Just attended another ordination recently where two close friends received the sacrament of Holy Order. It’s always a day of joy and thanksgiving when someone becomes a priest simply because what is involved is the transformation of a person to become another Christ in a most special way, that of Christ as head of the Church.
While everyone is supposed to “another Christ,” since Christ is the pattern of our humanity and the savior of our damaged humanity, priests enjoy the privilege of being conformed to Christ as head of the Church and not just members of the Church.
Yes, in spite of how unworthy a person is to be another Christ as head of the Church, it cannot be denied that with the sacrament, he is made so. The effectiveness of the sacrament does not depend so much on the person’s qualities or qualifications (ex operaoperantis) as the power of the sacrament itself that comes directly from Christ (ex opereoperato).
All we have to do to verify this fact is to just look at the apostles, the first bishops, who definitely had their human weaknesses. St. Peter, for example, was an impulsive man and he denied Christ three times. And Christ would often scold them for their lack of faith or their very shallow understanding of the truths of faith.
Yet, in spite of all that, the apostles were made recipients of the full powers of Christ. Remember Christ telling them, “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 18,18)
Priests share in this power, albeit not fully. Their power needs to be subjected to that of the bishops who in turn have to be united together with the Pope, and with the Pope the connection with the first Pope, St. Peter, and the rest of the apostles is made. It is this power that comes directly from Christ and connects them to him.
Given this tremendous dignity that priests have, it behooves them to really try their best to be worthy of such. Thus we can never overemphasize their need to really take care of their spiritual life, nourishing it with prayers, sacrifices, the recourse to the sacraments, the development of virtues and the continual waging of spiritual warfare, since their life and mission cannot be other than war.
They – we, me included – truly have to be the first ones to seek total identification with Christ. As St. Paul would put it, we should have the very mind of Christ (cfr. 1 Cor 2,16) such that with him we can also say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2,20)
We priests should be most eager to proclaim the Good News of the gospel, in season and out of season, no matter what it costs. And more than preaching by word, we have to preach first by example, by deeds.
And given the tenuous condition of a priest’s life, we priests should be first ones to seek spiritual direction and have recourse to frequent confession. It cannot be denied that the higher one’s dignity and privileges are, the more tricky and irresistible would also be the temptations. Priests should be ready for this fact of life.*