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Priesthood: Steward of the Sacrament and Icon of Christ, the Bridegroom by Father Jon Schnobrich

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Priesthood: Steward of the Sacrament and Icon of Christ, the Bridegroom

by Father Jon Schnobrich

I recently celebrated the wedding of a friend's younger brother, and something happened to me that, thus far in my priesthood, has never happened before - I saw heaven in the newlywed couple.

Every so often, God lifts the veil for us to glimpse the reality of what the Sacraments point to. At the wedding, I had just preached on the powerful symbolism of the bride and groom and how the married vocation is a call to make visible through their love that invisible heavenly spousal love between the Divine Bridegroom and His Bride, the Church. As the newlywed couple processed down the aisle together, I beheld them and God “lifted the veil" – if you will – and allowed me see in them a glimpse of the heavenly wedding feast that is described in the final chapters of the book of Revelation.

But what was it specifically that God revealed to me through them? This graced heavenly glimpse pierced through the accidentals of the moment into the heart of this mystery and revealed, in the language of Blessed John Paul II, the primordial form of all the Sacraments. "Thus, in this dimension, there is constituted a primordial sacrament, understood as a sign which effectively transmits in the visible world the invisible mystery hidden from eternity in God. This is the mystery of truth and love, the mystery of the divine life in which man really shares..."(General Audience, 10.6.82; bold and underline added). In a sense, God in his goodness blessed me with the grace to see in and through this couple a glimpse of the shape, or form, of all the Sacraments – and how each Sacrament contains necessarily a spousal dimension. Thus began my reflection on how the priest as steward of the sacraments and the priest as the spousal icon of Christ the Bridegroom connect.

“When man broke the first covenant with the Creator...marriage as the primordial sacrament was deprived of supernatural efficaciousness. Nevertheless, in the state of man's hereditary sinfulness, marriage never ceases to be the figure of the sacrament. Can we not deduce that marriage has remained the platform for the realization of God's eternal plans..." (TOB 97:1). If the Theology of the Body supports what the Catechism clearly states in that “the entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church (1617)," then there clearly is a spousal dimension within each sacrament. But what is the spousal form or element that is foundational, that is primary to each? The Church unfolds this mystery in helping us understand the way each sacrament assists the Bride, as either a sacrament of initiation, healing, or service. In this way Christ the Bridegroom, through the priest, attends to the various needs of His Bride, the Church.

By strengthening her with His life as to incorporate her more fully into Himself through Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist, Christ attends to his Bride by rooting her life in the call to holiness and sharing His mission with her of evangelizing the world (CCC 1533). Through the Sacraments of healing, Christ the divine Physician attends with great mercy those tender areas within the heart of the Church, where her members are broken or wounded because of sin and its effects. Lastly, in her Sacraments of service, the divine Bridegroom consecrates members of the faithful in the service of others and confers on them a particular mission in the Church to build up the People of God (CCC1534-5).

If then, the Priest is the steward of the Sacraments, what is His mission in light of Christ's desire to be one with His Bride, the Church? Certainly it cannot only be to fill the Church will the life of the Bridegroom because in the practical sense, this reduces the priest to a sacrament dispenser. Rather, we must return to marriage as the primordial sacrament, the form if you will for all the sacraments, and again enter the mystery of communion between the Divine Bridegroom and His Bride, the Church.

In leaving His Father in heaven, and leaving His mother, Mary, on earth, Jesus sought out His bride so that the two might become one flesh. But why? Is this one flesh union between Christ and His Bride the end to which the Christian life is ordered? Is there a greater gift that the Divine Bridegroom desires to share with His people?

Yes...there is always more with God! “Becoming ‘one flesh' refers not only to the joining of two bodies, but is a ‘sacramental' expression which corresponds to the communion of persons" (TOB 31:2). In the logic of the Theology of the Body, the priest who stands in persona Christi in the celebration of the sacraments relates to the Church uniquely from the spousal posture – specifically that of the bridegroom. When the celebration of the sacraments is rightly understood from the primordial perspective (through the form of marriage), then it is in and through the priesthood that Christ intimately unites himself to His bride the Church for the ultimate end of union, and not simply one-flesh union as is seen in the Eucharist par excellence. The communion shared between Christ and His people in all of the sacraments, as well as any true experience of communion, always point to something even greater: the fulfillment of all communion in the Trinity. How humbling it is to realize as a priest that Christ desires to share with his Bride in and through the spousal reality of the priesthood insertion into the blessed life of the Trinity! By the infinite merits of the crucified, the Church is able to enter into His perfect self-surrender to the Father and live within His unique relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

After my first course in 2009 (TOB I: Head and Heart Immersion), everything in my life and priesthood changed. The spousal reality of priesthood opened a new depth in my heart to serve the Church, and specifically linked within me the desire for communion and the celebration of the sacraments. In the celebration of the Mass, I came to experience that the altar was the place that my commitment to celibacy became potent and from that gift how that potency flows into all the celebration of all the sacraments. The altar is where I came to experience how the “Eucharist is the Sacrament of the Bridegroom and of the Bride. It serves in some way ‘to express the relationship between man and woman, between what is feminine and what is masculine. It is a relationship willed by God in both the mystery of creation and in the mystery of Redemption'" (MD, 26).

What was it like to see heaven in that couple? “When ‘we speak about the realization of the eternal mystery, we are speaking also about the fact that it becomes visible with the visibility of the sign'" (TOB 97:5). In their flesh, God communicated a beautiful glimpse of His desire for this couple, for every couple, and for every person. Again and again, God continues to reveal to me that the communion of persons, given shape through the primordial sacramental form of marriage, and having its ultimate origin in the Trinity yet expressed through the Eucharist, is both the meaning of my priesthood and its goal.

Fr. Jon Schnobrich was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Burlington, VT in June of 2007. Fr. Jon's first assignment was as a parochial vicar, and he now serves as the Director of the Catholic Center at the University of Vermont and the Assistant Director of Vocations for the Diocese. He attended TOB 1:Head and Heart Immersion course, was the chaplain for the TOB II: Into to the Deep course and attended the TOB & the Interior Life course.

Source: http://www.tobinstitute.org/newsItem.asp?NewsID=96

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