The Call of a Priestly Vocation

  Rev. Mr.  Jonathan Romanoski, FSSP

 

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My dearest brethren in Christ, priest_04.jpg

Today the Church celebrates the Epiphany, a Greek word which means manifestation, for on this day the glory of God is revealed to the Gentiles, as the 3 kings come from the East, to adore Christ the King of Kings. They received the call from afar, and made the long journey, not knowing exactly when or where they would arrive. They simply followed the light given by God through the night, wherever it led them. They did not fear to suffer suspicion and risk their lives under Herod. Falling down, they adored Christ our God as every human authority must. And they offered him their greatest treasures, of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They then returned to the East, bearing the light of Christ in their hearts and on their lips, preparing the way for the coming of the Apostles, a generation later. 

As I reflect on this gospel tradition, I cannot help but think of the parallels it has with my 6-½ yrs. of priestly formation in seminary just completed. The 3 kings, serve as a great model for the call to the priestly vocation, both in their calling, and in their response.

So let us look at these in turn.

Their calling was received from above, like the priestly calling as St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Hebrews, “Neither doth any man take the honor to himself, but he that is called by God, as Aaron was.”

Now there is a priesthood according to nature, which before the Levites, the father of the family, and elders of the tribes would have exercised, and which in some way remains as the natural law remains, which dictates that the father is the spiritual head of the family, and the political ruler is to lead the goods of the state subordinate to the supernatural end of the populous, for which they will be accountable to God.

But the priesthood of Christ is absolutely gratuitous. Why so? Because it is an office so thoroughly divine, both in its end and in its means.

In its end for it is the calling to be no less than another Christ. For God Himself obeys the command of the priest, when he leans over the altar and utters a few words over bread, calling down the Incarnation again, as it were, for the salvation of the human race, saying this is my body.

At whose command the blood of Christ is mystically shed anew, with the words this is the Chalice of my blood, one drop of which is powerful enough to save the entire universe.

At the words of the priest, “I absolve you from your sins” sinners, slaves of Satan, condemned to hell for all eternity for one mortal sin, are set free, and what’s more, made the very friends of God, becoming tabernacles of the most High, who truly dwells in their soul by sanctifying grace.

So wondrous is the divine mystery of the priesthood, that it surpasses all wonder, says St. John Chrysostom. Thus, who could ascend to such a state unless God calls Him, as “who can forgive sins but God alone?”

It is a vocation which is divine in its means as well, as it can only be recognized like the star in the night, towards which the Magi were drawn, not only by an inner longing, a captivation of the heart to leave all and follow it, but also by the objective signs by which they discerned the call of God.

And so what are the signs of this divine calling?
The vocation to the priesthood is seen in 3 principle signs, St. Alphonsus tells us.

1st, Purity of Intention– the intention above all to serve God and save souls for the glory of God, and not to please men, or gain the esteem of others, for “God hath scattered the bones of them that please men: they have been confounded, because God hath despised them.” (Ps. 52:6), that is, who pleased men apart from or contrary to God’s good pleasure.

Secondly, there is need of the necessary talent and learning, a talent and learning so as to understand and communicate the faith, “For,” Holy Writ declares, “the lips of the priest shall teach knowledge, and they shall seek the law at his mouth.” (Mal 2:7). A teaching ordered toward the love of God, which aims not only at enlightening with truth but which is truly pastoral as well, exposing and condemning error, which is the ruin of souls. As Pope Pius XI said: “The first and obvious duty the priest owes to the world about him, is service to the truth, the unmasking and refutation of error in whatever form of disguise it conceals itself.

Lastly, yet most importantly there is needed goodness of character, both due to the fact that the priest must become the guide of others in the way of holiness, and, most of all, because he stands in the very Holy of Holies and holds the Body of Christ in his very hands, consecrated for this sole purpose. Thus not only his hands but his whole soul must be consecrated and set apart for god, which the Church sums up in a most beautiful phrase in the ordination rite, “Imitamini quod tractatis” Imitate what you handle; that is Sacrifice yourself as Christ sacrifices himself for the glory of God and salvation of souls. Live the Mass!

Now please don’t misunderstand. These are the qualities needed to be ordained. Yet in he who has only begun to discern, these qualities will be present in a true but seminal  undeveloped fashion. For it takes many, many years in the seminary to form a priest. In the one just discerning, these qualities will be seen in the desire to give oneself to God, in the desire to know and teach the faith, in the desire to be holy, even despite one’s past and present failings, which may serve well to humble the soul with true repentance.

But note as well, that the Magi did not simply trust in their own discernment of the call, but rather consulted the priests. This is a very important point, for no man is a good judge of himself and we often deceive ourselves through an excessive or deficient estimation of what talents the Lord has given us, when we would simply do better to ask a priest of many years experience what is needed and to open our soul to him, and let him judge. For in the end, the call to the priesthood is one of the Church through her appointed pastors, a call which takes place even in the ordination rite itself, to which the “priest-to-be” can only respond like Samuel, “Adsum” Here I am O Lord.

It is very important that the person discerning, trust the guidance of another, as the sanctity of the office can be overwhelming to consider, which sanctity the Fathers and Doctors say in sum, should be greater than that of the upright man’s as heaven is greater than earth. Yet if you find yourself humbled and filled with holy fear of the sacerdotal office, this is exactly what God wants, and those whom he wishes to choose. As St. Pius X, says “Do we imagine that God is influenced by any inborn or acquired excellence of ours, to make use of our help for the extension of his glory? By no means; for it is written: God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak things of the world God has chosen to confound the strong… the humble and contemptible things of the world God has chosen…” For by ourselves we can do nothing. But with Christ all things are possible. And thus St. Thomas says “God does not destine men to such or such a vocation without favoring them with gifts at the same time, and preparing them in such a way as to render them capable of fulfilling the duties of their vocation; for as St. Paul says, ‘Our sufficiency is from God who also hath made us fit ministers of the New Testament‘ ” (2 Cor. 3:5; p. 3, q.27 a.4).”

It is when we are weak that we are strong, for only then will we truly rely on God, as St. Augustine put it, “God commands not impossibilities, but, by commanding, both admonishes thee to do what thou art able, and to pray for what thou are not able (to do), and aids thee that thou mayest be able.” (St. Augustine; Council of Trent sess. 6 cap. 2).

We must like the Magi, simply set out in faith, following the star in the midst of the dark night, uncertain where it will lead, yet confident that it is God who guides who cannot lead astray. And we must have great generosity toward God, and a prompt obedience to his calling, especially in our day for as St. Pius X said “to bring about the reign of Jesus Christ in the world, nothing is more essential than a saintly clergy who, by their example, their preaching and their learning will be the guides of the faithful; an old proverb says that the people will always be like their priests: Sicut sacerdos, sic populus.” For how they shall hear unless one is sent, as the Magi return today with the good news of salvation.

Since holy priestly vocations are the life of the Church, and salvation of the world it falls to each one of us to do what we can to promote them, and for young men to be generous in discerning this call. It behooves parents, especially the father, in the holiness with which they live, as one can notably observe the great benefit in formation that seminarians have received who enter the seminary from holy families. The priestly vocation must be something held in great esteem as well, and seen as the greatest honor for a family. And to the contrary, it is my obligation to inform you, that if parents discourage a priestly vocation in their son (or a religious vocation in their daughter), when they appear truly interested in it, it is a mortal sin, according to St. Alphonsus and the common teaching. St. Bernard goes so far as to call such parents murderers. The Council of Trent also condemned the opinion of Luther, who held that one should obey parents who object to their religious calling, as we must always obey God before men. Yet I know that this does not apply to most of you. May you rather be inspired by the very moving tradition in which a newly ordained priest gives to his mother the cloth with which his anointed hands were wrapped, and to his Father the stole of his first confession, which are placed on them at their death, that they may appear before God as the blessed parents of a priest for all eternity.

Lastly it behooves the young man to be generous in discerning this call, and the Church recommends above all else for this discernment the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, which are profitably done on retreat, or even amidst one’s daily life if they set aside some time for prayer each day to consider them. They simply focus the mind on what reality truly is: that you have been created for the praise and service of God alone, and by this means to save your soul. Everything else passes away, and only has value with reference to this. St. Ignatius converted his roommate Francis Xavier, by awakening him every morning with this consideration- “what would it profit you if you gained the whole world, but lost your own soul.” You then consider all of your sins in their true horror as a rebellion against the good God, who has freely created you and sustains you so as to serve Him and to be happy with Him for ever, and how an eternity in hell, will not compare with the dishonor shown to the infinitely good God by sin, in which we prefer created goods to eternal goodness itself. In short, these considerations and those which follow, put everything into perspective, so that you may then make a choice about your vocation in life, according to what is simply most reasonable, for the attainment of your end- the service of God and the salvation of your soul. Whatever choice a man makes in this state, it will be a supernatural one, and if it is to marry it will be for supernatural motives as well, to manifest the love between Christ and the Church, and not based on attractions to fading beauty, money, power, etc., which will all pass away and may well be the greatest obstacles to growing in sanctity and saving your soul, as they are truly good things. But the good is the enemy of the best, when it is sought as an end and not a means towards it.

The great example of the generosity of the three Kings is placed before you today. A generosity, which is simply a response to the generosity of God, who freely chooses to save man, and to choose men to participate in his own work. “AS the Father sent me (the Son of God!) so I send you,” for the salvation of the world, the ONLY end, which matters after this so-called life, which lasts but for the blink of an eye. Christ came down from heaven and died the most shameful death for love of you. What have you done for Christ, what are you doing for Christ, what will you do for Christ.

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 AMDG

Who is the Priest?

  

Father Roberto Cano F.S.S.P.

   

Let a man so account us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. I Cor. 4, 1
 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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On this the 4th Sunday of Advent, the Church who is bother Mother and Teacher, through the Sacred Liturgy wishes to direct our minds and hearts to ponder the great mystery and gift of the Catholic priesthood.  In this past week, the Church has celebrated the Ember days, which as you know, are days of penance and abstinence.  In fact, the proper texts of this Sunday’s Mass are predominately taken from the Mass of Ember Saturday.   And this is with due reason.  This is because in Rome since the 3rd century it was the tradition to confer ordinations to the sacred priesthood, the major orders of diaconate and subdiaconate and the minor orders.  The Ember days of December were always used for ordinations due to their proximity to the feast of Our Lord’s birth in order to communicate to the faithful and to those receiving the orders that ordination to the priesthood is truly the birth of another Christ, an alter Christus.  In other words, our fathers in the Faith, understood ordination to the priesthood as a continuation (in a certain sense) of the Incarnation because it is the priest who continues the work of the Redemption here and now through his sacerdotal ministry.  It is only fitting, then, to say some words about the Catholic priesthood and its great dignity. 

In order to understand the nature of the priesthood, we must first speak about the virtue of religion.  What is it?  Religion is that moral virtue by which man pays due honor to Almighty God.  And like with all things that involve man, there is an internal and external aspect to this virtue since man is composed of both soul and body.  Devotion and prayer are the interior acts of religion and sacrifice is the most important external act of religion.  By this act man shows his utter dependence upon God and that he is subject to Him.   And this is where the priesthood becomes so essential!  For there can be no sacrifice without the priesthood and no true priesthood without sacrifice.  The priest, as the latin word sacérdos denotes, is the granter or the one who bestows sacred things.  Therefore let us be clear, where there is religion there must be a priesthood.  In the words of Pope Pius XI, of blessed memory, “The human race has always felt the need of a priesthood: of men, that is, who have the official charge to be mediators between God and humanity, men who should consecrate themselves entirely to this mediation, as to the very purpose of their lives, men set aside to offer to God public prayers and sacrifices in the name of human society. For human society as such is bound to offer to God public and social worship. It is bound to acknowledge in Him its Supreme Lord and first beginning, and to strive toward Him as to its last end, to give Him thanks and offer Him propitiation. In fact, priests are to be found among all peoples whose customs are known…They may, indeed, be in the service of false divinities; but wherever religion is professed, wherever altars are built, there also is a priesthood surrounded by particular marks of honor and veneration” (ACS, 8).  And so, the One, True God has established one, true religion and in doing so a priesthood that will endure forever.  That priesthood, dear brethren, is no other than the Catholic Priesthood.

The question still remains: Who is the priest?  St. Paul tells us in his magnificent definition, “Every high priest taken from among men, is ordained for men in the things that appertain to God, that he may offer up gifts and sacrifices for sins” (Heb. 5, 1).  The priest is a man like any man in this church, however, he has been set apart from ordinary men and his being has been raised to a higher dignity.  Essentially, the priest is a mediator between God and man.  As a mediator there must be something that he offers to God and something that he returns to man from God.  On account of his priestly ordination and the subsequent character that is imprinted on his soul, the Catholic priest has the power to offer the same sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, however, in an unbloody manner.  A power bestowed only to priests and not even to angels who possess a higher nature.  At every Mass, it is this sacrifice that the priest offers not only on his behalf, but that of the whole Church.    It is in the Mass that the fruits of the Redemption are applied to men and from which countless graces are bestowed upon our souls.  Who amongst us can truly comprehend the value of a single Mass?  This should tell us, then, with what honor and reverence we should esteem the office of the priest.  For we know by faith, when the priest offers the Mass with valid matter, form and the intention to do what the Church does Christ truly, really and substantially becomes present on the altar regardless the personal sanctity or lack thereof of the individual priest.  A truth, dear brethren, that the saints understood all too well.  It was said of St. Teresa of Avila that she would kiss the very ground where the priest would walk because she understood that from the hands of the priest the treasures of Heaven where made available to her.  And who can forget the example of St. Francis of Assisi?  This humble deacon who taught his fellow friars to greet and give deference to the priest first, even if they were to meet an angel and a priest at the same time.  Since, although, the angel has the higher nature the priest has the higher dignity as it is only he, by God’s power, who can make present the Body and Blood of Christ and forgive sins.  Lest we think that these are mere exaggerations we should always keep in mind that any respect or reverence we pay to the priest, first and foremost, should be directed to the Person who he represents, that is, Jesus Christ.  And whatever admiration or affection we may have for the individual priest is simply secondary and non essential.  The great beauty of this ancient rite of Mass is that the priest in a certain sense is forced to put his personality and personal preferences aside.  As the manner of offering the Mass is quite detailed and precise, it requires the priest to conform himself to the rite, rather than manipulating it with innovations to conform the rite to his own “liturgical style.”  There are certain reverences such as the kissing of the hand, bows and incensations made to the priest during the rite of Mass because he acts in persona Christi capitis, that is, in the very Person of Christ the Head.  There is not a single bow, genuflection, strike of the breast, sign of the cross or word in the Mass that is done in vain!  In fact, they are all means to direct the priest’s prayer to God and to conform the priest to Christ the High Priest and Victim of every Mass.   

The priest, however, is not only a mediator, but also a minister or steward to put it in the words of today’s Epistle.  That is to say, that all the power that the priest possesses over the Real Body of Christ in the Holy Eucharist and the Mystical Body of Christ (the Church) has its source from above.  It is not something that he gives to himself.  We should recall that even the sacred humanity of Christ was bestowed with this gift of the priesthood.  As St. Paul tells us in the epistle to the Hebrews, “Neither doth any man take the honor to himself, but he that is called by God, as Aaron was.  So Christ also did not glorify himself, that he might be made a high priest: but he that said unto him: Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.  As he saith also in another place: Thou art a priest forever , according to the order of Melchisedech” (Heb. 5, 4-6).  In other words, to become a priest one must first be chosen or elected by God before even daring to assume such an office.  This is why Christ could say to the apostles and to all priests, “You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you” (Jn. 15, 16).   All too often in our day, the priesthood is seen as a job or career and unfortunately this heretical notion has even crept into the minds of some of the clergy.  But this is a grave mistake because the priesthood is a vocation, a sacred calling which entails a supernatural mission- which is no other than the salvation of souls!  It is clear then, that with such a lofty calling and mission the priest has a tremendous responsibility before Almighty God to make an account for those souls entrusted to his care.  As a saint once remarked: the path to Hell is paved by the skulls of priests’.  Strong and terrifying words, but nevertheless true!  We cannot fail to forget that the Church is a hierarchy and if the shepherds who have the charge to bring souls closer to Christ by their teaching and example are far from Him, how then, will the flock avoid being eaten by the ravenous wolves of temptation and sin?  The priest, dear brethren, continues the work of the redemption by applying its fruits to souls through the administration of the sacraments.  And if by negligence he fails to generously do so, in a certain sense, he is depriving souls of God’s graces and the converse is just as true.  If a priest generously dedicates himself to administering the sacraments then he provides souls with a great opportunity to receive an abundance of graces as did the holy Cure of Ars and St. Padre Pio.

Much more could be said about the priesthood, about its dignities and duties, however, this is not meant to be a theological lesson on holy orders but rather an exhortation to us all—to honor and love the priest for he is another Christ.  Just as the hemorrhaging woman in the Gospel wished but to touch the hem of Our Lord’s garment to be healed, so too the faithful can come to God’s ministers, his priests, and like that garment be healed through them.  Nevertheless, let us keep in mind, that although the priests carry the great treasures of Heaven with them they are frail vessels of clay.  And like Moses who needed his arms supported by others to defeat the army of Amalec, so too the priests need the prayers of the faithful to support them in the apostolate.  Many a great order such as the discalced Carmelites and confraternities of faithful have dedicated themselves to this great work—the sanctification of the clergy.  In fact, this is why the Fraternity of St. Peter has founded such a confraternity in order for the faithful to pray for the priests of our Fraternity and vocations to it.  That call to fasting, penance and vigil which the Ember days invoke for the sanctification of the clergy remains with us today and let us not forget it.  Please pray for your priests here and throughout the world and consider joining this confraternity to help reach its end—holy priests for Holy Mother Church.  I conclude with those memorable words of St. John Vianney concerning the sacred priesthood, “What is a priest?  A man who holds the place of God-a man who is invested with all the powers of God…The priest is not a priest for himself; he does not give himself absolution; he does not administer the sacraments to himself.  He is not for himself, he is for you.  After God, the priest is everything…The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus.  When you see the priest, think of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen