Welcome to the final installment of my series “Discovering the Nearness of God: An Eight-Week Series on the Catholic Sacramental Vision.” This week we will explore the Sacrament of Holy Orders, with the theme of “Oh, to Be Thin!”
If you’re not an ordained priest, you may be tempted to skip this post about the Sacrament of Holy Orders. I wouldn’t advise it! The truth is, everyone who is baptized into Christ is called to share in the priesthood of Christ, which means that understanding the priesthood helps each of us better understand our Baptism. In fact, in Baptism, the following words are spoken: “As Christ was anointed priest, prophet, and king, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.” As disciples of Christ, we are called to love and serve God and others by sharing in Jesus’ ministry as priest, prophet, and king. But what does it mean to live as priest, prophet, and king? In short it means that:
- as priest, we help others recognize and respond to God’s presence
- as prophet, we speak God’s truth to others and
- as king, we provide for those who are vulnerable.
Typically, when the topic of priesthood comes up, people start to argue about whether priests should be celibate or married, male or female. Those conversations lie outside the boundaries of this article. However, there is one requirement that I personally would like to see asked of all priests: they should be thin.
Now, before you send in letters of complaint, let me clarify—I’m not referring to their physical weight or size. Rather, I’m referring to the idea that just as a place can be considered “thin” and a moment can be considered “thin,” so too should priests be people who are “thin.” In other words, they are called to be people who do not obstruct our view of God but rather make God’s presence more visible to us. The role of the priest is not to draw attention to himself but to the presence of God in the moments of our everyday lives: to open our eyes to recognize God’s nearness so that we, in turn, as members of a priestly people, can bring others to the same type of “Aha!” moment, a new awareness and a new way of seeing.
Priests are present to us at many of the “thin moments”: birth, reception of First Eucharist, success, achievement, failure, marriage, sickness, and death. At these various thin moments, there is great potential for recognizing the presence and movement of God. The priest’s role is to journey with us at these thin moments and, like a tour guide or docent, assist us in understanding how God is near and active in the moment. Priests do this best by being thin themselves—by allowing God’s presence to be revealed through their presence, words, and actions. Here are some of the ways that priests “remain thin”:
- Priest reveal Jesus’ presence to others.
- Priests preside over worship.
- Priests offer sacrifice.
- Priests mediate the presence of God.
- Priests intercede on our behalf.
- Priests manifest the mind of God.
- Priests symbolize the unity of the Church.
In Acts of the Apostles, we are told that the “people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by” (5:15). They knew that, when the apostle was in their midst, Jesus was most certainly in their midst. That is the Catholic way of thinking. We may have our criticisms of our priest’s pastoral style, his method of delivering a homily, or his theology, but we know that, with a priest in our midst (especially when he knows how to “be thin”), we are complete as a People of God: we know that with the apostle in our midst—even if it’s just his shadow—Jesus is in our midst and, therefore, we are rescued, restored, and reassured.