Fifth Sunday of Easter


By:  John Dalla Costa

St. Paul’s audacious commission links and unlocks today’s readings. “You are a chosen race,” he writes, “ a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation.” Trained as Pharisee, Peter transposed a concept from Exodus, when the people of Israel were declared a “kingdom of priests” for accepting the covenant. (19:6). Vatican II affirmed and renewed this holy mission, explaining that the laity’s relationship with Jesus “gives them a sharing in His priestly function” so as to “consecrate the world itself to God.” (Lumen Gentium 34).

But as we read in today’s Gospel, even the disciples were flummoxed by Jesus’ charge to “perform the same works as I do myself.” What does it mean in practical terms that all of us are to be priests?

When I was studying this question for my own work, I discovered an unlikely yet profound exemplar in Etty Hillesum – the young Jewish lawyer imprisoned by the Nazis in Westerbork, and exterminated at age 29 in Auschwitz. In the unimaginable squalor and degradation of camp-life, we learn from Etty’s diary that her soul never ceased consecrating. Formed by both Jewish and Christian scriptures, and the writings of St. Augustine, Etty’s spirituality poured forth in four ways: finding five minutes for reflective prayer everyday; appreciating beauty, if only a fragment of blue sky; insisting to see even the harshest guards, as human persons; and serving others more in need than herself. Her prayer was to be “the thinking heart of the barracks.”

This is what priests do, and what Jesus did – pray to ground our holiness in the Father; give thanks and share with others the wonder and beauty of life; forgive, love and heal even those who harm us; and serve with a “thinking heart” those most in desolation, or most in need of consolation.