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Posted August 12, 2004

A Priest’s Relationship with Jesus
and the Paschal Mystery

Taken from Grace Under Pressure: What Gives Life to American Priests

While priests see God as a source of love, they see Jesus as a model. For these priests, Jesus didn’t come to lay a guilt trip on people. His proclamation of the Kingdom and his parables offered the people a different way of looking at things, a different world view. Rick, a Western priest, said, When I was at this one parish, the question was, “Well, how do I carry out the ministry here?’ Even though I was in residence, I was in the tribunal at that time as well. And the question would be, ‘What would Jesus do?’ It seems simplistic, but I think it’s a very appropriate question for a priest to ask. And where do I find that? I look in the Gospel and I find that Jesus ate and drank with those who the public considered sinners. And there seemed to be an analogy there. Did Jesus say ‘This is the story, this is what I come to teach and you are all wrong and there is no more discussion,’ or something like that? That is not what He did. He sat down and talked about their lives. And that is what I found liberating in the Gospels.”

Time from the West said that all of his mentors came up short. He said it wasn’t surprising since he himself often came up short. He said that that forced him to realize “there is a consistency of compassion, a consistency of love, a consistency of wisdom.”

Dick from the South described undergoing a dramatic change at a workshop on Vatican II at Notre Dame University in 1976. It had to do with his understanding of Jesus Christ. “I had been fighting Vatican II. The highlight of the whole workshop was a course on Christology. I was the only Southerner at the workshop. Here I am a white Southern boy and in walked Father Ed. Braxton, a black priest fresh off the campus of Harvard. He said, “I’ve come here to challenge your operative Christology” and he did. He put me in touch with the humanity of Jesus that I had denied. And that put me in touch with my own humanity. I was trying to imitate the divine Jesus and denying the human in me because that was not Jesus. That insight gave me life because it made me aware that I had subjugated my humanity, my personality. The training we had had tried to make us all alike and hide our identities behind everybody wearing the same clothes. It was tremendously freeing for me to realize that I could be different and still be good. This helped me an awful lot in my acceptance of black people, of women, of ethnic differences, and of ecumenism. That was very, very freeing. It still is.”

Paschal Mystery

The priests in this study also talked about their relationship with Jesus Christ in terms of the Paschal Mystery, i.e., His dying and rising. Just as our salvation was accomplished through Jesus Christ dying and rising, these priests often experience themselves and others moving through death to new life. This might also explain why they find change so exciting. Involvement in the mystery of new life that comes out of death animates these priests.

John from the West talks about going to pieces when he was twelve years old over the death of a grand aunt with whom he had been very close. “I just learned that you are going to survive,” he said. Now as pastor, he has had to fire two principals, had people embezzling from the parish, pickets out in front of church. “I just get back to believing in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I shall rise again. We will make it through.

Frank, 52, a Southern pastor, said,

For me the most life-giving reality is the Paschal Mystery. The community I belong to stresses very strongly the Paschal Mystery and the reality of passing over, that we pass over from who we are and what we are and empty out into other people’s cultures. And so six weeks after ordination I did just that. I ministered for 25 years in the African-American Catholic Church here in the country and the experience of the faith life of the people is a mystery of faith. Why they remain and still do so within the American Catholic Church is strictly a mystery of faith. It’s as mysterious as the Paschal Mystery to me. And that has fed me and constantly gives life to me.

Larry, 44, a Southern pastor, said, “The Paschal Mystery is continual. There are new aspects of me that I become aware of. I know that I have to die to certain parts of myself. I have to go into that tomb. But now that I’ve gone through it enough, I know that there is a resurrection at the end. It’s not just the resurrection. It’s the Paschal Mystery.”

Gene from the Midwest said death and resurrection give life. “The closer I see it in people’s lives and my own life, it just takes on more and more meaning,” he said. He talked about the past three months being very hard for personal and work-related reasons. “And I guess I am slowly learning that it’s in dealing with some of that stuff, that life starts springing out, and God is very much present.”