Thursday, October 25, 2012

Priests of Jesus-Christ

Read Hebrews 5:1-6

This week, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews considers the priests of the Old Testament. We should know that these men had one main task, offering up sacrifices in the Temple of Jerusalem on behalf of those who belonged to the people of Israel. To be a priest, one had to be the son of a priest, a descendant of the first priest Aaron, brother of Moses. Sons of priests had no say in the matter, they had to accept their prescribed tasks. There were therefore many priests in Israel, which meant they had to take their turn in serving at the Temple, usually two weeks a year. The remainder of the year, they had to earn their living as any other person would.

In many fundamental ways, the priesthood of the New Testament is radically different from that of the Old Testament. A first difference: in Christ, the whole people is priestly, each baptized person participating in the priesthood of Christ. Yet, certain members of the Church participate in Christ’s ministry to his people in a particular way. In Christ, and with Christ, they offer themselves for the service of leadership, guiding the life and the prayer of God’s people, presiding at the sacraments of Christ, animating the whole activity of the Church.

Yet they are not unlike the priests of the Old Testament: they are ordinary men, sharing the weaknesses and needs of all other members of God’s people. They are not there because their fathers were priests, but because they felt a pressing invitation from God in the depth of their hearts. This call is not for them a matter of pride, for it is a call to humble service.

Not so long ago, priests were put on pedestals, they were treated with kid gloves. They were considered superior to ordinary people, perhaps because of their many years of study, or the authority that was given them over the community, or their commitment to celibacy. Yet, these men are quite human. They have both qualities and faults, both strengths and weaknesses. With all the other members of God’s people, they start each Mass by asking forgiveness for their sins. They need God’s mercy and grace as much as everybody else.

It is only in being deeply united to Christ that they can ensure the service of leadership in the heart of the Church with compassion and humility. With Christ, they give their lives for the Church. With Christ, they become servants of all.

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