As 2018 came to an end, and we begin 2019, it was not a glamorous year for the priesthood. In fact, it was one of the most devastating, humiliating, and repulsive years for priests. Through the heinous and unconscionable actions of some clerics, simply wearing a Roman collar in public often gets stares as if I were an accomplice to a network of monstrous criminals.
And in spite of it all – no, because of it all – I still want to be a priest.
At its core, my vocation is singly centered on one thing – a friendship with Christ. Despite my weakness, sinfulness, and unworthiness, Christ reached down and chose me for His own in the waters of baptism. He has nourished me daily in the Eucharist, strengthened me with His Spirit in Confirmation, healed me with His anointing, and continues to bind up my wounds in the sacrament of penance.
Friendship, at its deepest roots, changes everything. The experience of friendship is one of the most marvelous experiences of life. I would argue that it often goes beyond human expression. Just take a second and try to explain your best friendship to someone else. It’s pretty difficult, isn’t it? Yet – I do think we can say a few things about friendship.
First, friendship is a real experience borne out of an encounter. When we meet someone who becomes a friend, there is something remarkably different about that encounter. In the highest forms of friendship, the friend sees the other as more important than himself. A perfect example of this is the sacrificial nature of a husband and wife. At some point, both bride and groom recognize that the other was worth laying down their entire life. So, too, did the divine Bridegroom do for me. In spite of my infidelity and sinfulness, Christ still chose to befriend me at the cost of His own life.
Secondly, friendship is built upon trust and belief in the other. Once I knew the friendship of Christ, I started to take seriously His promises. While I could do anything with my life, it is hard for me not to be moved by Christ’s words in John 6:53: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” If this is true, and because of my friendship with Christ I believe it is, it seems that the fullness of life is inseparable from Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist. In other words, without a priest, there is no Eucharist. And without the Eucharist, there is no life.
This brings me to the final point of friendship – it is life-giving and inviting. Friends, rather than becoming isolated from others, have the joy that is full of life and inviting. So, too, with Christ. His friendship has called me out of the darkness of my sin, filled me with the warmth of His love, and given me a desire to share that divine joy with others.
In short, I cannot deny my own lived experience and encounter with Christ. I am a sinner. I am unworthy. Whether in spite of it, or precisely in order to draw me out of it – Christ chose to befriend me. He has given me a new life, brought me abiding joy, and promises me eternal life – and I trust him. Thus, it only seems reasonable to continue to live in this friendship and to invite others to it. For it is only in the friendship that one person becomes like the other. For the priest, this means becoming like the Great High Priest and Savior – Jesus Christ. And only by abiding in this friendship will the face of the priesthood be properly restored.
So, why do I still want to be a priest?
Honestly, I’m doing it for a Friend.