UNION WITH JESUS - THE KEY
The 24th Anniversary of my Ordination as Bishop recently coincided with my recovering from open heart surgery. At this time I could do very little. In fact it was a time when physically I was least able to do anything as Bishop in my whole twenty four years.
The Grace, the blessing ( apart from the healing via a very good heart Surgeon and excellent medical, nursing and home care ) was the time to reflect and pray in simple ways.
Apart from the gratitude I felt, since I was able do very little, a question came to me, "What does Priesthood mean? Where does it get its value and worth?"
My thoughts went back to a Priest, Fr Miloslav Vlk, who would later become the Archbishop of Prague. When he was ordained in 1968 in Czechoslovakia it was under Communist rule. He was allowed to Minister for a few years before being prohibited for some ten years and kept under surveillance. He was made to work as a window cleaner in the public streets.
During that time many priests left the priesthood and some married. Others, like Miloslav, at great risk, used to meet secretly of a night time with some of his fellow priests to support one another.
These priests read and reflected particularly on the power packed five chapters of John's Gospel, Chapters 13- 17. Here John puts the rich words of Jesus in the setting of the Last Supper.
Fr Vlk came to realise more deeply that the essential part of the Priesthood is being united intimately to Jesus the Priest, through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Because of this oneness with Jesus and his fidelity to Him, even though he was prohibited from Ministering in the normal ways, he was still exercising his priesthood for the Church and World by cleaning windows.
Miloslav came to this realisation when he was lead to see that Jesus, who did so much good for others in his life and Ministry, did the greatest good of all when he could hardly move while nailed to the cross in great pain and agony.
This was the (Priestly) high point of Jesus' life and Ministry. It was then He redeemed the world, reconciling us to the Father. It was then He showed us most of all, the face of the Father's mercy.
The key for Fr Vlk in those ten years was this union with Jesus the Priest through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. That same key is there for me and for all priests too. Whether being very active or effectively laid low, how important it is to cultivate that special oneness Jesus has given us Priests through Holy Orders. The rest follows. He not only is with us, but He is able to work wonderfully through us to be a blessing for others.
As I reflected quietly on this my thoughts turned to all married couples, like Jim and Joan who were caring so well for me, whom Jesus had joined in the Sacrament of Marriage. When we say that "It takes three to get married" we are not talking of the third party being the priest, but Jesus. Jesus is the one who joins you and remains intimately one with you for the whole of your lives.
The more Married Couples value and cultivate this close union with Jesus, the more they will know how Jesus loves and accompanies them in all the ups and downs of their lives - and how His Power works through them to do so much good in their marriage, their family and beyond.
What of Religious and Single people? Your essential Sacrament (as is the fact for everyone) is your Baptism coupled with Confirmation. This is where through the Holy Spirit you are all intimately one with Jesus. In this way Jesus not only is with you in your lives and Vocations, but also powerfully loves and works in and through you for so much good.
Intimacy with Jesus through the Sacraments of Holy Orders, Marriage, Baptism and Confirmation grows ever more deeper through the regular nourishment of Jesus in the Eucharist. It is here that we are drawn ever more into union with Him in the quiet and depth of our being. Where we become One with Him, as He is One with the Father.
How blessed we all are! He is in us and we are in Him (John 15: 4-5 and17:20-21) through these Sacraments. A lot to chew over - this amazing Union with Jesus - and to grow in daily, for our own sakes and that of others He calls us to love and serve in our particular Vocation.
To sum up, the key to the value and fruitfulness of our lives and particular Vocation, whether very active or relatively inactive, is our Union with Jesus.
Or to put it in a way Pope Francis might say - the key to our being filled with and to spread the Joy of the Gospel - or the key to receiving and sharing the Mercy of God - is our close union with Jesus.