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Retreat on the Priesthood

Christ the High Priest in Heaven

Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

We have already seen at some length something of Christ’s priesthood on earth. We saw that His priesthood was terrestrial or earthly; it was temporal: it ended with Christ’s death on the cross; and it was mortal: experienced by Christ and practiced by Him in His mortal human nature.

But Christ not only was a priest; He is a priest. He is our priest and He is a priest on our behalf now that He is in heaven. I dare say not too many Catholics realize this. In order to better understand this large panorama of our faith, we will look at a few questions and, while answering them, apply the fruits of our reflection to our lives.

How do we know that Christ’s priesthood continues in heaven? We know it because the fact has been divinely revealed. The entire letter of Saint Paul to the Hebrews is built around this theme. No doubt Paul reserved that letter for the Hebrews because this was the great preoccupation of Israel. What would happen, the Jews feared, if the sacrifices of the Old Law ceased?

In any case, Saint Paul tells us, in speaking of Christ: “He, because He continues forever, has an everlasting priesthood.” And again, “We have such a High Priest who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of majesty in the heavens.” What should this mean to us? It should first of all be a source of immense consolation that Christ did not cease to be our priest, which means our Savior, with His death on the cross. No, He continues His priestly office in our regard even now.

Why is this significant? Because it tells us what we so much need to know: that just as we are sinners now, and who doubts that, we need a Savior now. In a word, Christ’s salvific work continues even as our sinfulness still goes on. We need to be constantly and continually saved from our present misdeeds. Although Christ did indeed die for us in His mortal sacrifice, He, as it were, keeps pace with man’s sins: His priesthood is coextensive with our sinfulness.

How does Christ exercise His priesthood in heaven? Regarding the manner in which Christ now exercises his heavenly priesthood, revelation teaches us that, I quote again from Saint Paul, “He is always living to make intercession for us.” Christ’s sacerdotal office in heaven, therefore, is an office of intercession. That it is truly a priestly function is plain from the apostle’s explanation that this intercession is made always in relation to and as a result of the bloody sacrifice of the cross. This intercession is effective because Christ really died. It is as though the Savior were constantly showing the heavenly Father what He had done, as though He had invested an infinite capital of merit by His death on Calvary. Having shed His blood, His blood as it were, pleads on our behalf.

This is what Jesus meant when at the Last Supper He said, as He consecrated the chalice, “This is My blood of the new covenant… But I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine until that day when I shall drink it new with you in the Kingdom of my Father.” In a mysterious mystical sense Christ, now in the heavenly Kingdom, continues drinking of the chalice that He consecrated at the Last Supper.

What are the spiritual implications for us? Having stated some of the doctrine, we want to draw out the ascetical and spiritual implications. These implications are many, but they are summarized in this fact: while Christ has already shed Hid blood, and His blood pleads for mercy for a sinful mankind, yet, mysteriously and terrifyingly, His heavenly priesthood is only as effective as we allow Him to make it.

How do we allow His priestly intercession in heaven to affect us on earth? We do so first of all by our appreciation of what He has done for us. Of all the expressions of gratitude we can make; of all the forms of thanksgiving we can express, there is none that should more constantly and profoundly be in our hearts and on our lips than gratitude for what Christ has done for us by His death on the cross. We need to remind ourselves of this very often. Very properly, we thank God for the little things and the big things, and yet we are likely to forget the biggest thing.

There is a short statement by Pope Saint Clement in a letter he sent to the Corinthians about the year 90 A.D., in which this beautiful passage occurs: “Let us fix our gaze on the blood of Christ and realize how precious it is to the Father, seeing that it was poured out for our salvation and brought the grace of conversion to the whole world.”

Our first implication, therefore, is or should be grateful appreciation. Measured by our appreciation, the fruitfulness of this eternal heavenly priesthood of Christ will benefit those for whom the blood had been shed and is even now precious to the Father.

Secondly, we allow Christ’s priestly intercession in heaven to benefit us by our willing cooperation with the graces that Christ won for us by His death on the cross. This willing cooperation is no figure of speech. It means in practice that we honestly try to do three things—and really there are only these three things to do in life. First, to seek to know honestly what is God’s will for each of us. This means that we ask for light from God, and we seek counsel. Second, we seek to know how we are to do God’s will, since knowing what we are to do is not enough; we must also know how to do it. Third, having found out what we are to do and how, we then do it.

It’s remarkable how many minutes and hours and, in some cases, years may intervene between step one and two and especially between step two and three. For some people in some aspects of their life they never take step three. So do it! No one, not even the Almighty, will do it for you. You almost wonder: who is almighty? Is it God or is it we, who can say “no” to Omnipotence?

It is remarkable how many persons of normal intelligence and ostensibly good will never grow in sanctity because they lack the generosity of responding to God’s Will as they should. Why don’t they respond as they should? Sometimes it’s comforting to use the third person; it gives you the illusion of talking about somebody else. Why don’t some people respond as they should to the will of God? Because they are afraid of blood. They fear that if they really knew what God wanted them to do and found out how to do it and then did it, they would get hurt.

Here none of us is an exception. We are all frightened by those simple aphorisms of the saints about suffering. Saint John of the Cross: “The purest suffering bears and carries in its train the purest understanding.” Saint Ignatius: “The greatest joy that a follower of Christ should expect on earth is to share in his Master’s suffering.” Saint Teresa of Avila: “Desire earnestly always to suffer for God in everything and on every occasion.”

We read these sentiments and tremble. That is natural, which, quite frankly, is why there is such a thing as grace. That is what grace is all about, to cope with nature. Otherwise grace wouldn’t be what it is—supernatural. The secret is to resign ourselves to endure suffering whether it is our physical weakness, pain, sickness, old age, inability to work the way we used to or would like to, or being ignored, passed over, snubbed, unjustly rebuked; or the recollection of our past sins and broken promises, or the memory of past failures, desires and unfulfilled dreams. This is precisely what Christ’s priesthood is all about, that having died on the cross, and now interceding before His heavenly Father in our behalf, Christ is gaining for us, pouring out, if only we are willing to receive, the graces we need to cope with our nature, so as to glorify God who gives such strength to weak human beings.

After His resurrection, for His own profound reasons, Christ saw fit not to lose or shed or remove the five wounds on His body that He suffered on the cross and from each of which (the right hand, the left hand, the right foot, the left foot, and the open side) flowed out His blood. This loss caused His death and bought the redemption of the world.

Why did Christ decide to keep His wounds and take them with Him to heaven so that as the glorified Redeemer He remains the wounded High Priest for all eternity? For two reasons, and both have to do with us. His wounds in heaven are His constant sacerdotal prayer for our salvation and sanctification. Dare we run away from our cross, realizing that we have all the grace we need, and far more than we need, to bear with all the trials that no one life, but thousands of lives could bear? We have the grace. Priest that He is, He is winning for us and giving us at this moment all the help we need.

Secondly, His wounds in heaven are His constant priestly reminder to us that heaven is to be fought for and therefore won; that heaven is a prize to be gained only after struggle; and above all, that it is a victory after a battle, in which, like Him, we are bound to get wounded. But our pain and even our blood are worth it. They must be, seeing that our divine High Priest paid so much to merit heaven for us. He did His part, the greater part—we must do ours. It is little by comparison with His; but our part must be done. No one else but we can do it.

Conference transcription from a retreat that
Father Hardon gave in December, 1977 to the
Handmaids of the Precious Blood

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

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