Until the end, we must be watchful and hold firm. This is the great lesson of Saint Paul, the ultimate delegate of Christ. This has been the instruction for all priests since the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which inaugurated the last times. These times are marked but not yet fulfilled. We are living in this last era; it has been inaugurated, but it is left to our decision, to our conversion. And we need priests to slowly make their way towards the last hour, not just our own, but that of the entire world.
Priests are essential to completing the preparation for the definitive advent of Christ the King. They are continued Christs. They have no other concerns than to guide the entire Christian people, and even all men, towards this "Day of Christ," as Saint Paul calls it, which will close history and be the accomplished realisation of God's creative plan. In beginning his first letter to the Thessalonians, the apostle recalls the essence of all preaching: "You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God. And to wait for his Son from heaven (whom he raised up from the dead), Jesus, who hath delivered us from the wrath to come. " (I Thess. 1, 9–10).
The priest, who in his cassock traverses the world, bears witness to his trust in God, the Saviour, who has begun salvation in us and will complete it.
Faced with inconstancy, boredom, and the vain anxiety of the world, the priest continues to testify that “God hath not appointed us unto wrath, but unto the purchasing of salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us; that, whether we watch or sleep (at the hour of his coming), we may live together with him.” (I Thess. 5, 9–10). The priest transmits this hope, which is the eagerness to meet and above all to possess a person, Jesus: “We will always be with the Lord” (I Thess. 4, 17). Saint Paul invites us all to this ineffable joy that he glimpsed on the road to Damascus: this intimacy with Christ.
Is this not simply the response of the Curé of Ars to the shepherd Antoine Grive: "You have shown me the way to Ars; I will show you the way to Heaven"?
If Jesus Christ died for us, it was so that we might live with him. This face-to-face encounter with Jesus, which seized Saint Paul, is for all of us if we follow the path rightly indicated by the priests and take the means that they offer us to hold fast to it. Sacramental life is the only and unique way to reach the goal.
The priest manifests that Christian hope is not just a hope or a bet on the future, but a glorious hope, a certainty of victory, and an assurance of eternal happiness. But we will only enjoy this triumph through our total participation in the glory of Christ, which is truly communicated to us by the sacrament of the Eucharist that only the priest gives. Saint Paul even insists on the exclusive character of divine presence: to be saved is to be reunited with Jesus. We firmly await, relying on divine power, the intimate communion and close society of life with the Holy Trinity, through Our Lord.
Just as the priest lives in friendship with his Savior through liturgical prayer and meditation, he desires for his flock a similar relationship at least. Being with Christ in the society of the Father is indeed the ultimate goal of all, but under the guidance of the priest, guide of souls. Another word from Saint Paul: "To the church of Thessalonica in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." A beautiful formula that sums up this ascending march of a flock towards the consummation of divine unity and reality: in God and in the Lord. What a difference between the pagan, who necessarily manufactures an idol to keep a principle of earthly life and the exciting expectation of the Christian, to whom his Lord constantly extends His arms like the Father of the Prodigal Son in Rembrandt's magnificent painting. On the tombs of the first Christians, it is not uncommon to see an anchor and the inscription: "Vivas in Deo" (May you live in God). If our hearts are still anxious about this ineffable encounter, it suffices to read Saint Paul again: “The Lord himself shall come down from heaven with commandment, and with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God: and the dead who are in Christ, shall rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, shall be taken up together with them in the clouds to meet Christ, into the air, and so shall we be always with the Lord.”
Here on earth, the priest guides our vigil, our watch, and our active preparation for the definitive communion with God, a little like during the Easter night. He carries the torch that sheds light on those who follow him. With the Resurrection of Christ, the last times have come, but they are not yet consummated, and time is given to us for a perfect, full conversion. There is in our personal lives that the minister of Christ who dispenses grace, the seed of glory, helps to resolve. We belong to two worlds, like two men. The old one, which we bear the traces of, is original sin and its harmful consequences, and the new one is full of hidden charm, grace. Temptation is constant, and time is given to us to ease the confrontation. A passionate storm can at any moment compromise the gift of self - made to God. It is said on the day of baptism, and we renew it on the holy night of Easter: we renounce Satan, his pomps, and his works. It is true, but Christ knows our fragility and regularly invites us to the court of penance.
However, we may well be anxious as we wait for such bliss when we see the world so perverse and hostile to God in which we must live. But the satanic rage that rages against Christians is not new. The new Thessalonians were filled with anguish at this sad vision. It is true that Christ conquered the world by his cross and resurrection, but the victory of the Christian is in hope. It is only won in the fight. Tribulations are the lot of the Christian, and we must endure them with the "steadfastness of Christ" (I Thess. 1:3). Our trials are the tribulations of Christ, and his minister is the consoler whom the soul needs in times of trial. Even if the priest himself is not immune to the traps of Satan, and the Curé of Ars is a famous example, his confidence in God, his theological hope, is an anchor that holds every ship moored to heaven: "It is impossible for God to lie, we may have the strongest comfort, who have fled for refuge, to hold fast the hope set before us. “Which we have as an anchor of the soul, sure and firm, and which enters in even within the veil; where the forerunner Jesus is entered for us, made a high priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedech.” (Heb. 6:18-20).
So, what is not the greatness of the priest, Christ on earth, support of the afflicted, consoler of the oppressed, but above all dispenser of God himself, living proof of the mercy of Our Lord, who came into this world to save men and incorporate them into his own divine life.
Abbé Benoît de Jorna FSSPX | Supérieur du District de France