When Jesus awoke in the midst of a storm, he was confronted by a fearful crew of apostles. As the sea tossed them violently to and fro, and the black sky hurled lightning bolts at them, he calmly inquired ‘Why are you so frightened, you men of little faith?’
Likewise, in the midst of societal turbulence, marked by the recent attack on marriage, and the rapidity by which American society is becoming anti-Christian, there is the natural tendency to respond exactly like the apostles. Our natural response is to either bunker down in a Catholic cave, or to respond in the fire of political anger.
Yet, the one true strategy for maintaining religious freedom is to protect our priests. And that means protection at all costs.
Our enemies, principalities and powers manifest in ideologies and ideologues, seek to stamp out our voice, the center of our strength, and the ground of our being. Of course this is the voice, the strength, and the ground of Jesus Christ.
And to accomplish this they have found the most lethal method, better than persecutions, imprisonments, executions (‘the blood of martyrs is seed’), and intimidation. It is the degradation, demoralization, and demythologization of our priests.
Think about it. As St. Augustine called the priest the ‘servus Christi,’ or the servant of Christ, we have come to understand our priests, no matter how imperfect they are personally, as ‘alter Christus,’ or another Christ, who serves us ‘in persona Christi,’ in Christ’s stead, sacramentally. The priest is the chosen instrument of God, the voice of Jesus in his evangelization, the hands of Jesus in sacramental forgiveness, and the humble servant who makes present ‘the sacrifice of Christ and Christ himself in his sacred body and blood, which are all rights reserved to God that no man can acquire by himself or by delegation by any community.’ (Pope Benedict XVI)
Without the priest, we are a flock without the Shepherd. Yes, God is always present in the Holy Spirit, in our hearts, in our conscience, and in our charity. But the priest, through ordination in the Holy Spirit, bears the indelible mark of servitude on his soul. With him comes the Eucharist, and the fullness of the Presence of Christ in the world. With him comes the voice of Jesus in the fullness of Catholic Truth. With him comes the priestly sacrifice, the One perpetual Sacrifice of Jesus, for our salvation–our strength, the ground of our being.
St. John Paul II once said of the priest, while reminiscing on his own ordination:
“The one about to receive Holy Orders prostrates himself completely and rests his forehead on the church floor indicating in this way his complete willingness to undertake the ministry being entrusted to him. That rite has deeply marked my priestly life. Years later in St. Peter’s Basilica (in the very beginning of the Second Vatican Council), I was thinking back on that moment of ordination to priesthood and I wrote a poem. I would like to share a few lines of that poem here:
Peter, you are the floor that others may walk over you … not knowing where they go you guide their steps … You want to serve their feet that pass as rock serves the hooves of sheep. The rock is a gigantic temple floor, the cross a pasture.”
By ridding Christianity of the priesthood, our enemies are attempting to silence our voice, by weakening us, and destroying the holy ground we stand upon. We mustn’t let this happen. Therefore, we must, at all costs, protect our priests.