In some sense, all Christians are priests. By virtue of his or her Baptism, each and every Christian shares in the priesthood of Christ. This is not the priesthood of the altar and of the ministration of the sacraments – but it nonetheless is a real priesthood. And because it is the priesthood common to Jesus and bestowed in Baptism, it is (if we were to compare them) the higher priesthood.
But what is a priest?
A priest is someone who stands between God and human beings, offers sacrifices in action, and gives to the people God in words (that is, the Word).
With respect to one another and especially with respect to non-Christians, Christians have a priestly role to fulfill. We must stand between God and people. We must give one to another. We must make sacrifices. We must be in solidarity with people and live with God; we must live in communion with both. That vocation was given to us when the new water touched us and someone Baptized us in the name of the Eternal Communion which is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Father René Voillaume has a phrase that I like very much to describe this situation: we are to be “standing delegates to prayer.” On any given day, we may meet countless people who do not know God. They do not pray. They do not read the Word. They do not receive any sacraments. They do not, at least consciously, know the Truth as a Person. They do not live a spirit of Gospel simplicity and penitence for their own sins. They just don’t have these marks in their lives, and many of them do not have the marks of Baptism in their life.
So we are to be “standing delegates to prayer.” Without judging them, ignoring them, or turning up our noses, we pray for those who do not pray. We know God for those who do not know him. We receive the sacraments with links of solidarity in our hearts. We know the Truth and speak the Word. We do penance for sins and mortify ourselves, first in our external actions but most importantly in curbing our selfish will in all things. We stand there. We fill the gap. We exist with others and with God.
This reflection on Christian living is dear to my heart. I live in a country (Thailand) where less than 1% of the population is Christian (Protestant, Orthodox, or Catholic). Only another 5% is Muslim and believes in the same One God as Christians do. So, for me, this notion of being standing delegates to prayer – praying here and everywhere, where it is needed, for those who cannot pray as they are called to – is real.
It can also be real in countries where faith and belief are increasingly coming under ridicule and agnosticism and atheism, declared or simply practised, are on the rise. We can be standing delegates to prayer. We are priests.