Do you ever feel powerless as a priest? Because we are sent forth at ordination, very few of us can choose our assignments or select those with whom we live and work. We obediently embrace our assignments and our colleagues in a spirit of humble obedience. For some of us, this is not always easy. And even as hard as we try, the outcome might not always be good.
As we roll up our sleeves and dig deeper into ministry, we encounter many situations that render us helpless. Whether it is dealing with someone’s serious illness, facing the mystery of death (particularly when it takes an innocent child), incurring major financial constraints in the parish that impede one’s ability to do good ministry or trying to work with co-workers who refuse to get along, ministry can plunge us into a state of overwhelming helplessness. These situations can be so confounding, leaving us to wonder what to say or what to do.
In the face of these moments, we need to pause and reflect upon our call and the power that is ours through ordination to act in the person of Christ. Although we face powerlessness every day, we have a unique power that is ours in our priesthood. People rely upon us using this power every day. And the more we exercise it, the more it seems we may take it for granted.
This sacred power exists in our privilege to celebrate the holy Mass and confect the holy Eucharist. What a power it is to preside at Mass and lead the faithful in prayer. It is just as awesome preaching the Gospel. Above all, it is such an honor to call forth the Holy Spirit at God’s altar and to utter the words of institution — the very words of Jesus. And then it is amazing bringing the Eucharist to the faithful and to say to them, “The body of Christ.” This is real power that is uniquely ours.
We also experience this priestly power every time we enter the confessional. Through the ministry of the Church, we are able to grant forgiveness. It is especially powerful when we say, “And I absolve you of all of your sins.” I am not so sure we fully appreciate the freedom and peace those words offer to those who hear them. What is so striking is that these words come from our lips. Even in our brokenness, God works through us. Once again, this is a power that is uniquely ours.
Another manifestation of our power as priests comes when we confer the anointing of the sick. The call is seldom convenient. But people need us and our priesthood. And so, like first responders ready for action, we leave what we are doing and respond. As we administer the sacrament, there is a wonderful strength and peace bestowed upon the recipient. If they are alert, it very much can be a relief — to the ailing as well as their family.
I came to know a priest who was disillusioned because, in his mind, he had no power. He couldn’t make the decisions that the pastor made. He had no influence with the staff. He could not make purchases or changes in the rectory. He had little to say about his schedule. In short, he felt powerless. It happened that he shared this concern with an older priest who was living with him. The older priest simply said: “You may not have secular power, but you do have priestly power, and that is all you need. Every day people desire that you use that power for them.”
Brothers, we may feel powerless at times, but regardless of our assignment, title or job description, we are very powerful, because through ordination we act in the person of Christ. Behold this sacred power!
FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 13 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. To share your thoughts on this column or any others, follow The Priest on Twitter @PriestMagazine and like us on Facebook.