In Persona Christi

In persona Christi is a term frequently used to describe a priest. The universal patron of priests, St. John Vianney once said, “The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus.”

Throughout my life, God has sent an abundance of faithful priests to guide me in unexpected ways. Each played a distinct role in my spiritual growth. Just like me, each possessed unique gifts and struggled with daily challenges and human failings. Yet these men worked together seamlessly for the betterment of my soul. In most cases they were unaware of guidance others had given. Yet, they were remarkably consistent in their teaching. How can this be?

I believe the Holy Spirit inspires God’s faithful priests through prayer. If a priest is to transform lives through his example of holiness and celebrate Mass worthily, he must regularly place himself in God’s presence for spiritual nourishment. In order to touch people’s souls in the Sacrament of Confession, he must have one ear open to the penitent, and one to the Holy Spirit.

I am a physician who returned to the faith 13 years ago and later joined the Tepeyac Family Center, a completely pro-life obstetrics and gynecology practice in Fairfax, Virginia. I have come to consider working in this holy place as my vocation, and I have learned much about how to practice there…from priests.

It amazes me to see the similarities between faithful doctors and priests. We both care for the whole person, but the emphasis varies. I often refer patients to priests. One particular priest sends patients to me when their spiritual difficulties seem to stem from medical illness; he had studied pre-med before he entered the seminary. That is continuity of care at its best!

On a personal level, priests were present at my baptism and throughout my life. They helped me as I grew in my faith and later when I questioned it. When I stepped away from the Church for a while, they continued to treat me with the love and compassion Christ has for his children. When I was ready to return, a priest was there to lead me back home.

At the time, I was practicing medicine in a way which was not in keeping with Church teaching. A faithful priest guided me through the difficult period of spiritual growth which followed. With each passing day, I felt God stretching my heart to fill it with grace. It was painful, but it was a good pain. I hungered to receive the sacraments, but I couldn’t until I eliminated my objectionable practices. The priest and many other people prayed for me in earnest. What a blessing it was to experience the relief of having the burden of sin lifted from my shoulders in the confessional where Christ was waiting for me, veiled as the priest. All I had to do was come to him in humility.
After joining the Tepeyac Family Center, I learned that obstetrics is one of God’s best classrooms. We cannot control the challenges of pregnancy, labor, and delivery, but priests can help us respond to these challenges in persona Christi.

In 2004, our 25 year old daughter died suddenly in a motor vehicle accident. Needless to say, I was devastated. Numerous priests came forward to help me. Eight of them literally dropped everything to concelebrate her funeral Mass. Together, they transformed my crushing pain and suffering into an incredible opportunity for holiness. Throughout my life, and particularly on this occasion, I have truly experienced the “love of the Heart of Jesus” through God’s faithful priests.

Marie Anderson, M.D., F.A.C.O.G. is Medical Director of the Tepeyac Family Center in Fairfax, Virginia. Marie and her husband Dave have three children.