Finding Christ through Holy Orders
Holy Orders is the one Sacrament that implies the heaviest requirement of accountability to God. Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist, the sacraments of Initiation, are the very ones that introduce us to Christ, each in its own unique manner. Without them we would struggle to understand the who and what regarding the Savior whom God sent for our redemption. The sacraments of healing through forgiveness are essential and we need to take advantage of them through life. Marriage is the one that creates a living attitude as man and wife making their way through life’s challenges and gives the couple a way to find God in eternity.
However, the one Sacrament that was issued to his apostles by Christ at the Last Supper is the one that comes at a price. Holy Orders is not something that is offered because of notoriety, payment for being a dedicated member of the parish, and certainly not one that promises untold rewards because of what one does. If a man wishes to answer the call to enter into the priesthood, he needs to first examine his own ability to follow orders from his superiors. There is where accountability for his choice to feed his flock becomes a matter of dedication to God and those he is chosen to watch over, as a shepherd keeps watch over his own.
If the Catholic Church followed the way of some scattered denominations where everyone is the pastor or functions as a collective body, with no organization, there would be no accountability by anyone and the result would become a free-for-all in guidance. When a serious problem would arise to whom would this governing body look to for a proper result.
In today’s world where too many Catholics see the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a man made requirement since it isn’t literally mentioned in the bible. Well, let’s put that to rest. “Early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say? They said this to test him, so they would have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? She replied, no one, sir. Then Jesus said, Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more. (Jn 8: 2 - 11). This is the classic sign of reconciliation, a penitent confessing to the man called Jesus; Penitent to God.
Entering the confessional or the place of forgiveness we speak to Christ, not a priest. At that moment we open our hearts to the same Jesus as the woman in the square did, without any words from her except No one sir. (no one has condemned me). “Neither do I.” The words spoken in absolution come from the Holy Spirit using an earthly vessel to extend God’s Mercy.
Any time a priest or deacon extends to a recipient a sacrament according to their ministry, they are standing in the person of Christ. A priest cannot forgive on his own initiative. Nor can a deacon baptize on his own status, he only stands in the place of Christ while it is the divine person of the Holy Trinity who is giving the Sacrament to the person seeking the Sacrament.
Read the section from Matthew regarding Jesus sending the twelve and instructing them what to do. “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, make this proclamation: The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive our demons. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.” (Mt 10: 5 - 8). The price for a priest which includes accountability and a dedication as God’s emissaries. Without the men in Holy Orders our Church would become a free-for-all with no one being responsible for extending God’s Word through actions and responsibilities to “My sheep” that Jesus admonished to Peter.
No ordained cleric in the Catholic Church is able to administer a Sacrament on their own initiative, they are just a human vessel that God uses to accomplish his plan for evangelization.
Ralph B. Hathaway