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The Holy Eucharist and a Holy Priesthood
Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
It must sound pious to associate the Holy Eucharist and the Holy Priesthood. But this is not piety. It is necessity. Without the priest there would not be a Eucharist and without the Eucharist, the priesthood would not be holy.
Our present focus, however, is on the necessity of the Eucharist to produce and provide for living out the supernatural, and therefore humanly impossible demands that Christ places on those who enter the priesthood in His name.
My plan is to cover the following areas of this fundamental issue:
Need for Superhuman Strength
It does not take great intelligence to see that a faithful and spiritually fruitful priesthood requires superhuman strength. Change the word superhuman to supernatural and we begin to see what we are talking about. Catholic Christianity is unique among the religions of the world, whether ancient as among the Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans before Christ, among the living religions of the human race.
Catholic Christianity is unique in making demands on the morality of its believers that are beyond human nature by itself to live up to. The two hardest demands are the practice of Christian chastity and Christian charity. Combine these virtues as celibacy and self-sacrifice, and we begin to see why the priesthood requires, indeed demands superhuman power from God to remain faithful for a lifetime.
This is what Christianity is all about: living a superhuman life by means of superhuman grace provided by Christ to those who believe that He is God Who became man to enable us to witness to his Name.
The Eucharist Provides Superhuman Strength
Receiving priestly ordination is one thing. Living as a holy priest for a lifetime is something else. That is why Christ instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The moment we say, Sacrament of the Eucharist, we mean a triple sacrament:
Jesus Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist to give those who believe in Him the power they need to remain alive in his grace.
For priests, this means the light and strength they must constantly receive if they are to live out the sublime directives of the Holy Spirit for Christian believers who received the sacrament of the priesthood.
They have no choice. The world in which they live is a world in which the self has been deified and lust has become the new norm of society.
Not to be deceived by this world, whose prince, Christ tells us, is the devil, Catholic priests need the light that only Christ can give. He is available with this grace through the Holy Eucharist.
Not to be seduced by the world, masterminded by Satan, Catholic priests need the courage that only Christ can give. He tells us not to be afraid. Why not? Because, as He says, Have confidence, I have overcome the world.
What is He telling priests? He is assuring them that He is still on earth in the Blessed Sacrament; that He is still offering Himself daily on our altars in the Sacrifice of the Mass; that He is still giving Himself to them in Holy Communion. Why? In order to enable them to do what is humanly beyond their natural intelligence to comprehend, beyond their natural will power to perform.
Mainstay of Priestly Life
Priests have no choice. The psychological pressure from the world, the flesh and the devil is too strong to cope with by themselves. The Holy Eucharist must remain, if it already is, or become, if it is not, the mainstay of their priestly lives. This is no option. It is a law of spiritual survival in every age, and with thunderous emphasis, for Catholic priests in our day.
No doubt the Eucharistic faith and devotion of priests are crucially important in the priestly apostolate. Like priest, like people is a truism of the Churchs history. But like Eucharist, like priest is also a sobering fact of the Churchs biography.
Priests are as selfless and chaste, as sacrificing and humble, as their lives are centered on the Eucharist. The daily and devout offering of Mass, the daily Holy Hour and frequent Benediction, the frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament these are not superficial priestly devotions. They are expressions of a profound love for Jesus Christ, now living and offering Himself for our sanctification on earth on our way to eternity.
Power to Work Miracles
If there is one thing that stands out in Christs visible life in Palestine it was his power to work miracles. In one chapter after another of the Gospels, Christ performed signs and wonders that testified to his claims to being one with the Father and that, without Him, we can do nothing to reach our eternal destiny.
But Christs greatest miracles were not his power over the physical laws of nature. They were His power to change unbelieving minds to become believers in his word, and unbelieving hearts to become men of heroic virtue.
The pagans of the first three centuries A.D. were converted to Christ when they saw Christians practicing chastity and charity. It was especially the generous and chaste love of Christs priests that changed pagans into believing Christians and in the process, changed the history of the human race.
Where did the early Christians receive the incredible strength they needed to follow Christ when even to become Christian meant to expect martyrdom? Where did they receive the superhuman power to live such superhuman lives? Where? From the Holy Eucharist, to which the priests themselves were so earnestly devoted and which they so earnestly promoted among the people.
It is not commonly known but should become known that in the early Church Christians heard Mass and received Holy Communion every day. The Holy Eucharist was brought to them in person as they were awaiting martyrdom by fire or the sword, or by being devoured by wild beasts.
The Eternal Presence
We turn to our own day. What Christ did during his visible stay on earth in first century Asia Minor, He has continued doing down the ages by the exercise of His almighty power available in his invisible presence in the Holy Eucharist. It is the same:
Who is now present in the Blessed Sacrament, offering Himself in the Mass, and received by us in the Holy Eucharist.
What do we conclude from this? Obviously, that Catholic priests and bishops be witnesses in our day to Christs power in their lives, as were the Christians who were mangled by lions in the Roman Colosseum, or, like St. John Fisher, were beheaded by order of a lecherous king who discarded his wife in sixteenth century England.
The Greatest Need for Priests
This brings us to our final reflection. I make bold to say that the single most important need for Catholic priests is a renewed faith in the Holy Eucharist.
There is an outstanding statement in the Gospels about Christ performing miracles. The evangelists tell us that Jesus could not work miracles among some people because of their lack of faith.
Notice what we are saying. We are saying that the Almighty Master of heaven and earth, the Creator of the sun, moon and stars, when he became Man was unable to exercise His omnipotence because of some peoples lack of faith. Of course, this means that He could not because He would not work miracles where the people refused to submit their minds in humble belief to His Divinity.
Now we turn to our own time and place. Would anyone doubt that in our nation in the last decade of the twentieth century, we need an avalanche of moral miracles to protect the priesthood and the priestly apostolate from the demonic forces let loose in our country today?
Only God can work a miracle, and we need to change the figure - an ocean of miracles in America, and in Canada, as in England, France, Germany, and Scandinavia, to mention just a few materially wealthy countries that are in desperate need of divine grace where so many are walking in darkness and the shadow of eternal death.
Jesus Christ is the infinite God Who became man. He became man not only to die for us on Calvary. He became man to live with us in the Holy Eucharist.
His divine power is accessible in the Holy Eucharist to those, beginning with priests, who have the humility to believe.
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