A Priest Forever | A Homily by St. Josemaria Escriva
When saying Mass a few days ago I paused to reflect on a phrase from the psalms in the Communion Antiphon: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. It reminded me of another psalm which was used in the rite of tonsure: The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup. Christ Himself is placed in the hands of priests who thus become the stewards of the mysteries — of the wonders — of God.
Next summer some fifty members of Opus Dei will receive Holy Orders. Since 1944 small groups of members of the Work have been ordained, each ordination giving witness to the working of God’s grace and to service to the Church. And yet each year some people are surprised. How is it, they ask, that thirty, forty or fifty men whose lives are so rich in achievement and so full of promise, are ready to become priests? I should like today to dwell on this subject — though I run the risk of adding to people’s bewilderment.
Why be a priest?
The sacrament of Holy Orders is going to be conferred on this group of members of the Work who have had very substantial experience, perhaps over many years, in medicine, law, engineering, architecture and many other professional activities. They are men whose work would allow them to aspire to more or less prominent positions in society.
They are being ordained to serve. They are not being ordained to give orders or to attract attention, but rather to give themselves to the service of all souls in a divine and continuous silence. When they become priests, they will not allow themselves to yield to the temptation to imitate the occupations of lay people — even though they are well able to do that work because they have been at it until now, and have acquired a lay outlook which they will never lose.
Their competence in the various branches of human knowledge such as history, natural sciences, psychology, law and sociology is a necessary feature of this lay outlook. But it will not lead them to put themselves forward as priest-psychologists, priest-biologists or priest-sociologists: they receive the sacrament of Holy Orders to become nothing other than priest-priests, priests through and through.
They probably know more about a wide range of secular, human matters than many lay people But the moment they are ordained they cheerfully silence this competence and concentrate on fortifying themselves through continuous prayer so as to speak only of God, to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments. If I can put it this way, I would say that this is their new professional work. To it they will devote their whole day and find that they still have not enough time to do all that has to be done. They have constantly to study theology; they must give spiritual guidance to very many souls, hear many confessions, preach tirelessly and pray a great deal; their heart must always be focused on the tabernacle, where He who has chosen us to be his own is really present. Their life is a wonderful self-surrender, full of joy, though like everyone they will meet up with difficulties.
As I said, all this may serve to increase people’s surprise. Perhaps some may still ask themselves: What is the point of this renunciation of so many good and noble things of the earth? These men could have had a successful professional career. Through their example they could have exerted a Christian influence on society, on cultural, educational, financial and many other aspects of civil life.
Others will remind you that in many places today the idea of the priesthood is very confused. They keep on saying that you must search for the identity of the priest and they question the value of giving oneself to God in the priesthood in present-day society. And then others will ask how it is that, at a time when vocations to the priesthood are in short supply, this very vocation should arise among Christians who, thanks to their own efforts, have already found their place in society.
Priests and lay people
I can understand this surprise, but it would be insincere of me to say that I share it. These men become priests of their own free will, because they want to, and this is a very supernatural reason. They know that they are not renouncing anything in the normal sense of the word. Through their vocation to Opus Dei they have been devoted to the service of the Church and of all souls. This full, divine vocation led them to sanctify their work to sanctify themselves in their work and to seek the sanctification of others in the context of their professional relationships.
The members of Opus Dei whether priests or lay people, are ordinary Christians, and like all Christians, they are addressed by Saint Peter in these words: You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.
As Christian faithful, priests and lay people share one and the same condition, for God our Lord has called us to the fullness of charity which is holiness: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
There is no such thing as second-class holiness. Either we put up a constant fight to stay in the grace of God and imitate Christ, our Model, or we desert in that divine battle. God invites everyone; each person can become holy in his own state in life. In Opus Dei this passion for holiness, in spite of individual errors and failings, does not vary from priests to lay people; and besides, priests make up a very small part compared with the total number of members.
So if you look at things with the eyes of faith, there is no question of renunciation on entering the priesthood; nor does the priesthood imply a sort of summit of vocation to Opus Dei. Holiness does not depend on your state in life (married or single, widowed or ordained) but on the way you personally respond to the grace you receive. This grace teaches us to put away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light: which is serenity, peace and joyful service, full of sacrifice to all mankind.
“A Priest Forever” is a homily given by St. Josemaria Escriva on April 13, 1973. The homily is published by Scepter Publishers in the book “In Love with the Church”.
St. Josemaria Escriva, priest and founder of Opus Dei, was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002 and declared the “saint of the ordinary” for his example and teachings on the value of work and daily life as the path to holiness in the middle of the world.