There is a saying attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “You are the only Bible most people will ever read.” Through the universal call to holiness, we are each called to encounter Christ and to allow Him to live and work through us. St. Augustine wrote that “we are to make Jesus incarnate through our lives of discipleship.” Parents are called to be Jesus for their children. There is also a special call to the priest to be Jesus for the people they serve through their role as spiritual father.
Story example: Priests are “alter Christus” in the giving of the Sacraments to the people. There is also a wider understanding and awareness that the priest has through his role as father of the community. I share two examples:
a) Jason was a little boy about one year old when I was assigned to his parish. From as early as I can recall he would come with his dad at communion and cross his arms for a blessing. After the blessing he would say, “I love you, Jesus.” This went on for about seven years every Sunday. As he prepared for his First Holy Communion, I mentioned to his father how I always admired his prayer to Jesus at communion time. His father then said, “Father, for the longest time Jason said that because he thought you were Jesus.”
b) While visiting one of my relatives, my aunt was taking care of her grandchildren. One of the little boys, Josh, came running into the room and out again when my aunt said, “Josh, you need to stop and say hello. Do you know who this person is who is visiting?” The little boy stopped, looked up, and without missing a beat, he said, “Yes, he is Jesus.” And then he said hello to me.
Many priests have shared with me the same kind of experiences of being called Jesus. As priests we have a very special privilege of not just being Christ for others in the Sacraments, but in all aspects of our life. These two examples have often come to me as reminders of the need to live in communion with Jesus in prayer, in thought, and in the actions of every day. Our lives as priests have such a deep and lasting influence on others as we carry out our daily mission. What a great privilege and blessing. What a gift, a mystery of God’s incarnate presence working through us as fragile human vessels consecrated to the Lord.