The great gift that is priesthood
Many people too often think in terms of giving something up when they think of priesthood. There are of course sacrifices to make, and perhaps the call to celibacy is one of the most challenging. But a man who has a sense of calling can take heart from Christ’s own words: “I tell you the truth, no-one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the Gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields— and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10,29-30).
In any case, the sacrifice becomes beautiful and worthwhile if it is pondered and prayed over. The power to forgive sins! The power to change bread and wine into God’s Body and Blood! The privilege of accompanying people on the pilgrim journey back to God! The gift of preaching the Good News of salvation! These are some of the many blessings given to those whom Christ calls.
Pope John Paul II and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta both had a deep love for the priesthood and its most important work, the Eucharist. Here they encourage those who are thinking about priesthood:
If you feel a tug towards the consecrated life, do not run away from it because it will not go away. Take things calmly and reflect upon them prayerfully, before approaching someone you can trust. You might also like to reflect on some of the signs that you might have a vocation.
We can take heart from Blessed Pope John XXIII, who reminds us that, “Once you have renounced everything, really everything, then any bold enterprise becomes the simplest and most natural thing in all the world.” (Diary, May 5th 1928)
Living the Christian life in a particular way…
All Christians are called to live a ‘priestly’ life, which means they offer their whole lives in prayer and service to God in union with the offering of Jesus the High Priest. This is our ‘baptismal’ priesthood.
The ‘ministerial’ priest, however, through the sacrament of ordination, shares in the priesthood of Christ in a special way. His very being is transfigured in this sacrament, so that he can represent Christ the Good Shepherd for us, Christ as the Head of the Church. He not only offers his own life to the Father in sacrifice, as all Christians do, but he also stands before the Church and ministers to us as Christ ‘in person’. When he teaches with the authority of the Church then Christ teaches; when he forgives sins in the sacrament of Penance then Christ forgives; when he offers the Sacrifice of the Mass then Christ offers that Sacrifice; when he loves and supports and cares for his people then Christ is present with his people.
Because of the wishes of Jesus himself, confirmed by the tradition of the Church throughout the centuries, the ministerial priesthood is reserved for men. In the Western Church the priesthood is also reserved, ordinarily, for single men who are willing to make a lifelong commitment to celibacy, for in this way they can give their whole hearts and minds to the service of the Lord and to the love of his people.