June 19, 2009

Prayer and The Year of the Priest

Today the Catholic Church started a year long celebration of the priesthood when Pope Benedict opened up the Year of the Priest. Priests participate in the priesthood of their bishop through an ancient rite called, "the laying on of hands." This sacrament of ordination gives the priest a share in the apostolic authority and power needed to preach, celebrate the sacraments, and help lead the Church. Because they share in an apostolic ministry, priests have a special role for those dedicated to living a life of prayer.

Many people to not pay enough attention to the apostolic dimension of prayer. But no Christian ever prays alone. He is always united to Jesus. To be united to Jesus is to be a member of his Body. That is why Christians are called members of the Body of Christ. Whether we pray or serve or teach or lead or suffer persecution or any other kind of trial; we always do so as members of Christ Body.

Now this body is no more egalitarian than any other body. It has a head - Jesus himself - and it has members organized together, each with unique and unrepeatable gifts. Most of us are members of this Body that allow us to use our gifts for serving our family and bringing the Gospel to the world. This would include Moms and Dads and Sons and Daughters and many others whose lives of love must become the salt, leaven and light of the world.

Others dedicate themselves to the Lord so to bear special witness to the life in the world to come - whose vocation it is to be love at the heart of the Church. This would include not only those men and women who become monks, nuns, brothers, and sisters - but most of all those great witnesses to our faith who lay down our lives for what we believe, the martyrs.

There is one more very important group: those members who exercise their gifts with Holy Orders - an apostolic ministry which shares in a special power of Christ to build up the Church. Priests are members of this final group. The truth is - we are all members of one body. Thus, when any of us pray in the name of Christ, we pray as members of this Body in the unity with all the other members of this Body. Here, our prayers are also offered together through the special ministry entrusted to priests - an apostolic ministry which serves to help make the whole Church holy.

The prayer of the Church is prayer in the Spirit who prays in us. This is true even when we are all alone, up in the Mountains or in the silence of our rooms - because the Holy Spirit who prays in us unites us to the Body of the Christ - our prayers come from God and go to Him. Our spirit-filled prayer because it goes to Jesus, always goes through his spirit-filled Body, even when no one else knows my prayer. The priest has a special role in offering to God these sorts of prayers - the prayers the Spirit stirs in the Church.

Priests realize this part of their ministry in a special way when they pray liturgical prayer. They do not know what everyone is praying in the secret of their hearts, but they have the authority to offer these spirit inspired prayers to the Lord. This includes not only the Mass but also an offering of the psalms that is made throughout the day. This is called the Liturgy of the Hours. When a priest prays, he prays to offer the prayers of the whole Church to God the Father through Jesus to whom they are bound for this purpose.

Great mystics and saints understood this special mission of the priest. They would humbly ask priests to remember them in their prayers, to intercede for them. They did this not only because it was a nice thing to do. They did this most of all because they knew the power of the apostolic ministry that the priest has been entrusted with. These holy men and women knew that the ministry of the priest helped them fulfill the special tasks God entrusted to them.

The great saints also understood how important it was to pray for priests. Just as the Body of Christ needs priests -- priests need the Body of Christ. Each one needs prayers if they are to fulfill the great ministry entrusted to them. This is the way Jesus willed that we live in Him - each of us looking out for one another, never ceasing to pray for each other, each with a different kind of gift of prayer, as irreplaceable and as necessary, but all in different ways. This year, the Lord calls us to pray for priests - such prayers are part of what it means to begin to pray.