05 January 2016

Out of the mouths of babes

It isn't everyday that I talk with someone in the Communion line (except, of course, to say "The Body of Christ" or to encourage the proper response, if the person knows it), but when a (probably) four-year-old boy standing next to his father says something to you, it's probably good to respond. 

He spoke quietly this past Sunday and between the difference of our heights and the Communion hymn, I didn't hear him. With my curiosity roused, I bent down to him and asked him what he said. With great happiness, he repeated, "Thanks, Papa Jesus!"

I don't remember what I said to him in return, but he made me - and his parents - smile, and after Mass, he greeted me in a similar fashion.

His greeting not only recalled the nickname my high school students and soccer players once called me (Papa D), but also an important theological understanding of the priesthood: The priesthood is not about the individual priest, but about Jesus Christ.

Through the laying on of hands and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, a man who receives the grace of ordination is joined to Jesus in such a way that he participates in the priesthood of the great high priest and acts through his priests when the sacraments are celebrated.

The vestments a priest wears are meant - at least in part - to highlight this understanding of the priesthood. As he puts on the sacred vestments, the priest is to disappear, if you will; the vestments cover his personality so that Christ may be seen in his priest.

This is too often forgotten today when too much emphasis is placed on the individual priest's personality and when not enough emphasis is placed on what Christ does through his priests. Everything a priest does should begin and end with Jesus and never with himself.

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