The Catholic priesthood is founded upon Jesus Christ himself who is the Good Shepherd. The men who have served us as priests, as shepherds, do so by a share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. They are not fundamentally their own priests. They are God’s priests and they are living God’s priesthood. Catholic priests are not inherently their own priests, they are members of the priesthood of Jesus Christ and as such they are to share in His work and they are to be God’s instruments in their ministry; simply because it is not their priesthood but rather God’s!
We see this notion of a priest sharing in the priesthood of Jesus Christ throughout the entire Rite of Ordination of a Priest. Many of the prayers remind the men being ordained that they are not being ordained into their own priesthood. They are being reminded that they are becoming God’s ministerial instruments in the world. They are being reminded that as members of Jesus’ priesthood and as God’s ministerial instruments in the world, they must continually unite themselves to Jesus and they must become more like Jesus, whose priesthood they will be ordained into.
Take for example one of the questions that the bishop asks the men about to be ordained: Do you resolve to be united more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered himself for us to the Father as a pure sacrifice, and with him to consecrate yourselves to God for the salvation of all? The bishop would not ask the men to be ordained if they are resolved to unite themselves more closely to Christ the High Priest if they were about to enter into their own priesthood. Uniting themselves to Christ would not be necessary if they are ordained into their own priesthood. It is necessary, however, when the priesthood is Jesus Christ’s because you are resolving, every day of your life as a priest, to become more like Jesus whose priesthood you are a member of.
Another beautiful example is in the actual prayer of ordination: Grant, we pray, Almighty Father, to these, your servants, the dignity of the priesthood; renew deep within them the Spirit of holiness; may they henceforth possess this office which comes from you, O God, and is next in rank to the office of Bishops; and by the example of their manner of life, may they instill right conduct. Since, the Catholic priesthood comes from God and is a share in God’s priesthood, the ordaining bishop asks God to send His Priesthood upon the men to be ordained. If the men are to be ordained into their own personal priesthood or the priesthood of the bishop, the ordaining bishop would not ask God to send His Priesthood into the men to be ordained.
Since the Catholic priesthood, as seen in the ordination rite and understood throughout the centuries from the time of Jesus, is a share in the priesthood of Jesus and a share in Jesus’ ministry as His instruments, the Catholic Priests, as they continue to model themselves after Jesus Christ, must learn from Him what it means to be a priest and, therefore, what it means to be a Good Shepherd.
One of the things that we see in this weekend’s readings is that it is the voice of the Good Shepherd that calls His people and that it is the voice of the Good Shepherd that brings about their repentance and conversion.
Our Lord is very clear that it is His voice that the sheep will hear and it is his voice that they will follow. No other voice will get their attention. So, when the ordained priests of God, who are called at their ordination to daily resolve to unite themselves more closely to Christ, minister to the People of God that have been entrusted to them, it should be God’s voice that we hear and follow. There are times, because priests are humans and fallen, that it will be their own voice that we hear and they will be teaching their own thing but, God willing, the more that God’s priests unite themselves daily to Christ the more God’s voice should be heard in their ministry.
We see this dynamic of the voice of God at play in the ministry of God’s priests in our first reading. It is the voice of God, through his instrument St Peter, a priest of Jesus Christ, that brings about the conversion and repentance of 3000 people. God’s voice was heard and 3000 people responded to God’s voice.
It is the same voice of God, through His instruments the priests, that is at work in our day. When the priests are preaching, celebrating the sacraments, giving advice in confession, etc, they are serving as God’s instruments because they are members of God’s priesthood. So, it is God at work in them that is bringing about people’s encounter with God through their ministry.
Since it is the voice of God that is heard through His ministers, it is important for us to pray daily for the ministers of God that they may be faithful to their ministry and that they will continue to resolve to unite themselves to God. God never promises to abandon us, or His priests, but sometimes priests, because they are sinful humans, abandon God. So, it is important for us to pray for priests, especially the priests that have been influential in our lives and served as an instrument of God to us.
Even, as a priest myself, it is important for me to ask God for the grace to continue to serve as His instrument and that I strive to be God’s voice drawing people closer to Him. The moment we stop asking for this gift from God, can become the moment that our pride begins to grow and we start to think that the priesthood is about ourselves and that we are priests of our own priesthood.
It is also very important for us to pray for the men that God is calling to be our future priest. We should pray for the men that are currently studying. We should ask God to give these men the desire to unite themselves more closely to Him. We should also pray for the men that will respond to God’s call in the future. He will never cease to raise up men to serve as His priests and so we should never cease to ask God to give the men He is calling the courage to respond to His call.
Jesus Christ is our Good Shepherd and our priests share in His priesthood and His shepherding. Follow the voice of God, pray for the men who are currently instruments of that voice for us, and pray for more men to respond to God’s invitation to become instruments of that voice for us.