At first glance, it would appear that a column for women might not have much to say about the Catholic priesthood, but such an assumption would be gravely wrong. All souls are intertwined in their collaborative efforts at living virtue and achieving heaven. Furthermore, vocations rise and fall together — meaning that when families thrive, vocations to the priesthood and religious life prosper, and when one segment of the Church encounters setbacks, the wider communion suffers as a consequence.
One need not illustrate the point that all vocations at present need rejuvenation, encouragement, and divine assistance. Pope Benedict has chosen to petition God for the essential light and leaven needed by the whole Church by concentrating on the priesthood. For this we are enormously grateful and filled with hope for the Mystical Body.
Priests are indispensable to the faithful, who depend on the graces of the sacraments that only those in holy orders can provide. While some administrative functions can be delegated, authentic priestly duties cannot — the most obvious being confecting the Eucharist and absolving our sins. At the outset of this extraordinary year, we might be hard-pressed to expand beyond those two items (and even wonder at their worth, in this age of slack Mass attendance and near abandonment of confession); but, God willing, by the end of this time of grace we will have a far deeper appreciation for the wider, often hidden oblation to which these remarkable men are called.
While priests can easily get bogged down in parish details and financial challenges, their vocation is ultimately “directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians. The ministerial priesthood is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church” (CCC, 1547). If priests occasionally lose sight of this, the lay faithful should not add to their burden by pulling them off task or failing to appreciate the “gift and mystery” that Christ bequeathed to us on Holy Thursday.
A man called to holy orders is asked to imitate Christ in a tangible way, being “present to his Church as head of his Body, shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, teacher of the truth” (CCC, 1548). This may not sound very tangible to those absorbed in secular pursuits, financial hardships or medical ordeals — but it is more substantial than what we consider the most concrete reality. It is reality — the reality that matters, the reality that grounds all our other actions and gives transcendent meaning to every life. It is precisely by losing sight of this that we’ve come to our present morass.
As we consider the long history of salvation, we see in hindsight that God has revealed a plan that unfolds according to the nature of those he uses to bring it forth. Some are beautifully docile, some are more distracted, and others simply delay in taking him seriously. The Holy Spirit is always at work, and he has led Pope Benedict to turn our attention towards the priesthood. Therefore, we trust that through our prayer, study and deeper appreciation of holy orders, all of society can be uplifted and the greater culture enhanced if we participate fully.
Priests come from families where women have a great influence — for better or worse. Priests minister to families, and women can facilitate that work — or hinder it. As living icons of Christ the eternal bridegroom, priests seek to serve holy Mother Church — and women who learn to receive their gifts will enrich the wider Church by giving flesh to the radiant bride herself. Imagine the limitless graces in that truth.
[The Anchor 7.3.09]