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The Priest's Way To God

THE life of the diocesan priest is so difficult—it is perhaps the most difficult of all lives in the Church—that any attempt to help him, no matter how inadequate, needs no justification. So I make no apology for publishing a second collection of notes on a subject which I have already discussed in The Spiritual Life of the Priest. The matter of these notes is not new to the readers of Pagan Missions, and it is due to the kindness of the Editor of that journal that I am able to compile these pages. It is not the only kindness for which I have to thank him.

Despite the high holiness to which a priest is called and the eminent sanctity of the office which he fulfills, his life has to be lived amidst all the difficulties of the world without the protection and the preparation that is usually given to religious who, as such, are merely bound to tend to perfection. The diocesan priest therefore deserves every help that can be given to him to live that life of perfection which his office demands from him. Where is he to look for help?

To anticipate the final answer to this question, we may remind him of God’s assurance to the great apostle: ‘Paul, my grace is sufficient for thee.’ ‘The spirit of holiness,’ conferred on him in ordination by the very words of the Sacrament, assures him of this continual grace of God. And, in passing, let us remember that the word grace implies something given beyond merit, or even without merit. It is gratuitous. One could truly rewrite the text: ‘Paul, my mercy is sufficient for thee. My goodness is sufficient for thee!’ And it might be well to repeat it with a new accent: ‘Paul, My goodness is sufficient for thee—do not worry about your own lack of goodness!’ This seems too good to be true. But that is the great truth—that no man has even conceived the things God has prepared for those who love him. We are dealing with infinite Goodness, and only infinite Truth can give it adequate expression.

We can find in our Mass a reminder of these infinities with which we are dealing. The Mass is a sacrifice, and every sacrifice involves the offering of a gift to God by which the offerer signifies the interior gift which he makes of himself to God. At the offertory of each Mass,—without claiming that this is the theological or liturgical interpretation of that ceremony—we can imagine the Church attempting to offer herself to God by the offering of the bread and the wine. It must be realised however that here we are trying to conceive the Church without Christ, but including everyone else—the souls in purgatory, the whole Church on earth, all the Saints in heaven, and the Queen of Saints as well. We can imagine that Christ looks at this offering, and says: ‘It is good—but it is not good enough for my Father.’ And so he changes the bread and wine into his own sacrifice, and comes down from the Altar to change the members of the Church into himself by Holy Communion. This is obviously not the theological interpretation of the liturgy, but it corresponds to a most important truth which seems to underlie all God’s dealings with the world which he created, and of which we can remind ourselves at every Mass,—the truth that ‘only Christ is good enough for God.’

This seems to be in harmony with the fact that, in the very moment when God created man, he raised him up to a participation in his own divine nature by supernatural grace. It seems to be the reason why, when the sin of Adam upset his plan, he decided to restore all things in Christ. It seems to be the reason why Christ became man, why he instituted the sacraments by which he could reach out throughout time and space to enter into and to live in every human soul, sharing every lawful human activity. For that is obviously the plan of God; and it is in the carrying out of this plan that we priests are called to co-operate. St. Pius X was quite definite in stating that this is our work; he was equally definite in stating that the first step in this work is to form Christ in ourselves. The reason is obvious. Not merely is it true that only Christ is good enough for God; it is also true that only Christ is good enough for God’s work. ‘Without me,’ he said, ‘you can do nothing.’ We priests fail completely in our vocation if we fail to put on Christ, if we attempt to do the work of Christ by human strength alone.

On the other hand, in Christ we have an adequate means of giving God his due. All statements in human words about God are under-statements. But perhaps the greatest understatement is that made by God himself: ‘This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.’ We are here given a glimpse of the ineffable joy and complete satisfaction which the Father finds in his Son, who is all that God can desire for himself since the Son, too, is God. Even after becoming man, he is still God and perfectly pleasing to the Father. Even when as a man, he has associated himself with us, taking on himself the burden of all our sins and exposing himself to the Divine Justice, he is still infinitely pleasing to God, especially in his supreme Sacrifice on the Cross.

It is this same sacrifice which we offer in every Mass. It. is the prayer of this same ‘well-pleasing’ son which we offer every time we recite our breviary. It is the power of this same Son which is always with us in his work, and it is the merits of this same Son, and the infinite mercy of his Father, which give us reason for unlimited confidence.

It is in the hope that what we have written will help priests to remove the obstacles to union with Christ, and to develop that union as Christ wishes it to be developed, that we publish these pages. May Mary, the Mother of Christ, who is so powerful to unite men with Christ, make us one with him, as he has prayed and suffered and died to make us one.

Fr. M. Eugene Boylan O.C.S.O.

Mount St. Joseph Abbey, Roscrea, Ireland.
24th October 1961

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