Jesus founded his Church on Peter, to whom he gave the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 16:19) and he charged him, with the others whom he had chosen as apostles, “to go therefore of all disciples. nations” (Mt 28:19). Thus, Jesus ordained and authorized the first official workers of his Church whom he charged to transmit what he taught them and what they saw him doing during the time he was with them. Jesus personally prepared these men to pass on all that they had seen and heard of him through the ordained bishops of his Church as their successors. This is called the “apostolic tradition” to which the Church of Jesus must always be loyal and unwavering in its fidelity. Jesus also ordained a second layer of workers to help the apostles. They were not additional apostles but the first official priests of the Church personally ordained by Jesus for this ministry of helping the apostles. As Saint Luke tells us: “The Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to all the towns and places he intended to visit” (Lk 10:1). Jesus said the reason was that “the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few” (10:2). “Therefore, he commanded, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest” (v 2). Workers here refer specifically to the ordained priesthood. Since Jesus built His Church on Peter, whom He ordained at the Last Supper with the other Apostles and the seventy-two last named, the sacramental priesthood is essential for the continuity and authenticity of His Church. Without the ordained priesthood, the Church of Jesus cannot exist. It is reality. Hence Jesus’ urgency for more workers to gather into the many souls who need salvation through Baptism into His Church.
Why is there such a shortage of priests in the Church today? I think there is a serious lack of understanding of the Church and why Jesus founded it as the visible sign of his saving presence in the world. Traditionally, the Church was often referred to as the “Mother Church” because it was in her that human beings were reborn as adopted children of God in baptism. Focusing on the Church as “Mother” gives us a deep understanding of her essential role in God’s plan of salvation. Think how essential a mother is to raising children. Every organization needs a head, but if it wants to be productive, it also needs a heart. In a family, the mother is the heart of the home, the nanny par excellence. In God’s plan of salvation, the Church of Jesus makes his Sacred Heart visible and palpable in and through his sacraments. Jesus refers to his Church as his “bride”, the “mother” of his children. It is also for this reason that women cannot be ordained priests because the priest represents Jesus as the Bridegroom. Just as a mother in a family keeps her children very aware of what their father does for them, the Church keeps us very aware of what Jesus does for sinners. The Church therefore plays a crucial role in making visible and tangible the saving presence of Jesus to those who seek and love him. The priest, conformed to Christ, acts in the name of Jesus and brings to the people his Word and his sacrament in which he honors his disciples by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Old Testament prefigures what we find in the New Testament. For example, in Isaiah 66:10-14, if we delete the word “Jerusalem” and insert the word “Church”, we see why Jesus founded his Church and the important role the Church plays in helping believers experience of the presence of God. Jerusalem prefigures the Church as the visible sign of the active, creative and saving presence of God. This is what we see when we replace “Jerusalem” with “the Church of Jesus”. “Rejoice with the Church and rejoice because of her, all you who love her; exult, exult with her, all of you who mourned her! Oh, that you may fully suck the milk of her comfort, that you may nurse with delight her abundant breasts! Behold, I will pour prosperity upon the Church like a river…like infants you shall be carried in his arms and caressed in his lap; as a mother consoles her child, I will console you; in the Church you will find your comfort… the power of the Lord will be known to his servants. Since a bride cannot be a bride without a groom, the Church cannot be the Church without Jesus Christ. Having built His Church on the ordained priesthood by which Jesus conforms men to be an “alter Christus” The representative, Jesus made the priesthood and the essential requirement for His visibility as Bridegroom with the Church as as His Spouse, the Mother and nurturer of His family.
Each baptized and confirmed person is called to administer their God-given gifts for the good of the Church and the benefit of all mankind. Thus, each person is called to be a worker. Faith’s response to Jesus’ command, “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers…” must be that of Isaiah (6:8): “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘ Who will I send? Who will go for us?’ ‘I am here;’ I said; ‘Send me!’ It takes supernatural faith and an understanding of the importance Jesus gave to His Church as His instrument to bring the Gospel of life to the world. Jesus spared no effort when He sent His first bishops and priests of His Church. He admonishes them, “Remember that I am sending you as lambs among wolves…if the people of any city you are entering do not welcome you, go to its streets and say, ‘We shake off the dust of this city from our feet as a testimony against you. But know that the kingdom of God is near…He who hears you hears me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk 10:8-16). When the seventy-two returned, they were rejoicing in their victory over evil because they spoke in Jesus’ Name. But He recalled that their real joy came from having “your names written in Heaven.” (Lk 10:20). So be joyful because if you work for Christ in His Church, your name is recorded in Heaven. Pray that Jesus’ urgent call to the workers of his Church to bring his saving Word to the world finds a generous and enthusiastic response. The salvation of the world depends on these workers cooperating with Jesus as He continues to call sinners through His Church. We must remember that there is no cheap grace.