Why would a 23-year-old guy go to Catholic seminary? Here’s one answer: Jesus Christ, who has radically transformed me, is continuing to do so as I open myself to Him and in Him. The more I live, the more I desire to experience this life as one of His priests. The more He speaks, the more it seems He is calling me to experience a proactive and intentional period of discernment with the Archdiocese of San Antonio. What follows is a mix of and reflection on three things: “The Dead Jesus,” 2 Corinthians 4-6, and the Mass prayers of Friday August 2nd.
While at daily Mass a few weeks ago, a vivid and moving image came to mind. I received dead Jesus from the Cross. I mourned and ached. I wanted to die with him and console him. I thought, what greater consolation could I give him than a share in his death? He wasn’t only “asleep” in death; he bled. He was tender and his skin torn. His body was fleshy and vulnerable. He was naked in my arms; he was bloody, limp, and tattered… The Holy Body. I know he is risen and glorified. I know he reigns as the Lamb who was slain, as the Lion who has conquered. This reality of Jesus’ death rested in my heart so deeply that day. It wouldn’t leave, so I welcomed him in his death deeper into my heart and mind.
Who do I give His Body to? Would they accept him and believe this is the Son of God? I felt a share in his rejection. Wouldn’t this scandalize someone and turn him or her away? I was carrying in my arms the Body of Christ. What do I do? At this point, I remembered a scripture passage from 2 Corinthians 4. St. Paul says that he and his fellow ministers are “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” Paul experienced this too! My first thought was, “good, I’m not alone or crazy.”
His experience was immediately more intimate. He didn’t carry Jesus in his arms, but in himself. He embraced the Crucified and dead Lord. What is this? He says he carries the death of Jesus within so that the life of Jesus may be made manifest. The paragraph ends with him saying, “So death is at work in us, but life in you.” My goodness! St. Paul endured all that suffering (mentioned in the first part of chapter 4) for the sake of another, for the sake of the Corinthian community. Is that why he rejoices in his suffering? Does he know the potency of redemptive suffering? Does he know what it’s like to love them to the end? He loved his life because of the love of God. He lost his life for it too, and for his people.
Is that the priesthood? Paul loved his people, and was refreshed by them; they consoled him with their faith and joy. He was priest and victim, like Jesus. Wow. “For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” Gosh. This man freely, fully, faithfully, and fruitfully gave himself to God and His children. What a father in faith. I am impressed and am brought to silence and awe when I think of the example he gave for Christ.
“The priest is not a priest for himself; he does not give himself absolution; he does not administer the Sacraments to himself. He is not for himself, he is for you…. The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus.” -St. John Vianney
Reflecting on the death of Jesus and the ministry of St. Paul convicted me: where am I grounded? Who or what is my foundation and source of life? Paul was strengthened by the people, but they were not his god. Friends, brothers, and sisters are needed, yes. But they cannot be my gods. In response to this tension, these two prayers struck me, from Mass on August 2nd:
Opening prayer: O God, protector of those who hope in you, without whom nothing has firm foundation, nothing is holy, bestow in abundance your mercy upon us and grant that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may use the good things that pass in such a way as to hold fast even now to those that ever endure […]
Prayer after Communion: We have consumed, O Lord, this divine Sacrament, the perpetual memorial of the Passion of your Son; grant, we pray, that this gift, which he himself gave us with love beyond all telling, may profit us for our salvation. Through Christ our Lord.
As I begin seminary, I am given a special grace. To use the good things that pass in such a way as to hold fast even now to those that ever endure. In his Most Sacred Heart we find what endures- Himself. We perpetually remember the Passion of our Lord, and we pray that this may profit us for our salvation. “Jesus Christ, who has radically transformed me, is continuing to do so” by his life, death, and resurrection. Amen.