Reflect on the Priesthood
Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will bee bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will beef loosed in heaven —Matthew 18:18 (NIV).
If it be a great dignity to stand in the place of God, to represent the person of Jesus Christ, it must be a heavy charge to act up to the character, and not dishonor or bring into contempt the high office committed to us. Our Divine Redeemer will be at the last day a most just Judge; but during his sojourn on earth, he willed his severity ever to be tempered with mercy and kindness. Such, therefore, are we expected to be: upright and inflexible on the side of justice, yet charitable and lenient on behalf of mercy. We must so steer between extremes, as neither to repel by harshness nor to mislead into false security by indulgence; but at once maintain the rights of the Master and the interest of the Redeemer. A false step on our parts may compromise the claims of God, or risk the loss of a soul redeemed by the precious blood of his Son. True, the sentence pronounced by us on earth will be ratified in heaven, provided we have to the best of our power been righteous in our judgments. But it is no less true, that every such judgment is scrutinized and registered in God’s chancery, and that what has passed in the secrecy of the confessional will be proclaimed as from the house-tops on the great day of account. We who now sit as judges shall then be arraigned in our turn, called to justify the decisions of our tribunal before that of God.
Oh, what a frightful charge will it then appear to us, if souls which we have absolved were thereby only stamped with a stronger seal of reprobation, and if we see that we wound round them a double chain of sacrilege by our precipitate absolution! Oh, what a curse shall we feel, if a single soul shall then be found to have been lost through our uncharitableness and harshness, which drove it away from frequenting this only remedy for sin, or if our negligence has deprived any of the opportunity of approaching it! But, besides these tremendous responsibilities, how many others there are, scarcely less heavy, from the counsel and guidance which the faithful have a right to expect in this tribunal. What gentleness yet firmness, what prudence and sagacity are required to bring the delicate and scrupulous conscience to peace; what unremitting perseverance in kindness and compassion, and what a variety of arts are necessary to support and bring to a safe and secure standing the frail yet willing penitent who is anxious to be virtuous, yet for a time seems to be struggling in vain; what determination mingled with a winning condescension is often requisite to conquer the obstinate and unfeeling heart, so as not to disgust or drive it into despair! A guilty failure in any of these points may cost a soul; and that soul cost Jesus Christ his blood! What vengeance then will he take on all such unjust judges of his people as have not qualified themselves beforehand for these awful duties, or who ill discharge it when they have entered upon his ministry!
About the author and the source
Nicholas Cardinal Wiseman (1802–1865) was the first Catholic Archbishop of Westminster. He wrote a six-month devotional. Today’s excerpt is the meditation for Tuesday of the third week of the sixth month. Protestants who believe in the priesthood of all believers can learn no less than ordained Catholic priests from Wiseman’s thoughts on the role of priests.
Cardinal Wiseman. Daily Meditations. Dublin: James Duffy, 1868.