I remember assisting an old and dear friend on the day of her death. She was in the hospital’s intensive care unit, where we conversed at considerable length. She was alert and her usual gracious self, asking about my health, my family, my work as chaplain. We prayed together. I placed my hands on her head and said, “Jesus, may my visit with your good friend Marguerite really be your visit. May my hands convey your gentle, reassuring, comforting touch. May the poor words that I speak be your powerful benediction, commanding her to be at peace and to anticipate joyfully the surprises that lie in wait for her. On behalf of all who love her and pray for her, I too bless her in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
She smiled as I left the room. Around suppertime I learned that she had died in the late afternoon.
So much of priesthood, as in all professions, has to do with administration. On many a day throughout my 57 years of ministry I have spent far more hours behind my desk than in any other activity. In my contact with Marguerite it felt good to be acting as a priest in so personal and direct a way.
In the gospel passage we just proclaimed, we have a clear picture of Jesus the healer. He understands the blind man; he sympathizes with him, challenges him and confirms him in faith. This was more than a merely human encounter; there were greater power and deeper meaning in it than the physical elements themselves could ever contain or reveal. It was obvious to all that God had touched a human being through the ministry of another human being.
All three readings today have to do with priesthood, telling us that God is not detached from us or unconcerned about us ever. They tell us that God speaks and acts in our lives, not only in the vague and intuitive consciousness of humanity, but also through particular persons and at specific times and places. They assure us that God listens eagerly and responds compassionately, often through intermediaries.
There is priesthood in every believer. There is in you. No one should be ashamed of it, as though it were an anachronism, an oddity in a scientific age. Priesthood arises from the human race with an ever increasing desire to be one with the Creative Spirit. And priesthood comes to the human race, blessing and cleansing, and leading it to greater intimacy with its eternal source.
Whether yours is the priesthood affirmed in your Baptism and Confirmation, or the priesthood of ordination and consecration given to me as a servant of others, it appears to be a principal way by which God sanctifies the world, forgiving its faults and repairing its wounds and holding before it the enticing image of what lies ahead for us all.
We can be only grateful that priesthood – yours, mine, ours – is visible and tangible as it is so widely extended through the ministers and members of the church.