In the evening as I left the rectory for a walk, praying the Rosary, I came near the main alley of this neighbourhood.

The alley runs between the abandoned warehouses and the school.

A man came walking by.

He walked as one bent over with fatigue. His clothing indicated he was probably working in one of the factories over the hill at the bottom of our street.

My heart was immediately moved to pray for him, and all men, women and children throughout the world who labour long hours, in often dehumanizing conditions, for barely enough to put food on the table.

Just as I was passing the alley down which the man had headed, I heard him call out a name, and noticed a small child running towards him.

When the child was close enough he leapt into the man’s arms, his father.

As the man lifted the small, living, joyful weight onto his shoulders I noticed he was no longer moving with heavy step of exhaustion, but walked tall, straight, as if filled with new energy. [Gal.4:6,7]

Before ordination sacramentally configures us as father, in persona Christi, we are, sacramentally in Baptism, born anew as children, sons of the Father.

Already in baptism we become participants in the priestly, kingly, prophetic mission of Christ.

Ordination impels us, with great love, to become fully missionaries to all our brothers and sisters, especially those who ‘labour and are heavy burdened.’

We priests participate in the mystery of being both children, along with all the children of God, thus brother with all our brothers and sisters, and father, shepherd, teacher, evangelist, for those same brothers and sisters.

                                                 Catholic doctrinal tradition describes the priest as teacher of the Word, minister of the sacraments and leader of the Christian community entrusted to him. This is the starting point of all reflection on the identity and mission of the priest in the Church.

                                   ….Many of the baptized live in a world indifferent to religion. While maintaining a certain faith, these practically live a form of religious and moral indifferentism, alienated from Word and sacraments which are essential for Christian life.

                                  …For the contemporary Church, Mother and Teacher, the mission ad gentes and new evangelization are inseparable aspects of her mandate to teach, sanctify and guide all men to the father.

                                     ….In a particular way, priests have this duty since they have been specially chosen, consecrated and sent to make evident the presence of Christ whose authentic representatives and messengers they become. [48]

Thus we need to be truly aware of, grateful for, that baptismal faith which makes us His children. [Gal.3:26]

We can never contemplate to exhaustion the incredible gift and reality of our baptismal faith.

Indeed if our baptismal faith is weak, uncertain, confused, tainted in anyway by the surrounding culture of death, or specious notions in theology or spirituality, then our ability to be authentic evangelizers as priests will be seriously compromised.

Long before we were ordained, indeed a necessary gateway, we were brought by the Holy Spirit into new life in Christ at our baptism. [Gal.3:27]

It is this first clothing which makes possible our later configuration to Christ in the fullness of divine election at our ordination.

Satan wages war against the followers of Christ, the children of Mary. This we know not only from Revelations chapter 12, but from life experience.

What is true for all the baptized is an even more constant experience for we priests. [Col.2:6-8]

Pope John Paul II constantly, in his writings on the priesthood, urged us to be aware of the authentic reality of the sacramental priesthood, just as he constantly urged all the baptized to be aware of the reality of baptism.

For us priests it is a call for us to be fully aware of both sacramental realities of our ‘grace in return for grace’ existence.

Thus we must strive always to be aware, with great humility, that before we are celebrants of Christ’s sacraments, we are recipients of His sacraments.

We encounter in sacrament the One whose sacraments we bring to our brothers and sisters.

It is one of the realities which make our Catholic religion the religion of glory.

                                                    The whole liturgical life of the Church revolves around the Eucharistic sacrifice and the sacraments. [49]

It is often a reality for priests that we encounter much stress around the celebration of the sacrament of Baptism because of the very loss of a sense of faith and faith practice among the people. Thus it can be difficult for us, when striving to properly catechize parents and godparents alike, to appreciate the reality of what is being asked for on behalf of the child.

It is to be prayerfully wished that instructing parents, godparents, adults seeking to be baptized will offer us the opportunity to re-discover anew the tremendous gift of grace which is our faith, our baptismal, sacramental life.

Baptism is, to be sure, being reborn in and through Christ as we are plunged into the mystery of His death and resurrection.

Baptism is also a renewal, sacramentally, of that communion of love offered us by the Holy Trinity at the moment of our creation by the loving act of God.

Indeed the Catechism of the Catholic Church, where we are taught in paragraph 366 that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God “also reminds us of our creation for the purpose of this communion of love as noted in paragraph 367: “…man is ordered to a supernatural end and…his soul can gratuitously be raised beyond all it deserves to communion with God”.

We are called to by the Trinity, in particular through Baptism, as St. Peter reminds us, to this communion of love through grace given us by, the All-Holy One.

We are all called to holiness! [1Pt.1:15,16]

The more we accept the love of the Holy Trinity, the more we become love for others, and through love’s humble service, the holier we become.

                                    There is one characteristic common to all the Saints and holy people of the Church – a characteristic that predominates in the lives of the Apostles. It is their personal love of the Lord.

                                   ….Our Lord’s plan for each priest is a personal partnership: ‘We: Jesus and I.’ This is how He would have each priest live and act – in the first person plural. Our Lord wants to share every moment of our life, especially every moment of our ministry. He wants us to live and work in complete dependence upon Himself and His love, never forgetting, never doubting it. He wants us to think of Him always in the second person singular – not the third as many priests do. He wants us to be His friend; but He wants even more than that. He wants us to find in Him and to give to Him, all the love that human hearts can give each other. [50]

This intimate love affair begins with baptism, is re-established in confession every time we remove ourselves from this love through sin, is nourished and fortified, deepened, indeed made more passionate, every time we receive Him, glorified, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in Holy Communion.

The greater the depth of our meditation upon the reality of our baptism and its gift of faith, the more profound becomes our understanding of this same holy sacrament, in particular when we are blessed with the opportunity to baptize.

Indeed the preparation for and the celebration of this sacrament will no longer be an occasion when satan may attempt to seduce us into the sin of arrogance through a too narrow interpretation of the requirements expected of parents asking to have their child baptized.

We will be moved in the depths of our hearts with a fatherly patience, a shepherd’s understanding, a teacher’s truth-speaking ability to form where formation is needed, to overlook where charity should prevail.

When we know we are beloved of the True Lover, we rejoice in the mysterious reality that sacraments are not only sacred events, holy realities, but wonderful places of encounter with the Divine Beloved.

Thus we will approach teaching of the sacraments fully aware the Divine Lover seeks to encounter their very persons, no matter their apparent poverty of faith practice, and we will trust the power of the sacraments themselves.

Our people, irrespective of the sacrament they approach us for, particularly irregular or non-practicing parents seeking baptism for their child, will see in our eyes the tender expression of Christ Himself, His love for them.

This will motivate and encourage them to be willing students of faith and eager to resume faith practice.

Not as some imposed requirement, rather as their response to Love’s call.

Holy Mother the Church, in her own tender wisdom, places the renewal of our baptismal faith in the heart of the Easter Liturgy.

It is a moment we should enter with extreme gratitude and celebrate for our people with due reverence.

With our hearts full of joy at His Holy Resurrection we actually celebrate the first moment of what Scripture elsewhere refers to as the love we had ‘at first’.

For us priests it is also reliving the moment when our divine election to our vocation of joy, in persona Christi, began.

A reminder too that above all we are apostles of Love.

                                                          People need to hear at least once a week that God truly loves them, that He wants a relationship of love with them, that He cares infinitely for each one, so much that He is present to each one’s joy and each one’s sorrow, to each effort and each failure, that He loves and loves and loves and loves, that He forgives and forgives and forgives. [51]

It is when we priests doubt that truth, fail to trust His love for us, we run the risk of appearing unloving to our people and frustrating them in their desire to return to baptismal faith practice or to grow ever more in their lives of charity towards all.

Ours must be the very words of Jesus Himself, poured forth from our hearts as ardent prayer that it be so! [Jn.15:8-11]

The more we strive to become what we are through baptism the more we shall become what we are by virtue of our sacramental ordination as priests.

I do believe in the depths of my heart there is a direct connection between that priestly angst which seems at the root of so much sorrow in the priesthood today, such confusion, being vulnerable to pressure from those who would reduce priesthood to a mere function able to be ‘performed’ in most respects even by the un-ordained, and a type of forgetfulness regarding the reality of our baptism.

                                                       Following Christ is not an outward imitation, since it touches man at the very depths of his being. Being a follower of Christ means becoming conformed to Him who became a servant even giving Himself on the Cross (cf.Phil.2:5-8). Christ dwells by faith in the heart of every believer (cf.Eph.3:17), and thus the disciple is conformed to the Lord. This is the effect of grace, of the active presence of the Holy Spirit in us. Having become one with Christ, the Christian becomes a member of His Body, which is the Church (cf.1Cor.12:13,27). By the work of the Spirit, Baptism radically configures the faithful to Christ in the Paschal Mystery of death and resurrection; it ‘clothes him’ in Christ (cf.Gal.3:270: ‘Let us rejoice and give thanks,’ exclaims Saint Augustine speaking to the baptized, ‘for we have become Christ!’ Having died to sin, those who are baptized receive new life (cf.Rom.6:3-11): alive for God in Christ Jesus, they are called to walk by the Spirit and manifest the Spirit’s fruits in their lives (cf.Gal.5:16-25). Sharing in the Eucharist, the Sacrament of the New Covenant (cf.1Cor.11:23-29), is the culmination of our assimilation to Christ, the source of ‘eternal life’ (cf.Jn.6:51-58), the source and power of that complete gift of self, which Jesus – according to the testimony handed on by Paul – commands us to commemorate in liturgy and life: ‘As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes’ (1Cor.11:26). [52]

As these truths permeate our being our hearts will become ever more filled with that Divine Fire which so burned in the Heart of Christ!

Indeed we shall feel ourselves, and yearn evermore, to be compelled to spread that fire through evangelization, baptizing the newly born or converted, seeking out the lost, and giving ourselves over fully to the missio ad gentes.

In a word: to spread His fire as He yearns. [Lk.12:49]

This is our call to holiness, to be fire spreaders, to set the world ablaze with love in return for Love.

True there will be those moments, perhaps even hours, days, weeks or more, of struggle when it may seem our hearts have grown so cold we have barely a spark to spread, but even the tiniest spark can begin an immense blaze.

So, by grace, we live faithful to the duty of the moment, our hearts open to this heartfelt plea:

                                                    ……try to walk in the way of sanctity which God has chosen for you….The pursuit of sanctity is like an interior flame, a sacred fire which we bear within us. At times this fire seems to be only a spark, but, believe me, it can be revived and become bright again. If we wish the Father, when He looks at us, to be able to say, as He said of Jesus: ‘This is My beloved Son,’ let all our efforts and all our aspirations tend towards the establishment of the reign of charity in our hearts. [53]

The real and great tragedy, the true scandal, pulverizing the priesthood today is not, per se, those abuse or heresy scandals which receive so much media attention.

They are, to be sure, serious indeed as sin certainly always is.

The great tragedy, which is fundamentally the root cause of those sins which become the perhaps more obvious, at least to the media, is our failure as priests to willingly become saints.

                                                      The saints know a truth that sin keeps secret: the human spirit is robbed of its natural dignity when it is content to be only natural. Evil claims to be natural, and this is the heart of its deceit. [54]

Baptism is both the gateway to the fullness of the rest of sacramental life and the call to holiness.

By sacramental ordination we become in persona Christi; in the person of the All Holy One.

                                            So how is it that we are not gathering our forces together to counteract the strange forces that continue to infiltrate into the Church, which arise even within the Church to manipulate the Church. There is one way in which it can be done, and only one way: the way of holiness. For this we were born: to be holy. We are given every advantage by the Church to follow the path of the Holy One who calls Himself ‘the Way.’

                                              The priest is a shepherd. He has a flock given him by God. For this he was ordained. God asks from His priests one thing: that he himself cleanse his soul, that he walk the path of the Holy One, now falling down, now bruising himself, but since the path is made by God, God is around and He will help the priest to stand up and continue walking. [55]

Flowing from our first experience of the communion of love and our baptismal commission to be witnesses to Christ, His Holy Resurrection, His Gospel of Love and Truth, of Life, comes that constant call to holiness which the Spirit Himself speaks to the depths of our being every moment of our priestly lives.

It is the call to become a living flame of love.

Jesus, the night of His Passion, having arrived at the hour when He would indeed spread divine fire and set the world ablaze, told us the time had come to ask for everything in His Name.

In the very asking and receiving will come the enhancement of our joy. [Jn.16.24]

The ancient prayer to the Holy Spirit begs Him to come and kindle again within us the fire of our first love, our true joy.

To become a living flame: that is the Gospel proclaimed by Jesus the Master. That is what He Himself is, the blazing sun who lights the whole world…..

                                                          ….. there is no secret about the nature of that fire. It is simply love. Love is the fire the Son of God came to cast on the earth….the burning passion for His Father and for us that bore Him to the cross and through it to His resurrection. Love is the fire the risen Lord pours into the hearts of all those who follow Him, those who hear His voice as well as His first friends.

                                                         This love is more than a human word or metaphor. It is the living Spirit of the living God, alive in us. It is the Holy Spirit who pours God’s love into us and makes us living flames. If we want, then, we can become living flames of love because, as Jesus has promised, His Father does not refuse the Spirit to anyone who asks. If we ask, we shall receive abundantly.

                                                        …..we are not on fire. Why not? I think that there are two reasons. The first is that we are uncertain that such extravagance is either possible or desirable. The second reason is that we are honestly not sure how to ask for the Spirit, even if we do sometimes see clearly that we can have no real joy outside the fire of His love.

                                                       In the story of the Pharisee and the publican, the Master is responding to this bewilderment of ours. He is telling us how to ask for the Holy Spirit. He is revealing to us the only fuel for the fire that He wants to set in our hearts. That fuel is humility….The Lord wants to teach us how to be humble, by telling us the truth about our own wretchedness as He reveals to us the greatest truth – the truth enfolding and encompassing every other truth – that is the mercy of His Father. [56]