Henri Nouwen writes: “Nuclear man no longer believes in anything that is always and everywhere…He lives by the hour…His art…is a combination of divergent pieces, is a host impression of how man feels at the moment [emphasis mine].” Further, “We see man paralyzed by dislocation and fragmentation, caught in the prison of his own mortality…We also see exhilarating experiments of living by which he tries to free himself of the chains of his own predicament.” And finally, there are those who have, “deep-seated unhappiness with the society in which the young find themselves. Many young people are convinced that there is something terribly wrong with the world…everywhere we see restless and nervous people, unable to concentrate and often suffering from a growing sense of depression.”
It would be easy to slip into a ministry that tries to be all to all. We see a great deal of pain and isolation and disappointment in our world. We see congregants on Facebook share frustrations, speak out using less-than-Christian language, and come against others with something akin to a verbal-online flogging. However, the priest is called to be a core of constancy and a presence of peace. The priest is to lay aside personal emotions, and potential hurt feelings, and be a space of safety and consistency for the church. In today’s world of immediate feedback through so many modes of social media, a hurt feeling can occur as easily as a missed click of a button. The priest must be able to navigate through the online community while remaining grounded in the physical health of the community. While political and social tempers can potentially flair, the priest needs to remain a person of peace and grace and faith through the power of the Holy Spirit.
It seems to me that there is a dichotomy for the priest: What is the inner cost of being a priest? Well, the priest is to preach Truth. Preach Redemption. Preach Salvation. The priest is also to preach Truth in Love. In Grace. In Christ’s Sacrifice.
While some would want the priest to be a booming voice of clearly delineated lines of “we vs they,” Jesus did not behave that way. While some would want to tug on the priest’s chasuble saying, “Father, don’t you think that…?” and believe they are pulling God to themselves as they tug the garments, Jesus did not respond in that way.
The inner cost of being a priest in today’s society is to be Christ. St Paul understood that he was to be “poured out in sacrificial service.” Balthasar said that the priest “was to be a holocaust for the Church….the priest is to find his true freedom is therefore an obediential state of life that transcends the juridical structure and finds its origins in Christ’s own obediential stance before His Father which constitutes the very heart of his own Priesthood” (Hans Urs von Balthasar, A Spiritual Theology of the Priesthood, Dermot Power).
The inner cost of being a priest today is to be in persona Christi. To be alter Christus. As Pope Benedict XVI said, “The priest is a servant of Christ, in the sense that his existence, configured to Christ ontologically, acquires an essentially relational character: he is in Christ, for Christ and with Christ, at the service of humankind. Because he belongs to Christ, the priest is radically at the service of all people: he is the minister of their salvation, their happiness and their authentic liberation.”