Guest Editorial by Father Daniel Leeuw
The following contains excerpts written by Father Daniel Leeuw who preached May 22 at the first Mass for Father John Shannon, recently ordained for the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. Father Leeuw’s homily contains several comments appropriately reflecting on the priesthood as the Year for Priests concludes:
… I take you back to the greatest day of our Lord’s life, Holy Thursday, the day of His love and tenderness. Jesus had fulfilled His promise. The mystery of love was communicated. He would be with us always — the gift of the priesthood and the gift of the Eucharist. As we know, without the priest, there is no Eucharist, and without the Eucharist there is no Church.
In the words of the late Cardinal Emmanuel Celestin Suhard, “The priest is the man who dies so his brothers can live, who washes the world in the blood of Christ and makes it acceptable to the Father.” Civilizations come and go; the priesthood endures. That pledge, as God promised through the Prophet Jeremiah, “I will give you shepherds after my own heart,” tells us what the priest will be — now and in centuries to come. In our own times, we are facing a culture war that challenges the Church as an institution and tries to destroy the very soul of our belief. But try as they might, those powerful forces of evil cannot conquer the heart of Christ. God’s pledge and promise perdures, “I will give you shepherds after my own heart.”
The great theologian St. Thomas Aquinas said that essentially a priest is a mediator, standing between God and man, a bridge builder who brings the blessing and grace of God to humankind through the Word of God, through prayer and the sacraments. The priest thereby brings the people closer to God. The priest images the Savior by attempting to be Christlike: bringing understanding to the alienated, hope to the hopeless, forgiveness to the sinner, just as Jesus did so many years ago along the dusty roads of Palestine. …
Celibacy is a gift of God, made possible only by the daily grace of God. It is a gift not given to many, as the Lord himself said (Mt 19:12). Celibacy requires self-discipline because the vow to be celibate does not automatically shut off the roving eye or the errant desire.
Celibacy goes well with priesthood. In itself it is no great virtue, but rather it is a free and loving gift to God of something very personal, something very beautiful. And, it enables a priest to more freely give of himself, fully and lovingly, to all others — the people of God — whom he serves. Thus, it is a symbol of two-way giving. The celibate gives us a particular love to exercise a universal love. By not belonging fully to somebody, a priest can be called “Father” by all, and all can expect loving compassion, understanding and forgiveness from him. If this is not true in the life of a priest, he is just a selfish bachelor. The goal of celibacy is to make a priest a better priest, a true “Alter-Christus.” …
I must say, and all of us priests know especially in view of the recent crisis of purity in the Church, celibacy makes the priest more vulnerable and more needing of discipline and fidelity to his promises and vows because of the absolute trust people put in the priest. But we were not promised a rose garden; neither are husbands and wives who have their own problem of fidelity in the world today. …
It is said by some, this is the best time in the history of the Church to be a priest. I agree with Pope Pius XI who so wisely said, “that we live in these times when it is no longer permitted to anyone to be mediocre, especially the priest.”
In a day and age when permanent commitments are devalued by our society, and, in a particular way the priesthood is under attack for the sins of a small percentage (1.7 percent of the entire presbyterate), it is of utmost importance to re-emphasize the permanence and the dignity of the calling to the ministerial priesthood. With this thought in mind, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, declared on June 19, 2009, at Vatican City the Year for Priests. …
Let us try to remember what a priest is. He is a teacher of faith. His fundamental charge is to announce and proclaim the faith. He is a witness of that force that transforms our lives into a proclamation of faith. The priest is father. He is the father of those souls he generates by faith, or regenerates by grace through the sacraments. The priest is shepherd. Every priest is the guide, the head of his flock, not to lord it over them, but to represent the kingship and generosity of Christ the Good Shepherd. The priest is sanctifier. He is the one who makes holy all those with whom he comes into contact. He helps his brothers and sisters share in the holiness of God by opening for them the doors to grace in the sacraments.
The priest is the man of the Eucharist. He is the one who gives his life for love, who makes himself the bread to be eaten by the hungry.
The priest is the beloved of Mary, the Mother of God. Both Mary and the priest look at Jesus — she on earth and now in heaven, the priest in the Eucharist — and we both say, as no one else can, “This is my body; this is my blood.”
To capture the spirit and the beautiful thought of the memorable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, the priest is the priest/victim. He is the one who offers and is offered. At every Mass he offers the bread and wine to become the Body and Blood of Christ for the spiritual nourishment of our souls in our journey of faith to our home in heaven. And, by his life of purity, goodness and holiness, the priest becomes the victim for truth, justice, charity, and even his life in martyrdom for Christ and Gospel values.
For all of us gathered here today, I say, try to remember — What the priesthood is and who the priest is — it will lift up your heart! “You are not a priest for yourself; you are a mediator between men and God. So what are you, priest? You are nothing and you are everything.”
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