Monday, September 1, 2014

The two natures that every priest possesses

Theologically we say that Christ has two natures in one person, the divine nature of God, and the human nature as man.  The ordained priest too, has two “natures”, though not in same understanding.  Bishop Fulton Sheen in a book on the Priesthood had an insight when he said that like Peter, every priest also has two “natures” – a human nature which links him to any other man, and a priestly nature, which makes him another Christ. 

This is highly and significantly symbolized in Christ’s choice of Simon as a Christian priest, given the new name of Peter to represent his new character.  But he wasn’t called to leave his old name behind.  Simon now had a double-barreled name of Simon Peter.  “Peter” came with his new vocation; his new calling.  Simon would always be Simon bar Jona (son of Jona), whilst the addition of Peter gave him the reminder that he was also the priest chosen by the Son of God.  Did this mean that he no longer was Simon, and that he was no longer ‘human’?  Not at all.  One name did not negate the other, just as one ‘nature’ did not overshadow or displace the other.  But the truth in the unfolding of the life of Simon Peter from that day on was that like many of us priests, sometimes Simon (or the human part of him) ruled, and at times, Peter (the priestly dimension) ruled.

At each point of time in our lives as priests, either Simon or Peter has mastery.  It was after the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the Apostles at the Pentecost event that there was less evidence of Simon.  What can be surmised about this is that with the Holy Spirit’s influence and energy, Simon who had so many times in the past been so impetuous, compromising and cowardly is now given the strength to become steadfast and courageous. 

One of the most telling examples of the classic struggle between the two natures of a priest is seen in the conversation that Jesus had with Simon at Caesarea Philippi, the gospel passage that was encountered in last Sunday’s liturgy.  There was an almost divine illumination in Simon when he proclaimed Christ as the Messiah, but the very next moment when Jesus also mentioned about the imperative of his impending crucifixion, we see him remonstrating with this seeming inconceivable idea, causing him to be called Satan.  From being a rock to a stumbling stone in almost a blink of an eye.  Any priest who is honest enough about his human foibles will be able to commiserate with Peter how he too, has seen this scene played out in his own life, where at one moment he was Christ, and when he was unthinking and worldly, also became Satan (a deceiver)?

When we priests have a certain unwillingness and reluctance to imitate our Lord in accepting his ways of being crucified, and prefer to go the way of comfort, the elevated ego and maybe the preference of comfort at the expense of sacrifice for others and suffering souls, we also fail to imitate Christ as we should.  But the pattern does seem to have a certain wave of similarity in many vocation stories of the priesthood.  On our day of ordination, it seems so beautiful and rosy to want to go all out to become another Christ for the world.  Like many married couples have such rosy ideals at the Altar when they exchange their vows for life, the priest too, whether they like to admit it or not, have their ‘rosy’ pictures of the priesthood and how holy their lives can be.

Yet we also know that many of us priests have in our lives fallen short of these ideals.  Somewhere along the way of our living out our priesthood, this ideal and these rosy images began to take on a more sepia tone.  Why do priests fall?  Why do some of us become jaded?  How did our lustre for souls become tarnished and dull?  Some of us seem to have reduced the priesthood to one of ‘coasting’ along and the fires of devotion are hardly even embers that can give off any heat, let alone light other lives that need to see the Light of Christ and experience the flame of his love.

There are many possible reasons for this, and I tend to concur with Bishop Sheen’s observation that one of most common reasons for this is when the priest abandons his personal time with the Lord in the daily Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament. 

It’s not talked about often, but perhaps it is something that we need to.  We tell people of the need to pray but if we don’t commit to a dedicated prayer life ourselves, when we only pray when it is our ‘duty’ to celebrate the parish mass, or when it is our ‘turn’ to preside over the parish monthly Holy Hour or to lead the Rosary during the Marian months, we easily turn our lifeline to holiness into an entangled mess, and we slowly let go of what enables us to strive to be holy priests. 

In Luke 22:40, Jesus reminds them to “pray that you may not enter into temptation”.  Isn’t it significant that when Jesus saw his disciples sleeping in the garden of Gethsamane on the night prior to his passion, that he addressed Peter as Simon?  Simon was not willing to pray, and somehow lost the battle.  St Theresa of Avila said of prayer so significantly that he who omits prayer needs no devil to cast him into hell; he casts himself into it. 

We priests can give all sorts of apparently valid reasons why we don’t offer up an hour of our day before the Eucharistic Lord.  Our work is our prayer.  We have to visit the sick, prepare for talks, and go for endless meetings.  These all sound so valid, but deep inside, any priest will know that if it is not the Lord’s grace and energy that enables us to do all that, we are merely running on our own steam, and this steam will cool down sooner or later.  Our palate for the things spiritual soon become jaded and in an ironic twist, even the presence and talk of saintly priests can become annoying. 

In my convalescence since my transplant, I had a long period of about five months where I had absolutely no appetite nor desire to eat.  I lost quite a lot of weight as a result, but I knew that the only way to gain weight was to try to eat, difficult though it was.  I had to literally force myself to swallow food that was just not a simple task.  Part of what enabled me to do this was that I knew that it was good and beneficial for me. 

The same attitude perhaps needs to be taken on by us priests who seem to be jaded, and have somehow lost our appetite for prayer and being in the presence of the Eucharistic Lord.  We must know that what benefits us in the end is good not just for our souls and our priesthood, but also for the flock that we are entrusted with.  Our “Peter” vocation has to take on a more prominent role than our “Simon” nature.   We can be sure that as our Lord promised that he will be with us till the end of time, his grace and mercy will be strengthening us as we struggle between the natures.


  1. Dear frLuke, so very true and i met them all and you are blessed to know yourself as one among.... and more blessed to keep your Holy Hour, daily.

    An ex parish priest shared with me that it is only when he left did he find time to spend with the Lord. During his priesthood, most of his prayers were in the form of doing.

    And yes, thank you father :)


  2. Hi, Fr Luke! Enjoying nutritiously healthy food is an acquired taste, much like getting to like 'kopi-O kosong' as a refinement. We rejoice that with your vocation at heart, you've adjusted to a healthier mode of diet. And now, you're fit to begin preaching again. That's really good news to us. Love, Ignatius & Florence

  3. Thank you Fr. Luke for untiringly share with us your reflections.
    Part of our daily supplication is to pray for our priests that He will bless them with fortitude and prudence as they carry out their mission. Stay blessed.

  4. I have learned that the only way to abide in his love is to pray.
    To pray is to be in his presence, and to hear his voice.
    Prayer is communion.

    Without prayer it would probably be more of "my will be done" instead of "thy will be done"?