The Lover’s Heart.
For the love of Christ compels us – 2 Corinthians 5:14
Love is never satisfied existing inside itself. By nature, love radiates outward. Any man professing love will display that love, lest his fond declarations be taken as mere lip-service. God is the greatest lover. The universe and all of creation lay before us like an open book of boundless wonders. Love for a sinful, wavering and stiff-necked people was made known in signs such as the rainbow, parting of the red sea and the fall of great cities. In a series of covenants and prophecies, God spent the greater part of history preparing for man’s return to paradise. Then at the acceptable time, he sent his only Son, born of a virgin, who would live and die as a real man, be resurrected as a real man and show men how to love like real men.
While walking amongst his people, Jesus felt acutely their pains, ailments and worries. He felt pity for the wandering crowds, wept at the tomb of Lazarus and on the night before his passion, exclaimed: “My soul is sorrowful unto death.” He shed tears for the city of Jerusalem and loved to gather his people as a hen gathers her young under her wings (cf. Luke 13:34).
Some would assume that stoicism is more the part of a priest, a removal, not caring for the world’s affairs. Yet, Christ immersed himself into the pain and need of humanity. Compassion is the measure of true manhood. A vulnerable man opens himself up to love. The wounded heart grows wider. Throughout his ministry, the priest will find his heart being broken and remolded into a Christ-like heart. This is because Christ loves his priests too much to leave them in mediocrity. He will quietly work so that the mark on their soul will also be borne in their hearts.
The heart of the priest in his own daily sufferings, temptations and trials becomes more attuned to those who are suffering. His own brokenness serves as a reminder that Jesus was a High Priest able to sympathize with the weaknesses of men (cf. Heb 4:15). In his temptations, he knows Jesus was tempted. It is towards the weakest and most helpless that a priest shows fatherly concern, protecting them, being a voice for the voiceless. Although they have obligations toward all men, priests have a special obligation to the poor and weak entrusted to them, for our Lord himself showed that he was united to them (PO 6, 28). Seeing those who are downtrodden, persecuted and beleaguered by sins, a priest should be roused to compassion, “suffering with.” His suffering and their suffering rise up together with Christ on the cross.
Through the priest, Christ shares his love with the Church, his Bride. He fills the Church, which is his body and his fullness with his divine gifts (Lumen Gentium Ch. 1 4117). Therefore, the nature of priestly ministry isn’t only bound up in one man. It is communal. It is a matter of sharing an intense peace and joy which the world cannot give, calling human beings to a deeper hope and a more meaningful existence. The priest looks upon a starving world, takes aside man who is bowed down and says: “I know where you can find bread.”
As Christ spoke to his apostles, he speaks to his priest: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Like the servant in the parable of the wedding feast, he goes out into the streets, high and low places, inviting people to Christ. He does this without any apparent reward but because the burning in his heart compels him. Fueled by the flames of Christ’s own heart, the priestly heart is only placated by spreading warmth to others. A stingy heart can never be priestly. If confined to itself, misery ensues in that heart. It was made to be a burnt offering.
It is only in terms of love that our existence makes sense, that sacrifice and religion have any meaning. The riddle of life and its vast complexity can only be answered by a Love which has shaped the universe and molded our hearts. That is why possession, power or progress cannot fill us. With everything conquered and done, everywhere travelled, everyone placed beneath his feet, man needs something more. Man cannot live without love (Pastores Dabo Vobis Ch. 5, 44). The priest was put on this earth to give man the desire of his heart, God, and to give God the desire of his heart, man. He is the emissary of highest love.