† Pax Christi!
Basil Isiekwe, engineering graduate of the University of Lagos, will be ordained a priest of the Opus Dei prelature on Saturday, 2010 May 8th, together with 31 other professionals from all over the worl.
We can understand this surprise, but it would be insincere of me to say that we share it. These men become priests of their own free will, because they want to, and this is a very supernatural reason. They know that they are not renouncing anything in the normal sense of the word. Through their vocation to Opus Dei they have been devoted to the service of the Church and of all souls. This full, divine vocation led them to sanctify their work to sanctify themselves in their work and to seek the sanctification of others in the context of their professional relationships.
The members of Opus Dei whether priests or lay people, are ordinary Christians, and like all Christians, they are addressed by Saint Peter in these words: You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.
As Christian faithful, priests and lay people share one and the same condition, for God our Lord has called us to the fullness of charity which is holiness: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
There is no such thing as second-class holiness. Either we put up a constant fight to stay in the grace of God and imitate Christ, our Model, or we desert in that divine battle. God invites everyone; each person can become holy in his own state in life. In Opus Dei this passion for holiness, in spite of individual errors and failings, does not vary from priests to lay people; and besides, priests make up a very small part compared with the total number of members.
So if you look at things with the eyes of faith, there is no question of renunciation on entering the priesthood; nor does the priesthood imply a sort of summit of vocation to Opus Dei. Holiness does not depend on your state in life (married or single, widowed or ordained) but on the way you personally respond to the grace you receive. This grace teaches us to put away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light: which is serenity, peace and joyful service, full of sacrifice to all mankind.
The priesthood leads one to serve God in a state which, in itself, is no better or worse than any other: it is simply different. But the priestly vocation is invested with a dignity and greatness which has no equal on earth. Saint Catherine of Siena put these words on Jesus’ lips: I do not wish the respect which priests should be given to be in any way diminished; for the reverence and respect which is shown them is not referred to them but to Me, by virtue of the Blood which I have given to them to administer. Were it not for this, you should render them the same reverence as lay people, and no more… You must not offend them; by offending them you offend Me and not them. Therefore I forbid it and I have laid it down that you shall not touch my Christs.
Some people keep searching for what they call the identity of the priest. How clearly Saint Catherine expresses it! What is the identity of the priest? That of Christ. All of us Christians can and should be not just other Christs, alter Christus, but Christ himself: ipse Christus! But in the priest this happens in a direct way, by virtue of the sacrament.
To accomplish so great a work — the work of redemption — Christ is always present in his Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the Sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of his minister, ‘the same now offering through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the Cross, but especially under the eucharistic species. The sacrament of Orders, in effect, equips the priest to lend Our Lord his voice, his hands, his whole being. It is Jesus Christ who, in the Holy Mass, through the words of the consecration, changes the substance of the bread and wine into his Body, Soul, Blood and Divinity.
This is the source of the priest’s incomparable dignity. It is a greatness which is on loan: it is completely compatible with my own littleness. I pray to God our Lord to give all of us priests the grace to perform holy things in a holy way, to reflect in every aspect of our lives the wonders of the greatness of God. Those of us who celebrate the mysteries of the Passion of Our Lord must imitate what we perform. And then the host will take our place before God because we render ourselves hosts.
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God bless you!
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