You Are a Priest Forever...

We hear the line so often, ''you are a priest forever in the line of Melchizedek.'' It is a beautiful line except for those days when you are thinking, ''I wonder if I can be a priest for the rest of the day -- let alone the 'forever part.''' We may be a priest forever both in this kingdom and in the Kingdom we await. But the fact is that each of us lives in the day-to-day lived priesthood. In those tough days we strive to get through it all.

Like any profession and/or vocation each of us is called to live fully in the moment and make today count and then make tomorrow count so that the culmination of each of these todays and tomorrows begins to add up toward the ''forever.''

We were baptized and anointed with the Chrism of Salvation as Priest, Prophet and King. This mandate of our baptismal call is further charged at our ordination. Once we are called forward the ''official'' homily echoes these three offices of baptism. It is as if at baptism the ''priest, prophet and king'' are lower case words and now at ordination they become upper case presbyteral offices: Priest, Prophet and King.

The official homily from the ritual states:

... you are to be raised to the Order of the Priesthood. For your part you will exercise the sacred duty of teaching in the name of Christ the Teacher ... see that you believe what you read, that you teach what you believe, and that you practice what you teach ... let what you teach be nourishment for the people of God.

... you will exercise in Christ the office of sanctifying. For by your ministry the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful will be made perfect, being united to the sacrifice of Christ... Understand, therefore, what you do and imitate what you celebrate. ... when you gather others into the people of God through Baptism ... Penance; when you comfort the sick ... when you offer prayers of praise ... carry out the ministry of Christ the Priest with constant joy and genuine love, attending not to your own concerns but to those of Jesus Christ....

...dear sons, exercising for your part the office of Christ, Head and Shepherd, ... strive to bring the faithful together into one family, so that you may lead them to God the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit. Keep always before your eyes the example of the Good Shepherd who came not to be served but to serve, and who came to seek out and save what was lost.

We live out these offices daily, probably never really thinking ''am I being 'priestly' as I celebrate this baptism or am I being 'prophetic?' or ''as I sit here at a staff meeting am I living out the 'shepherding' role of my sacerdotal character.' We most likely give such considerations little conscious thought.''

We are reminded by the Church that though baptized once as Priest, Prophet and King and then ordained as Priest, Prophet and King that these offices must be nurtured each day ''forever.'' These three offices are undergirded and nourished by the four areas of formation (immediate and ongoing); human, intellectual, pastoral and spiritual which were significantly highlighted in Pastores Dabo Vobis (1992). These areas have been echoed in most formational documents since: National Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States (USCCB 2004) and The Basic Plan for the Ongoing Formation of Priests (USCCB 2001).

Human Formation (basis of all priestly formation) aims to cultivate the humanity of priests so that their humanity is instrumental in communicating Jesus Christ and that they can be authenticate ''men of communion.'' Care of the human life cycle, disciplines of psychology, sociology, the fine arts and sciences all shape who we are as a person.

Intellectual Formation aims to deepen the understanding of faith seeking to link theoretical knowledge with practical wisdom. It balances being pastor and theologian; it requires pastoral theology and theological reflection.

Pastoral Formation entails the development of skills and competencies that enable priests to serve their people well. These skills would include the preaching and proclamation, presiding, counseling, language skills. It is the practical side of theology.

Spiritual Formation is life long for priests as it is for all the faithful as we all strive to be better disciples of Jesus Christ.

-- from The Basic Plan for the Ongoing Formation of Priests and Pastores Dabo Vobis

These four areas of formation assist priests to keep the three offices of priesthood in a healthy balance so that the day to dayness of priesthood unfolds into the ''foreverness of priesthood.'' These areas help to keep the 25th year of priesthood or the ''seven year itch'' of priesthood as meaningful as the first day of priesthood. Not only do priests need to maintain a healthy balance to these dimensions, they need to maintain that balance in light of the responsibilities of the baptismal and sacerdotal offices entrusted to them. ''How do or should I keep the human dimension of the priestly office healthy?'' Or ''What would I need to ponder and examine to make sure the pastoral dimension of the prophetic office is being well served.''

As you begin to reflect on the three offices of priesthood in light of the four areas of formation you realize mathematically that there is now a grid of 12 areas upon which to mediate, e.g. the human dimension of the teaching office; the intellectual dimension of the sanctifying office; the spiritual dimension of governance or the pastoral dimension of teaching and so forth. The National Organization of the Continuing Education of Roman Catholic Clergy (NOCERCC) began to chart this grid of twelve areas at its annual convention in February 2008 looking at the three offices in light of the four areas of formation. Each subsequent year at its convention it is further expounding on each office and its formation areas.

It was not an easy task to begin to chart specifically what could a priest do to enhance the ''spiritual dimension of governance'' let alone the other 11 cells of the 4 by 3 chart. Below is a list of some of the suggestions by the priests attending the NOCERCC convention in February 2008.

Obviously, only one reflection is listed for each of the 12 areas, there were countless other thoughts put forward. Just the magnitude of suggestions or the simple visual of charting the formation dimensions of the offices of priesthood became a lens of how much each of us needs to do for own well being. Then only can our ministry benefit the well-being of those whom we serve.

No list, no chart, will ever exhaust the possibilities since formation is ongoing and each priest brings his unique need and gift to the three offices of priesthood and to the four formation areas. Just as the list could never be exhausted neither can the priesthood which is forever.

This article first appeared in the Priest magazine.