By Fr Richard Nesbitt
When a priest marks your forehead with the Sign of the Cross on Ash Wednesday, he will himself have that same mark smeared on his own skin.
It is a sign that the priest is in just as much need of conversion as anyone else during Lent. To be a minister of Christ’s mercy to others he must first experience in his own life the mercy of God. I love these words from the Catechism: “When he celebrates the Sacrament of Penance, the priest is fulfilling the ministry of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep, of the Good Samaritan who binds up wounds, of the Father who awaits the prodigal son and welcomes him on his return... The priest is the sign and the instrument of God’s merciful love for the sinner” (CCC 1465).
But a priest cannot be the Good Shepherd unless he has first been the sheep, he cannot be the Good Samaritan if he has not had his own wounds healed deeply by Christ, he cannot be the father welcoming back the prodigal son if he does not know what the loss of that relationship means and if he does not see that same loss in the eyes and hearts of the people he serves.
As priests we need to hear the words of absolution as much as we proclaim them. We are indeed “earthenware vessels”, cracked and chipped and yet entrusted with the greatest of treasure. But when we celebrate the Sacrament, we see God’s grace at work and we are reminded of who we are called to be. So this Lent, hear that call to conversion spoken personally to you by God and come to receive Christ’s mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And pray for your confessors, for us your priests, that we too may be healed in Christ so that together we can live out the joy of the Gospel.
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