Fr. JOHN REDFORD
A step-by-step beginners’ guide to the Catholic faith
FRIENDS OF THE FRIENDS OF GOD
Every society needs leadership, whether it is a large country like China or USA, or whether it is a group at a disco or nightclub, where a natural ‘leader’ will often emerge. That leader will be good or bad insofar as he helps each individual in that group to feel part of the whole set-up, and insofar as he helps the group itself to grow and develop.
Christ our Lord, from the moment when he formed his community on earth, chose men who would be leader, men whom he called the ‘Twelve’ – the same number as the twelve tribes of Israel. These he sent out to preach the Gospel, and to carry on his work.
These men were by no means perfect (the leader of the Twelve, Peter, denied Christ when he was arrested before his crucifixion), and came from ordinary profession. But still Christ said to them, ‘As the Father sent me, so am I sending you’.
After the resurrection, the apostles became the leaders of the Church. Helped by the Holy Spirit they taught the new converts, led the celebration of Mass, and acted as judges within the Church in difficult situations.
But the Church was not meant to end with the first apostles, St Paul, one of the great apostles of them all, handed on the leadership of the new Churches he had founded to the people he called ‘elders’, laying hands on them as a sign of the Holy Spirit coming on them to help them. These ‘elders’ (presbyters) were the first leaders of the Church after the apostles, people we now call ‘bishops’ and ‘priests’.
Since then, there have been thousands of priests and bishops ordained (that is, made priests by the laying on of hands). So much so, that there were over three thousand bishops present at the Second Vatican Council, from all over the world. The giving of ‘holy orders’ is another ‘sacrament’, a mystery where Christ is present, making a leader to represent him, to be ‘another Christ’.
It is very important to realize that, although a priest has a high vocation, he is still very much human, going to confession just like everyone else, because he has often the very same failings as the people have who come to him to receive the forgiveness of Christ.
As time went on, the practice of priests not being married became a law in the Church in the West. In this way, the priest, and bishops, follows the way of Christ who was not married, in freeing himself even from good human relationships, in order to be a father to the Christian community and to develop his life of personal prayer.
All Christians should regularly pray for priests, and especially for priests they know, so that the priest may be a good leader of the Christian community in the name of Christ, and a true friend of the friends of God. In this way, he will be worthy to take his place among the army of his brother priests, who have lived and sometimes died, in the service of God’s people.