Sunday, May 29, 2005

the intimacy of the Eucharist and entering priestly ministry

I find myself looking today at John Paul's last encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia. I read the section where the late pope expounded on the intimate connection between the Eucharist and the priesthood. And for myself, his words are a great reminder.

There is one paragraph where John Paul talks about the very real risk of priests “losing their focus” in the midst of all their other duties and responsibilities. This is something that has been on my mind as well as I approach full-time ministry: with the shortage of priests, the schedule and load of those already in ministry are certainly full to an extent that if he doesn’t watch out, a priest can easily experience burn-out. Also, with his myriad of responsibilities, a priest could lose sight of the essence of what his ministry is all about. Spread out widely and spread thin, a priest’s work, ministry, and even life can easily become discrete, without direction.

So with gratefulness I read the late pope’s words; he points to the focus and the essence of priestly ministry. “If the Eucharist is the center and summit of the Church’s life, it is likewise the center and summit of priestly ministry. For this reason, with a heart filled with gratitude to our Lord Jesus Christ, I repeat that the Eucharist is ‘the principal and central raison d’être of the sacrament of priesthood.’”

As I was reading those words, I was reminded that in the Eucharist we have the continued presence of Jesus among us—the One who during his earthly ministry made himself open and vulnerable. And how so? His life was intimately connected with those who followed him: weeping for his friend Lazarus, experiencing brokenness, disappointment, joy, anger, and betrayal. His life was “broken” and “shared” for others. And because of that, his life became a source of nourishment to those who followed him: his life became redemptive.

And we as a community make present Jesus among us when the priest takes the bread, gives thanks, “breaks” it, and “shares” it for all. And the priest perpetuates Jesus’ presence when the priest allows God to take his life, “break” it, so as to be “shared” with others: sharing the joys, disappointments, the sorrow, and the happiness of those given to him to minister and love. This is the intimacy that the Church envisions between her priests, the Eucharist, and the People of God. This is the focus of priestly ministry.

Reading John Paul’s words and reflecting on this intimate connection buoyed me up. And quite unexpectedly I got a rush and an excitement for ministry that I probably would not have received today if I hadn’t opened this encyclical. It makes me eager to finally enter full-time ministry.

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