During the Year for Priests convoked by Benedict XVI on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Marie Vianney, the Curé of Ars, we want to intensify our prayer for priests and at the same time consider an essential reality of our life: all of us, both priests and laity, have a priestly soul.
“Live and work for God, with a spirit of love and service, with a priestly soul, even though you may not be a priest. Then all your actions will take on a genuine supernatural meaning which will keep your whole life united to the source of all graces.” A priestly soul, St. Josemaría tells us, is shown in working with supernatural vision and for love, with an eagerness to be of service. The adjective “priestly” expresses what the underlying disposition should be in our life: to offer sacrifices to God in his honor and for the good of our fellow men and women, since charity is the life of the soul.
Through the ministerial priesthood, priests are configured with Christ and act in the sacraments—in an eminent way in the celebration of the Eucharist—in persona Christi capitis Ecclesiae, in the person of Christ, head of the Church: in the name of Christ and of his Church. Holy Orders is at the service of the common priesthood of the faithful. The latter, essentially distinct from the ministerial priesthood, enables Christians to offer themselves and their whole life in spiritual sacrifices, uniting themselves to the sacrifice of the Cross made present in the Eucharistic mystery. “A Christian knows that he is grafted onto Christ through baptism. He is empowered to fight for Christ through confirmation, called to act in the world sharing the royal, prophetic and priestly role of Christ.” Each is “called to serve God by his activity in the world, because of the common priesthood of the faithful, which makes him share in some way in the priesthood of Christ. This priesthood—though essentially distinct from the ministerial priesthood—gives him the capacity to take part in the worship of the Church and to help other men in their journey to God, with the witness of his word and his example, through his prayer and work of atonement.”
The Servant of God Don Álvaro del Portillo, commenting on St. Josemaría’s teachings, said that “priestly soul” means having this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, the Eternal High Priest. It means having a zeal for souls; an ardent desire to unite all our actions to Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross for the salvation of souls; a deep spirit of reparation, which has to lead us to mortification and penance, with the firm conviction that “to have found the Cross is to have found happiness: it is to have found you, Lord!” Priestly soul leads to a generous self-giving, to the zeal that is a sign of true love, never saying: “enough!” to the demands of God.
“Hoc sentite in vobis, quod est in Christo Iesu.” (Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus.) These words, which the early Christians may have prayed and which St. Paul took up, form part of a hymn in praise of Christ’s self-lowering, which won salvation for us. When St. Paul invites the Philippians to have the same mind as Christ, he is referring to his way of thinking, of confronting the future.
St. Mark recounts that Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem, announced to his disciples that he would have to suffer greatly. He would be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be handed over to death, and rise again after three days. The Evangelist adds that Peter, taking him aside, began to rebuke him. Then Jesus turned and, looking at his disciples, spoke these strong words to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan, for thou dost not mind the things of God, but those of men.” To have the mind of Christ, to “mind” the things of God, is to accept the mystery of the Cross and to participate in this mystery.
Jesus Christ, the Eternal Priest, offers himself, out of love for his Father, for our salvation. Christ gives us the greatest example of what it is to have a priestly soul, fully oriented to the fulfillment of his Father’s will. To have the mind of Christ is to aspire to what he aspires, to share his life, his intentions. Thanks to the sacramental life, we share in our Lord’s Cross and resurrection. Our life is transformed through union with God, and we become protagonists in the New Evangelization.
The Year for Priests began on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The holy Curé of Ars said that “the priesthood is the love of Jesus’ heart.” We can apply that expression to the priestly soul. A person who loves our Lord shares in his sentiments, the yearnings in his heart, his zeal for souls, the desire that many hearts beat in unison with Christ’s heart. It is not a matter of something exterior, but of an authentic love.
Every human being, right from earliest infancy, when learning to speak, for example, needs others to become what he or she is in reality, to grow little by little, to form a conscience. The same is true in the supernatural life, until reaching the fullness of Christ and behaving as a son or daughter of God in everything.
Jesus will send the Holy Spirit to give life to the multitude, not from the outside, but because he has taken on our form as servants. Having taken upon himself our death, he can communicate to us his own Spirit of life. He does so in an eminent way from the Cross, as the Gospel of St. John teaches in recounting Jesus’ death: he handed over his spirit and his heart was pierced for our sins.
St. Josemaría addressed Jesus nailed to the cross: “I am yours and I give my whole self to You; gladly do I nail myself to your Cross, ready to be in the cross-roads of this world a soul dedicated to You, to your glory, to the work of Redemption, the co-redemption of the whole human race.” The priestly soul comes from the Cross, which neither our Lady nor the holy women fled from. We need courage, a virtue especially required today, in order to see and to love God’s will, letting ourselves be drawn by the weight of his Love, which is nothing other than his glory and our true life in him.
The self-surrender our Lord asks of us is an authentic self-giving, not a formal one; it comes from the Cross, from the Eucharist. It is total because of the love that spurs us, not because of an accumulation of precepts and rules. Love is the true identity of God. Thus we attain an ever deeper understanding of what the works of God really are: they are works of Love. In the time of the Church, the time of the Holy Spirit, they are marvels of God: the Holy Spirit, as the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer says, brings to its plenitude the work of Christ on earth.
The very name “Work of God” warns us against a badly understood zeal. “Opus Dei”: God is the one who is acting in his Church. Our role is to “let God act.” We have to struggle, a lot, but our struggle is always carried out with God’s help. The Christian path is far removed from any attempt to reach God, to fulfill his commandments, without his grace, as if the important thing were the product of our own heart: perhaps here lies the explanation for possible defeats or failures in Christian life. If we truly want to avoid placing obstacles to God, we will leave in his hands our resolutions, our thoughts, our feelings: everything we harbor in the depths of our heart.
“You say that you are now beginning to understand what a ‘priestly soul’ means. Don’t be annoyed with me if I tell you that the facts show that you only realize it in theory. Every day the same thing happens to you: at night time, during the examination, it is all desire and resolutions; during the morning and afternoon at work, it is all objections and excuses. Are you in this way living a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ?” St. Josemaría mentions work in this point from Furrow. Work is the hinge of our sanctification, and therefore a privileged place from which to exercise our priestly soul, as are our family relationships and friendships, and our life in society, striving to make all we do apostolic.
A priestly soul is always united, in the teachings of the holy Founder of Opus Dei, to a lay mentality, which makes us open to the truth and spurs us to exercise our freedom as citizens of the city of God and the city of man. St. Josemaría proclaimed without ceasing the proper autonomy of temporal realities, which was clearly ratified by the Second Vatican Council. Under the protection of our Lady, co-redemptrix, the priestly soul of the Christian will be shown in a great compassion for our neighbor, for “the compassion of the Lord is for all living beings.”