The Priesthood: Christ’s Power in Weakness

It was Passion Sunday. Christ entered into Jerusalem and the Passion narrative had just been read. The priest mounted the step and stood at the ambo in order to begin preaching his homily, but then, a medical emergency struck one of his spiritual children in the pews. He saw almost immediately something was seriously wrong. He asked for medical assistance and an ambulance was called, but then he did something that none of us had ever seen a priest do before during Mass.

He went over to the person in need to check on them and afterwards proceeded to walk across the nave to the holy oils. He calmly grabbed the oil of the sick and walked back across the church to this person. He then proceeded to confer Anointing of the Sick upon them as everyone in attendance watched. After doing so, he gently asked the family if there was anything they needed from him. Once he knew this person was in God’s hands, he walked back to the ambo and began preaching his homily.

This action on the part of the priest proved to be electrifying. It was a grace-filled moment when Jesus came to His people as the Divine Healer. Jesus is always present in the priest in the Mass. The priest literally stands in the person of Christ at the altar as he offers the Eucharistic sacrifice and confects the bread and wine into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus. This is the single most important moment of a priest’s entire vocation each day; when he brings forth the Holy Eucharist through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Given the rate of Catholics who disbelieve the Church’s teaching on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, it is clear Mass is a mundane experience for the majority of people. They suffer from a deep spiritual blindness, ignorance, or indifference. The spiritual power of the Mass is entirely lost on them. Even though Jesus is literally standing in front of them at every Mass in the priest and feeding them His body and blood poured out for them on the Cross, they are oblivious.

The Holy Spirit broke into this spiritual blindness at the moment when this priest temporarily assumed his supernatural role as healer. A role of the priesthood that too often is tragically overlooked, ignored, or domesticated. This priest was moved with compassion and sought to bring the healing of Jesus to this person through the Sacraments while the Mystical Body surrounded this person in prayer.

Jesus heals the sick, afflicted, possessed, outcast, and the sinner. He wants to heal his people today. The healing that took place during this particular Mass was threefold. The person who was anointed thankfully walked out with the paramedics of their own power. They were strengthened through the graces of the Sacrament. It also strengthened the faith of those present. Healings are meant to awaken deeper faith. It was clear based on the reaction of those leaving Mass that people had seen Jesus at work in the priest as a healer. It was no longer mundane or comfortable. It also healed other wounds in those who were present, including the indifference some have suffered at the hands of priests in the face of difficulties. They saw Christ in the priest moving quickly to minister to his spiritual child.

There are many people who have been deeply wounded by the sins of priests, whether those sins were intentional or not. In recent years, I have come to know multiple people who have been hurt by seemingly indifferent priests who did not care about their sins against the people entrusted to their care by Christ. Men who are afflicted with great spiritual blindness, ignorance, character flaws, or inability to love at the level they are truly called to love God’s people at by virtue of their ordination. Over the course of my life, I also have suffered in the face of the sins of multiple priests. It’s inevitable when you serve in ministry or work closely with priests.

Due to the nature of the priesthood, sins of priests towards the faithful produce profoundly deep wounds, especially when they are unrepentant or indifferent to the pain they have caused. We saw both of these with the scandals, but this also happens in day to day relationships with priests. The pain can be very difficult to overcome. When necessary, Christ often heals through the faithfulness and spiritual love of another priest, which is why this priest’s healing actions were so powerful. 

The faith of those struggling with the scandals, corruption, bureaucracy, or personal sins at the hands of priests began to heal because the Divine Physician reached down to them through a priest who passionately desires to be a spiritual father and good shepherd to his people. It restored the faith of those present who needed to be reminded of the healing power of Christ in His priests. The faithful needed to be healed of spiritual blindness in order to see Christ truly present in the priest at the altar.

Spiritual fatherhood, much like natural fatherhood, requires courage, sacrifice, vulnerability, and a willingness to be uncomfortable. It means finding the courage to love completely without counting the cost or worrying about the opinions of others. There will always be Pharisees and there will always be envious people among the flock. A spiritual father is called to mount the Cross with Jesus in order to die for the salvation of souls entrusted to their care. There are many priests who faithfully and heroically live this vocation. Those same priests are healing the wounds caused by the failings and weaknesses of their brother priests.

The great mystery of the priesthood is fallen men are set apart by Jesus to be configured to Him at a higher level. To undergo an ontological change that allows them to stand in as Him and to shepherd and father His people. These men are called to be other Christs to a broken, weary, and dark world. These same men are sinners, like you and me. They fail as we do. They fall into hard-heartedness, like you and I do. They are prone to pride, arrogance, and lack of repentance, just like you and I. They fail to love and to give entirely of themselves, like you and I do. They get their priorities out of order by placing administrative tasks and money ahead of their people, just like we place our careers and our smartphones before our families. We are all sinners in need of a savior.

We need one another, the priesthood and the faithful. We need priests to administer the Sacraments and to show us the face of Christ. We need to be led to the higher supernatural goods and the things of heaven because we so often focus on the things of this world. Priests need us to remind them of their identity in Christ. To call them back to repentance and holiness when they wander or fail us. To draw love out of them, so they do not cave in on themselves because of the extremely heavy burden they carry. We need them to be spiritual fathers to us, not businessmen, and we as the laity need to remember this truth rather than strictly view them in light of what we can get from them.

When a priest sins against us, we must beg for the grace to forgive. I can attest that forgiving the sins of priests is not easy for any of us.  I’ve gotten phone calls and texts from friends in multiple dioceses over the last few years who were utterly undone by the sins of priests. I’ve sat in meetings and given talks to people who are broken by the sins of priests. I have had to fight hard—and still do—to forgive priests who have sinned against me or those I love. 

It is very hard to separate the sinful man from the dignity of his priesthood, but we must. It is an interior struggle that we must fight by God’s grace. The priesthood is higher than the sin of any one man. We must show them that we understand what they’ve been called to and who they became at ordination through our continued submission to their ability to forgive sins, celebrate Mass, and to lead God’s people.

I have intentionally sat across from priests who have sinned against me in some way and asked him to absolve me from my sins. It’s not easy to be lectured on humility from men who, at times, have shown no humility, but it is a necessary reminder to me of the dignity conferred upon them at ordination. The priesthood transcends the sins of priests and the sins of Christ’s people. The supernatural power of the priesthood does not come from man, it comes from God. It doesn’t matter if the priest across from me is the worst of sinners. Christ has given him the power to absolve me from my sins.

There is a lot of pain within the Mystical Body. Even though a good deal of that pain has been caused by the clergy sex abuse scandals, corruption, worldliness, and the weaknesses of priests, we as Catholics must fight tooth and nail to defend the sacred dignity of the priesthood. It is Jesus who allows Himself to become vulnerable in a priest’s hands at Mass. it is Jesus who allows a priest to forgive our sins. It is Jesus who rushes to the aid of someone who is sick or dying. It is Jesus who draws down the Holy Spirit in union with the Father in Baptism and Confirmation.

On this Holy Thursday, ask Our Lord for the eyes to see Him in your parish priest at the altar. It doesn’t matter what he has done or what he has failed to do. Ask for the eyes of faith and the grace to forgive. We cannot be sentimental about the priesthood. Most priests are not saints. They are on the path to holiness like you and me, which is why they desperately need our daily prayers on their behalf. The great dignity that has been bestowed on them is awe-inspiring precisely because Christ works in the most broken of priests. His power is made perfect in weakness.

Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

By

Constance T. Hull is a wife, mother, homeschooler, and a graduate with an M.A. in Theology with an emphasis in philosophy.  Her desire is to live the wonder so passionately preached in the works of G.K. Chesterton and to share that with her daughter and others. While you can frequently find her head inside of a great work of theology or philosophy, she considers her husband and daughter to be her greatest teachers. She is passionate about beauty, working towards holiness, the Sacraments, and all things Catholic. She is also published at The Federalist, Public Discourse, and blogs frequently at Swimming the Depths (www.swimmingthedepths.com).

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