When my daughter was three her uncle was in formation to become a priest. One morning she asked: “After Uncle (X) becomes a priest, will he ever become a man again?”
It dawned on us that this amusing question has real weight.
An ancient Latin word for priest means bridge-builder. From time immemorial we humans have recognized that our life and very identity, whether we will it or not, are deeply connected with the divine. And this connection is complicated. It needs attending, and building.
And certain men are set apart to be special agents of building that connection. Such it has always been. Why this man rather than that man? Great question. This has been held to be a natural order, thus a divine order, and one that is mysterious. But this much human cultures have intuited: somebody, or somebodies, need to be priests, bridge-builders. And what they do is integral to human life. For all of us.
Some have sought to build a bridge to the divine primarily for the sake of winning temporal favors. Others, while not blind to the desire for temporal favors, have seen the priestly work more as an offering of what is due, simply because. Because the divine is divine, and we are human; and our flourishing will be especially in relating well to the divine. And lo, wonder of wonders, the divine actually seems to care.
If a person is to build a bridge, he must have a foothold on both sides of the divide. Otherwise, how could he effect a connection? Here emerges the fuller drama of this whole situation. A priest is to be a bridge builder, but given the nature of the chasm to be bridged, there must first be an initiation from the upper side. If this man is to be a real connector, he must be imbued with a power not his as a man. But nonetheless his.
He has a work to do that is really his work, though it is not ultimately his, or finally about him.
His work likewise calls the priest to exemplify the human. His mysterious and potent fatherhood, a multifaceted work and profound crafting of the good life, should begin in being a good man. He will then be best positioned to weave a human fabric with divine threads.
It can be done. I have seen it with my own eyes. And I stand amazed. I am deeply grateful for these men who day in and day out labor in the vineyard, because it has been given to them to do so. They do not count themselves worthy. But with every fiber of their being they strive to acquit themselves worthily. To build a bridge, to bring together that which must be brought together.
One great day you became a priest. Will you ever be a man again? Ah! To become more than a man is not to stop being a man. It is to step toward being the man you are to be, receiving your place as leading the rest of us to where He wants all of us to be. I thank you, faithful priests. And most of all I thank God from whom all these gifts flow.
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Husband, father, and professor of Philosophy. LifeCraft springs from one conviction: there is an ancient wisdom about how to live the good life in our homes, with our families; and it is worth our time to hearken to it. Let’s rediscover it together. Learn more.