Once a Priest, always a Priest. It is a bit difficult to digest, but it is true. The anointing given to a person at the time of Ordination is for a lifetime. It cannot be given for a limited period nor can it be given a second time. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, ‘the sacrament of Holy Orders, confers an indelible spiritual character and cannot be repeated or conferred temporarily’ (CCC 1582). In other words, every priest is united in a special way to Christ and the bond is a perpetual one, no matter whether he ceases to minister as a priest or he is prohibited from performing his priestly duties, by a superior authority.
In the Old Testament period we read about the priesthood conferred on Levites. They were separated from other tribes and were not given any share in promised land. God promised that He will be their share. Imagine a man who has nothing but the Lord as his share! This is the essence of priesthood.
Centuries passed and the priests appeared to have lost the charm of priesthood in its true sense. From a time when God was their sole share, by the time of Jesus they started seeing the Son of God as an impediment to their scheme of things. The predominant feeling that drove them was jealousy. This jealousy was so immense that ‘the chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death’ (Lk 22:2). Pilate himself was aware of their jealousy and knew that it was the real reason behind them bringing Jesus to trial. In Judas Iscariot they got someone who would execute the heinous plans on either behalf. The conspiracy to betray Jesus was hatched at their behest. ‘They (the chief priests and officers of the temple) were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money’ (Lk 22:5). In fact they started the conspiracy much earlier. ‘The chief priests, the scribes and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him’ (Lk 19:47). They were far away from the grace that would help them to recognize Jesus as the Son of God. So it was natural for them to question the authority of Jesus. ‘Tell us, by what authority are you doing these things? ( Lk 20:2). It is the tragedy of those who fail to submit to divine authority.
It was these same chief priests and scribes who sent spies to watch Jesus. ‘So they watched him and sent spies who pretended to be honest, in order to trap him by what he said’ (Lk 20:20). Gospels testify that priests were also present at the scene of Jesus’ arrest. ‘Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him…….’ (Lk 22:52). Chief priests were also a part of the assembly of elders that examined Jesus in the morning (Lk 22:66). When Jesus was presented before Herod, ‘the chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him’ (Lk 22:10). After two rounds of trials, Pilate told the chief priests about the innocence of Jesus as revealed in the examination. But they had already made up their mind to kill Jesus. They even stooped to the extent of demanding Barabbas in exchange for Jesus so that Jesus would be put to death.
Even after the crucifixion took place, their hatred towards Jesus didn’t cease. We see the chief priests approaching Pilate with a request to change the inscription on the cross. After the burial of Jesus, these same chief priests arranged security to the tomb by posting guards there. ‘So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone’ (Mt 27:66). Eventually, when they were faced with the undeniable truth of his resurrection their first response was to suppress the news by bribing the guards (Mt 28: 11-14).
Why should I tell all these things now? After all, they relate to a distant past and with Jesus instituting a new priesthood, they have become obsolete and irrelevant! It is right but we need to remind our beloved priests not to emulate their counterparts of the Old Testament era. Because among thousands of holy priests, today there are a few who betray Jesus for petty gains. They have no shame in handing over Jesus in return for money. They often question the authority of gospel teachings. They want to reform the Church according to their priorities. They deny Jesus and his teachings before civil authorities. They collaborate with our enemies in murdering the Christian spirit of their countries. They work hand in glove with those spies who have infiltrated the Church pretending to be honest. They are ready to accept a Jesus who is dead, but not a Jesus who is risen. In spite of the long years of their formation in seminary, their reason does not permit them to believe that Jesus did rise from the dead. A second coming is the last thing they would accept.
It is sad to say that there are priests who have practically lost their faith, but still continue as priests. From the sublime ministry entrusted to them, they have relegated themselves to a mere profession, where reason, intelligence, and social acceptability guide their actions.
Back then, when Jesus walked on earth the first time, it was the priests who were instrumental in crucifying him. When his second coming approaches, priests are expected to prepare his way. But instead, a few of them still doubt his teachings, question his authority, deny his resurrection and relegate him to the status of a mere preacher and social reformer. In that process they knowingly or unknowingly douse the feeble flame of faith from the hearts of many. Those priests need our prayers. Let us raise our hands for our beloved priest so that none among them go astray.
Let us pray; O Jesus, eternal Priest, help your priests to stand by the truth at all times and to overcome the temptation to deny you for earthly gains. May the indelible mark of priesthood given to them protect them from the snares of the wicked. Amen.