Humble fidelity

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This weekend, our diocese will gain two new priests. Their first Holy Mass will be the solemnity of Corpus Christi. It is hard to imagine a more fitting feast. This Sunday’s readings are also apt for the occasion. They highlight two priestly virtues: humility and fidelity.

In the gospel this weekend, the apostles are confronted with the hungry multitude. They urge Jesus to “dismiss the crowd so that they can go…and find lodging and provisions.” But Jesus has something else in mind. He challenges the apostles. He humbles them: “give them some food yourselves” (Lk 9:12-13). By this pointed response, Jesus forces the apostles to confront their own limits. Jesus will not dismiss the crowd, but by themselves the apostles are simply incapable of caring for them. What can they do? They must depend on Jesus.

Every priest finds himself in the same situation. By himself, he simply cannot feed the crowd. But neither can he send them away (who knows to where they would scatter). Cornered and humbled by these circumstances, the priest must entrust his meager resources to the hands of the Christ: “five loaves and two fish are all we have” (Lk 9:13). Behold the marvelous exchange! Grounded in humility, abandoned to the Lord, over and over again the priest encounters this miracle: “they all ate and were satisfied.”

Humility flows naturally into fidelity. It is a crucial priestly virtue. St. Paul provides the model: “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you” (1Cor 11:23). St. Paul is not anxious to say what is popular: “If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal 1:10). Neither is he presenting something of his own. Rather, St. Paul is concerned only with proclaiming the gospel in its integrity: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed!” (Gal 1:8). The priest’s first anxiety is the gospel: “an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it!” (1Cor 9:16).

Humbled by the breadth and depth of the need he encounters, a priest cannot rely upon his own ingenuity. Whatever his intelligence, whatever his creativity, he will never be able to satisfy the crowd on his own. The hunger is one that only heaven can fill. The priest is not from heaven, but the gospel is.

We are blessed to receive two new priests in our diocese. They have generously offered their lives for us. We ought to pray for them and all priests. May humility and fidelity secure their role as doorways to Christ.

Father George K. Nixon serves as assistant pastor at St. Philip Parish, Greenville. Ordained in 2011, he holds a licentiate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. “Verbum Domini” is a series of Father Nixon’s reflections on the Scriptures.