“The Reality of the Gift of God’s Grace:
Priesthood Ordination of Dom N., O.Cart.”
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
[I was given the assignment of writing a possible sermon for a Carthusian Priesthood Ordination]
My dear Dom N., you are ordained a priest of Jesus Christ and a priest of the holy Catholic Church. The Lord Jesus has drawn you more intimately to himself to share in his priesthood in a special way: in persona Christi Capitis, in the person of Christ the Head. The heart of Jesus rejoices to have another priest in this world through which to extend His priestly work. Some of this work will be visible. You will celebrate the conventual Mass and hear Confessions and be at the service of the Community as a priest in whatever way holy obedience calls you.
But as a Carthusian monk, much of your priestly life will be hidden. The fundamental, ontological change that has taken place in your soul is still at work in this hiddenness. The Statutes of the Carthusian Order speak of “the harmony, to which Paul VI bore witness, that exists between the sacerdotal and monastic consecration. For, after the example of Christ, the monk likewise becomes both a priest and a sacrifice whose fragrance is pleasing to God; and through this association in the Lord’s sacrifice, he shares in the unsearchable riches of [Jesus’] Heart” (3.8). Your self-offering to the Lord as a monk obtains a priestly consecration in your ordination today. As you daily offer the Mass, your offer the sacrificial Victim, Jesus Christ, to the Father but you also offer yourself and your daily life in the desert to the Father, in union with Jesus, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
You are ordained a priest of Jesus Christ and a priest of the holy Catholic Church. How does the Church Universal fit into your solitary life as a priest? The Statutes give a simple, yet profound answer, “Apart from all, to all we are united” (34.2). These words, quoted from Evagrius, capture the conviction borne in the desert from the earliest centuries: You are in the desert, not for yourself alone, but for all of humanity and especially for all of the Church. The Statutes expand upon these simple words by saying: “If therefore we are truly living in union with God, our minds and hearts, far from becoming shut in on themselves, open up to embrace the whole universe and the mystery of Christ that saves it. Apart from all, to all we are united, so that it is in the name of all that we stand before the living God” (34.2).
As a priest, this standing before the living God on behalf of all gains a new sacramental consecration and expression. Others are depending on your prayers and others are depending on your offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Others are depending on finding a place in your heart in your priestly offering on their behalf.
Hebrews 5:1 brings us to the very essence of the priesthood when it says: “Every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sin.” According to these words, the priest stands in relation to three things: (1) to other men, (2) to God, and (3) to the sacrifice he offers. The more complete and intimate are these unions, the more excellent is the priesthood. So Christ is the most perfect priest, for he is most united (1) to other men, (2) to God, and (3) to the sacrifice he offers, his very self. For us priests, we can say accordingly that our priesthood will be the most fruitful the more complete are these three unions: to other men, to God, and to the sacrifice we offer.
And here, you have as a model, St. Bruno. Our Maestro, our holy Father St. Bruno. Bruno’s soul was like a pure crystal. His years of prayer and discipline made his soul like a pure and clear crystal. It was a pure and clear crystal of mindfulness—mindful of God, mindful of humanity, mindful of the depths of his interiority and the inner stirring of God’s love. Light from heaven descended into this clear crystal and danced around in contemplation, as it was refracted outward to others. But it also worked the other way too. His soul as a pure and clear crystal was transparent and open to his neighbor. Others were lovingly embraced in his soul. We see this in his love for the brothers. For instance, in his letter to the Brethren in Chartreuse he ends by saying, “As regards myself, know that what I desire most after God is to go and see you.” Other people had a place in Bruno’s soul, as a pure crystal, which he then turned and reflected to God as his prayers for them ascended to heaven. “Every priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices” as we saw in Hebrews.
Dom N.: Do this as Bruno did, with a pure and clear crystal, welcoming into your soul God’s light and welcoming in others, all embraced in your love for them, your self-giving love for God and neighbor. Then you are a priest as a son of St. Bruno, who spoke these profound words about life in the desert: “Here is acquired that eye, by whose serene gaze the Divine Spouse is wounded with love; that eye, pure and clean, by which God is seen” (6.16). And here, you share in the Divine Spouse’s wounded heart for his Bride, the Church.
Others are depending on you and your priesthood. “Apart from all, to all you are united.” Others are depending on being welcomed into your heart and offered to the Father in love, with their needs, sufferings, desires, and aspirations. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are holier than the others, it is simply your place in the Body of Christ as a priest.
I marvel over the fact of the Beloved Disciple, John the Priest, offering Mass while the Blessed Virgin Mary was present. All-holy-Mary was certainly holier than John, yet in God’s plan, it was still John’s place as a priest to offer, to the Father, Our Lady’s prayers and the offering of her very self. John the Priest offered the Immaculate Virgin Mary to the Father, through Jesus and in the Holy Spirit. This is the place of the priest despite his unworthiness. This is the gracious gift of God to his Church. Grace is the bottom-line here. And you will need to depend upon this grace and lay hold of it.
There is a story in the desert fathers about an unworthy priest consecrating the Eucharist for a hermit who took offense at the priest’s unworthiness and sent him away. But then later the hermit had a vision. As the account puts it, “He saw a vision of a well of gold and a bucket of gold, and a rope of gold, and plenty of drinking water. He saw a leper emptying and refilling the bucket and [the hermit] wanted to drink but did not because it was a leper who had poured the water out.” Then he heard a voice ask, “Why don’t you drink this water? What does it matter who draws it from the well? For he only draws it, and pours it out again” (Ward, 86-7).
Dom N., at times you might feel like that leper, so unworthy as a priest. But thankfully it’s not about us! It’s about the gracious gift of God. At times in the dark night of the desert, you may even feel like you are nothing more than an empty bucket! Ah, yet by God’s grace, you are being used to retrieve living water for the world. It’s when you feel like an empty bucket that the Lord may be doing his greatest work through you and in you.
This is the difference an emphasis on the ontological reality of the priesthood makes. It’s more about the Lord than ourselves. It’s the ontological gift of God’s grace given to the Church that supports us and is at work in us. It’s the physical touch of Jesus still at work in the world today through the priesthood.
The priesthood is a grace. And you will have to lay hold of this grace with great faith, hope, and love. In faith, you will have to lay hold of this great mystery of Christ the Priest working in you and through you. In hope, you will have to seize, with humble boldness, the great promises of Jesus Christ. In hope you will have to count on the hidden fruitfulness God is bringing about through your priesthood, because much of it you will not see. In love, you’ll have to give of yourself in the emptiness of the desert, the self-emptying oblation, after the pattern of Jesus who emptied himself that we might be filled with God.
Sometimes we priests let a false humility hinder us from laying hold of the mystery we share in, what your Statutes describe as, the “unsearchable riches of Jesus’ Heart” (3.8). Sometimes what begins as an attempt at humility ends as a lack of faith. This is especially true of the mystical life and a priestly spirituality. Sometimes what begins as an attempt at humility ends as a lack of faith. It is not a lack of humility to concede to God’s plan! It is not a lack of humility to cooperate with God’s intentions for us and the Church.
Rather it takes a lively faith, hope, and love. It takes the “humble boldness” that the Catechism commends to us in calling God our Father (CCC 2728). It takes the “humble boldness” needed to address the God-man, Jesus, as our brother, He who said, “I no longer call you slaves, but rather friends” (Jn 15:15). It takes the “humble boldness” of faith to draw forth the living water of the Holy Spirit, from the deep wells of our interior life; and then to pour out this living water upon others in our priesthood.
But the superabundance of God’s grace supports priests in this. The Blessed Trinity supports us in this. We, as a Church, are overwhelmed by God’s gracious gift and so we make a return of humble thanks and praise to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I conclude with the powerful words of Ephesians chapter 3, which the Second Vatican Council’s document on the priesthood also ends with: “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Eph 3:20, Presbyterorum Ordinis, 22).