Priest as coworker


PART II: Carriers of Living Waters

This is not your doing, it is the gift of God…” (Eph 2:8)


"As the Father has sent me, so do I send you..." [Jn 20:20]



in His own blood, Jesus had finished the work the Father had given Him to do: our resurrection and filling with the living waters of the Spirit was won and the kingdom, which before was merely "at hand," was now about to arrive in power. But more than being a conclusion to His work, it marked a yet greater beginning. The very evening of Resurrection Day, Jesus stood among the Twelve to proclaim the gift He was about to make to the world through them by consecrating them with His Spirit, the Spirit He had received of the Father. He would continue His same mission of announcing and building the kingdom of God through them; and because it would be a glorified Jesus working within them, they would be continuing not only the works they had seen Him do, "but greater works still" (Jn 14:12) because He was going to the Father. '”As the Father has sent me, even so do I send you… Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn 20:21).

In the same way, for the same purpose, as part of the same mystery by which the Father sent Jesus, Jesus has sent us. The Father's sending of the Son becomes the model for the understanding of our own mission. As it was the Father acting in Jesus, it will be Jesus acting in us. As the Father showed forth His love through Jesus, Jesus will show forth that same love through our ministry. As Jesus' ministry was above all expression of Hi love for the Father (“The world must know that I love the Father…” [Jn 14:31 ]), so our ministry must find its motivation in love for the Lord. As Jesus' every word and work was but a reflection of what He had seen and heard from the Father, so our activity is to be but a faithful reflection of Jesus' life, doctrine, and ministry.

In view of this great mystery of "Him in us and we in Him" (Jn 17:22), a mystery in which divine and human activity mingle (whose sins you forgive, I am forgiving), the divine depending on the human and the human on the divine; it becomes clear that the core of our ministry can be summed up in St. Paul's words: “We are Christ's coworkers" (2 Cor 6:1). By our consecration Christ is at work in us, and yet His work depends on ours and works through ours. This mystery, rather than being unique, is a reflection of Jesus' own priestly relation to the Father. As Jesus could describe the unseen reality behind His ministry by stating that "The Father works and I also work" (Jn 5:17), so too we can say in turn that the secret of our ministry is that "Jesus works and we also work."

As His coworkers, engaged in a ministry in which two distinct agents are united in but one common purpose and activity, we need realize that what we do can never depend on personal preference, cannot be judged or motivated by human standards, that its fruitfulness does not depend as much on our talents or apparent results as on our union with Him who is our living Vine, that any project not born of that union is but pure illusion and counterfeit of authentic ministry since "Every plant not planted by my heavenly Father will be rooted up" (Mt 15:13), and whatever He has given us to do will always be His work more than ours, for "Without me you can do nothing. .." (Jn 15:5). Jesus' priesthood was fruitful, was a faithful channeling of the Father's work because He lived out that priesthood as the Father's coworker in two fundamental attitudes: complete and constant identification with the Father who had sent Him, in oneness of life and work; and total dependence on Him in loving, obedient submission "even to death on a cross." For our ministry to bear His fruit it must be rooted in the same soil of oneness and loving submission in Him.


Because we are but “vessels of clay,” we must work at developing what came naturally to Jesus: uninterrupted and total identification with the One who sent us. To live outside that COWORKER constant frame of reference is to step outside the reality of our priesthood. We have but one identity, and that identity is Jesus himself (cfr. In 20:31). Any other motivation is but surrogate ministry bringing a surrogate gospel, and wittingly or no, a betrayal of His purpose and ours.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me...''(Jn 15:4). Our having succeeded in the work the Father has given us will depend only on this: union with His Son, a living oneness with Him who is source of our identity. But to live in Him, to "abide in Him" demands a prior step, that of living with Him. This was Jesus' first priority in calling the Twelve, and a part of their formation as important as hearing His doctrine: ”And Jesus called the twelve, to be with him, and to be sent to preach..." (Mk3:14).

Throughout three years of living and working with Him, they grew into a lifestyle and a consciousness which centered on Him as a living presence: in their thoughts, in their decisions, in their apostolic travels, in their work. Having met Jesus, having responded to His call to “be with Him,” nothing in their life would ever be the same. They acquired what we often lack: a new way of thinking from the day of our calling, a new framework of consciousness in which Jesus is never absent to us as He was never absent to the Twelve, neither before nor after the Resurrection: "1 will not leave you orphans, I will come back to be with you..." (Jn 14:18). Living with Jesus was the single most characteristic aspect of the life of the Twelve. It must be so also of us; not as an invitation to piety but to logic, to reality, refusing to live in the illusion of self-sufficiency or independence, of "steering our own course” in the ministry, with only occasional or superficial reference to the Lord. In Him we must "live and move and have our being.” In the binding of the consecrating Spirit, our conscious union with Jesus is to be the reflection of His trinitarian union with the Father in the same Spirit. With what force must a St. Paul have lived this reality to exclaim, not out of reasoning but through lived experience: ”It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me..." (Gal 2:20).



The awareness that what we do is not our own but HIs activity, a work that infinitely surpasses our human capabilities but that mysteriously depends on our fidelity and generosity, should give rise to a desire, an attentiveness to always follow His lead and inspiration, to "not spoil God's work" {MT), a work which is so precious because it is His and so precarious because it is ours.

The fact of our utter dependence on the Lord in ministry shot make us aware that we and our work are but part of a larger plan into which we are to fit and for which we are to work. Our decisions in ministry then are not our own to make, for we cannot work independently of Him. We are to live in constant openness to the Lord's direction, in prayer and through events; working under His direct, even if seemingly unperceived, guidance. This spirit dependence on an active, present Lord at work in His kingdom, this idea of being but part of a larger divinely-orchestrated plan, strikingly present in the Acts of the Apostles, and was basic to the ministry of the early Church.

But the great model of conscious and active priestly dependence in ministry will always be Jesus himself. “At the head of the scroll it is written of me: Behold, I come to do your will…” (Heb 10:7). “My doctrine is not my own, but of the one who sent me" (Jn 7:16). Jesus' free submission to the Father (a submission which, far from being demeaning, leads to Jesus' glorification a man's re-creation in the Holy Spirit) is richly document throughout John's gospel (4:34/8:29/ 12:49/14:30, etc.). "Nothing is Christianly fruitful if not that which has its origin Christological obedience” (Balthasar). And so for us as for Jesus, there will always be an intimate connection between our life dependence on the'”Father of mercies” (2 Cor 1 :3), and our ability to communicate that mercy, His mercy.

What was John the Baptist's one desire as Christ's coworker must be that of all His coworkers: "He must increase, I must decrease" (Jn 3:30). An authentic love for our fellow man must lead us above all to point them to Christ, to "make straight t paths" that lead to the Lord. No matter what "greater works" we may accomplish, we are not the saviors. We are here to be a sign of Christ, to point to Him with our lives; to say in all we do, "Behold the Lamb of God."

Without this spirit, we may have everything -education, talent, esteem, a flourishing parish -but have nothing. And with it, no matter how little we humanly possess, we have all. Let us listen to the testimony of one who perhaps had little in the world's eyes, but of whom the Lord could have rejoiced as in the gospel: "I thank you Father. ..for having hidden these things from the wise and learned, and having revealed them to little ones," little ones such as this poor, simple, small town pastor: "I ministered in my tow in other towns nearby and some far away. The Lord sent me usually to small groups -struggling churches, hospitals, and prisons. Many times He would send me several miles away for just one or two people who were in need. Often working in their yard or painting a house I would hear the Spirit of the Lord speaking to me to go somewhere or help someone in need. I would try to get alone as soon as possible so I could pray, be quiet, and wait on Him for direction. Many times I had to wait for a day or two. I fasted, prayed, and read the Bible, listening for Him to tell me where He wanted me to go. Then when I knew He had spoken, I would prepare to leave…” (Robert Sadler). Perhaps few of us feel the Spirit of Jesus guiding us with such clarity and power, but we all can work towards establishing a greater climate of personal contact, presence, identification, and guidance in Him who has called us to be His coworkers and who has promised that active presence: "Behold I am with you always..." (Mt 28:20).

This new (or re-newed) vision of our priesthood and purpose as coworkers with a present Jesus, stewards of the ever-present kingdom, carriers of the living waters called to continue His mission of “making the Father present as love and mercy” (Dives Mis.3), this awareness that our ministry exists to point to a Person, a presence, a power, is not just the fruit of our effort but is above all a gift, a gift we are to ask for from a Father who can never refuse that gift. Through that gift we will rediscover the joy of being able to proclaim with St. Paul: "What we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord..." (2 Cor 4:5).