Why be a priest?

6 August 2017
Fr John O’Neill is Parish Priest of St John Vianney Parish, Doonside. Image: Diocese of Parramatta.

National Vocations Awareness Week: 6-13 August 2017

Before we can understand why there have to be priests, we have to understand what things are essential, and we have to be strict about it. Essential things are those which are necessary to us, and some of these are absolutely necessary. Food is absolutely necessary for the body, but Vegemite is not, despite what some might say. Material food, however, is not absolutely necessary for the whole man, because even if he starves to death, he still goes on existing, since lack of food cannot destroy his eternal soul (Atheists disagree, but they need to know that what is real does not come from their opinion). So we come to the simple and wonderful reality that what is absolutely necessary has to do with that life which never ends.

Once we arrive at this thrilling truth, we should be outside ourselves at the discoveries to be made. Notice: ‘discoveries’, not inventions of our own minds. What we discover is simply God. Then we are bowled over by the wonder that He has let us know so much about what He is like (Revelation) and here we find that in God, there are Three Divine Persons, really distinct and equal in all things, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The next realisation is that we get into proportion the world we live in, and the relative importance of the things we do and the things that happen to us while we are in it. We come to see that the vast bulk of Reality has been going on forever, and that Reality is that God the Father has been loving God the Son always, the Son loving the Father always, and that their mutual and eternal love is the Person, the Holy Spirit. We have discovered, or better, been led to, the Reality that is absolutely necessary, and that nothing can get on without that Reality – God.

We find out then that the Father has created, out of love, and that He has created man. Then we find out that man, under Lucifer’s temptation, tried to put himself as the only source and goal of his happiness (“You shall be as gods!”) which went completely against his nature, since it was created in such a way that only by possessing God could it be fulfilled. So he cut himself off from God. God the Son, seeing this dreadful ingratitude to His Father, joined the created race to bring it back again by His love for both His Father, and for the human race. That love was shown in the most loving and vivid way possible, through agonising suffering and death. So, the absolutely necessary work on earth is the work of God the Son, Jesus Christ, bringing mankind back to the Father and its only complete fulfilment.

The priest of the Catholic Church, by the Sacrament of Order, keeps going on earth God the Son’s eternal love for God the Father and mankind whom He created; and that love is in the Divine Nature, is our whole source and purpose of existence, and so  is absolutely necessary.

Here we see why celibacy is so entwined into the Priesthood: through the Sacrament of Order, a man’s love is absorbed by and lifted into the love of God the Son for God the Father, and the Son’s complete and direct love for all mankind. Despite the holiness and wonder of married love, the priest’s love is so absorbed in Christ and all mankind that it works on a higher plain even than that of marriage. The necessity of a prayerful mind in the priest is, therefore, obvious, so that his oneness in what Christ thinks and wants is achieved, by grace, daily more and more, to the point where opinion disappears in favour of Truth and personal desire is lost in favour of God’s glory and His people’s real needs.

So the priest goes among people to bring them ‘the Good News.’ What good news? The news that man has to know about, because it goes to the essence of his nature and fulfils his essential needs. Man needs to know how he should live for the sake of earthly and eternal happiness (‘I am the Way’); he needs to know what he is, what God is like, what happens after the inevitable death of  his body  (‘I am the Truth’); he needs to have the means of overcoming his sinful weak nature and reaching a life that is above his nature (‘I am the Life’) Praise the mind of Jesus Christ, who places it all in that simply-worded self revelation: “I am the way, the truth and the life”!!!!

The priest’s work is, then, the most essential of all, and may we priests and our people never forget it or cease to see it. He must live the Way, preach the Truth and provide the means of the Life – the Mass and the Sacraments, in celebrating which, he has to forget himself, and let the presence of the active Christ take him over.

Motivation! A man should become a priest if he is fascinated by Jesus Christ and the people’s need for Jesus Christ. Everything else grows from that attraction. Christ is why he wants to pray, why and what he wants to tell others, why he wants to keep Christ’s Act of Love on the Cross living on among the people and where they live their lives, why he wants to forgive them, why he wants to bring them into Christ’s family, strengthen them in His service, make Godly their love in marriage, and set their vision and hope clearly and firmly in their Father’s direction when their time on earth is ending.

Fascination for Jesus Christ! That is why they left their boats and their nets, became loved by the few and hated by the many, saw their past occupations as ‘so much rubbish’, and ended their earthly years as enemies of emperors and hypocrites. And now they are praised by angels, and glorious monuments stand where the earth absorbed their blood.

Young Catholic men, if you want ‘a joy that cannot be described’ (Peter) then be fascinated by Christ, and follow him into his Priesthood. First, make sure you have the real Christ as revealed, especially in the Gospels, and not the vague, limp invention of some moderns. Then, do not be put off by the years of study, or the changeable details of seminary systems. That all soon passes. Let your First Love be the Divine Guest in the Tabernacle and relate all your theology to knowing the real Christ more intimately. And be faithful to Him and His Church always, never diverted by smart and perishable opinions, nor defeated by those who oppose the Christ in you and your preaching and governance, no matter what their numbers or influence may be. By an ever-intensifying faith, which He will give if we keep asking for it, keep your eyes on Christ, and your heart set on being determined to help his people, not by patting them on their heads and encouraging them to compromise with the world, but by leading them to Heaven.

What a mystery! How can the Church ever be short of priests? She will not be, not when more Catholics know and live once more, Jesus Christ, as He really is. May  those words of His not put us off, but draw us into the place where He and His Father are, by the action of the Holy Spirit: “If any man will be my disciple, let him take up his cross and follow me.” And may we never forget – the Cross is an instrument of suffering,  but it is also the means of discovering what He meant when he said to them on that night when He made them priests: “These things I have told you that my joy may be in you, and your joy be complete.”

By Fr John W. O’Neill, P.P., S.T.B., Dip.TST, MbASA

National Vocations Awareness Week: 6-13 August 2017

The Catholic Church in Australia will celebrate National Vocations Awareness Week from the 6th – 13th of August. This annual event is a time to pray for vocations to the Married, Consecrated, Ordained and Single States of Life. It is also a week to reflect on and celebrate our own vocations.

The first Sunday is set aside to pray for vocations to the Single life and Married life.

The second Sunday focuses on Ordained life and Consecrated Life.

Throughout this week, communities are encouraged to share about God’s call, and the many ways we can respond to it. To find out more about priesthood, Holy Spirit Seminary and vocations in the Diocese of Parramatta, visit http://parracatholic.org/vocations.



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