All baptized men and women are called to image Christ to the world. As ordination moves ever closer, I've been thinking more about how priests are called to stand in the Person of Christ in three particular ways: as teachers, as sanctifiers, and as governors.
The primary task of a priest is evangelization, spreading the Good News. Preaching at Mass, teaching religion class, writing letters in the bulletin, answering questions with families as he visits their homes… all of these acts comprise the teaching function of priests. By his words, he announces the Gospel to his parishioners and to all peoples that the Word of God in his own voice might bring the wayward home.
The priest is also called to sanctify. Some might ask, “What does Father do all week after Mass on the weekends or in the mornings?” Well, a lot! To be sure, the priest’s primary means of opening up the grace of God to the world is the liturgy, and he sanctifies the world in the Mass. However, he also sanctifies by praying the Liturgy of the Hours five times every day, by visiting hospitals, nursing homes, and maybe your home to offer Communion to the sick; by preparing Catholics for Sacraments, anointing the dying, and reminding all that Christ is present among them. He sits in the confessional awaiting the moment to provide a sinner with God’s forgiveness, and he meets with married couples still working out their wedding vows after 5 or 20 or 40 years in the Sacrament of Matrimony.
The final of these “munera” or “functions” of the priest is his governing service. Jesus Christ was the Shepherd, the leader of the disciples, and Jesus remains the Head of the Church. Priests share in this headship of Christ in their own leadership of the flock entrusted to their care. They are the face of the Son’s own governance of the Church in their recognizing and calling forth the gifts and talents of each person under their care; as he distributes resources to those who are in need; as he orders a calendar in his office so that no member or group is left out; as he listens to the wisdom of those on parish councils; and as he contributes from his own monetary and personal gifts to the weekly collection.
The life of the priest is indeed beautiful, precisely because it is the life striving to imitate the love of the life of Jesus Christ.