Of Many Things

As I approach the first anniversary of my ordination next month, my friends and family have started to ask about the experience of being a priest: whether the first year was what I expected it to be, whether I’ve learned anything new. To be sure, there have been many moments in which I’ve been surprised by joy, to borrow C. S. Lewis’s phrase.

For the most part, however, as I approach this first anniversary, it’s not so much my priesthood as your priesthood that is on my mind. As John F. Baldovin, S.J., notes in this issue, a recurring theme in the documents of the Second Vatican Council is the common priesthood of all the faithful. By virtue of our baptism, each of us shares in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ. God has given us the gift of the ministerial priesthood in order to provide for the sacramental life of the church; but in giving us two types of priesthood, he did not thereby give us two types of Christians. Every Christian is called to preach, to reconcile, to heal in ways that accord with his or her vocation.

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That was made clear to me during my ordination, as I lay face down on the cold tile floor of the Fordham University church. Those who have never been to an ordination may not be familiar with this part of the liturgy. About halfway through, just before the candidate is formally ordained, he lies prostrate as a sign of humility and total self-donation to God. Everyone present prays over the candidate, invoking the grace and assistance of the communion of saints. Since the candidate is literally at the lowest point of the church at that moment, the people in the pews are symbolically between him and heaven. Before a man is ordained a priest, then, the people of God exercise their priesthood and mediate between God and the candidate. If you ever hear someone complain, therefore, about the “clerical” or “club-like” appearance of a long line of priests laying their hands on the candidate during an ordination, you can remind them that the laying on of hands happens only after the laypeople in the congregation have exercised their priesthood.

That is as it should be. It was my friends who first broke open the word of God for me; they who first made Christ present to me in a new and powerful way; they who first forgave me and revealed to me the mercy of God. Without their priesthood, without your priesthood, I wouldn’t be here. If I am ever tempted to think of myself as uniquely gifted or as somehow set apart for holiness, as if the “powers of the priesthood” were somehow my own, I try to remember that. The ministerial priesthood is a participation in the priesthood of Christ himself; the priesthood of the minister is a mediation only for the sake of reconciliation in Christ. In other words, “my” priesthood is not “my” priesthood at all; it belongs to Christ and to his church.

The last thing I’ve learned this year is that I am needed. It feels good to feel needed. Yet this feeling does not inflate my ego, for I am also aware of my need for the church, for the people of God. I need your priesthood because I stand among you “in weakness and in much fear and trembling” (1 Cor 2:1-5). That’s not such a bad place to be though; it was there, in my weakness, when my finitude and sinfulness first met the infinite mercy of God that my desire to be a priest was born. That isn’t false humility; I know I have worldly strengths. As St. Paul reminds me, however, a ministry of reconciliation, which is the ministry of priesthood, finds its greatest strength in weakness, perfected through the grace of Christ.

So this spring I give thanks for my priestly ministry. More important, I give thanks for yours. If I can be half as good a priest for you as you have been for me, than I’ll be one very happy man when I go to meet the Lord.

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Anne Chapman
4 years 8 months ago
the priesthood of the minister is a mediation only for the sake of reconciliation in Christ ***************************** Could you please explain? I did not realize that a priest was"needed" as a "mediator for reconciliation with Christ?" Perhaps this is where the root of clericalism begins - priests believing that they are the "mediators" between people and Christ and that people cannot approach Christ (or be "reconciled") directly - without a priest in between.
4 years 8 months ago

Anne C. - Of course priests are needed as mediators for reconciliation with Christ. And because the whole Church is priestly, laity too share in the priestly ministry of reconciliation with Christ, in necessary and specific ways. For want of a better word or better yet making use of the correct word, "ordained" priests mediate reconciliation sacramentally in ecclesia, whereas the non-ordained priestly laity mediate reconciliation with Christ in the ecclesiola of home and marketplace, striving to bring Christ there. In language more than poetic, priests, ordained and lay are like two lungs in the Mystical Body of Christ - two wings on the Spirit Dove,functioning as one necessary structure proclaiming Christ. In designing his Church whom we are, Jesus shows himself to be an equal opportunity provider!

Congratulations Fr. Malone on your First Priestly Ordination! The best is yet to come!

Bruce Snowden

Anne Chapman
4 years 8 months ago
Bruce, you have simply restated what Fr. Malone stated - that priests are "needed" as "mediators" with God, implying that the priest acts to bring God and God's people to some kind of agreement. Simply stating something does not make it true. God is present to all - without the need of mediators of any kind, although sometimes in the exercise of the priesthood of all believers, one might faciliate in some way. Proclaiming the gospel, whether by clergy or laity, is not "mediation", which is an intervention between "conflicting" parties. And if some kind of intervention or "mediation" does occur to "reconcile" someone with God, what is different about the "mediation" of the priesthood of clergy and that of laity?
Cody Serra
4 years 8 months ago
Good article about your vocation and ours. What came to my mind while reading it, was that we are all, ordained and laity, members of the Body of Christ. We all need each other in our different roles in life. What function would have the ordained if there were not laity? The Church, as we know it, would not exist if any of the two were missing. Functions are different by Church tradition and design, but really is God the One who leads us to Him through our different paths. Dogmas do not change, but traditions do. They have changed in my lifetime, and likely will still change in the future. I appreciate your sense of humility in writing about our shared priesthood. Sometimes that shared sentiment you recognize gives me hope. It may give way to a more participatory and inclusive relationship of mutual and fraternal love and respect within the church between the laity and the ordained. We share the same Baptism as God's children, and we have equal responsibilities in spreading the Good News by action, example and prayer. We all listen at the same Holy Spirit and receive God's grace, equally distributed to all the children of God who are opened to receive it. May the Lord bless you and your ministry on your first anniversary and always. Let's walk together toward a Church unified in all its diversity.
4 years 8 months ago
Hi Anne, The best I can say about priest in and through Christ as mediator before God and humanity is to find the evidence in OT/NT and in the teaching of the Fathers and in the tradition of the Catholic Church. You're a smart lady obviously educated and astute enough to rise beyond boundaries contrary t believe it. your own, intelligently and humbly accepting revealed truth. Yes, I did pretty much repeat Fr. Malone's delivery, not adding strength in any way, but hopefully helping to spotlight the obvious. I think biblically and liturgically so I see nothing but correctness to repetitiously react as in "Amen, Amen,...." or "Holy! Holy! Holy!" As JPII oncesaid, "Truth is truth not because people believe it. Truth is truth whether we believe it or not." Simplistic? That's O.K. with me. By the way I like you postings even when baffling. Bruce Snowden
Bruce Snowden
4 years 8 months ago
This is about the "failed" institution of "fakers" priests and the priesthood, so designated by those who once walked in the Light, but now walk in Darkness! Respectively, its about Fr. Matt Malone celebratingn his First Anniversary as a priest. It's also about a young Deacon in the Charleston, SC Diocese to be ordained a priest on June 7th. On Pentecost Sunday the packed church of St. Gregory the Great in Bluffton, SC gave him a standing ovation, rocking the rafters of heaven! By this posting I intend to honor all priest and the priesthood everywhere saying to one and all, "Thank you Father for being a priest. By means of a short true story from the distant past I want to show how important priests and Eucharist are for the faithful laity. During World War II in Eastern Europe in the underground church the faithful longed for Eucharist. But there were no priests or Bishops to offer Mass. So the gathered assembly of believers called forward two men and using the beautiful gift of "Ecclesia Suplex" Eucharist was confected. At the end of the war the case was presented to Pope Pius XII and he upheld the validity of their priesthood. Priests are important and very much needed and appreciated by the faithful laity.

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