This series of teachings editorials focuses on the call to ministry through five major roles in the Church: priesthood (diocesan and religious), women religious, diaconate, and lay ecclesial ministry.
My name is Father Gregory Maria Pine. I am a Dominican friar (Order of Preachers) assigned to St. Louis Bertrand Priory in Old Louisville. I am a native of Newtown, Pa., (near Philadelphia) and attended Franciscan University of Steubenville, where
I experienced anew the church’s life, doctrine and sacraments and in turn grew to desire priesthood and religious life.
I first encountered the Dominican Order in a book about St. Thomas Aquinas. The Angelic Doctor’s witness of wisdom and love affected me profoundly and gradually led me to inquire into a vocation with the Dominican Province of Saint Joseph, where I discovered a fraternal life of prayer, study and preaching, which I have grown to love very much.
This series will consider the unique contribution of different vocations within the life of the church. What then is the nature of religious priesthood and how does it contribute to the life and holiness of the church?
The religious priesthood describes two graces within the life of the individual and of the church:
- Religious consecration.
- Priestly character and ordination.
The two are distinct, but come together with a complementary and fruitful dynamism.
Essentially, a religious pursues the perfection of love by a “closer following of Christ” through the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. Spurred on by a desire for the great and difficult service of God and for a life of prayer, the religious dedicates himself unreservedly and generously to Jesus Christ after the pattern of the apostles who lived constantly in the Lord’s presence.
This self-offering matures under the inspiration of grace into a more prompt and more perfect self-offering. The vows offer the best means for sanctification in that they are tailor-made to:
- Heal the effects of original sin through discipline and penance.
- Curtail the pursuit of other goods (material wealth, marriage and family, self-rule) for the sake of the one-thing-necessary.
- Effectively offer the whole of the man to God as a sacrifice.
The hope is that over the course of a life, this gift of self issues in a more stable and rooted union with God through prayer, which affords the soul a kind of foretaste of heaven and an abiding certainty of God’s love.
Now, whereas religious consecration tends first towards the holiness of the individual, which in turn overflows in the life of the Church, priestly character and ordination works in the reverse direction.
In the words of servant of God Fulton J. Sheen, “A priest is not his own.” By priestly ordination, the man is conformed to Christ, both priest and victim. In his exercise of priestly character, he becomes a channel for the grace of God — a giver of divine things — ordained for the building up of a holy people.
He offers prayers and sacrifices on behalf of the church and in turn serves as a mediator of God’s gifts and blessings. The priest is a sign of God’s nearness and love for his people.
The religious charism and priestly ordination work together to sanctify both the man and the souls in his care. By his life of religious consecration, the religious priest testifies that all share the same destiny — the life of heaven. By his priestly ministry he endeavors to exhort, inspire, nourish and accompany his people in pursuit of the living God who alone can wholly satisfy.
His consecration sets him on a path to intimate communion with Christ, fashioning a real and abiding friendship, and he spends his priestly ministry communicating Jesus Christ to his flock in a variety of ways, through preaching, sacraments and pastoral service.
Like St. John the Baptist, he seeks to be a friend of the Bridegroom who desires so ardently to bestow his love and favor on his chosen people.
The ideal is lofty and the life is difficult, but by God’s grace it is possible and beautiful. For me, it was the example and testimony of holy religious priests — men who clearly lived in God’s presence, true contemplatives and radiant witnesses — that convicted me of my own desire to follow Christ in this way.
Please pray for me, for all religious priests and men called to pursue this life, that by consecration and ordination, we might pursue God with whole-hearted devotion, working in turn for the sanctification of souls and the glory of God.
Father Gregory Maria Pine, O.P. is an associate pastor at St. Louis Bertrand Church.