Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen could not recall a time in his life when he did not want to be a priest. At his First Communion, he prayed that one day he would be ordained to the priesthood. That day came in September 1919, when the 24-year-old son of Newton and Delia Sheen was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois.

Sheen would become a towering figure in the Catholic Church in the 20th century, known to millions as a brilliant orator and a master teacher of the faith on television and radio, in many dozens of books, and from the pulpit. But for more than 60 years, Sheen was first, foremost, and always a priest. He wrote and spoke often about the priesthood. He gave many retreats later in life to remind his brother priests who and what they truly are. Even more than 40 years after his death, Sheen’s teachings stand as a faithful sentinel against modern efforts to “reform” the priesthood by dispatching with celibacy or even ordaining women. It is easy to imagine him today before a podium and microphone, explaining in stirring tones and rich voice why Our Blessed Lord made the holy priesthood as He did. It’s easy because he gave those talks and wrote passionate words about his vocation and his life

Alter Christus: Ambassadors of Christ

Sheen emphasized that priests were ambassadors of Jesus Christ and alter Christus, “other Christs,” who are “dispensers of the mysteries of God.” The role and essential characteristics of the priesthood come from Christ himself, Sheen said; to attempt to change or modify them would be to oppose God’s divine plan. Christ calls the priest, makes the priest, and provides the grace for him to completely offer himself as priest and victim.

This is the way he continues the priesthood of Our Blessed Lord,” Sheen said in his talk, “Holy Orders” (this talk and many others are available at “Our Lord was not a priest because he was eternally begotten by the Father. Our Lord was a priest because he had a human nature, which he could offer up for our salvation. And so we too, continuing that priesthood, are something like Jacob’s Ladder—it reaches up to the heavens and yet at the same time it is placed on the earth. Therefore every priest is a kind of another Christ, having vertical relations to Christ and Heaven and horizontal relations to men on earth.”

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