If we then recognize that most of us have a faith that is mediated by someone else, if we have all come to Christ because of the willingness of someone else to stand in the gap between man and God, the next question we naturally ask ourselves is...is this how it's supposed to be?
Actually, it's a very "American" question to be asking. Or very "Western," perhaps.
We live in a very individualistic culture. We are told that our lives are our own and that what we do with them is up to us. Add to this the notion that has surfaced that faith is meant to be private, that our religious preferences should be kept to ourselves, and we come to the conclusion that if we choose to "do" Jesus (whatever that means), it should be an individual pursuit. We should pick our own shattered heart up in all its pieces by our own bootstraps and just journey our way to the Cross, if that's "our thing."
Because of this, many of us bristle at the suggestion that we have ever used, let alone needed, anyone else in our faith journey. Many of us staunchly object, often with a measure of shame, to the idea that our pastors or our parents or our matriarchs have anything to do with our pursuit of Jesus. We all want to pretend that we just picked up a Bible one day or saw a Cross hanging on a wall, picked Jesus, and made Him our own. All on our own. Just like that.
But that's not how faith has ever worked, and it's not how Jesus says it's supposed to work.
The Christian faith has always been formed in community. It has always been mediated through one another. From its earliest days, God has commanded His people to take all this stuff to heart and share it with others. Tell it to their children. Remind their grandchildren. Invite resident aliens into the Temple with them. Carry the banner of the Lord in front of them as they marched, together, into battle. And overwhelmingly when we see the second person pronoun in the Bible, it's in the plural - y'all - not the singular; God is so very, very seldom talking to just "you."
Even when Jesus is sitting on the shore with His disciples after His resurrection, look at what He tells them. He does not say, "You guys should write my story down so that anyone who wants to discover it can read it for themselves and adopt it into their lives." No. What He says is, "Go and make disciples." Teach others. Mediate for them. Bring them to Me so that they can truly encounter and meet Me through you, who have been on this journey with Me for awhile now.
Jesus intended us to introduce one another to Him, and if that's the case, then He meant for us to keep being intermediaries for one another.
No, that doesn't mean that we let others build a faith that depends on us, but that's not what we're talking about this week. We're talking about the role of the priest in the Catholic church, and we're talking specifically about baptism, and that means that we're talking about the very foundation of the Christian journey - the coming to Christ. We're talking about that moment when someone chooses the journey for him- or herself, that moment that the person takes on the burden of their own spiritual journey and starts to separate from the intermediary a bit. At baptism, at confession, at confirmation, the Catholic is embracing the spiritual walk for him- or herself and committing to a life of living it. That moment is the turning point, but that moment requires the intermediary.
Which is why it's so important that the priest get the words right. This isn't just some empty ritual. This isn't just some next step on an organizational chart of religious activity This is a turning point in faith, and if the intermediary that has brought you this far is about to turn you loose into your own heart to really follow Jesus, then we have to admit - we want him to get it right. We want to be sure. We want to be certain.
Because if anything, even the smallest thing, feels "off" here, the whole thing suddenly feels weaker. Flimsier. More uncertain.
And that is what thousands of our Catholic brothers and sisters are feeling right now.