Thursday, March 28, 2013
On June 19, 2009, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Pope Benedict XVI inaugurated the year of the priest. It would be twelve months dedicated to spiritual renewal of all those serving in priestly ministry, a time to pray with greater intensity for an increase in vocations to the priesthood, and an opportunity for all of us to express our gratitude for the gift that priests are to the Church and to the world.
All of us, no matter what our faith journey has been like, have many reasons to be thankful for the gift of the priesthood. We have all, at one time or another, grown in our faith because a priest taught us something about the love and mercy of God which touched our hearts and challenged us. Many of us became more active in the Church because a priest invited us to be a lector, to go on a retreat or to help teach religious education. Priests have been by our side when we have baptized our babies, been married or buried our loved ones. They have shown up at the hospital many times in the middle of the night when we or a family member has been in an accident. And we have counted on priests most especially to be there every Sunday to give us the most precious gift of all, the Body and Blood of Jesus, our Savior.
Holy Thursday gives all of us a wonderful opportunity to pray for the priests who have served us - both the living and those who have gone on to their heavenly reward - and to show them our love, appreciation and gratitude for all they do to spread the good news of Jesus' love.
On this night, we begin the three most sacred and solemn celebrations in the Church's calendar. Today, Holy Thursday, we commemorate Jesus' last supper with his disciples, his agony in the garden and his eventual betrayal by Judas. It is on this night that Jesus left us the great sacrament of his love - the gift of his Body and Blood in the Eucharist. He tells his disciples very clearly that the bread they are eating is his body and the wine they are drinking, his blood. Through the centuries the Church has never failed to hand on this mystery to each generation of believers in fidelity to Jesus' command, "Do this in remembrance of me."
The reason this tremendous gift of the Eucharist has been so faithfully handed down to us through the ages is because of another gift which Jesus left us on the night of the Last Supper - the gift of the priesthood. When Jesus said to his disciples, "Do this in memory of me," he gave them the power to turn bread and wine into his body and blood, and so the gift of the priesthood was given to the Church. This is because the Eucharist and the priesthood go hand in hand. One cannot exist without the other. Without priests there would be no Eucharist, and without the Eucharist there would be no need of men specially consecrated to offer the sacrifice of Jesus' body and blood. And so Holy Thursday has traditionally been a commemoration not only of the institution of the Eucharist as a perpetual memorial of Christ's death and resurrection, but a commemoration also of the tremendous gift of the priesthood.
And so, on this night when we celebrate the sacrifice Christ endured to save us, let us remember in our prayers the men who sacrifice themselves everyday so that we may have access to the mysteries of our faith. Let us pray for the men who everyday follow the example of Christ who came not to be served but to serve. And let us raise up in prayer as well those men who are preparing themselves through prayer and study to one day also be ordained and serve the Church as priests. We need good, holy and faithful priests if we are going to live our faith in all its fullness and enjoy all the gifts of grace God intends to shower upon us.