When, the night before He died, Christ instituted the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and the Holy Priesthood, in both instances He took ordinary matter to be transubstantiated in the reality of the former, and in a somewhat similar manner also changed into a new reality as regards the latter.

Let us, my brothers, stand in awe before this ineffable yet real dual fulfillment of His Divine Promise. [Jn.14:18; Mt.28:20]

Let us stand in awe before the mystery of wheat ground to flour, fired in the oven, placed upon the altar, with the mystery of grape crushed and bled that it too might be placed upon the altar, and of a man, purified by the fire of the Holy Spirit to be poured out as a libation for the Lord’s work in the heat of the day, in the depths of the vineyard.

What earth has given, human hands have made, becomes the bread and drink of eternal life by the power of the Holy Spirit at the command of a man of the earth, himself transformed by the same Spirit!

Indeed through ordination in persona Christi we men become priests are the living icon of His promise not to leave us orphans, and, through our sacramental celebrations, bring about the fulfillment of His promise to be with us until the end of the age.

We are living icons of His promise.

Dwelling in the reality of such superabundance of mercy the most natural place for we priests to be is with our face to the ground in constant adoration and supplication for mercy.

It is also a reality that it often is our experience satan has a particular hatred for us and appears to be permitted to beat upon us constantly. This can be especially our experience when we truly struggle to be among those who, though warred against remain faithful. [Rv.12:17]

Certainly when satan is making a frontal assault on the Church and the priesthood he will attack the truth about the Virginity of Mary, the Incarnation, Resurrection and Real Presence.

When we priests waffle on any of those truths we become participants in the attack on the Church and upon our own divine election.

It is a type of Judas work we become engaged in.

Then, of course, even if we are not experiencing suffering because of assaults directly on the Church, priesthood or the content of faith, we have our own sins and wounds to contend with and satan uses these as a means of discouragement and lassitude so that in the end either we quit the priesthood altogether or at the very least our people do not receive the dedicated service they need and deserve.

Conscious of all the mundane and sacred, all of the mercy and struggle, the nitty-gritty reality and even more real abundance of grace, which our vocation of joy in persona Christi contains, one of our own brother priests, the Apostle Paul, stresses the mystery it is within we, the clay vessels, the great treasure of His Priesthood is poured, lavished, so that, like Jesus, we in our turn are willingly poured out for others. [ 2Cor.4]

 This is the reality of what has been poured into us as superabundance of mercy in the sacrament of Holy Orders and becomes the reality of our lives in Christ and for the salvation of souls.                                                               The only question that should concern us, therefore, is that of fidelity to our identity, a fidelity which should be renewed each day, because identity is truth: truth of being from which derives the truth of action, the truth of our pastoral ministry. [79]

Who among us, with the passage of time from that original fire of the early period immediately following our ordination, has not had to confront the re-appearance in our being of the earthiness of our humanity, the fact we do indeed carry this inestimable treasure of mercy in the earthen vessel we are?

Yet even when that reality of our frailness as human beings is most pressing against us we do well to recall that when we struggle to be what we are, in persona Christi, the People of God will, most of them at any rate, trust the reality of priesthood:

                                                                             They should glow in the gravity of their character, the sanctity of their life, and the praise of their wholesome doctrine. [80]

We ARE in persona Christi.

This IS our joy – and our cross.

These two realities are far from being mutually exclusive.

They ARE stupendous realities of sanctifying and actual grace in the reality of our daily life! [1Pt.1:3-9; 13-16]

The day of our ordination, prostrated cruciform, surrendered by grace, we in fact were accenting to being nailed to the Cross, with and for Jesus, for the salvation of souls.

With the passage of time it may be that we are less and less inclined, for a variety of reasons/struggle, to wear proper clerical clothing, to be called Father, or perhaps we are simply so worn out by our labours, spiritual warfare we seek at the end of the ‘working’ day – though we are always priest so we are never NOT priest – tempted to revert to an attitude of ‘me, myself and I’.

This is why, when we begin to pray Night Prayer, and the daily examination of conscience, indeed of our consciousness of being always in persona Christi, it is essential we pose to our hearts the question: why would I ever for a single moment NOT want to be priest?

                                                               From our birth to our death, we walk on the journey toward Jerusalem. Season to season we advance, often in conformity and comfort, often in turmoil and pain. Along the way no one is blind to the labour….We tend to create habits of living that provide us with what we need to survive. But we are also searching……searching for peace. It is a journey toward Jerusalem.

                                                             …………..In our journey, we often forget God and are distracted. Or, if we seek beyond God, we find ourselves in the midst of loss. [81]

Rather than look exclusively outside of the reality of sacramental priesthood for the source of assaults on our own person and the priesthood in general, we need to consider first our own state of faith, or lack thereof, and if we have, or not, true fraternal love for our brother priests.

What St. Paul exalted about the people he served we should not only do likewise but do so in particular about each other as priests, encouraging and affirming one another, rather than indulging in hyper criticism and gossip; indeed tirelessly encouraging one another to endure courageously and generously the heat of the day, because we are impassioned with love of Jesus and His own love for our people, our brothers, for every human being. [1 Thess. 2: 19, 20]

If men, young and old, are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to embrace with a generous self-gift yes their own call to divine election as priests, perhaps one reason may be that they do not see us radiating a genuine love for one another and a true passion for each other’s joy in priesthood and for each other’s eternal salvation.

If there is uncertainty about faith praxis among our people, hesitancy to say yes to the call to priestly vocation, we need to examine our conscience and see if we radiate joy, fraternal affection, mutual support, or not.

Every crisis of faith is also essentially a crisis of trust.

Do we truly trust all Christ has revealed about Himself as Priest is real, true?

Do we allow this reality and truth to permeate our entire being, will, mind, imagination, heart, soul?

If we do, certainly always asking that in our deep faith Jesus help our unbelief, then flowing from such faith truth will permeate our being, our lives, and in truth the true acceptance, reverence, trust in, and love for, the reality of our brothers being in persona Christi, just as we are.

                                                               Jesus stands before us and asks, as He once did the Apostles: “Who do you say that I am?” Today much confusion surrounds this question……

                                                             …..for ourselves, whether everything stands firm or falls is related to our faith in Jesus of Nazareth. “But you,” and Jesus is now questioning us, “who do you say that I am?” We know how Simon Peter answered Him…..”You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”….This is Christ’s identity, and this identity is behind your own….Christ ardently longed to share His one priesthood with men.

                                 …..thanks to you priests, Christ is always sacramentally present in His Church….You act “in the Name and Person of Christ”….It is you who authoritatively proclaim the Gospel. Christ speaks through you: as a result “Christ proclaims Christ.” Who offers the Eucharist? You, but not alone: through you it is Christ who acts: “He is the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered Himself on the Cross”….Who imparts sacramentally absolution for sins committed? You priests, but not alone: it is Christ who forgives them through you. You are the “stewards of the mysteries of God” [1Cor.4:1]! [82]

Beloved brothers, let us stand in contemplation, awe, joy before the mysterious reality into which we are ordained!

                                                          Dear friends, in fulfillment of the Petrine ‘munus’, I intend to strengthen your faith in the identity of Christ and in your own identity as ‘other Christ’s’. Take a holy pride in being ‘called’, and be especially humble before so great a dignity, in the awareness of your human weakness.

                                                          Thanks be to you priests, who like a lantern illumine those who come to you, and for whom, like salt, you give life its savour. Thank you for what you do and above all for what you are. With deep feeling, I would like to thank all those priests who, in fidelity to their own identity and mission, continue to suffer in most varied situations. Thank you for your toil, thank you for your efforts, thank you for your strength, thank you for your tears, thank you for your smile. Thank God for your being there.

                                                          …………However, my thanks above all becomes a “Te Deum” for the gift of the priesthood and an exhortation to you to become more and more in the world but less and less of the world, so that you can always show yourselves for what you are to everyone, with humble pride and the proper external sign: it is the sign of unceasing, ageless service, because it is inscribed in your ‘being’.

                                                            With tender affection I entrust each of you to the Virgin, given to us in an extraordinary way as Mother of the Eternal Priest. For each of you I place in her clasped hands a humble request for perseverance and for the commitment to leave as a legacy to your brethren at least one who will continue that unique priesthood that lives and springs form love within us. [83]

My prayer, beloved brothers, is that we will allow this tender word from Pope John Paul II, a word from the Holy Spirit, to burn within us as a fire purifying our hearts, minds, intellects, imaginations, emotions, body, souls, of all the dross which challenges our true identity that we might participate with renewed commitment and joy, generosity and joy, selflessness and joy in the personal and missionary reality of being in persona Christi.

Some twenty years before, in his first Letter to Priests, Pope John Paul II showed us the deep connection between the reality of being in persona Christi, and in relationship with the Most Holy Theotokos, urging us to truly place ourselves in her care:

                                                                   Dear brothers, at the beginning of my ministry I entrust all of you to the Mother of Christ, who in a special way is our Mother: Mother of priests……………..All of us………through priestly ordination have in a certain sense a prior right to see her as our Mother. And so I desire that all of you, together with me, should find in Mary the Mother of the priesthood which we have received from Christ. I also desire that you should entrust your priesthood to her in a special way. Allow me to do it myself, entrusting to the Mother of Christ each one of you – without any exception – in a solemn, and at the same time simple and humble way. And I ask each of you, dear brothers, to do it yourselves, in the way dictated to you by your own heart, especially by your love for Christ the priest, and also by your own weakness, which goes hand in hand with your desire for service and holiness. I ask you to do this. [84]

Central as well to this sacred ‘gift and mystery’ of sacramental ordination is our participation, and desire for ever deeper union, with Jesus in His own intimate, filial, loving relationship with the Father. [Mt.11: 25-27; Jn. 17:20-23]

We are meant to be in union with, communion with, in filial love of, and yes to rest in and be obedient, all as Jesus was/ is, with the Father, opening wide the doors of our being so that His Incarnate Word permeates our being: through baptism and ordination, to be sure; in praxis through fidelity in being and becoming more and more who we are; through fidelity in all our contemplation and action, which are inseparable; fidelity of ‘ora et labora’.

This continuous communion of love, of restful, attentive, childlike trusting, obedient intimate confidence – our filial relationship with the Father as created, baptized beings, as redeemed souls, in persona Christi, is activated by, motivated by, enflamed by, if we cooperate with Him, the Most Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier and Divine Guest of our being.

All so that, ultimately, generously, we lavish this love of the Father Himself, of Jesus, of the Holy Spirit, upon every man, woman, child on the face of the earth, directly to those we know, encounter, directly to those who live upon earth in this moment, and upon all the Holy Souls in our prayer for them.

This means too we embrace the continuing, purifying, vivifying, sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit. [Hb. 4:10-16]

This action of continuous formation by the Holy Spirit within us of ever deeper communion with the Father, in, through Jesus, underscores the fact we must have no other love greater in our hearts, occupying our minds, imaginations, longing, energy, than the love of the Father within us and our love of Him. [1Jn.2:15-17]

The Holy Gospel is replete with specific moments of intimate encounter and communion of love between Jesus and the Father, of dialogue and prayer, of listening and acting according to the Holy Will of the Father – in particular we find this in the great Priestly Prayer of Jesus in the Holy Gospel according to St. John.

The foundational aspect of this loving relationship between Jesus and the Father is witnessed by Jesus’ filial obedience to the Father, the articulation in His active life of the depths of the communion of love expressed in Jesus’ self-gift to the Father and self-gift to us from all eternity and visible from the moment of His Holy Incarnation through His public life, passion, death, resurrection, ascension and all accessible to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The more we open the doors of our being and willingly participate in our own self-gift to the Father, to others, in imitation of and union with Jesus Christ Priest, the greater our joy will be.

This is childlike trust!

To attempt, as priests, any other way of being and living means being engulfed in an aloneness and loneliness that will destroy our vocation.

As it was for Jesus on earth, absolutely now that He is seated at the right hand of the Father, so it will be for us if we abandon ourselves to the Father with absolute love and trust. [Jn.16:33]

When Christ Priest proclaims the ultimate prayer of trust in the love of the Father, that is in the Father Himself, we have the template of our own relationship with and prayer to the Father, the template of priestly openness to the Father’s love and in this oneness with Jesus Himself, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is found ultimate communion of love with the Holy Trinity.

Here too is the template of our consecration in truth and the grace of priestly fraternity.

Given that in God there are only graced moments of encounter with Him, and in Him every one of those moments is, if we open wide the doors of our being to Him, to communion of love, then each moment is also a moment of beginning again.

Thus as I compose these lines I do so after First Vespers of Passion/Palm Sunday – this IS the moment-week of our redemption, our encounter in intimate confidence with the Priest who redeems us, the week of the institution of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of the Priesthood, of priestly filial and fraternal love, with our Bishop and each other, solemnly renewed in our recommitment to the gift and mystery, the sacredness and fidelity of ordination in the Mass of Sacred Chrism.

With Christ Priest we place ourselves in each holy moment of Holy Week, template of every moment of every week, face to the ground with and in Jesus, in the Garden with a share in His passionate anticipation of the mission of redemption being accomplished on the altar of the Cross, where we are with Him, for the salvation of souls, every human being.

This IS our passion, our joy, our life, our gift, our mystery!

As we know, once Jesus had instituted the Most Holy Eucharist and the Sacramental Priesthood, according to St. John at the same time pouring out His love in His extraordinary words after washing our feet, pouring this Love-truth into our beings, He then spoke once more, communed once more, with the Father, pray-pleading for everyone, for we priests in particular, in words which should set us afire anew, words which should form a critical aspect of our meditative life, inflaming too our hearts with love for one another, for all our brothers and sisters, friends and yes for our enemies.  [Jn.17:11-26]

This great and urgent cry of Christ, His Priestly prayer to the Father immediately before He begins His ascent to the altar of the Cross through His agony in the Garden, finds an eloquent echo in words of the Second Vatican Council:

                                                                    The fact of the matter is that Christ, in order ceaselessly to do the same will of His Father in the world through the Church, is working through His ministers and therefore remains always the principle and source of the unity of their life. Therefore priests will achieve the unity of their life by joining themselves with Christ in the recognition of the Father’s will and in the gift of themselves to the flock entrusted to them. In this way, by adopting the role of the good shepherd they will find in the practice of pastoral charity itself the bond of priestly perfection will reduce to unity their life and activity. Now this pastoral charity flows especially from the Eucharistic sacrifice. This sacrifice is therefore the center and root of the whole life of the priest, so that the priestly soul strives to make its own what is enacted on the altar of sacrifice. But this cannot be achieved except through priests themselves penetrating ever more intimately through prayer into the mystery of Christ.

                                                              ……………Faithfulness to Christ cannot be separated from faithfulness to His Church. Hence pastoral charity demands that priests, if they are not to run in vain, should always work within the bond of union with the bishops and their fellow priests. If they act in this manner, priests will find unity of life in the unity of the Church’s own mission. In this way they will be united with their Lord and through Him with the Father in the Holy Spirit, and can be filled with consolation and exceedingly abound with joy. [85]

There it is once more, beloved brothers!

This time from the mouth of the Holy Spirit through the Fathers of the Council!

Thus, if we seek to be ‘brothers dwelling in unity’, with the Holy Trinity, yes and with each other, then we shall “…exceedingly abound with JOY!”

Joy IS our vocation and, as proclaimed during Benediction, the source of our joy is Jesus in the Holy Eucharist which ‘contains within itself all delight’!

                                                             There is something very special between us and Christ. He looked at us, and we followed Him: He wounded us in the innermost depths of our souls, and we have never healed from this wound. We live in constant yearning for Him. His words and His actions, His death and His resurrection are constantly before our eyes. The scriptures, the events of our daily lives – everything speaks to us of Him.

                                                            This is why we are particularly drawn to the poor and the helpless, to the sick and the very young. In their cry, so often stifled, we hear the hidden voice of the poor Christ, who lives in them. There are times when we resist, and our hearts grow hard: but we can find no rest until we have responded to this cry. [86]