By TARA CONNOLLY Staff writer
“We establish a bridge between this world and the next. That’s what we do,” said Father Paul Scalia, priest for the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia and the son of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, during a Day of Sanctification for Priests.
Father Scalia was the main presenter for an estimated 100 priests for the Diocese of Allentown, who gathered to reflect on the privilege of serving Christ and renewed their commitment to grow in the likeness of Christ, March 8 at DeSales University, Center Valley.
Guiding the priests to focus on the image of priests in the Book of Joshua carrying the Ark of the Covenant and leading the Israelites across the Jordan River, he said their acts epitomize the role of a priest.
“The ancient priests were bridge builders. They bridged the gap between God and man,” said Father Scalia.
Recounting Joshua 3:14-17, Father Scalia said the priests carrying the ark went ahead of Israelites because the river was at flood stage. As soon as the high priest touched the edge of the Jordan River, the water stopped flowing. The priests stood and held the ark until the entire nation of Israel passed by to dry land.
“We, as priests, are always seeking people to live the fullness of their baptism. The priest who does this stands in the ‘river’ and accompanies his sheep,” he said.
Priests not only build bridges, but are in a sense the actual “bridge,” according to Father Scalia.
“Priests are not just building bridges. We are the bridge. We surrender our time and give our efforts and strengths so people can cross over. You being there and being firm allows them to go from the wilderness to the Promised Land,” he said.
On a deeper level, he asked the priests to consider how the ancient priests encouraged each other as they stood for a great deal of time while others crossed the Jordan.
“They had to be tired. How did they encourage and exhort each other? I believe it comes from something within. We ourselves have to be the means by which people find life,” said Father Scalia.
He told the priests that their vocation is not defined by “this or that” and requires investing and giving of themselves to others.
“This sometimes means that the people of God are walking all over you. If that is true – then you are doing it right. You are laying down your life,” said Father Scalia.
Temptation always exists, he said, and warned the priests of the great danger of just doing “Catholic things” and not investing themselves.
“You just can’t put the ark down. The challenge is to invest ourselves more. We want that of our parishioners too. We want them to participate interiorly in the Mass. We don’t want them just going through the motions and just ‘saying’ prayers,” said Father Scalia.
He then pondered what type of virtues the priests upheld that allowed the people of Israel to walk over them.
“First of all, they had to have faith when they were told to go stand in a river and the water will stop. They had to have faith and complete trust that it would happen. They had to have confidence in the Word of Our Lord and in all that he promised,” said Father Scalia.
“For us, it means promise of priesthood, the grace and unique friendships the Lord has given us as priests. There is a special affection Jesus showed his apostles. We can forgive sins, offer the Mass and speak divine truths through our unique friendship with the Lord.”
Father Scalia also pointed to humility, perseverance and fraternity the ancient priests exhibited.
“A bridge is meant to be ‘walked on.’ The bridge has a humble purpose. There is something beautiful and difficult about the willingness to be taken for granted so others can find life,” he said.
“How long did they have to stand there? I am sure there were some people and children who weren’t going quickly while they held the ark. There was physical, mental and spiritual exhaustion. It is so important to have perseverance when frustration strikes.”
Although the priests stood there together, Father Scalia reminded them that they did not select each other as friends but were brought together by Joshua.
“They had to encourage one another and love one another enough to correct each other. We must love one another enough to pull each other aside and correct each other,” he said.
Last, Father Scalia stressed the importance of seeking proper rest and said being a workaholic or a nonworkaholic are both forms of sloth.
“If we don’t have proper pace of work and rest, we get worn out. Sloth can also mean being too busy and bouncing around,” he said.
“We need to find ways of not just vegging out. We need to rest in the Lord. There is a big mistake in just collapsing at the end of the day. We should come in with a soft landing and not just crash.”
Father Scalia is a native of Virginia and grew up in the Diocese of Arlington. He attended College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and studied theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, both in Rome, Italy.
Since his ordination in 1996 he has served as parochial vicar of St. Bernadette, St. Patrick and St. Rita parishes. He served as pastor of St. John the Beloved until 2012, when he was appointed the bishop’s delegate for clergy.
He has written for various publications and is a regular contributor to the Arlington Catholic Herald and “Encourage and Teach” on the diocesan website. He is also a frequent speaker for the Institute of Catholic Culture in Front Royal.