Mother Teresa and the Priesthood
Dear Crusader, thank you for your commitment to pray for priests! On September 4, 2016, in the Extraordinary Year of Mercy, the Church will canonize Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the Apostle of Mercy-In-Action. Mother Teresa was renowned in many ways, first of all for her love for the poor, but also for her love and respect for the priesthood. In this and the next letter we will offer our Crusaders an inspiring conference of Mother Teresa on celibacy addressed to the priests. The gift of celibacy is not only a "scandal" for the modern world, but is—sadly to say—increasingly attacked from the inside of the Church. May Mother Teresa intercede that this divine gift be once more rightly understood and held in high esteem by both, the clergy and the laity.
Priestly Celibacy: Sign of the Charity of Christ—Part 1
We read in the Scriptures how Jesus came to proclaim the Good News that God loves us. He wants us today to be that love. Jesus said: "You did it to Me—I was hungry, naked, homeless and lonely and you did it to Me." I call this the 'Gospel on five fingers'.
Everyone is called to love God with their whole heart and soul and mind and strength and to love their neighbor out of love for God. But on the night, before He died, Jesus gave us two great gifts: the gift of himself in the Eucharist and the gift of the priesthood to continue his living presence in the Eucharist.
Without priests, we have no Jesus.
Without priests, we have no absolution.
Without priests, we cannot receive Holy Communion.
Marriage and Priestly Celibacy
Just as God our Father prepared a worthy dwelling place for His Son in the immaculate womb of a virgin—so it is fitting that a priest prepares himself to take the place of Jesus, the Son of God, by freely choosing priestly celibacy. Marriage and procreation are miracles of God's love by which men and women become his co-workers, to bring new life into the world. But Jesus has clearly spoken of something even greater than that, when He said that in heaven people neither marry nor are given in marriage but live like the angels; and that there are some who have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of God.
Priestly celibacy is that gift which prepares for life in heaven. Jesus calls His priest to be His co-worker in the Church, to fill heaven with God's children.
One day, two young people came to our house and they gave me lots of money to feed the people, because in Calcutta, as you know, we have many many poor people whom we feed daily. And I asked them where they got so much money. They said: "Two days ago we got married. Before marriage we decided that we were not going to buy wedding clothes, we were not to have a wedding feast, but that, instead, we would give you the money to feed the poor." It was something extraordinary for Hindu high-class people to do that. I asked them again: "Why did you do that?" and they said: "We loved each other so much that we wanted to share the joy of loving with the people you serve."
To me, this beautiful, living story of two people in love with each other is a living sign of that oneness of Jesus and his priest. Here the sacrifice is not money or material things but a higher and better gift—that of priestly celibacy.
The Gift and Fecundity of Celibacy
The greatest gift that one can give to Jesus on the day when one joins the priesthood is a virgin heart, a virgin body. We call it priestly celibacy. It is like the virginal love of Christ for His Church, whom the priest represents. The Church is the body of Christ; it is the spouse of Christ.
Celibacy is not only our ability to give but more our ability to accept God's gift, God's choice. Prayerfully reflect how He, the Creator of the universe, has time for you, His little creatures.
Priestly celibacy creates an emptiness to receive that other wonderful gift that only Jesus can offer and give—the gift of divine love. First of all, Jesus offers His precious gift of Himself for a life-long, faithful and personal friendship with Him, in tenderness and love. Nothing will make Him give up His faithfulness. He remains faithful.
Dear co-workers of Christ, you have said 'Yes' to Jesus and He has taken you at your word. The word of God became Jesus, the poor one. Your priestly celibacy is the terrible emptiness you experience. God cannot fill what is full, He can fill only emptiness—deep poverty, and your 'Yes' is the beginning of being or becoming empty. It is not how much we really 'have' to give, but how empty we are—so that we can receive fully in our life and let Him live His life in us. In you, today, He wants to relive His complete submission to His Father. Allow Him to do so. It does not matter what you feel, but what He feels in you. Take away your eyes from yourself and rejoice that you have nothing, that you are nothing, that you can do nothing. Give Jesus a big smile, each time your nothingness frightens you. This is the poverty of Jesus. You and I must let Him live in us and through us in the world.
Cling to Our Lady, for she too, before she could become full of grace, full of Jesus, had to go through that darkness. "How could this be done?" she asked. But the moment she said 'Yes' she had need to go in haste to give Jesus to John and his family. Keep giving Jesus to people, not by words, but by your example, by your being in love with Jesus, by radiating His holiness and spreading His fragrance of love everywhere you go. Just keep the joy of Jesus as your strength. Be happy and at peace, accept whatever He gives, and give whatever He takes with a big smile. You belong to Him. Tell him, "I am Yours, and if You cut me to pieces, every single piece will be only all Yours." Let Jesus be the victim and the priest in you.
Celibacy—Freedom to Give and to Love
By freely choosing priestly celibacy the priest renounces earthly fatherhood and gains a share in the Fatherhood of God. Instead of becoming father to one or more children on earth, he is now able to love everybody in Christ. Yes, Jesus calls His priest to carry His Father's tender love for each and every person. For this reason, people call him 'Father'.
Priestly celibacy is not just not getting married, not to have a family. It is undivided love of Christ in chastity. Nothing and nobody will separate me from the love of Christ. It is not simply a list of don'ts, it is love; freedom to love and to be all things to all people. And for that we need the freedom and poverty and simplicity of life. Jesus could have everything but He chose to have nothing. We too must choose not to have or to use certain luxuries. For the less we have for ourselves, the more of Jesus we can give, and the more we have for ourselves, the less of Jesus we can give. As priests, you must all be able to experience the joy of that freedom, having nothing, having no one; you can then love Christ with undivided love in chastity. That is why, a priest who is completely free to love Christ, the work that he does in obedience is his love for Christ in action. The precious blood is in his hand, the living bread he can break and give to all who are hungry for God.
Let those who are called to follow Jesus in priestly celibacy and to share in His priesthood, pray and ask for the courage to give—'to give until it hurts'. This giving is true love in action and we can do it only when we are one with Jesus, for in Him, with Him and through Him only, Jesus, will we be able to do great things, even greater things than He Himself did.
Call for Utter Purity
There is no comparison with the vocation of the priest. It is like a replacing of Jesus at the altar, at the confessional, and in all the other sacraments where he uses his own 'I', like Jesus. How completely the priest must be one with Jesus for Jesus to use him in His place, in His name, to utter His words, do His actions, take away the sins, and make ordinary bread and wine into the Living Bread of His own Body and Blood. Only in the silence of his heart can he hear God's word and from the fullness of his heart can he utter these words: "I absolve you" and "This is my body". How pure the mouth of the priest must be and how clean the heart of a priest must be to be able to speak, to utter the words, "This is My body", and to make bread into the living Jesus. How pure must be the hand of the priest, how completely the hand of Jesus must be the hand of the priest, if in it, when the priest raises that hand, is the precious Blood of Jesus. A sinner comes to confession covered with sin, and leaves the confessional, a sinner without sin. O how pure, how sacred a priest must be to lift away sin and to utter the words, "I absolve you."
The Priest—Link between God's Mercy and Humanity
For me, the priesthood is the sacredness, the holiness for which Christ has come on earth to become man, to live His Father's love and compassion, and to wash away sin. We have a wonderful example of that in the experience with our people.
The sisters found a man and did everything possible for him that love could do for a man who has been shut in like that for years. He did not speak for two days. On the second day, he told the sisters, "You have brought God in my life, bring Father also." So the sisters went and brought a priest and he made his confession after sixty years. The next morning he died.
This is what the priest is—he is the 'connecting link' between humanity and God, just as Jesus was—to take away sin. God had come into this man's life, but that forgiveness for his sin had to come through the priests to make the connection with God total. This was a miracle of grace that came to that man who had been away from Jesus for so many years, and he expressed it; "You have brought God into my life, bring Father also." That connecting, that mercy, that washing away of his sins came through the hands of the priest and the words of the priest.
To be continued in the next Crusade Letter.
Praying for priests is one of the most important apostolates in the Church. The more we all pray and offer sacrifices for priests, the better ministers of God's mercy they will be, the holier our families and religious communities will be. Thank you for praying for priests!
Fr. Wolfgang Seitz
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