“To penetrate all secrets ” 

Portrait_of_Dominique_LacordaireThis post is a continuation of a previous post. To read the previous post, click here: What Does it Mean to be a Priest? Part 3: On Suffering

I (once again) have to be honest; this part of the quote has been very difficult to wrap my mind around. I’ve grappled with this phrase from Lacordaire and have struggled to understand what exactly he is trying to say. At first glance I took this phrase to mean that to be a priest means to be privy to all of his parishioners private matters. I must say that, as a lay person, I found this a bit troubling. While obviously we do share our most secret and intimate things about ourselves with a priest in the Sacrament of  Reconciliation, this phrase (for me anyway) felt like something different. So I continued to grapple. After much thought I began to think about how this relates to Christ, and how He is portrayed in the Gospel of Mark. In Mark’s gospel account Jesus is portrayed as very secretive. This is the gospel where Jesus warns His disciples to not tell anyone of His mighty deeds or reveal His identity. This led to more grappling. Why did Jesus tell His disciples to not tell people about Himself or His great miracles? This question led me to think that perhaps a better word for “secret” might be “mystery” and a perhaps a better word for “penetrate” might be “understand.” From this perspective, Lacordaire’s phrase takes on a whole new meaning that really has nothing to do with the private matters of parishioners, but more to do with understanding all mysteries.

Unique Participation in Mystery

The Jesus that we hear about in the Gospel of Mark is one that is shrouded in mystery. But…Jesus does choose to reveal realities about Himself (His power and His identity) to a selected few so that, when the proper time came, those few could share these realities with others. These are the “secrets” or “mysteries” that priests, by virtue of his ordination, come to understand. Now, does that mean that if I am not a priest I cannot come to understand certain mysteries of my faith? No. But it does mean that by the graces received through the Sacrament of Holy Orders the priest participates in the mystery of Christ’s love for us in a way that is unique to the priesthood. It is through the priest that Christ brings us the gift of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments of baptism and confirmation. It is through the priest that Christ brings us the gift of His everlasting forgiveness and mercy in the sacrament of Reconciliation. It is through the priest that Christ brings us the gift of His very Self in the sacrament of the Eucharist. It is through the priest that Christ brings us the gift of more priests, and holy families in the sacraments of holy orders and matrimony. It is through the priest that Christ brings us the gift of peace and rest in the sacrament of anointing. All of these great gifts are mysteries that the priest participates in and understands in a distinct and unique way. This is what it means to be a priest: to be intimate participants in the most mysterious phenomena that we celebrate as Catholics.

The Most Beautiful Experience

Albert Einstein once wrote, “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious.” The greatest of these beautiful experiences is, of course, love; this mysterious, inexplicable love that God so freely and abundantly bestows upon us. To be a priest of Jesus Christ is to share in the most intimate of ways this mysteriously beautiful experience of the love of God.