Priestly Role & Identity

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    Most of you know the inspirational story of St. Maximilian Kolbe, but I trust that you, like me, never tire of hearing it. Recall that fateful day at Auschwitz when the Nazi prison guards assembled the concentration camp inmates in rows, and, at the commandant’s order, randomly chose ten helpless men for execution in retaliation for a recent escape. Remember how one of those chosen, a husband and father. Picture the stillness when Father Kolbe spoke up, “I wish to take the place of that man.”

    Imagine the sneer of the commandant as he asked. “Who is that Polish swine?” And recall again the reply of Maximilian Kolbe: “I am a Catholic priest”.

    “Who are you?” snickered the commandant! Father Kolbe did not reply:

    • I am Maximilian Kolbe ;
    • I am a Pole ;
    • I am a human being ;
    • I am a friend of his ;

    His response was simply and humbly: “I am a Catholic priest.” In the eyes of God, in his own eyes, in the eyes of God’s Church and his suffering people, Maximilian Kolbe’s identity was that of a priest. At the core of his being, on his heart, was engraved a nametag, which marked him forever a priest of God. That identity could not be erased by the inhuman circumstances of a death camp, or the godless environment of Auschwitz, or by the fact that Father Kolbe was hardly “doing” the things one usually associates with priestly ministry, or that the people around him had mostly lost any faith or recognition of the supernatural they may have had before they entered that hell hole.

    That identity hardly depended upon the acclaim of those around him or was lessened by the doubts and he may personally have experienced in such a tortured setting. That identity came from God, and was imbedded indelibly within, born of a call he had detected early on from the Master to follow him, and sealed forever by the sacrament of holy orders. So conscious was he of his priestly identity that he could boldly answer the sneer of the Nazi commandant and simply state what he know to be the central fact of his personal definition, “I am a Catholic priest.”

    “The priest” “we read in the Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests (Presbyterorum Ordinis) from the Second Vatican Council, “shares in the authority by which Christ himself builds up, sanctifies, and rules his Body. Therefore ; the sacerdotal office ; is conferred by that special sacrament through which priests, by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are marked with a special character and are so configured to Christ the Priest that they can act in the person of Christ the Head” (No. 2).

    The priesthood is a call, not a career; a redefinition of self, not just a new ministry; a way of life, not a job; a state of being, not just a function; a permanent, lifelong commitment, not a temporary style of service; an identity, not just a role.



    Wonderful link, I’ve forwarded to some priest friends who I hope find it just as inspiring.

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