In the person of Christ - enfleshed in a surprising way

Jeff Hedglen

North Texas Catholic

7/2/2013

Father Brian Park
Father Brian Park, ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul May 25 consecrates the Eucharist in persona Cristi.

I have kind of been waiting for it for 25 years. I had many people picked out, but when it finally happened, it was not any of the folks I had imagined. Isn’t that the way it usually goes, best laid plans and all that. In the end it could not have been more perfect or more beautiful.

In May I got to witness one of my former youth group members be ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The Mass of Ordination and all the festivities of the weekend were beyond amazing and deeply moving. But it was the subtlest change, one that was almost entirely unseen, that overwhelmed me and continues to do so whenever it comes to mind.

There is this belief we have about the sacrament of Holy Orders that is foundational to the Catholic understanding of priesthood. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way: “In the ecclesial service of the ordained minister, it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, Teacher of Truth. This is what the Church means by saying that the priest, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, acts in "persona Christi” (in the person of Christ) (1548).

By virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders the priest receives an indelible mark on his soul, which means that he is fundamentally changed forever. This spiritual mark enacts a change that allows this human to be a portal for the divine in a very unique and essential way.

Put simply, we believe that when a priest acts in his priestly ministry it is not the priest that we meet, rather it is the person of Jesus. When the prayer of consecration is said and the Host is lifted heavenward, it is Jesus speaking and lifting through the priest. When the hand is lifted and the words of absolution are spoken, it is Jesus forgiving sins through the priest. When oil is applied and prayers for healing are uttered, it is Jesus touching and ministering through the priest.

Through the sacraments we encounter Jesus in a real, tangible, direct, in-person kind of way. It is at the same time mystery and reality, tangible and transcendent, human and divine. It is, in a word, beautiful. This is one of the most significant aspects of the Incarnation. God becoming human means that divinity knows firsthand what it means to experience humanity, all its needs, wants, and desires. Humans need to see to believe, but even seeing is not always enough; we need to touch and be touched. It is one thing to talk about a hug, or see someone receive a hug, but another thing entirely to experience a hug.

As I mentioned before, watching this “kid” from my youth group receive this indelible mark was overwhelming. I certainly knew about this sacrament. I had taught about it in many a confirmation class. I have encountered the power of Jesus in the ordained priesthood countless times in my life. What made this time different is that in a particular way I saw the change happen.

I say “in a particular way” because it is not as if I saw my friend have a distinctive change in the way he looks. His eyes didn’t change color, nor did he all of a sudden look more tan due to his proximity to the fire of the Holy Spirit. No, it was not how he looked that changed, rather it what I saw when he lifted up the Host, and gave me absolution. Yes, I saw a member of my youth group from the 1990s, but I also saw Jesus.

In truth, I had seen Jesus in Brian many times before he was ordained. He was, after all, a baptized and confirmed Catholic who has surrendered his life to Jesus and seeks to live for Him daily. This has been the case for years. But this time was different. How? It’s hard to explain. All I can say is that it was different; he was different. He was, at the same time, the guy I have known for years, and the guy I have known even longer.

I have kind of been waiting for it for 25 years. I had many people picked out, but when it finally happened, it was not any of the folks I had imagined. Isn’t that the way it usually goes, best laid plans and all that. In the end it could not have been more perfect or more beautiful.

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