The Trinitarian Priesthood
May 27, 2013
We have seen the true light, we have received the celestial Spirit, we have found the true faith: so we adore the Undivided Trinity, for by it we have been saved.
Byzantine Liturgy, Troparion for Pentecost Vespers
Today, Trinity Sunday, we join a Dominican priest who returns to Saint Dominic’s Parish to offer a Mass of Thanksgiving. The newly ordained thanks God for a special grace—the grace to be a priest. On Friday last, Father Reginald Mary Lynch became an irreplaceable instrument of divine movement in the world. As such, he draws us into “the still point of the turning world”—to borrow a phrase from the American poet T.S. Eliot: “Neither flesh nor fleshless;/ Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,/ But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,/ Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,/ Neither ascent nor decline. Except from the point, the still point,/ There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.” The poet’s metaphorical use of “the dance” recalls the Trinitarian perichorēsis, or encirclement (circumincession): Within the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit enjoy a dynamic “being towards each other.” The Church preaches this perichorēsis (circuminsession) to affirm the consubstantiality of the three divine Persons: Each one is God. The Undivided Trinity. Today we honor Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, “three Persons equal in majesty,” even as we give thanks for the special work that the Undivided Trinity accomplished in our brother and your son, Reginald Mary Lynch. Father Reginald, the Church rejoices that you and your five classmates have become living instruments of the Trinity. Forever. This priestly consecration, “an occupation for the saint,” blesses and it burdens.
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Reginald Lynch has entered into an intimate communion with Christ, one that enables him henceforth to act in Christ’s very own person. The Church teaches that a man never stops being a priest. Even in heaven, Christ’s holy priests join distinctively the eternal praise of the Undivided Trinity. The mark or character of the priesthood comes as such a penetrating grace that the priest—so the Church also teaches authoritatively—acquires a new personal identity. He becomes an alter Christus, another Christ. The Undivided Trinity effects this change at the level of a man’s personal being. We find this change, or exchange really, depicted as the union of two hearts in a stained-glass window located in this Church. The priest is configured to Christ, who is Head of the Church, his Body, and Shepherd of the Church, his flock. As the night stars give way to the radiance of the dawn, the priest also comes “to make all things new” (Rev 21:5). That is the blessing. What about the burden? The priest is united to Christ the Head. In the course of the ordination rite, Bishop Cardone anointed the palms of the new priests and prayed, “May Jesus preserve you to sanctify the Christian people.” It especially belongs to the priest to sanctify Christian believers, and he does this primarily by instructing them in the truth about God. When the priest brings “the true light,” more than instruction transpires, however. He exercises a distinctive kind of spiritual paternity. Dominican priests characteristically exercise this fatherhood by their own form of preaching after the example of their spiritual father, Saint Dominic. Since the thirteenth century, Dominican priests have supplied the truths that are most important for living a happy life. By their preaching and sacramental administration, Dominican priests have generated in others a new form of life. This new form of life does supply an optional benefit for only pious folks who fancy religion. As Walker Percy has observed, it is either Rome or California. The priest must speak important truths—such as explaining what makes both for a just society and for a chaste life—even in the face of felt opposition, whether from within or outside the Church. Because he preaches the truth to many people who have chosen “California,” the priest will find himself a sign of the counter-cultural and, in stressful circumstances such as our own, eventually a prisoner of the secular culture. So the Dominican priest inhabits the world like a traveler passing a single night in a boarding house. Since his mind is set on the things above, the priest must maintain his own habit of prayer and recollection in order to ensure that he act not only effectively but also visibly in persona Christi: comforting as Christ comforts, caring as Christ himself cares, watching as Christ himself watches. Every time that Father Reginald opens his arms and says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2Cor 2:13), he invites the Christian people to join the rhythms of the Trinitarian dance, the perichorēsis. This Trinitarian mystery reveals the contours of our salvation. Outside of the dance, human disorders enjoy the upper hand. The Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans tells us, “hope does not disappoint” (Rom 5:4). In the Sacrament of Penance, or Reconciliation, the Dominican priest exercises his pastoral charity. Preaching leads to repentance. When you receive Christ’s faithful in the confessional, Father Lynch, manifest yourself as an instrument of the Undivided Trinity: “Bend the stubborn heart and will; Melt the frozen, warm the chill; Guide the steps that go astray.” Like Our Holy Father, Saint Dominic, you will discover yourself immersed in the piercing ecstasy of divine love: “What will become of sinners?” So he famously cried out from a moment of intense contemplation of the Good. The priest is configured to Christ the Good Shepherd. As a shepherd of a flock, the priest must gather all men into unity. This charge taxes even as it exhilarates. At Friday’s ordination, the Province of Saint Joseph implored the Holy Spirit to fill our six new priests with his sevenfold gifts. The Carmelite Jessica Powers captures something of the connaturality of the gifts when she writes that, “To live with the Spirit of God is to be a lover./ It is becoming love, and like to Him/ toward Whom we strain with metaphors of creatures:/ fire-sweep and water-rush and the wind’s whim.” The love that fires our desire for sanctity also opens our soul, so we are told, to the spiritual gifts that characterize holy men and women. Animated by the Spirit of God, the priest endeavors to realize Christ’s own prayer to the Father that they all may be one, and to fulfill Christ’s promise that no person will remain a spiritual orphan. Where resentment and alienation threaten human happiness, the priest announces a new order, an order of charity and unity created by the Eucharistic sacrifice that only the Catholic priest can enact. Watch over Christ’s flock on earth, Father Reginald. Anoint their heads with blessed oil. Do this when you baptize those whom God calls into Trinitarian communion and when, at the bedside of the sick and dying, you anoint those who need bodily healing or sacramental preparation to enter into those rhythms of the Trinity that we call heaven. In all of these moments, Father Reginald, in each sacramental action, remain an instrument of the Undivided Trinity, so that wherever your Dominican obedience puts you, sadness will give way to rejoicing, disgruntlement to consolation, and resentment to agape. Pope Francis has insisted that the priest is a mediator not an intermediary. No wonder our Dominican forbears, at least the sanior pars, employed the word “physical” to describe the instrumentality of created mediations. Imagine what would happen were the priest able only to persuade people to embrace the Good. Were he commissioned only to display the Beautiful? Without the priestly mediations, human life can only cling to what, after the fall, human nature can accomplish by itself. The saints assure us that it does not amount to much. Without the priest, no creature on earth can hope to approach the still point of the turning world, which abides as the only resting place for restless hearts.
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The Catholic people rejoice in the ordination of a new priest. This rejoicing of course begins in the hearts of the priest’s parents. They first instructed young Brendan, our Reginald, in the truths of the Christian faith. [I confess it is hard to imagine Brendan ever having misbehaved!] So today affords a special moment of celebration for Dr and Mrs Daniel Lynch, Maureen Lynch, and other family members and friends. Dr. and Mrs. Lynch, before all others, you have shown Brendan his vocation; and this not only by your instruction but above all by the best instruction, your own example of Catholic living. Like few others, you know both the blessing and the burden. Today the priestly vocation and ministry seem to many persons a daunting, perhaps impossible challenge. Father Reginald, as a worthy bearer of the name of Blessed Reginald of Orleans, you must accept the difficult challenges and sustain the impossible moments. He did, and Our Lady appeared to him. Remember the great lesson of the Incarnation that was first confided to the Blessed Mother: “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk 1:37). For a long time you have known that Mary surrounds you with her virtue and her prayer. Today you return to her with childlike confidence and filial devotion. You already bear her name. You wear the scapular that she revealed to your patron saint. As you set out today to take up the pilgrim road—the only way of priestly ministry in today’s Church—keep Mary as your traveling companion and constant guide. Her consecration makes of you “a constant sacrament of praise.” Saint Thomas Aquinas places the Blessed Trinity at the center of the divine action that moves the saved world. You, Father Lynch, now go forth as a mediator of that grace. Pope Francis assures priests of their mission: “When we have this relationship with God and with his people, and grace passes through us, then we are priests, mediators between God and men.” Through your hands, Father Reginald, grace flows. The seventeenth-century English poet George Herbert expresses this grace in a poem entitled “Trinitie Sunday.”
Lord, who has form’d me out of mud,
And has redeem’d me through thy bloud,
And sanctifi’d me to do good;
Purge all my sinnes done heretofore:
For I confesse my heavie score,
And I will strive to sinne no more.
Enrich my heart, mouth, hands in me,
With faith, with hope, with charitie;
That I may runne, rise, rest with thee.
The poet’s triplicity—run, rise, rest— returns us to the divine perichorēsis. Those caught up in the Trinitarian dance need you, Father Reginald, to show them its authentic theologal path: the way of faith, and of hope, and of charity. For “Except from the point, the still point,/ There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”