During my ordination retreat I was able to catch up on a pile of books that have been sitting on my shelves waiting to be opened. Amongst these was a short volume by the American author and former Presbyterian minister, now Catholic layman, Scott Hahn. Anglicans have had little exposure (in my experience) to Hahn’s work, but I’m surrounded by people who rate him highly, so I was keen to see what he had to say.
The first thing is that, because he himself had been in active ministry within Presbyterianism, he understands the concept of ministry. He understands that the minister (Priest, sure, but we’ll get to that) has a job to do and that he does in fact have a function to perform. The beauty of Catholic teaching regarding the ontological nature of the Sacrament of Orders allows us to talk about function as a result of being. I am a Priest, therefore I need to be priestly. We shouldn’t be afraid to speak of function, but only when it is linked to this fundamental understanding of the Priest as new creation: a consecrated being set apart to minister as a sacrificing Priest of the New Covenant.
Hahn also recognises that, in terms of apologetics, we need to rediscover the glory of the Priesthood – in fact, this is the subtitle of the work. That glory, he says, comes fundamentally from the awesome fact that the Priesthood is apostolic, but also rooted in the understanding of humanity and of priesthood in the Old Testament. When we see this, when we see that the Christian Priest is truly secundum ordinem Melchisedech, we realise the historical significance of each priestly ordination, of each sacerdotal action.
Above all, though, Hahn’s understanding of the Priesthood is drawn from his own fatherhood. Together with his wife, Kimberley, the Hahns have six children, and this enables him to see the limitless paternal imagery in the Catholic Priest. It is a masculine vocation – not just in the sense of being for men (though it is), or that it’s about what some people describe as ‘muscular Christianity’, but in the sense of it being the full realisation of the potential fatherhood which is innate in all men.
What do I mean by this? Hahn explains that ‘[i]n the priest, we come to see fatherhood that goes beyond the biological dimension’. In other words, we see a supernatural fatherhood in which the Priest embodies, in a particular way, the fullness of fatherhood which is found in the relationship of God the Father with God the Son, caught up in the mystical union of the Most Holy Trinity. The Priest is the image of God the Father to himself, as he stands in persona Christi to Christ’s faithful people in the Church.
Fr Andrew Apostoli’s book, When God asks for an undivided heart, deals with similar considerations, but it is Hahn’s language of the fatherhood of the Priest which enables us to see that, through the gift of celibacy – which each day I grow to understand and appreciate more – the Christian Priest doesn’t ‘give up’ being a father, but rather embodies a perfect fatherhood which was shown to us by the perfect father-son relationship of the Holy Trinity, and – in a human sense – shown in the gentle fostering of the Christ child by St Joseph.
Scott Hahn’s book Many Are Called: Rediscovering the Glory of the Priesthood is available on Amazon.