The Priest: Vigilant Guardian of Man’s Salvation

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“ For the life of a priest is precisely the lighthouse on which lay people, navigating in the midst of the ocean and darkness of the world, keep their eyes fixed on  in order to escape destruction.” – St. Charles Borromeo

Ignatians: Watchmen of the Night, Warriors Ever Vigilant for Love of Souls

 As watchmen of the night (Isaiah 21:11), priests of God have a divinely ordained mission: “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.” (Ezekiel 33:7).

The Lord Jesus has commanded His priests to make urgency a mark of their action: “Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2) since “knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.” (Rom 13:11)

Vigilant guardians of man’s salvation they must combat all that endangers it and strengthen it constantly through God’s sacraments and words so that each man may be able to “stand before the Son of Man with confidence” and gain entrance to undying existence in the Eternity of Eternities.

The Ignatian makes his own the words of King David to Ahimelech, “Now is there not a spear or a sword on hand? For I brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king’s matter was urgent.” (1 Samuel 21:8)

Lighthouse Amid Stormy Seas

An appropriate symbol for the priest is that of the lighthouse. Indeed, at Cape Pappas, on the southern tip of the island of Ikaria, there is a lighthouse that for centuries has been called “The Priest” by the natives.

In a way a priest is like a lighthouse of God, one whose immaculate life must be poured over the dark waters of the world as a warning and a guide.

“A priest is like a lighthouse in its foundation.  The foundation must be there, true and deep, else the lighthouse might drift off or be washed away.

“A priest is like a lighthouse too in this:  his is a lonely life.  Well, you do not find a lighthouse in the midst of other houses, do you?  It must stand apart.  To serve the rest, it must leave the rest.

“And so the priest, if he is to be a guide and a help to other men, must leave his own home and family and friends, and live like a lighthouse, a lonely finger lifted out of the sea to warn men against the treacherous shoals and shallows of temptation, against the hidden reefs and rocks of sin, against the foaming seas of passion.

“The life of the priest is like a lighthouse also because it is often misunderstood and unappreciated.  Giddy little pleasure-craft, yachts with wild parties, go skimming gaily past the lighthouse and probably look up at the lighthouse with pity.  It misses all the fun of life, the good times.

“Merchant ships go waddling by, their hold fat with valuable cargo.  These too pity the lighthouse because it deals in no commerce, brings in no goods, no wealth.

“Even the tramp steamers, their sides smeared and grimy with stains from ports all over the world, even these gypsies of the sea, pity the poor lighthouse that can never wander but must stand by its post.

“Yet, let the black night come down, and the white waves roar up and the wind howl, and the storm break!  Then every eye strains for the lighthouse ray, and every ear listens for the lighthouse bell, and every wheel steers by the lighthouse course!

“Isn’t that the way with the life of the priest too?  People do not come to the priest when things are serene, when life whirls around tinkling and merry like a carousel.

“But, when sickness lies palely beside the bright rows of medicine bottles, or when death pins its grim bouquet on the door, or when some crisis throws its chilling shadow over the family circle, when things are black indeed, then they look to the priest, then they are glad that his light hangs high and bright, above the world’s tide, then they are glad he is not swept along in the fierce current of the world’s paganism, but is anchored, fixed, and firm on the rock which is the Church.

“For whether a priest counsel, or console, or commend or condemn, he is but trying to do it in the name of Christ.  He is always asking himself:  ‘What would Christ do, now?’

“The priest thinks of St. Paul who compares mortal sin to two things—to re-crucifying Christ, and to the shipwreck of a soul, and the priest remembers that at Calvary the cross was like a tilted mast up there amid the rocks, and the white Body of Christ hung like a limp and storm-slashed sail; and if this is the shipwreck that every serious sin causes, namely re-crucifying Christ—must not the lighthouse pour its fierce light upon the tragedy, and its bell boom a grim warning.

“Just another priest?  Just another sinful man called by God to represent Him among men.  So, a priest tries to be another Good Samaritan bending down over the wounds of prostrate humanity.  He makes mistakes and he makes enemies.

“And to many men he is still just another mystery, another riddle to the world’s sensuality, another challenge flung in the face of the world’s paganism, and another proof that the old Church which gave priests to the ancient catacombs is still giving them to country chapels and city churches and lordly cathedrals.

“You might say that a priest is a lawyer who pleads the almost hopeless cause of Christ; or that he is a surgeon whose operating field is sin-cancered souls and broken hearts; or that he is an engineer who job is to keep repaired the road between God and man; but above all he is the lighthouse, the keeper of the light!

“’You are the light of the world; let your light shine before men!’….”

                 Source: Joseph E. Manton, Straws from the Crib.