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Facets of Love
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Keep unearthly his heart ...

By P. Engelbert Recktenwald

O Jesus, eternal Priest,
keep Your priest within the shelter of Your
Sacred Heart,
where none may harm him.
Keep unstained his anointed hands,
which daily touch Your Sacred Body.
Keep unsullied his lips,
daily purpled with Your Precious Blood.
Keep pure and unearthly his heart,
sealed with the sublime mark of
Your glorious Priesthood.
Let Your holy love surround him and
shield him from the world's contagion.
Grant him with the power to change bread and wine,
also the power to change men's hearts.
Bless his labors with abundant fruit and
may the souls to whom he ministers be his
joy and consolation here and in heaven
his beautiful and everlasting crown.

St. Therese of the Child Jesus

The prayer of St. Therese contains in a nutshell the entire Catholic doctrine on the Priesthood. The saint makes a threefold statement about the being of the priest:

1. He belongs to Jesus („...keep Your priest...“);

2. His heart is sealed;

3. He possesses the power to change bread and wine.

Concerning no. 1: The priest belongs to Jesus, i. e. through his priestly ordination he is pledged to  him, consecrated to him, in a special way. The priesthood of the individual priest is nothing other than a  sharing in the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ. The state of being consecrated to God is what constitutes the sacrality, the objective holiness of the priest. Just as sacred objects, for instance a chalice, are withdrawn from profane use and are reserved exclusively for use in Holy Mass, so the priest as a person is forever and entirely consecrated to God. The concept of a temporary priesthood or in the sense of a part-time job is a radical contradiction to this characteristic trait of the priesthood. And just as a sacred object can be desecrated through profane use, so can the priest also sin against his objective holiness, that is, against his state of consecration to God. A sin of impurity, for instance is for a priest always at the same time a grave sin against the virtue of religion, i. e. the worship of God.

Concerning no. 2:  The heart of the priest is sealed. The Church speaks of a characteristic, a “character”, which is imprinted in his soul. The Council of Trent declared this teaching to be dogma and defines this character as spiritual and indelible (“signum quoddam spirituale et indelibile”, DS 1609). The priest is thereby priest in eternity. By means of the process of so-called laicization he can be released from his rights and responsibilities as a priest, but as far as his being is concerned, he remains a priest for all eternity, regardless of whether he will ultimately be saved or damned.

Concerning no. 3: The power of consecration (“potestas consecrandi”) is the foremost and most noble of the spiritual powers of the priest. Through the changing of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the Lord the priest carries out that mystery, into which the Lord has most perfectly placed his entire love. By means of the renewal of the sacrifice of the cross - that is, Christ’s laying down of his life – the priest cooperates most intimately with God’s decree of love for the redemption of mankind.

This being is bestowed upon the priest through his priestly ordination. It constitutes his dignity. This being as a gift corresponds to the duty of leading a holy life accordingly. Being and life must correspond to each other. The priest must live up to his dignity by means of his subjective holiness.To this end, he requires God’s grace, and this is the subject of the threefold petition of St. Therese. Firstly, she petitions the Lord to keep the priest within His heart, protected from every harm. The following threefold continuation of this plea for protection demonstrates that this harm consists solely in the loss of purity. She entreats the Lord to keep pure his hands, his lips and his heart. That is to say, the priest must be pure in his actions, his speech and his thought. The heart is, in the biblical sense, the seat of man’s thoughts, that is, his innermost sentiments (see, for example, Matt. 15:19). Here Therese uses the strongest expression for purity: The purity of the heart is not only stained by that which is sinful, but indeed even by that which is earthly. The heart of the priest is to be home to only the divine, a sanctuary which is entirely consecrated to God’s love, and to which nothing earthly is granted admittance.

This love and inviolable faithfulness to the Lord is not only to be protected, according to the following petition, but is to grow. In the plea for protection from “the world’s contagion”, Therese makes use of the word “world” in the biblical sense, with refreshing clarity. Let us consider, for example, the supplications of the Lord himself during the Last Supper: “I am not praying for the world...They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (Jn 17:9,16). No talk of any openness to the world or of tactical considerations, of how the priest can be best received by the world. The effectiveness of the priest can never be the result of the application of worldly methods or of the bowing down before the expectations and the dictates of the world, but rather only the fruit of a transformation which is equally as wondrous as the transformation of bread and wine: the power to transform the hearts of men. This power must also be granted from above. It is not a matter of the Church being successful with the most skillfully executed advertising campaign, but rather a matter of the miraculous transformation of hearts of stone into hearts of flesh (see Ez 11:19). This is the divine work in which redemption consists. The priest is only fit to play a part as a tool in this work when he himself is entirely transparent for the divine activity; that is, when there is nothing earthly to be found in his heart and in his life, which would hinder the work of divine grace. When he then obtains the “crown of everlasting life”, God is rewarding his own grace, which he has bestowed upon him and in turn credits to him. Thus the priest is the one who is drawn most intimately into the love of the Lord and who is therefore in the best position to dispense this love, by becoming a pure channel for the workings of God’s love.

Zum deutschen Original

Recktenwald: Do we know the Language of Love?


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