Celebrations for the Jubilee of priests chaired by Pope Francis
Fr. Francesco Pesce
In these two days which see the celebration of the Jubilee of priests, priesthood is at the centre of our prayer. In the Roman canon we read: “You who wanted to accept the gift of Abel the just, the sacrifice of Abraham our Father in faith, the pure and holy oblate of Melchisedek your high priest”.
The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus is priest according to Melchisedek, not because He belonged to cast. It would be tragic if priesthood belonged to a cast, as sometimes history showed, to the cast of warriors and merchants.
The Book of Genesis gives the description of the encounter between Abraham and Melchisedek. I believe from this meeting on the mountain we can draw several points of reflections on priesthood. Abraham had just come back winner in an epic battle to free his nephew, Lot. Melchisedek welcomes him and offers him bread and wine. Abraham bows to this King. The priest must have authority, be hospitable, be able to share and give. Melchisedek was king of Jerusalem, city of peace. The priest must also be a man of peace. “Christ our piece” will say Saint Paul. Pope Francis has again given new emphasis to a non aggressive Church, fighting against everybody or in a continuing state of defence because it is attacked by the outside world.
Melchisedek then blesses Abraham: “Blessed be Abraham by God, highest creator of heaven and earth”. A priest is the man of blessing and this blessing carries on for all the people and for all the times. Nor sin neither terrorism nor our sins can ever interrupt God’s blessing. It cannot be interrupted yet it reaches each man. Further the Scriptures say: “Blessed be God the Highest who placed in your enemies in your hands”.
Enemies are defeated by our blessings. Even more reason for the priest to be a man of dialogue, of patience, of mediation. With his good, blessing example (but clear and authoritative) scatters the aggressors and dissipates any argument.
Abraham rejects the war treasure: “I will take nothing, not even a string for the shoes”. A priest must be a poor man, in the true sense, living particularly trusting God, a man, a Christian, who hopes against all hopes.
Again a priest must be a pure man who celebrates the Eucharist that was celebrated on the mountain of Abraham and Melchisedek. “Whoever eats of my body and drinks my bloods will have eternal life and I will resurrect him the last day”. A priest man of the Eucharist who proclaims the resurrection, not death.
Lastly, the Letter to the Hebrews says : “He has taken upon himself weakness and because of it he must offer sacrifices for himself and for the whole people”. The priest is a man who enters into the pain of the world. This is the true universality of his ministry: it is our suffering, the world’s suffering.
Let’s come close to the pain of the world as priests who hold bread and wine. God is the bread and God is the wine: we, priests, must be bread and wine for others and we must be “the bread to eat” so that all men can get to Christ our Saviour.
A table without bread is just stone, just as the heart of a priest without mercy.