January 21, 2015
Wednesday of week 2 in Ordinary Time
(Feast of Saint Agnes, Virgin, Martyr)
Jesus Is Our Priest
You are a priest forever, in the line of Melchizedek.
Many people find it a blessing to have a priest they can call “my priest.” It means they have someone they have confidence in, who is always available when they have need of what a priest can do. That might be a need for someone associated with the Church who accepts them, and who gives comfort and reliable answers when they are struggling with sin or temptation. It might mean a teacher or preacher who talks about the Gospel in a way that inspires them. It might mean someone who will celebrate their wedding, baptize their children, visit their sick and bury family members with personal involvement and heart-stirring devotion. Or they might just need the example of a holy life that encourages them. Whatever it is, it is a blessing.
And everyone can have it. Anything good we receive from a priest is Jesus acting with him, in him and through him. That is the mystery—and the mystical experience—of authentic priestly ministry. The human instrument may block or distort what Jesus is trying to say and do through him. But those who have eyes to see and hearts to discern will recognize the voice of Jesus when they hear it, and sense its silence when they do not.
This means that all priestly ministry can be an experience of Jesus. When people go to a priest for ministry, Jesus “calls his own sheep by name.” They feel recognized, known, accepted. If they do not, they know it is not Jesus speaking. Then they are put on guard. “They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”
We need to be clear. When we recognize that what a priest says is jarring, discouraging, unloving, that is simultaneously a recognition that Jesus is saying the opposite. We hear his voice by knowing we are not hearing his voice. Peace floods our soul as we turn away from the shepherd who has revealed himself as a “hireling.” We know who our Shepherd is. And we know what he is saying by his Spirit in our hearts who is denouncing what the hireling says as falsehood.
I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
This tells us that any words from a priest (or anyone else) that darken our minds and deaden our souls are not the words of Jesus. Some priests run away from the truth. They take refuge in a religion of laws and simplistic doctrines, because they themselves are running from personal relationship with Jesus. They are not in ministry out of love for people, but for what they get out of it. As a result, they “steal and destroy.”
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep… leaves the sheep and runs away… because a hireling does not care for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep (John 10:1).
Jesus acts either to let us know he is speaking with, in and through the priest we go to, or to let us know he is not speaking with, in or through him. Sometimes we know this through our intellects, because we recognize the priest’s doctrine as contrary to the sensus fidelium, the truth that good people in the Church resonate with as giving light and love and life. Pope Francis explained:
All the faithful, considered as a whole, are infallible in matters of belief, and the people display this infallibilitas in credendo, this infallibility in believing, through a supernatural sense of the faith of all the people walking together… When the dialogue among the people and the bishops and the pope goes down this road and is genuine, then it is assisted by the Holy Spirit… (America Magazine interview, September 30, 2013).
But commonly, Jesus lets us recognize his voice by the reaction of our hearts. This can deceive us. We might find the challenge of the prophets disturbing. But there are guidelines for discerning between good and bad movements of the heart. See the reflection for January 5:
In the case of those who are going from good to better [who "know his voice"], the good spirit touches the soul gently, lightly, and sweetly, like a drop of water going into a sponge. The evil spirit touches it sharply, with noise and disturbance, like a drop of water falling onto a stone. But in those going from bad to worse, the effect is reversed. It depends on the disposition of the soul: contrary spirits enter with noticeable noise and disturbance; similar spirits enter quietly, as if going into their own house by an open door. (Spiritual Exercises, rules for the discernment of spirits 335).
The most frequent way the evil spirit speaks in bad shepherds is through the legalism of those who don’t connect laws with life.
When Jesus entered the synagogue, there was a man there who had a withered hand. The Pharisees watched Jesus closely to see if he would cure him on the Sabbath so that they might accuse him of breaking the law. Jesus asked the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?”
But they remained silent. Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart, Jesus said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately began to plot against him to put him to death.
The point is, we can always experience Jesus if we know how to listen for his voice. And if we do listen for his voice, he will be “a priest forever” for each of us.
Do I choose to make Jesus “my priest”?
Pray: “Lord, let me hear your voice.”
Practice: Get in touch with your feelings when anyone ministers to you. Ask yourself if you are experiencing Jesus acting with, in and through his body.
Discuss: When you feel sure Jesus is not speaking in another, does it give you confidence Jesus is saying the opposite?