A few months ago, I was having dinner with several of those I am working with who are discerning the priesthood. These gatherings are great opportunities for me to get to know the men and give them the chance to meet others who are discerning the priesthood. As we were walking out of the restaurant, a man stopped us, noticing me in my clerics and the group that I was with. When he asked where we were from, I explained my role with vocations and that the men were thinking about becoming priests. The man paused for a moment and then said, “Remember guys, as priests you renounce the world to save the world.” The profound nature of such a simple statement struck me, and I said to the men later that this was not just some chance encounter, but was the way in which the Lord uses people to sustain and encourage us as we seek to do His will.
During May, all over the country, and in New York on May 26, there will be hundreds of men who will renounce the world to save the world on the day of their priestly ordination. They will continue the unique saving work of Jesus, the High Priest, through the sacraments they celebrate as they continue to make his mercy present in the parishes they serve.
On their ordination day they will be told, as every priest is as he receives the paten and chalice from his bishop, “conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.” The priest is to find his identity in the cross and to make the saving power of the cross present to the people he is privileged to serve. The power of what this means was made even clearer to me at a talk that I was giving to eighth-graders at one of the religious education classes at a parish in the upper counties. A young woman asked me about the struggle of believing in God when there is so much evil and suffering in the world. I answered as best I could about free will and how we can use that freedom to love as well as to hate and how so much of the evil we see in the world today is a result of the grave misuse of free will.
Afterward, thinking about the question more deeply, I remembered what that man said to us as we left the restaurant. We renounce the world, conforming our lives to the cross, so that the saving power of the cross can be poured out on the people. Through the cross and resurrection, Jesus conquered the power of sin and evil so that these no longer have the last word. This is at the heart of the 50 days of celebration the Church enters into each year during the Easter season.
As priests, we encounter the reality of sin and evil and the pain they cause daily. Yet because of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection, the Paschal Mystery, we have the definitive response of God to the reality of sin and evil in the world. There is no place where the truth of this is more powerful than in the confessional. When people come to us broken and hurting, we see the effects of the misuse of free will and the pain that it causes. Yet through the mystery of the Lord’s cross and the power of his mercy revealed on it, we are able to bring wholeness to brokenness, healing to pain and mercy overpowering guilt and shame. This is only possible because the priest has chosen to conform his life to the cross, seeking to share the love and mercy of Jesus through the power of the sacraments. The priest renounces the world, making a free gift of himself, so that the redeeming effects of the cross may be experienced by the people the Lord has come to save.
Father Argano is director of vocations for the archdiocese.