PRIESTS: MEN OF GOD, OBEDIENT TO HIS WILL
VATICAN CITY, 19 FEB 2010 (VIS) - During his meeting yesterday with parish priests of the diocese of Rome, Benedict XVI commented on certain verses from the Letter to the Hebrews.
Beginning with the Old Testament view of the Messiah, and comparing it to what Christ actually represented in the history of salvation, the Pope noted how "Christ is the true King, the Son of God. But He is also the true priest, and thus all worship, all the reality of sacrifices, ... and of the true sacrifice, finds its key and its fulfilment in Christ".
Thus, he explained, does the priest "emerges in all his pureness and his profound truth". And he went on: "A priest, in order truly to be a mediator between God and man, must be a man, and the Son of God became man precisely in order to become a priest, in order to accomplish the mission of a priest. ... This is the mission of the priest: ... to be a mediator, a bridge that unites and thus brings man to God, to His redemption, to His true light, to His true life".
If the priest is a "bridge" bringing humankind into communion with the divinity, his soul must draw nourishment from constant daily prayer and from the Eucharist, said the Pope.
"Only God", he went on, "can enter my life and take me by the hand. ... Ever and anew we must return to the Sacrament, return to this gift in which God gives me what I could never give. ... A priest must truly be a man of God, he must know God up close", and he achieves this "in communion with Christ. We must live this communion".
Benedict went on to point out that the life choice priests to make requires them to develop their feelings and affections in accordance with God's will. This conversion is anything but simple if we consider the misleading self-indulgence that lies in the modern mentality, he said.
"Thus do people say: 'He lied, he is human. He robbed, he is human'. But this is not the true human being. Human means being generous, human means being good, human means being a person of justice. ... And so, to leave behind, with Christ's help, this cloud over our nature ... is a life process which must begin with education to the priesthood then continue throughout our life".
A priest, who is above all other things a completely-fulfilled man, has a heart dedicated to "compassion". Sin is not a sign of "solidarity" with human weakness; rather, such solidarity is evident in the strength to share the burden of sin in order to redeem and purify it, showing the same capacity for emotion which Jesus showed during His life, and which enabled him to carry His cry of compassion "unto the ears of God".
"We priests cannot withdraw into exile", said the Pope. "We are immersed in the passion of this world and must, with the help of Christ and in communion with Christ, seek to transform it and lead it towards God".
Finally, on the subject of obedience, the Pope said: "It is an unpopular word in our time, when obedience seems like a form of alienation, an attitude of servility. ... Yet on the contrary, ... the word 'obedience' and the word 'freedom' are inseparable, ... because the will of God is not a tyrannical will; ... rather, it is the place where we find our true identity".
I highlighted the Pope's words above because I think he points out a fallacy very much present in a very common way of speaking about our falls from grace, our bad or evil actions. I recently heard a person react to news of someone's apparent fall from grace (note that I say "apparent" because ultimately only God knows what really happened in this particular case) by noting that the person was merely "human." Certainly, we use the word "human" in the sense of being weak and vulnerable and given to falling again and again.
Yet, that is a very minimalistic, fatalistic use of the term "human" that can lull us into excusing the inexcusable: we are, at the end of the day, especially as believers in Jesus, called to a higher view of the human. At the heart of being human, for Christians and for many others (even some atheists), is giving up the egotistical. Too much that masquerades as "human weakness" which we often view with self-serving pity is really the working out of the ego, of pride, of arrogance, of narcissism, of sociopathic tendencies, of utter indifference to the serious effects of one's actions on others now and in the future. So, in this fuller sense of the term "human," the person who recklessly, like a bull in a china shop, presses forward to enact his or her egostistical wishes of the moment is not being human at all if at the heart of what is authentically human is the rejection of selfishness. That is why in Catholic moral discourse we speak of acts performed in a "human" way. For example, the sexual act performed in a "human" way does not mean rape. The act of rape is not a truly "human" act in this high sense of the human, although rape is certainly an act that testifies to the demons of our very weak and morally vulnerable human state.
Maybe, when we are tempted to fatalistically excuse certain behaviors or lifestyles because "they are just human," we should rather focus on this question: are the actions truly human actions in the high sense of being human? If the actions are not such truly human actions in the high sense of not being egotistical, then we can still be and ought to be appropriately merciful and compassionate; but with a mercy and compassion that does not debase the word "human" or lull us into justifying the unjustifiable.
The linguistic confusion in misusing the term "human" may be more a matter of mixing the objects that we are referring to in our discourse (the "referents"). To refer to a person as "human" is a way to communicate or recognize the reality that a person is weak. But to refer to the actions of such a weak person as "human" means that the action is consistent with our moral vision of what human beings are called to be: selfless. Too often, we mix the two "referents": we say that a person is weak by saying that he or she is only "human" and, at the same time, mean to say or imply that a person's harmful actions are therefore excusable. In some cases, we slide into this inaccurate mixing of referents too easily as a way to justify our own past "inhuman" actions. It is very convenient. A better way is to recognize human weakness without implying that harmful, egotistical acts are also "human." They are not.