This week I celebrated by 10th Anniversary of priestly ordination, and there are a number of things I’ve learnt over these last 10 years. And one of the things I’ve learnt is that there is a rather odd truth about the priesthood: to be more of a priest you have to be less of yourself. And this is like St John the Baptist –he said: “I must decrease and He [i.e. Christ] must increase”.
This notion stands in direct opposition to a lot of contemporary thinking. Many people today speak as if the ONLY important thing in life is to “just be yourself”.
But, for a priest, I am nothing UNLESS I am, not myself, but someone else, namely, Christ.
I made this point on Wednesday, speaking about the Mass:
Whose body do I feed the people with? Not mine but Christ’s.
Whose words do I say in the consecration? Not mine but Christ’s.
And as I stand at the altar as the intermediary between God’s people and the Father, in whose person do I stand and whose prayer do I offer? Not mine but Christ’s.
In as much as I am a TRUE priest, this holds for ALL that I do. When I teach, when I preach, when I visit the sick, when I bless a home. If I am doing this things IN REALITY then it is not I who do them but Christ, with me as His instrument.
Of course, it is possible, and easily done, for me to do all these things NOT as Christ but as myself. To fill my sermons with myself, to make my conversation about myself, and, even when I am trying to be helpful, to give MY advice not Christ’s advice.
But in as much as I do that, I am not a real priest.
This, actually, holds true for ALL of us as Christians. We are ALL called to have Christ “formed in” us, as St Paul puts it in his letter to the Galatians (Gal. 4:19).
We were created by Christ, and for Christ, so we can only ever be completed IF we are formed INTO Christ.
By ourselves, we are weak, and small, and insignificant.
But if we are formed into Him then we are formed into something incredible.
(pause) Now, this is something of a mystery. And the mystery is this:
When I die to myself and let Christ be formed in me, instead of ME being destroyed in this process, in fact, I become more fully MYSELF.
As a Christian, I am called to have Christ become incarnate in my own flesh. But he doesn’t do this by destroying my personality, by making me speak with a Palestinian accent or speak the Aramaic he spoke 2000 years ago, or by making me have the same skin complexion and colour that He had.
Rather, He becomes incarnate in my flesh by using my own personality, my quirks, my character, my language, but elevating them and purifying them so that they become something more than they would be by themselves.
So dying to self is truly, as Christ said, dying to self is the only way to come to life.
Let us think of John the Baptist again. He said that he was not the Messiah. He said that “Someone is following me... who is more powerful than I am”. He said, “I must decrease and He must increase”. He said that he must “prepare the way”, prepare the way not for himself but for someone else.
But all of this actually made John the Baptist MORE than he was by himself, it made him more because he found his true orientation in Christ. And it made him MORE because CHRIST is so much more.
Advent is the time when we are called upon to “prepare the way” for Christ to come. And that means prepare the way for Him to come in our very lives. As long as we are proudly insisting on “being ourselves”, then we cannot let Him in us or let Him be formed in us. But, if we seek to die to sin, die to self, die to all in us that is not Christ, THEN we will find all that we are created to be.
And it is only then that we will be happy and satisfied, and the message of “console my people console them” that we heard in our first reading from Isaiah, it is only then that consolation will be ours.