SAINTS ALIVE

The blessed Virgin Mary an example for priests

Of course Mary is not a priest or even a priestess; she is the Mother of God and this is her glorious vocation in life.

However, there is something about the vocation of Mary that is similar to the vocation of a priest. The first call to Mary was the call to be used as God's instrument in revealing himself to the world. One of the earliest signs of a vocation to the priesthood is a desire to be used by God. During Advent and Christmas, Christians meditate on the birth of Christ. They also marvel that a humble maiden should respond so readily and fulfil so wonderfully her vocation to bring Jesus into the world so that God could reveal himself. Throughout her life she was always ready to respond to any call on her by God for the good of the world. For example, she hurried to the aid of her cousin Elizabeth who was about to give birth to John the Baptist and the Gospel tells us he leapt in his mother's womb as he felt the presence of Jesus in Mary. The priest proclaims God's redeeming work in Word and Sacrament, but he is also called to conduct his daily life in such a way that he will respond instantly to the needs of the People of God. The presence of Jesus in their midst should be the reaction felt when a priest is relating to those he meets.

Something more needs to be said about the presence of a priest and this can be related to the appearances of Mary since her death. The Church accepts that Mary has appeared to Saints, such as Saint Bernadette at Lourdes but the Church has never claimed that these appearances are to be accepted as a necessary belief for salvation. Mary herself would never make such a claim. Though praised by all generations she consistently calls people not to herself but points them towards Jesus.

It is true that down the centuries many miracles and renewing of Christian Faith have been witnessed at her shrines. These events do not add anything to the full revelation of God in the Gospel accounts. They are, however, seen as being entirely in keeping with the Gospels. Someone once described being on pilgrimage at Lourdes as rather like taking a stroll through the pages of the Gospels. People come primarily to be in the presence of Jesus and Gods promises are frequently seen to be fulfilled, not only in great miracles, but in many ordinary everyday ways. Perhaps the healing of relationships or the strength to face difficulties in life.

The Vicar's appearance in his parish among his people should not be seen as such a unique event as to be regarded as miraculous. At least one would hope not. However, what is miraculous is the fact that God has chosen a man with all sorts of human frailties to reveal the miraculous truths of the Gospels. It should come as a relief to a priest to know that he is not required to come up with a new revelation necessary for salvation every time he opens his mouth. Like Mary, he is called to point to the presence of Christ and help people discern the wonderful ways in which God works out his wonders in their daily lives. A faithful parish priest ministering in his parish may never see the many ways he may have touched peoples lives till that day when the great seals are broken and all is revealed.

Finally, the appearances of Mary always seem to involve three requests; to call people to Jesus, to call people to pray, and to call people to repent. These three calls are to be responded to personally and as a Christian community. Any priest trying to respond to his vocation with these three in mind will never have time on his hands, and above all will never have the luxury of an identity crisis. He will have Mary's example as his inspiration.

Fr. Stephen Bond

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