In my previous articles, I began to look at the current crisis in the Church resulting from the sins of priests and bishops. Since then, Pope Francis held a meeting of Church leadership from around the world to address the underlying causes that allow for such scandal.
As I indicated before, some failures of Church leadership in the seminary formation of future priests sadly allowed for such scandals. I would like now to consider some key questions about the priesthood, which must be kept in mind when correcting past failures.
There are many questions, criticisms and misunderstandings of the priesthood today, perhaps especially in the wake of the scandals. These include whether celibacy is healthy, the limiting of the priesthood to men and even why the Church does not admit men who self-identify as homosexual to enter seminary.
To understand what Christ gave to His Church at the Last Supper, we must first consider the identity of the priest. Like the identity of all Christians, we are not merely people who follow the commandments and the sacramental life as Jesus taught, we are above all beloved sons and daughters of God the Father through our Baptism in Christ. The power of the Holy Spirit penetrates far beyond our actions to our very identity.
A priest is not one who simply serves by consecrating, anointing and blessing amidst other ministerial functions. A priest is united to Christ at the level of his identity. As the Ordination Rite states, he is “configured to Christ the eternal High Priest” and so the Church, in her unbroken tradition, refers to him as Alter Christus, another Christ. St. John Paul II said a priest is a “sacramental representation of Christ” who is shepherd, servant, spouse of the Church, high priest and the one who shows us the Father. Or, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI says, “we are always priests with all our soul and with all our heart. Being an ambassador of Christ … is a mission that penetrates our entire being.”
The priesthood, already established in the Old Testament and fulfilled in Jesus Christ, is divinely inspired. If one were to consider the priesthood to be merely a job or simply the bestowal of an honor, as opposed to a vocation to service, one would completely miss the essence of the priesthood.
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