“You are a priest forever!”
Catholics find joy in that verse, first uttered in the Old Testament and then echoed in the New. In Psalm 110 it refers to the Son of David—specifically to King Solomon, but also to all the men in his line who occupied the throne. They were not only kings, but priests as well. They were mediators between God and man, anointed to offer sacrifice. In the Letter to the Hebrews (7:21) it refers to Jesus Christ, the eternal priest, the one and only mediator who was foreshadowed in the Old Testament figures of David and Solomon.
“A priest forever!” We delight in that verse because Jesus made a bold and trusting move. He dared to share his perfect priesthood with imperfect men. On the very night he was betrayed and abandoned, he ordained the very men who would betray and abandon him! In washing their feet, he followed the ritual that empowered the Levites to minister in Jerusalem’s Temple. Then he commanded his first priests to “Do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19). He commanded them to celebrate the Eucharist. He commissioned them to baptize in his name (Matthew 28:19).
By means of a sacrament, he made them to share in his own priesthood, so that all Christians could come to share in his life—again, by means of the sacraments. What a God we have! What a God we worship!
The priests who serve in our parishes, our schools and hospitals are priests forever. The year of the Priest, however, now must come to an end. Pope Benedict launched it last June to last to this June.
The St. Paul Center, with your generous help, celebrated the year in a big way. We hosted more than a hundred men at our Priests, Deacons and Seminarians Conference in 2009, and we’ll welcome them again before the year is out. The conference this year, at St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pa., will take place June 14-18. Our annual Letter & Spirit Conference was specially themed for the year. Top scholars addressed the many facets of “Priesthood and Blessing.” We had a record number of seminarians attend and received the Seminarians Bookshelf.
Your prayers and your contributions make it possible for us to renew the minds and hearts of these men. Your encouragement inspires us to dream up amibitious programs to help them improve their preaching, their knowledge of the Bible, their prayer life, and their ability to reach out to non-Catholics, as well as fallen-away and fading Catholics.
Can we count this Year of the Priest a success? I think so, and the proof is in the persecution. The enemies of the Church chose this year to smear the priesthood in all the news media, dredging up scandals from a half-century ago and giving them front-page placement daily over the course of weeks. They held up the shameful deeds of a few fallen priests and tried to assign the guilt and shame to the clergy in general. It’s an old, old story: “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and his anointed” (Psalm 2:2).
It was no coincidence that all this took place during the Year of the Priest. “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). There’s no doubt that he would target priests just as the Vicar of Christ was celebrating them. There’s no doubt that he would target priests just as you were doing all you could to make them more effective.
I thank you because you did what you could for them, and for us at the St. Paul Center as we served them. In doing so, you “stopped the mouths of the lions” (Hebrews 11:33). For doing so, you will, I pray, “receive a prophet’s reward” (see Matthew 10:41).
The fruit of my meditation on the Year of the Priest will soon be available in a new book Many Are Called: Rediscovering the Glory of the Priesthood, due out this summer from Doubleday. I can’t wait to share it with you. It’s all about the glory, and that’s the message we need to share with a hostile culture and its media, not to mention “the kings of the earth.”
I thank you for your prayers. I remember you in my own. Please be generous as you plan your giving for the coming year. Help us help our priests and future priests.