Spirituality, 133.
8 Cf. St. John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 12.