By PAULA BROCK, Commentary | Published August 6, 2009
Alter Christus … the Priest, another Christ. In his love and wisdom, God did not leave us alone on this earth but gave us the priest. During my pilgrimage here on earth, the priest has accompanied me, helping me to navigate and stay on the path that will lead me to my eternal home. He has come in many forms, ages, races and manners, and he has always been there, in the happy times, in the sad times, and in the ordinary times. He has been my friend, counselor, confessor and consoler. He is Augustinian, Dominican, Benedictine and secular.
When I was first born, he was there to bring me to a precious and nobler birth through the sacrament of baptism. I have seen him baptizing my children and grandchildren as infants, and my husband as an adult. What joy for me to see my family being freed from their sins, entering the church and being made sharers in her mission!
When I was a child, the priest was there to reconcile me to God. I received my first sacrament of penance as an innocent 7-year-old … little did I know of sin. But as time passed and I offended the Lord, it was the priest who showed me God’s great mercy and encouraged me in the knowledge that my sins were forgiven.
How vividly I remember my first holy communion day, wearing my beautiful white dress and veil and missing my front tooth. The priest was there again, to give me the life-giving food that is Christ come down from heaven. I did not think I could ever be happier than I was on that day. Although I little understood the depths of this mystery at the time, through the years the continual reception of the most Holy Eucharist, made available to me through the priest, has shaped my life and my very being.
As a 9-year-old I remember wearing a red gown and receiving the light slap on the face from the bishop that was a customary Confirmation symbol at the time. I was told I was now a soldier of Christ, and I proclaimed with great certainty that I would be willing to die for the Lord! However, as I progressed through my early adult years I was anything but a soldier. Though the priest is often scorned and condemned for defending the divine and enduring things of God, it was his example that brought me back to my senses.
As a young bride, my husband and I exchanged our vows witnessed by the priest; there he was with us as we made the public decision to cooperate with God in the founding of our family. The multitude of joys throughout our years together clearly demonstrates God’s presence in our marriage. The birth of our children, seeing them grow into loving adults with children of their own, and spending simple time together in the lovely quietness of family life are all gifts beyond compare.
The priest was with me again on one sad September day, as he gave my husband the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. My husband was dying and I had to let him go. What a comfort it is to know that my husband was re-consecrated before he presented himself to the divine and merciful judge. Through my conversations with the priest I was able to have peace in making the decision to turn off artificial life support. It brings me solace today to reflect on the sound wisdom of the Church made known to me though those conversations.
As I look back over these years, I realize how integrally and essentially related to my life the priest is. His humility, sacrifice and holiness have been and continue to be model and inspiration.
Paula Brock is the chief financial officer of the Zoological Society of San Diego, Calif. The U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations has provided this column as part of a monthly series about the priesthood written by prominent Catholic women.