If I asked you to picture Jesus… what image comes to mind? Do you imagine Him all grown up, or do you see Him as a child? Perhaps you see Jonathan Roumie from The Chosen walking around Galilee, or you see Jim Caviezel from The Passion of The Christ? Do you see Him walking on water, teaching in the synagogue, and feeding the crowds? Do you see Him enduring His Passion, saying His last words, taking His last breath? Or perhaps you see Him in His glorified body, walking through walls, ascending to the Father in Heaven?
But, how about as your priest? Does that image ever come to mind? Do you ever see Him in the priesthood of Christ?
Sometimes the gift comes unexpectedly, and it takes your breath away.
An elderly priest celebrated Mass for us one day. Frail and obviously in pain, he was determined to fulfill his mission. He struggled with each step as he leaned onto his cane. He went on to teach us about suffering, lessons learned by a lifetime of walking with God. He asked us to pray for him in his homily, but not for his suffering to be taken away. He asked us to pray instead for the souls that would be saved by the acceptance of his cross.
He taught us with his words, but he taught us more by his actions. The frailness of his body could not compete against the strength of his will because it was fueled by the grace of his ministerial priesthood; it was fired up in love.
As I saw him struggle up there, my heart was moved, and I wanted to help…but this was his task; he was the priest. Only by his words and actions would that piece of bread on the altar become the Bread of Life. Only by his words and actions would the cup of wine become the Blood of Our Lord.
We needed him to do his job. I thought of St. John Paul II leaning into his Cross, teaching us by his frailty the meaning of love. Holding my breath, I asked the angels to hold his arms up like Aaron and Hur did for Moses (Exodus 17:12). And then I saw…
During the Consecration prayer at Mass, I know the priest is acting "in persona Christi," in the person of Christ. I usually picture Jesus at the Last Supper, breaking the bread, blessing the wine. But this day, I saw something different.
As the elderly priest leaned into the altar and struggled to raise the Host, I saw Jesus crucified, suffering for us. His words, shaken with pain, poured out in love, united to the One He Loves, called Him down for us. The words "IN PERSONA CHRISTI" took on a new tone. This was not Jesus commanding the demons to leave with His voice; this was Jesus trampling down Satan with His silent obedience, with His unfailing Love… This was my Jesus, suffering, dying on the Cross for us.