10 Characteristics of a Priest According to St. Josemaría Escrivá

St. Josemaría is one of those saints who succeeded in changing the perspective of those who followed him in a very simple way: by fully living his vocation to sanctity as a priest and founder of Opus Dei.

Opus Dei was founded to promote sanctity in the midst of the world and St. Josemaría knew that priests are important to this mission. On February 14, 1943, he found the solution for priests to be a part of Opus Dei and established the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross. The society was erected by the Bishop of Madrid, Msgr. Leopoldo Eijo y Garay, on December 8, 1943, after receiving the nihil obstat– an official document – of the Holy See. The Priestly Society would be defined as an association of clerics intrinsically united with Opus Dei. It consists of the priests of the prelature as well as diocesan priests. The Prelate of Opus Dei serves as the President General of the Society.

St. Josemaría often said he had “the same cooking pot” for his children, referring to classes on doctrine, ascetical formation, spiritual direction, recollections, retreats, and so on. Therefore, the priests receive the same formation as the lay faithful of Opus Dei. Today, around 4,000 priests worldwide are members of the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross.

The history and structure are interesting, but also intriguing are the messages, thoughts, and spirit that St. Josemaría imparted to the society. Following are 10 of these characteristics of a priest according to St. Josemaría:

1. Identity. “What is the identity of the priest? That of Christ. All of us Christians can and should be not just other Christs, alter Christus, but Christ himself: ipse Christus! But in the priest this happens in a direct way, by virtue of the sacrament” (In Love with the Church, no. 38). For Josemaría, being a priest was not only an external mission but an internal one. He believed that to serve others, a priest must transform himself into Christ, to suffer, to love, to see the world through his eyes, and finally to love others as Christ loves each of us.

2. Service. “I feel we priests are being asked to have the humility of learning not to be fashionable; of being, in fact, servants of the servants of God (…), so as to enable ordinary Christians, the laity, to make Christ present in all sectors of society” (Conversations, no. 59). St. Josemaría considered serving others as the most important task of priests. In his view, this service could best be accomplished by loving others with humility and a discreet presence.

3. Vocation.A priest who says the Mass in this way — adoring, atoning, pleading, giving thanks, identifying himself with Christ and who teaches others to make the Sacrifice of the altar the center and root of the Christian life really will show the incomparable value of his vocation, the value of that character with which he has been stamped and which he will never lose” (In Love with the Church, no. 49). Being a priest requires a vocation, awareness, and a spirit of presence because the mission is not always easy. Sacrifice often accompanies the priest, but the spirit in which he carries out his mission is crucial.

4. Discernment. “I have always seen my work as a priest and shepherd of souls as being aimed at helping each person to face up to all the demands of his life and to discover what God wants from him in particular — without in any way limiting that holy independence and blessed personal responsibility which are the features of a Christian conscience” (Christ is Passing By, no. 99). One of the greatest blessings is receiving good spiritual direction from a good priest. St. Josemaría believed his mission was also to help people understand their own missions, providing them with direction, asking questions, and ensuring they feel safe and loved.

5. Mercy. “How great is the value of piety in the Holy Liturgy! I was not at all surprised when someone said to me a few days ago, talking about a model priest who had died recently: ‘What a saint he was!’ —’Did you know him well?’ I asked. —’No,’ she said, ‘but I once saw him saying Mass’” (The Forge, no. 645). Mercy, according to St. Josemaría, should be a gift from God to all people, especially priests. This was seen as a very important element in the sanctification process for both the laity and religious.

6. Remembrance. “Though you well know it, I shall remind you again that a Priest is ‘another Christ.’ And that the Holy Spirit has said: ‘Nolite tangere Christos meos’ — do not touch my Christs” (The Way, no. 67). A priest must always remember that he is “another Christ,” as we said before, maintaining a spirit of sacrifice and giving love to others.

7. Professionalism. “The professional work, to put it that way, of priests is a divine and public ministry, so demanding that it embraces everything they do, and to such an extent that it can be stated as a general rule that, if a priest has time to spare for other occupations that are not strictly priestly, he can be sure that he is not fulfilling the duties of his ministry” (Friends of God, no. 265). Even though the term is often used in the secular world, professionalism can be easily applied to the ministry and pastoral work of priests. Fulfilling his duty well is proof of a priest’s professionalism, but it is crucial for priests to be fully aware of this aspect of their “professional” life.

8. Trust. “Christ, who went up to the Cross with his arms wide open, with the gesture of the Eternal Priest, wants to count on us — who are nothing! — to bring to all men the fruits of his Redemption” (The Forge, no. 4). Trusting Christ means priests must give themselves entirely to the world. This is one of the most interesting aspects of the priesthood, as the trust in God is directly linked to their capacity to give themselves to the world.

9. Openness. “Neither on the right nor on the left nor in the center. As a priest I strive to be with Christ. Both of his arms — not just one — were outstretched on the Cross. I freely take from every group whatever seems to me good and helps me to keep my heart and my two arms open to all mankind” (Conversations, no. 44). To evangelize and share Christ’s words, priests must have the capacity to embrace the world and welcome people regardless of their options, opinions, or directions. In a highly individualistic society, people must feel welcomed.

10. Familiarity. “That priest, a friend of ours, worked away while thinking of God, holding on to his paternal hand and helping others to make these fundamental ideas their own. That is why he said to himself: ‘When you die, all will be well, because he will continue to look after things’” (Furrow, no. 884). A parental hand can change anyone’s spiritual and psychological state. The word “father” is fitting for priests because it is important for people to feel the Church as a family. This helps others connect, improve relationships, and heal many wounds.

Alina-Maria Balaj Alina-Maria Balaj

Alina-Maria Balaj is the Communications Coordinator for Research Projects at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome where she is also a researcher and a PhD Candidate in the School of Church Communications. The focus of her research is on the communication of the responsibility of women in the Church and in society. She also has a BA in Journalism and International Relations and European Studies (University of Oradea, Romania) and a MA in Church Communications (Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome, Italy). She speaks Romanian, English, Italian, Spanish and French. Her research interests include: institutional communication, history of the Church, feminism, philosophy, and theology. 

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