Before this cross stretched out on Calvary where Christ has died, we need to stop to reflect on where we find ourselves.
For it is here in a single sweep of this wide horizon that we can grasp the real meaning of church and priesthood.
Christ, the Godman, is often called the “second Adam” in the scriptures. This is to say that he is the prototype of a new humanity; a prototype that includes all men and women in its newness and remodelling, a prototype that allows all humankind to rediscover the divine element it once lost through the first Adam’s fault.
We have all heard the modern technical term “prototype.” It refers to a model, the first example of a new kind of thing, of a new “race” of machines. In a sense, it includes them all, it is them all, it is found in them all. If there has been an error or deliberate sabotage on the level of the prototype, then all the machines being built from that prototype will bear the same fault; this will prevent them from realizing the aims set by the engineer who designed the original model. A new prototype would be needed to correct the situation. This new model would be perfectly formed, and it would make possible the correction of all the faulty machines copied from the first prototype. Then they would be able to perform to expectations; they would be able to meet their original goal, and their existence would finally make sense. Just as the first prototype included all the machines, the second would also include them, would bear them within itself, would be in all of them. This is undoubtedly a really materialistic model of things, but it may help us to understand Christ’s position.
Adam, as we call the first human person in the full sense of the words, was like the first prototype of humankind; he disfigured God’s achievement within himself. Abusing his freedom, he considered himself great enough to play God; he wanted to create himself, all by himself; “you will be like gods,” whispered the demon. But, turning in on himself, he fell back on his own tyranny and became the slave of evil and sin. A secret slavery, perhaps, and one in which he could find delight: thanks to his intelligence he was still the master of creation. He could be successful, organize the world and find happiness. But he was locked in his biological role of an intelligent animal. He lost his divine possibilities, lost his “Paradise”, an image and symbol which expresses the intimacy of his life with God in the freedom of a child, like a son with his father.
Christ, the second prototype of humankind, came into the world and into history. He bore within himself God’s forgiveness and the power to communicate to men the divine life which filled him. Man like other men and women, he took their sinful flesh. In solidarity with them he behaved as the responsible one, and entered into a decisive struggle to free his brothers and sisters.
To do so he assumed a role contrary to that of Adam the rebel. He accepted the whole of the human condition from the moment of his birth. He lived the life of an ordinary man, in a given time, in a specific country and specific village, with a definite style of life and a definite occupation. He was familiar with all human necessity: he ate, drank, slept like everyone else. Beyond that, he made himself a servant, the hostage designated to replace the guilty. He went to the extreme limit, the rock-bottom of all dejection: betrayed, abandoned by all, whipped, tortured, he took on himself all the sins of the history of the world. And he completed the sacrifice of the “humiliated servant” to repair the damage done by the “leader of a rebellious race.”
Evil, the demon, no longer had any hold, could act on nothing at all, and thus lost all its power. Sin was conquered. Suddenly the barrier which kept humankind from assuming its divine dimension was lifted: it could rediscover its forgotten intimacy with the Father because God had accepted the sacrifice of his “humiliated servant” and proved this in resurrecting him.
On Calvary Jesus reopened the way toward the Father when he told the criminal who regretted his evil past, “I promise you, this very night you will be with me in Paradise.” So it was a man of really obvious guilt, a thief, who first reentered this path.
For this man united himself to Christ in his sacrifice; he agreed to let himself be torn away from the servitude to evil which bound up his heart. He set himself on the side of the new human prototype; he surrendered to God. He was “saved,” he pursued his “salvation” — which is what Christianity is all about. Onto the old human nature inherited from the first prototype of man, it was necessary to graft Christ; as a barren tree receives the graft of a living and fruitful branch. So life is transformed, transfigured.
To be sure, it is something of a radical break, a change of heart, a “conversion,” to be united with Christ in his sacrifice. We might have to give up our secret slavery, like a grafted trunk gives up its own branches. We have to convert ourselves to a wholly new way of thinking, as we noticed in talking about the “reign of God”; and to do so we have to leave behind a way of living where we are satisfied with our selfishness, our Interests, our quiet, our comfort, our lack of love for others, our habits of sin. And the price is nothing less than to be a disciple of the crucified. What’s really wrong in the world is that this victory won by Christ can be canceled, rendered useless for one person or another. For man’s freedom resists the love of Christ which presses on him. And God respects this freedom.
Continuing this work of salvation, bringing men and women of all times and all races to God in proclaiming his Christ, submerging them in the saving sacrifice forever being set before them (“Do this in memory of me,” Jesus said), grafting Christ onto them in order to have them flourish with a new, divine life — in short, making them new persons on the model of Christ and thus sons and daughters of God — this is the essence of ministry in the church of Jesus Christ. And these are the reasons one becomes a priest.
Philosophers and scholars, scientists and technicians, sociologists and economists, politicians and labor leaders, artists of all kinds — the world needs people like these to reach its fulfillment. Christian writers and thinkers, authentic disciples of Christ in all fields and all social classes who put the law of love of the reign of God in their lives —the world also needs people like these to bear witness to Truth. These are all useful and necessary vocations, at once different and complementary.
But the priestly vocation is indispensible among all others, in order that Jesus Christ, the only bridge of salvation between heaven and earth, be made known and spread throughout the universe; and so that humanity, now given the new life it was meant to have from the first instant of creation, may find itself in God.
Father Menard in his work At All Times