Alter Christus

Alter Christus
Stained Glass Window from St. Dominic’s Church in Washington, D.C.
Photo: Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Alter Christus
By Blackfriars Staff

In the last chapter of his new book, Alter Christus, Priestly Holiness on Earth and In Eternity, Fr. Ezra Sullivan, O.P., paints a picture of what the eternal rewards for holy priests will be—and it is a vision worth reading.

Quoting Ven. Archbishop Fulton Sheen, he writes there are two approaches we can take in life, “first the party, then the hangover; or first the fast, then the feast.” Everyone ought to begin with the fast, that is, a life of sacrifice so he can enjoy the rewards of the banquet in heaven—but especially the priest.

Fr. Ezra, a professor at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas in Rome (the Angelicum), wrote this book to help priests live out their call as “another Christ” on earth. But it’s also a great resource for everyone, including the laity, to understand the basics of holiness, as well as the priesthood.

The goal of all of our lives is God, Fr. Ezra reminds us. That means we need to be friends with God in this life. “To love God as a friend means finding joy in talking to him, pleasure in being in his presence, contentment in learning from him, readiness to sacrifice yourself for him, and great sadness if you were ever separated from him.” Priests are called to God’s inner circle, Fr. Ezra explains, so that they can be of service—and should be so close to Christ that when you see the priest, you see Christ.

In this last chapter of his book, Fr. Ezra describes what heaven will be like for priests. In heaven, not only will a priest be given the vision of the Holy Trinity, he will experience deeper union with Mary, St. Joseph, the angels, and the saints!

The priest will now recognize Mary “more fully as his own spiritual mother… he will be pierced with joy as she tells him that, as an alter Christus, she will forever look upon his priestly soul with the special love that she has
for her own son, the Great High Priest.”

He tells us that the priest will also know her earthly spouse, St. Joseph. “In heaven, the priest will finally be able to penetrate the mystery of St. Joseph, and learn about the innumerable silent ways [he] protected the Church—and the little priest—from so many spiritual and physical dangers.” Fr. Ezra reminds us that St. Joseph was not only the guardian of Christ, he was the priest’s guardian too!

The angels and saints are part of this reward too. Fr. Ezra points to Bl. Fra Angelico’s painting of a Dominican friar meeting his guardian angel for the first time, embracing one another, smiling, as if to say, “at last, we’ve made it.” And the priest will meet his patron saints “and he will join them in laughter and mirth as he considers their watchful and intercessory role, how they continually aided his ministry and private life despite his bungling and stumbling ways.”

This book for priests, and about the priesthood, matters for a few reasons. First, Fr. Ezra has written this book for all his brother priests to remind them of their high call, to keep striving for the goal of God himself. The book gives priests concrete ways to live this out and what pitfalls to be aware of. But it’s more than a manual for priests. Alter Christus opens up a window to the eternal for all of us, giving us glimpses of heavenly realities that sometimes seem too abstract to us or shrouded in mystery. This book is just one example of how Dominican friars are living out the priestly role of bridging heaven and earth.

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