Thursday, 14 December 2006

Friendship with Christ - for priests it means daily Mass

I was just re-reading the address of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, to the priests of the Diocese of Rome in the Papal Basilica of St John Lateran shortly after his election to the Chair of Peter. It's very interesting that the Holy Father sums up the life of the priest as friendship with Christ, on the basis that that is what Christ called his apostles. That friendship that Christ has particularly for his priests is so filled with confidence in the gifts of grace that he gives to them that he even entrusts his Body - the Church - and his Body and Blood - the Eucharist - to their care. What a responsibility! It's more than some superficial 'pally' friendship - it's a deep trust that leads our Lord to place into feeble human hands the care of the Ecclesial Body, composed of souls precious to him, and the Eucharistic Body, where he continues his action of humbling himself to come among us. I was always impressed by the words of that great old Eucharistic hymn "Ah, see within a creature's hands the vast Creator deigns to be, reposing infantlike as though on Joseph's arm or Mary's knee."

Being entrusted with such a friendship, with such a grace, with such a responsibility it means that the priest needs to do everything to stay close to Christ, and to develop that friendship with Him:
"Dear priests ... the Lord calls us friends, he makes us his friends, he entrusts himself to us, he entrusts to us his Body in the Eucharist, he entrusts to us his Church. Therefore, we must be true friends to him, we must have the same perception as he has, we must want what he wants and not what he does not want. Jesus himself tells us: "You are my friends if you do what I command you" (Jn 15:14). Let this be our common resolution: all of us together, to do his holy will, in which lies our freedom and our joy."
This friendship requires an intimate knowledge of Christ, not just to know 'about' Him, but to know him Heart to heart. But the Pope warns that the friendship of the priest is not just a personal friendship, but is a relationship for the Church. It's a bit like in a family. The father and mother have a relationship, but it's not just a private love affair, it involves the whole family - children, wider family, local parish, local community. It is a relationship for others as well as for self. So the priest doesn't just have a friendship with Christ which is personal and subjective, but it is a friendship with Christ for, on behalf of, and including the Church. This is especially so as the priesthood brings about both the Eucharist, and the building up of the Church.

"Since the priesthood is rooted in Christ, it is by its nature in the Church and for the Church. Indeed, the Christian faith is not something purely spiritual and internal, nor is our relationship with Christ itself exclusively subjective and private. Rather, it is a completely concrete and ecclesial relationship. At times, the ministerial priesthood has a constitutive relationship with the Body of Christ in his dual and inseparable dimensions as Eucharist and as Church, as Eucharistic body and Ecclesial body."

For the priest, this friendship which is both personal and on behalf of the Church, finds its consummation in the celebration of the Mass. And, as the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II said of himself, "The Holy Mass is the absolute centre of my life and of every day of my life." This is the text that Pope Benedict repeats, and says that every priest should make his own. If a priest is to live this friendship even if only for himself he would want to celebrate the Mass. But even if a priest does not "want" to celebrate Mass every day for his own personal friendship with Christ, then he still should on behalf of the Church, because his friendship with Christ is within and for the Church.

It always pains me to hear priests referring to celebration of Mass as though it's a job which is tiresome. Celebrating three Masses on one day, and no Mass on a day off. Or "slaving over a hot altar" in the parish, but having a couple of weeks off celebrating Mass on holiday, or just going to Mass like a lay person. It is a completely mechanical and utilitarian understanding of the Mass and the priesthood which leads to this. Rather than being a task to be thrown off for relaxation, the Mass should be the centre of the priest's life every day, just like breathing, or eating, or drinking. You don't take a day off having friends - in fact you spend more time with friends - on a day off. So, as I remember my spiritual director say to me when in seminary, the day off is an opportunity to celebrate the Mass in a more recollected way and with more time.


Matt Doyle said...

What a wonderful reflection. I think if that sort of message was imparted to the younger generation, vocations would soar! I will tag you on my blog. And very nice picture by the way!

Fr Julian Green said...

I chose the picture especially for you and for Francois!

John said...

Why is it we don't get spiritual directors like that here?? One of the things a guy said to me lately is that I should feel most at home in the sanctuary, it should become apart of my very being. Your reflection confirmed that. How do you think there is such a misguided notion of the priesthood today?