Sometimes, when I am saying Mass, consecrating the bread and the wine to become the Body and Blood of Christ, I look at myself inwardly and say, “Who do you think you are?” And, I look at the people and wonder how on earth can I provide for you what all of you need?
Other times, like when I am anointing someone who is sick or dying, I look at myself inwardly and wonder if such a ritual can possibly help the person who is facing serious consequences or death. What hope am I bringing to them?
These are times when I feel very small before the great mysteries that I am performing. It’s like I am asking myself, “How can this be?” And, then, there are the faces of those who have come to me for Mass or the Sacraments. Their very presence is an act of hope and faith. How can I do so much for so many?
There is something much greater than myself in these sacramental moments. It is large. I am small and inadequate.
It appears that I may be a little like Philip in the Gospel account of Jesus feeding the 5,000.
When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip,
“Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”
He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do.
Philip answered him,
“Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.”
In my priesthood, the task before me is often overwhelming. It is so great that the very situation sometimes makes me feel helpless. How can I feed so many with so little?
A similar situation occurred in the Old Testament reading from 2nd Kings when Elisha received the offerings of food from a follower.
Elisha said, “Give it to the people to eat.”
But his servant objected,
“How can I set this before a hundred people?”
This was similar to the feeling Philip expressed when faced with the prospect of feeding 5,000 with Jesus.
Elisha insisted, “Give it to the people to eat.”
“For thus says the LORD,
‘They shall eat and there shall be some left over.’”
And when they had eaten, there was some left over,
as the LORD had said.
The story about Elisha multiplying the barley loaves is an anticipation of Jesus multiplying the loaves. Both stories are there to teach us about the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, and the abundance of God’s love for us and the abundance of Grace He wishes to shower upon us.
One of the first lessons is that it is the Lord who performs the wonders and miracles, not any man. In the Church we say that the priest offers the Mass and the Sacraments “in persona Cristi”. From the Catechism we learn, “Only Christ is the true priest, the others being only his ministers.”
In the priest, it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, Teacher of Truth. This is what the Church means by saying that the priest, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, acts in persona Christi Capitis ….”
St. Tomas Aquinas tells us,
“It is the same priest, Christ Jesus, whose sacred person his minister truly represents. Now the minister, by reason of the sacerdotal consecration which he has received, is truly made like to the high priest and possesses the authority to act in the power and place of the person of Christ himself (virtute ac persona ipsius Christi).
Christ is the source of all priesthood: the priest of the old law was a figure of Christ, and the priest of the new law acts in the person of Christ.
So, when I am in doubt, the Mass is still valid, because Jesus is present in my priesthood. It’s not about me. The miracle of the sacraments is still intact. It is Jesus himself who is making the miracles happen for his Church. Don’t ever doubt the sacraments of the Church. It is Jesus who fed the 5,000, not Philip or the Apostles. It was God who multiplied Elisha’s loaves, not Elisha.
So, when I am suffering from doubts, or questioning myself in the sacraments, or my service as a priest, I just keep going out of obedience. I pray. I ask for God’s help. Finally, I trust in the sacrament of ordination, and the promises that come with it. God will provide for you and me, just like he fed the Israelites in the desert, and Elisha fed people with little, and Jesus fed 5,000 with just 2 fish and 5 loaves.
It may be similar for you in your situations in the family or your trials and sufferings, like serious diseases or challenges or if you lose a job. You may experience that you are inadequate for the task; that the challenge is just too overwhelming. You lose hope. You become depressed. You think you are going to fail, or that you cannot succeed.
Sometimes, those joined in Holy Matrimony may lose hope in their marriage or spouse, or in themselves. We just can’t do it any more! It is times like these when we must rely upon Christ who joins us in our sacramental marriage.
It is precisely in these moments of weakness that God can do the most for us. It is harder for God to work in us when we feel self-sufficient; as if we can handle everything ourselves. But God comes to help when we need Him most. It is then that we can pray as in the Psalm,
The LORD is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth.
R. The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.
But, you have to acknowledge your limitations and call upon Him.