The Priestly Ministry
The Priest's Knowledge of Christ
St. John the Evangelist as Model
I. St. John stands out among the other Gospel writers for his more profound exposition of the Mysteries of the Word Incarnate. He is the Eagle that lives and writes with eyes fixed on the dazzling sun; his pen strokes are lightning flashes. What other sacred writer has imparted more profound and more luminous ideas of Christ's Divinity? How one feels, when studying his Gospel, the truth of Christ's words: He that seeth me seeth the Father also!
No stereoscope ever brought out into such bold relief the profile and contours of a photographed object as the pages of the beloved Disciple, pages throbbing with life and love, plastically portray the nature and character of God hidden beneath the ephemeral forms of our humanity. And if, after his Gospel, we read St. John's letters and Apocalypse, we shall seem to hear but the Gospel's most wonderful echoes.
Taking stock of the few facts and features of his life as handed down to us by tradition, we can see that by sheer pondering over and living the Redeemer's "New Commandment," the aged Apostle-virgin, evangelist, divine, prophet and martyr - has condensed all his preaching and ideas in that trembling and tenderhearted and continually-repeated admonition: "Little children, love one another: for that is the Lord's command, and this alone, if done, is enough."
II. Every occupation, trade and profession has its own particular principles and practices which are indispensable to its very existence; for example, medicine is built on a perfect grasp of the human organism, its ailments and their remedies; agriculture presupposes an understanding of the soil, seeds, etc.
Will my priesthood demand no specialised knowledge? And what will this knowledge be? Canon Law? Theology? No. A thousand times, no!
My special priestly sphere of knowledge and practice is nothing else than a deep and loving understanding of my Lord Jesus Christ. This is the need, the clamorous need, of my soul, simply because my whole priestly life and work has to reproduce the likeness of my one great Model: the Eternal Priest, according to the Order of Melchisedech, and the faithful themselves demand this of me, for they expect from me no other doctrine than that of Jesus Christ, and Christ crucified.
III. Am I convinced of what I have just meditated upon? Do I put into practice the words of the Imitation: Let our highest endeavour be to meditate on the life of Jesus Christ? Or did I think that I had enough and even more than enough with moral and dogmatic theology?
I need this theology, certainly; and woe be unto me if I do not know it! But in what theological disquisitions have I ever learned knowledge through love, or love through knowledge, of my Divine Redeemer? This sacred discipline is learned properly only through a continual, reflective and affectionate reading of the New Testament.
I am a poor minister of the Gospel if I have only a nodding acquaintance with the Gospel; if I scarcely read but the few short fragments of the Missal, and these so hurriedly, so inattentively, that I could not give an account of them after a hundred such readings!
Unfortunate, indeed, are the faithful who perhaps year after year sit listening to my preaching devoid of all unction and even of all mention of the Gospel!
1. "To meditate on the fifty chapters of his writings by way of an offering to the Beloved Disciple. When I have steeped my heart in them I shall be able to appropriate to myself the well-known words: De ipso Dominici pectoris fonte potavi - I have drunk from the fountain of the Lord's own breast.
2. To choose Mary for my Mother, and thus be able to apply to myself also the words: the disciple took her to his own. (John xix, 27)
What a home St. John's was, governed and sanctified by such a good, sweet Mother!
Lady! Come and reign in the homes of all priests, putting dangerous occasions to flight, establishing therein the law and holy fear of God!
3. To unite myself with Christ when I suffer; and though the boisterous rabble of my passions mock and jeer, to climb the road to Calvary until the Blood of the Crucified Redeemer touches me. Had St. John not stood at the foot of the Cross; had he remained afar off like the other disciples, would the Lord have said to him: Behold thy mother? No, he would not have received such a Mother on that afternoon; She might possibly have been committed to the care of the converted Centurion.
4. To brave for Christ's sake the privations and struggles entailed by priestly chastity, and to be, like John, a virgin disciple of a Virgin Master, and a virgin adopted son of a Virgin Mother.
If I possess these virtues, Christ will find me worthy, like St. John, to enter into the sanctuary of His life and Sacred Heart; and Mary will keep me enshrined in her motherly care.
Adapted from The Priest at Prayer
by Fr. Eugenio Escribano, C.M. (© 1954)
Translated by B.T. Buckley, C.M.
Please pray for our priests and pray for vocations to the priesthood!