|Father Thomas Joseph White, O.P. was a speaker at the third annual Priests Conference organized by the Thomistic Institute of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. The conference was held at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville, July 8-11. Photos by Andy Telli
Priests help make Christ present to the world through their work in helping to sanctify the people of God, a speaker told parish priests from around the country who were attending the third annual Priests Conference in Nashville July 8-11, sponsored by the Thomistic Institute at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.
“The priest is the living place where Christ is present to the world,” said Father Thomas Joseph White, O.P., one of the speakers at the conference and the director of the Thomistic Institute. “The priest is like a donkey, a servant animal where Christ is carried throughout the world in the most humble way.”
And as priests do Christ’s work sanctifying others, they sanctify themselves, even as they continue as sinners, Father White said. “It’s interesting to think about how committed God is to us” for that to be true, he added.
“The priest does not become Christ personally. The presence of Christ in the priest is operative,” Father White said. It is through the actions of the priest that Christ works to sanctify people and lead them to heaven, he added.
St. Thomas Aquinas argued that the sacrament of holy orders does not change a priest automatically, Father White said. The character of the sacrament is given through the intellect as the priest chooses to act on the wishes of Christ, he said.
“If the priest does what he’s supposed to do, people will be sanctified,” said Father White. “We are co-workers with the Lord. We give grace to others because we first received it from Christ.”
One way priests make Christ present in the world is through the sacraments, Father White said. “Even if the priest existed only for the sacraments, that would be enormous. … The sacramental work of the priest is fundamental to the spiritual life of the world.”
But priests pass on Christ’s graces to the world through all their actions, including instructing people about the faith; responding to requests for advice on moral and spiritual matters; acts of charity; developing personal virtues, such as justice, temperance, devotion, kindness and zeal, Father White said.
The goal of the conference “is to provide a little shot in the arm, especially for diocesan priests, who are working very hard,” said Father Dominic Legge, O.P., coordinator of the conference, which was co-sponsored by the Diocese of Nashville.
The conference allows parish priests to step back from their daily ministry “to pray together, talk together about theological truths that animate their ministry,” Father Legge said. The conference organizers place an emphasis on helping priests see how the theological truths discussed can be implemented as part of, and can affect, their daily ministry, he added.
The conference drew priests and seminarians from across the country. Among the attendees were the nine seminarians for the Diocese of Nashville who will be ordained priests on July 26. They were attending as part of a two-week orientation before they take on their first assignments as priests.
“It’s good for new priests” who can hear the perspective of older, more seasoned priests on how to be a more effective priest in face of considerable challenges, Father Legge said.