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A Royal Priesthood: Salvation, Election and the Power of Mediation
November 3, 2017
The history of salvation is in many ways a history of mediation. In the Old Covenant, God raised up mediators in the form of priests and prophets—like Moses, Aaron, and Samuel—to intercede for the salvation of his people. These mediators were specifically chosen, often reluctantly, to carry out the divine mission. These men were types or pictures of the One Mediator who was to come, Jesus Christ.
These holy men begged, suffered, and interceded for God’s all-too-often wayward people, the Israelites. They were signs of God’s presence and dispensers of both his abundant mercy and, not infrequently, his severe justice. More than anything, however, they were servants of salvation, shepherding the wayward people of God to repentance and dispensing the word and power of God.
The Mediator of the New Covenant
In the New Covenant, this prophetic and priestly mediation is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. He is at one and the same time the ultimate Prophet, revealing the face of God, and also the great High Priest, who sacrificed not a lamb, but himself, for the salvation of all. He was and is the ultimate intercessor, the ultimate shepherd, leading God’s people to participation in eternal life, the very life of God himself.
As a protestant, I always rejected the idea of the need for priests, and even the invocation of the saints, based upon this fact. Why do we need more mediators between us and God? I reasoned. Don’t priests and saints and the Virgin Mary just get in the way? Jesus is the one mediator between God and man, I argued, and that’s all there is to it.
It is true that Christ is the one high priest, the one mediator, and yet it is also true that there is a mysterious sense in which we as baptized Christians participate, to varying degrees, in his unique priestly mediation. We are a called to be “a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9). Moreover, Christ “has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father” (Rev. 1:6). We are priests, and to be priest means to mediate salvation.
But how is this possible if Christ is the one high priest? How can we be mediators if Christ is the one mediator? The answer lies in our baptism. In baptism, we are united to the life of Christ. We literally become his body, and in doing so, we share in his priestly dignity. We are sons in the Son. His life is our life. And our life is hidden in his.
There is no competition between Christ and us, for our work is his work. His intercession and mediation is not threatened by ours, for in a real way we are Christ. We are united to him in the profoundest possible way. And as such, we share in his ministry of mediation and salvation.
Election and the Salvation of the World
Before my conversion to Catholicism, I was a staunch Calvinist—that is, a devotee of the teachings of the Swiss reformer, John Calvin. John Calvin taught many things, but perhaps one of his more famous teachings is that of unconditional predestination. Calvin taught that before the foundation of the world, God specifically chose who would be saved and who would be damned for all eternity.
This divine election had nothing to do with our actions or merits; it was rather, completely arbitrary, so that no one could boast of having earned salvation. According to this theology, the saved would show forth and bring glory to God’s mercy, while the damned would reveal and bring glory to God’s justice.
Needless to say, I now reject this distorted view of salvation; a theology that places the focus on God’s power to the neglect of nearly everything else. But while I am no longer a Calvinist, I do think there is a sense in which divine election, or choosing, is true.
While all souls receive enough grace for salvation, I do believe that some receive more light than others. And I do believe some receive more grace than others. But this election is not so that we can count our good luck at being one of the elect. Nor is it so that we can giddily rejoice at God’s justice tormenting the damned for all eternity. Far from it. The more graces we receive, the greater our responsibility. For grace calls us to be mediators, and mediation means the cross.
The Priestly Responsibility
What is the point of this reflection? Is this all meaningless theological speculation?
The point is simply this: You, as a baptized Catholic, have been chosen by God in a very real way. You have been taught the truths of the Catholic faith. You receive the Eucharist and are immersed in the power and life of God. You have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit at your confirmation. In short, you have been chosen, by God’s mysterious design, to participate through your baptism in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These are great gifts—but they are also an awesome responsibility.
For your calling, your election, was not so that you can merely escape hell. It was not a salvation from but rather a salvation for. It is a call to become a mediator of salvation like the prophets of the Old Covenant and the saints of the New. You are called to bring the light of Christ and the hope of salvation to others. Like Christ, you are called to take up your cross and lay down your life for the salvation of the whole world.
Dear reader, the precious gift of faith that you have been given is not for your own benefit alone. One who is unconcerned about the salvation of others could hardly be saved. No—the gift of faith you have received is a call to pray and sacrifice for the salvation of the world. You have been chosen like Moses and Samuel, St. Peter and St. Paul, St. Benedict and St. Francis and all the saints through the ages to follow in Christ’s divine mission of salvation. In the words of St. Paul, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God-this is your true and proper worship.”
So then, brothers, pray and sacrifice for the salvation of the world. Take up your cross and follow Christ. Let your light shine out before men. This is your high calling—for to whom much has been given, much more will be required.
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