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The face of the Father

May 11, 2017
Father Mark Doherty

Is Peter speaking to all Christians when he exhorts his readers to be built up into a holy priesthood, or is he addressing himself only to “the priests” of the church? And what is priesthood all about anyway?

It may come as news to many, but Peter is addressing himself to all the baptized, which means that Peter maintains that all members of the church are called to be built up in the priesthood of Christ. Often enough we go about our Christian business thinking that the priesthood of Christ – its prerogatives and responsibilities – only concerns the “ordained” priests among us. Nothing could be further from the truth, and to go about our Christian business with these notions is to deprive ourselves of the rich marrow that is meant to inform our Christian lives.

The truth is this: All those who are baptized and grafted onto the body of Christ are incorporated into the common priesthood of Christ. While there are some among us who, through the sacrament of holy orders, are incorporated into the ministerial priesthood, which involves a different kind of participation in the priesthood of Christ (and thus, different prerogatives and responsibilities), all the baptized are called to embrace and live out their share in the common priesthood of Christ.

But what is the priesthood all about? And how am I as a baptized Christian supposed to be “built into a spiritual house?”

Priests are bridge builders. The mission of the priesthood is essential to life because life is all about communion, about friendship. When people ask me what happiness consists in, what full living is all about, I always tell them it’s about developing and deepening relationships. Therefore, we can say that the essence of a Christian’s mission to participate in the priesthood of Christ is to help generate and nurture the bonds of communion between God and us.

This helps us understand what Jesus is telling Philip in today’s Gospel. Jesus tells Philip and those gathered around the table that they have seen the Father. How so? Precisely because as high priest, as the bridge builder between God and man, Jesus is bringing the face of the Father to us and reconciling man to God. Jesus is re-establishing the bonds of communion. What else can this mean than that men and women, through the Lord, can now come to know God the father? Hence, why there are rooms a plenty in the Father’s house for those who wish to live in the family communion of the kingdom.

But how is the generative and nurturing power of the priestly office realized? How is it all “done”? The short but essential answer: Sacrifice.

This is where the rubber meets the road. Talk of building bridges and communion, of weaving deep, loving relationships remains ethereal without the lifeblood of sacrifice. And when I say lifeblood I mean just that, because that’s what sacrifice entails. A sacrifice is a tangible, visible sign of an inner spiritual oblation to God, hence why Peter speaks of spiritual sacrifices. What does this look like? Sacrifices come in all shapes and sizes, but one thing they have in common is that they cost us, really. To exercise our priesthood we must literally offer things up for the purpose of deepening the bonds of loving communion. This means offering up our time, our energy, our talents, our hurts and grievances, our sins and failings, our plans and dreams, our treasures of this or that sort… and so on, all for the purpose of finding something better, richer, and eternally life-giving. Of course we don’t just offer things up, sacrifice things willy-nilly and haphazardly. Love always seeks to find out what the other needs, is truly asking for. What is God asking me to sacrifice in this or that circumstance so that the bonds of communion may deepen?

The proportions of the Christian life begin to emerge as we come to understand that by virtue of our baptism the Lord invites us to share in this work of establishing friendships. Really, it’s all about bringing the face of the Father into the lives of those the Lord has entrusted to our care. Do my children see the loving face of God in my face through my gestures, attitude, efforts, devotion? Through my sacrifices on their behalf? Do my neighbors and co-workers? My community? My fellow parishioners, and so on.

In Jesus the Apostle Philip saw the face of the Father; now the Lord, through our baptism, calls us to share in his work of revealing the face of the Father to those who have not yet encountered him.

Doherty_Fr. Mark - web 100x125Father Doherty is currently studying moral theology at Fribourg University in Switzerland.

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