One of the images of the priesthood that I love the most is being a bridge builder. As a matter of fact, this title is taken from the Roman understanding of priesthood before Christianity. The term pontifex is often connected with the Holy Father, but his actual title is Pontifex Maximus (the Supreme Pontiff), so every priest — not just the Pope — is called to be a bridge builder. Even though it might not seem important for many people, I believe this is a crucial understanding of the priesthood so we who minister do not simply identify ourselves with one particular or isolated task. We are much more than a sacramental minister or a business administrator, much more than a functional chaplain or counselor, much more than a shrewd manager or boss! Being bridge builders requires priests to know their people, care, and intercede for them. Therefore, I would like to spend a little time to reflect on what it means to build bridges.
First, we have to know that the Lord is always moved by people’s spiritual hunger than their material desires. He performed miracles and cared for His people in the Sacred Scriptures — and continue to do so now — because He wanted them to know the important reality of who they are and what they are called to be. The Almighty desires our hearts, not just our mere obedience. People in this world might think that their materialistic means define them, just like the people in the Bible; but, they actually suffer, deep from within, the spiritual hunger for God‘s loving truth.
Our Lord did not just perform miracles to make people happy, His actions were always united with His desire to teach, show, and lead people to loving truth. Even now, He desires to not just feed the body but also the soul, and that was why Jesus always taught as well as healed people. When He performed miracles, it was not merely to fill people’s bellies or make them physically cured alone, but to confirm that it is God who nourished, cared, and loved His people. Therefore, to respond to the Almighty with our full attentive hearts requires that we do a little bit of self-reflection so we can know where we come from, why we are here, and where we are going in the scope of eternity. Furthermore, it is important that we try to understand who God is and what He has done for us, and especially why we are loved by Him. All these questions help us to savor the gift of redemption and salvation because we choose to personally embrace His love in knowing why we are worth forgiving, healed, and saved by the Almighty.
That is why it is important that priests mediate by building a bridge for their people so they can get in touch with God! Their priestly ministry is both of reconciliation and communion, intercession and fatherly care. Each priest teaches but also personally and lovingly cares for his flock. That is why the Church entrusts to her priests both the Deposit of Faith and the souls of her children. It is the duty of the priests to bring every heart to God‘s loving truth and the liberating truth to every heart. This ministry and responsibility require the priest to be both firm and gentle, firm in His faith but patiently and charitably helping people with fatherly love.
People come to priests from different walks of life, filled with many challenges, from different backgrounds and origins, so it is important for us to really understand the people who are in front of us. We cannot help people if we do not know them, else we will simply lecture but never touch the hearts of the people. When people come to priests, they need to have the chance to express themselves, be assured that they are being listened to, and especially respected according to their dignity as children of God. Even though it might be hard at times, priests cannot treat people as inconveniences or only as means to whatever desired ends they desired. Just like the Lord Jesus who treated everyone who came to Him with love, His priests need to treat everyone as His gifts, too.
God created everything and He loves both the small and the big. He is attentive to every little bit as much as to the large. His real greatness is shown, not in the grand, flamboyant, and captivating matters but hidden in ordinary, little things. Just like the Sacred Scriptures stated, He did not concern Himself with great, powerful, and outspoken people but with genuine, poor, and kind-hearted people as well as small things in nature like the sparrows and lilies of the field. God sees our humble actions and appreciates our insignificant deeds done with love just as the widow who gave little in comparison to the wealthy people. Therefore, His priests, too, need to concern with not just big matters but also simple opportunities of grace. His ministers should not concern themselves with bigger and greater things, gaining for themselves only self-acknowledgment or power, but to be genuinely present and caring in the present moment. Some of the greatest blessings and moments of grace come to us in the most ordinary, insignificant, and simple moments of life! Therefore, to be priests of Christ (for His people) require the simple presence and heartfelt attentiveness to each encounter.
To be honest with you, most of my priestly ministry and responsibility are outside of Mass and the sacraments. Many times, people just need someone to listen to them. Even though they might just look for an ordinary human being for some compassionate advice or counseling, I see everything as providential opportunities to bring God or His divine presence into the conversation. It is so important that we allow people to slowly move toward Him, loving Him or trying to understand His will in their present struggles instead of simply trying to preach at them in their times of need, trial, or hardship. Even though many are just looking for that respectful human connection, priests are able to connect them to the Almighty as well. In my own priestly ministry, I always get amazed how a simple, unexpected conversation often leads to a deeper reflection of one’s self, purpose, or current situation in the wider, providential, and eternal scope.
Too many times, as human beings, we often struggle to understand how a particular matter or situation fits into the grander part of life and faith journey. It is very easy to see what is going on as a failure, isolated, unfortunate, challenging, or meaningless incident that often makes a person questions God‘s goodness and providential care. Nevertheless, we can allow Him to teach us from what is hard at the moment because He can draw a straight line from crookedness, transforming the evil result or action to a greater good for the souls who love and seek Him. It is often the responsibility of the priests to connect the dots and create the bridge for the person who is struggling to see the greater horizon instead of a dead end. In a simple conversation, one’s heart can be expanded and lifted to heaven and connected with others. When the priests choose to be present, they are able to help the person to see what he or she did not see or think as possible due to the present crisis or situation. Even if there is no perfect answer, priests can ask the person to not give up and continue to open up to the people he or she trusts, seeks help, and allows God to be in the struggle.
To be bridge builders is a humbling vocation because it requires much patience, offering of one’s expectations, constant abandonment to the will of God, and allowing the Almighty to work in His time. It is frustrating at times because we desire things to turn out as we would have liked or hoped, but many times, the work is only to gather the materials or initially pave the way and allow the person to really take what is offered as he or she is able to accept, receive, or process in the present moment. It takes a lot of humility to trust and allow things to be imperfect, unresolved, or not turned out as we would have hoped. Sometimes, the bridges will not be nice-looking or completed in due time, too. Many times, bridges can break, cannot be connected, or worked on at the moment. For all the different cases, it is important that priests allow God to be in control, and us, to simply be bridge builders according to the grand design and will of the Almighty instead of what we can see or understand at the present time.
Therefore, it is a humbling and trusting vocation to be bridge builders as priests. I pray that more priests will allow God to use them as His instruments of reconciliation, mercy, compassion, and fatherly love for those who are seeking the truth and His divine presence. Please pray for us, your priests, that we remember our role to be instrumental in leading you to God and be His loving instruments for those who are in need instead as hindrances because of our ego and desire to be in control. If we have failed in any way, please forgive and gently remind us who we are as you also humbly allow God to speak through us. Conversation with open hearts allows the Almighty to intervene and guide both sides! Therefore, please allow priests to be bridge builders; and you, willingly letting the bridges of your soul be built by His loving grace. May our recognition of His divine presence help us to recognize our dependency on Him so what we have received from His love can be shared with those who are around us, too. Let us all be bridge builders in our particular way of life, but most important of all, please pray that priests will become better instruments of reconciliation and communion to bridge the divides and lead all to the Almighty.