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Faith: What is a priest?

“Why does the priest live an outwardly different lifestyle?” To answer that question, we have to know what a priest is.

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During the time I was studying to be a priest, my mother was speaking with an extended family member about my time in seminary.

At one point, this particular family member stated that it was too bad I was not part of a different Christian denomination, because then I could get married.

Perhaps, in this post-Christian age, it does not go without saying that priests are celibate.

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But it begs the question: If all religions were the same, and if I were weighing the options of “living life to the fullest,” the way I wanted, then the Catholic priesthood seems insensible.

Yet, whether or not we desire to admit it, not all religions are the same. There are over 45,000 denominations of Christianity in the world today, all of which have different ways of following Jesus Christ.

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If I were to choose the 1 out of 45,000 ways of living Christianity that allowed me to live “life to the fullest” in the way I selfishly wanted, I would be imprudent.

Rather, me, the lifelong Catholic, asked: “Why does the priest live an outwardly different lifestyle?”

To answer that question, we have to know what a priest is.

St. John Vianney quotes that the priesthood is “the love of the Heart of Jesus.” This personal definition reveals the objective nature of the priesthood. We, as priests, continue the salvific mission that Jesus entrusted to his church 2,000 years ago.

Jesus created us, his sons and daughters, to love tangibly in and through our bodies. As such, he became incarnate. Jesus was not compelled to become man to save us; yet, Jesus’ incarnation reveals His desire to encounter personally and physically.

When Jesus was with us on earth, he healed us, forgave our sins and walked with us. Jesus’ ascension into heaven does not sunder the rest of humanity from these personal aspects of Jesus’ incarnation; rather, Jesus’ ascension inaugurates the continuation of his incarnation through the church’s sacraments.

Through baptism, the Eucharist, confession, etc., God continues his salvific mission in a tangible way. Christ is no longer limited to a singular place, but is substantially present to those who desire to receive Him.

The sacraments of the church perpetuate through the person of the priest. The Holy Mass, confessions, baptisms, etc., are ministries of the priest.

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The beauty of God’s goodness is that our Lord Jesus does not simply was us priests to be “functionaries” of His sacraments, but true “ministers” of Him.

As priests, we do not simply function as Jesus, but “put on Christ” (Rom 13:14). Priests continue Jesus’ own priesthood. We imitate Christ in ways that not all are called to do.

It is here that celibacy makes sense, for Christ teaches that some renounce marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (Matt 19:12). Jesus lived celibately during his earthly pilgrimage, and we, as Catholic priests, follow suit.

Naturally, in our desire to imitate Christ, we fall short, yet we continually desire to live a radical holiness of life so that our flock may come to know Jesus not simply in what we do, but “in our person” as well.

The ability to participate in Christ’s priesthood is nothing that we priests deserve. I will be the first to tell you that I am living a life that I don’t deserve.

Father Matthew Miller
Father Matthew Miller, shown at St. Christopher's Catholic Church in Nisswa, joined the Our Lady of the Lakes parish in July 2022, serving the churches in Nisswa, Pequot Lakes and Pine River.
Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

In reality, this would be the case whether or not I was a Catholic priest. We, as Christians, live lives that we don’t deserve. We are called to a heavenly homeland that we do not deserve.

What a life it is to be a Christian; what a life it is to be a priest.

Father Matthew Miller is the sacramental minister of Our Lady of the Lakes Parish churches, including St. Christopher’s in Nisswa, St. Alice in Pequot Lakes and Our Lady of Lourdes in Pine River.

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