“To have a heart of fire for charity.”
This post is a continuation of a previous post. To read the previous post, click here: What Does it Mean to be a Priest? Part 6: On Prayer and Hope
For God’s Sake
Of all of these characteristics of the priest that Lacordaire gives us, this quality is the one that I, as a lay person, admire most about the priesthood and the one that I strive most often to achieve. It also may be the most difficult. Now while all of these qualities of what it means to be a priest that Lacordaire lists are admirable and difficult to achieve in their own right, “to have a heart of fire for charity” stands above the rest. Why? Because of that great virtue that is expressed here: charity. When we think of charity I would imagine that most people’s first thoughts are charitable organizations or the act of giving away possessions or money to those who are less fortunate. These are noble expressions of charity, yes, but they are simply that, expressions, small manifestations of a much bigger reality. So what is this greater reality of charity? What does it mean to be charitable? Simply put, charity is loving God and loving others for God’s own sake. With this understanding, it is clear that the foundation of charity is humility. Without humility we cannot have faith, and without faith we cannot love God, nor can we love others for God’s sake. That is why this characteristic is so exemplary and extraordinary. To be a priest means to live a life of heroic humility so that they may love God and others, not for themselves, not for attention or notoriety, but always for God’s sake.
I’ve always found it interesting the words we use to describe God. We use images like wind, and water, and fire. I’ve always found those images interesting because they can be some of the most destructive things in this world. Think about a tornado, a flood, or a wild fire. These natural disasters can cause major destruction and loss of life but yet we use these images to describe our God. Why? Because God’s flames do not engulf us and leave only ashes, but rather they purify us, leaving only the good within us and making room for more of Himself. This is why Lacordaire says that priests have a “heart of fire,” because they allow God to come and burn up everything that is not of Him. Anything that prevents the priest from being humble is consumed by the fire of God’s love so that they may receive more fully the gift of God’s charity and so they may be able to love Him, and others, more perfectly.
Herein is Love
We can only receive charity if it is given to us by God. We cannot acquire this virtue by any action of our own. We can only love because God gives Love Himself to us as a gift. This is the reality that sets the priest’s heart ablaze. And so it is that to be a priest means to humbly do all things in charity, in love for the glory and praise of our God. I will end this post with a quote from C.S. Lewis:
“God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing – or should we say “seeing”? there are no tenses in God – the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up. If I may dare the biological image, God is a “host” who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and “take advantage of” Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.”