Monday, 7 July 2008

Priesthood and Emptiness

There are two ways of looking at priesthood. One grounds it in baptism (presumably one reason for the necessity of baptism before ordination); the other sees it as a gift from a different realm of the Spirit than that of baptism (ARCIC II). I favour the first, but include the second. For me, ordination to the priesthood is about a refocussing and concentration of my baptism in a re-ordered relationship to the people of God. (Perhaps this is the gift from another realm of the Spirit, as ARCIC II puts it?) Through baptism priests are icons of Christ, and in ordination their relationship to the people of God is so reordered to be a perpetual living reminder of who we all are together. Priests refract back to the people of God our mutual identity as icons of Christ within the iconic Body of Christ.

Which might sound like abstruse theologising. What does it mean? It means that priests are to be truly human, refracting back to the people of God the great dignity of the human condition in all its weakness and failure. Priests are filled by the Spirit of God, yet the weakness and emptiness that is filled never leaves us. It is the weakness in which God’s power is made perfect. But it never ceases being weakness, and at times, failure. This is the mystery of the cross and resurrection – life and death – that we carry in our bodies as baptised disciples of Christ. As St Paul says, “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.”

To be a priest is to know one’s weakness, perpetually living it, so that the life of Christ might be made manifest. Priests know their sin, but not just as a point of self-condemnation. Indeed, no longer a point of self-condemnation, but a point of grace through faith, a sign of the weakness that brings grace abounding in our lives. Priests are called to direct others beyond guilt and forgiveness to the point of faith in the grace that fills out all human weakness and failure. We don’t ignore sin; it is transformed into a source of grace and the perfect expression of the power of God.

To read:

Rom 6:1-11

2Cor 4:7-12

2Cor 12:1-10

For Reflection:

  1. Recall an act of ministry that was sourced from weakness but revealed God’s power. (Either you as minister or ministered to.)

  2. Is your past sin sufficiently ‘dealt with’ for it to no longer be merely a point of condemnation but give you a sense of the great dignity of humanity and God’s grace in your life?

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