Our common ordinary priesthood

p1000276Last Sunday we wrapped up the season of Christmas and Epiphany with the Baptism of the Lord, and now we have entered the Sundays in Ordinary Time. Father reminded us last Sunday that all of us participate in the common priesthood and the three-fold office of Priest, Prophet, and King by virtue of our Baptism.

In the season of Epiphany, we were shown the reality of Jesus as God when the angels sang from Heaven to the shepherds at Christmas, when the pagan men of learning from the east were shown the king by following the star, and when the nation of Israel was shown the Holy Spirit descending like a dove as Jesus came up from the waters of baptism.

Now, as we enter Ordinary Time, we have a role to play in the epiphany, the revelation or manifestation – for that is the meaning of the word epiphany – the epiphany of God active in the world. Ordinary time doesn’t have the sizzle of the other seasons of the Church year. Ordinary sounds not interesting, plain, just a lot of gray when we have been so used to the colors of Christmas. Even the weather seems to cooperate with this. In late January, the skies are rainy and cloudy, and the trees do not have leaves on them, so the bare limbs look kind of bleak against the washed out winter sky.

We are baptized into the common priesthood, but consecrated priests, Father Neil and Father Valery, have their particular priestly duties they must perform every day of the year. They offer the sacrifice of the Holy Mass for us, and they pray for us in the Divine Office. They bring God’s healing grace to us in the sacraments of spiritual and physical healing.

While we do not do precisely the same things our consecrated priest do, we should be doing those sorts of things. We, in our common priesthood, are to offer our own personal sacrifices, to pray, and to bring God’s grace to a world that really needs it. And we have to do it even when the skies are gray, and the days are still short, and the the Lights of Joy have been turned off.

The scriptures today all speak to this theme. Isaiah, the prophet in the Old Testament reading today, is told by God he was “formed as his servant in the womb that Jacob (or Israel) may be brought back to him, and he will be light to the nations that his salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” A prophet is one who must show the wayward people the true path of justice, and teach the people about the saving power of the one true God. All of us are called to manifest God’s justice and his mercy to an unbelieving world, which means we need to do it outside of the walls of this building. That is part of our mission, of what we are sent at the end of Mass to do.

St. Paul tells the church in Corinth why they were called out. (The greek word for church is ecclesia, which means “ones who are called.”) He identifies them as “you who have been called to be holy.” Our holy priests had nearly a decade of formation before they were ordained, but their holiness comes from the same place ours should. It comes from us saying “yes” to God’s invitation to live better lives. He loves us where he finds us, and he does not judge us. But he always offers us something better. That better life he invites us to is a life lived in an intimate relationship with him, and if we commit to being priest, prophet and king in our particular way, we will become more holy. Holiness is the outcome of a life of prayer, sacrifice, learning, and discernment. It is the outcome of the life of priest, prophet and king during the ordinary times of our lives.

John the Baptist explains that the reason he came baptising was that Jesus might be made known. God rarely visits his creation directly. He mostly uses intermediaries as he used John the Baptist. He sends prophets much more often than he rests upon a mountaintop as he did at the Transfiguration. He sent this community these consecrated men to serve us as priests, and he sends all of us out to the world to consecrate it through our priestly, prophetic, and kingly actions.

Ordinary Time gives us a chance to practice the virtues that lead to the Holiness we are called to, the Holiness for which we were made. As Dr. Paul Thigpen noted in his pulpit announcement two weeks ago, we have weekly times when we can learn about the scriptures on Sunday mornings and we can learn more about prayer on Wednesday evenings. We will be better prophets and teachers if we know more about our faith, and we will be better priests and prayers if we know more about how to pray. If we make a habit of regular confession, we may find we are better kings and judges in our families and workplaces because we are spiritually closer to the true King and the God of true justice.

Ordinary Time is a time for us to develop our common priesthood, to equip ourselves so we can be a light to the nations, so we can answer that call to be holy. Let us offer our sacrifices and prayers as Father offers the sacrifice of the Eucharist at the altar. Fortified by the grace of God we receive through the Mass, let us go out and make ordinary Time a holy time.

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17 out of 100

p1000783.jpgWhen I was a freshman in college, I took Calculus II because in high school I had earned college credit for the first part of Calculus. And I was doing great in that class until we got to something called Taylor series. And for some reason, my brain hit a brick wall and I could not understand the what or the why of Taylor series. The professor gave us a test and gave us every advantage: it was an open-book, take-home, test that wasn’t due for a whole week. And I got a 17 out of 100 on that test. I just couldn’t do it on my own.

Our lives are in some ways an open-book, take-home, test. Our lives are a test for our eternal destiny. The test isn’t done until we receive our particular judgement at our death, and the grade is eternal life with God or eternal death without God. And the grim picture painted in the Old Testament seems to be that we will probably get no more than 17 out of 100 on our life-long test if we rely exclusively on our own talents and abilities. We simply are not good enough to earn Heaven on our own merits. Continue reading

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Justice and Death

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The Old Testament reading today from Malachi is short – it’s only two verses – but it really packs a punch, doesn’t it?

Lo, the day is coming when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble. But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.

And we cannot look to the Gospel for a message of sweetness and mercy, for from the mouth of Our Lord comes the promise of destruction, earthquakes, famine, false prophets, and persecution even unto death.

So, what should we think about having read these words of warning? I want us to think about what justice means and what death means. When we have the right understanding of justice and death, then we can better understand how to respond to the Scripture we read today. Continue reading

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Prayer: Perseverance, Posture, Praise

P1000257The theme of the readings today is prayer. From the Old Testament reading, we are comforted to know that all prayers reach the ears of the Almighty. St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy demonstrates how prayer must be at the center of the disciple’s life. In the gospel from Luke today, Jesus warns us about the posture and the perspective that our prayers should take.

I’d like us to think about three aspects of our prayer lives which these scriptures bring to our attention. The first word is perseverance, or we might say persistence. From the book of Sirach we see that, “the prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds, nor will it withdraw till the most high responds.” We are told that the widow’s cry is heard. We are told that the Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan. Continue reading

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The McCarrick Effect

Some time ago, a bishop on Twitter tried to put me in my place by reminding me he had been a priest and bishop for more than 30 years. Instead of making a real argument, he chose the common social media debate strategy of intimidation and rebuke. This particular priest and bishop is a good man, and a good priest, and no doubt a good bishop. He has been seeking his God his entire life, and he has in his ministry as priest and bishop been seeking to draw others to God.

Twitter is a social medium that invites participants to give into the temptation of malice and wrath rather than to build up the kingdom of God through charity and truth. Though I thought he had a poor argument, I chose not to respond to the Bishop’s rebuke, but gave him a like to indicate my affection and respect for him.

In a more deliberate social medium, I might have chosen to pursue my argument in the discussion, but Twitter is not any good at deliberation. It is an exclamatory platform. In this social medium, where the author can collect and present his view with more deliberation, I am responding to the ad verecundiam material fallacy used by the good Bishop. The Bishop said he had been a priest and bishop for more than 30 years, but an appeal to authority and power and reputation no longer works since the laicization of Theodore McCarrick. McCarrick had been a priest and bishop for 60 years, and is no longer either because he was exposed as a deeply wicked man. McCarrick has obliterated for all priests and bishops any reliance on a man’s office as proof of his argument.

Based on this Bishop’s use of his office and ordination as the effective tool for argumentation, I fear that the lesson of McCarrick has not yet been learned by most of the presbyteral and episcopal ranks. The truly good bishops and priests will be those who decline to be called Monsignor or Your Excellency but only Father. The McCarrick effect is to have destroyed in the minds of the faithful any reason to trust and believe in the officeholder by virtue of the office he holds.

The renewal of the church will come about with the renewal of the priestly caste. Holy men, humble men, men lacking ambition who see their priesthood as a ministry of sacramental service rather than a career ladder they may be able to climb, will be the beacon of the light of Christ that the Christian faithful will follow through the darkness of the world.

We should pray that all priests, and all bishops, learn the lesson of McCarrick and reorient their ministries to be less about their office and more about their message. When our Lord sent out the 70 disciples, he sent them with a message rather than with an office. May all our disciples be guided by that example.

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Time and Talent

The parable of the prodigal son is one of the best-known stories in all the Bible. I’d like to draw your attention to the first turning point in the story, where the younger son is in the middle of his terrible job feeding the pigs, and he realizes he doesn’t have to live like this. Some voice inside him told him that he was made for better than his current situation. He is not where he should be and he is not where he wants to be.

He hears what we know is the voice of God saying to him “I want you to have something better.” That voice says “I want you to be better.” In order to get the something better, which the son describes as being allowed to eat the slop that he’s feeding the pigs, the young man must go to his father and repair the relationship by admitting the truth of what he has done. That’s the action that the young man must take before he can enjoy the fruits of sonship with his loving father.

We see the same thing in the Old Testament reading. The people of Israel are down at the bottom of the mountain fashioning a molten calf to worship while Moses is at the top of the mountain in a personal relationship with God. And the message that Moses will take down the mountain is that the people of Israel should not give in to false gods, but they should have a real relationship with the true God.

And we see in the life story of St. Paul, which he references in the second reading today, that he was once a blasphemer — he tried to persecute the Christians — but now he glories in God’s love and the work of serving his Lord.

It takes time to make a change like this. It took time for the son to make his change: he needed to be uncomfortable for a while, he needed to honestly assess his situation, he needed to want to be better, he needed to work his way back to the father, and he needed to start fresh with his father with full honesty about what he had done and who he had harmed. Likewise, St. Paul spent about 14 years learning with Barnabas before he went out and preached to the Gentiles. So we cannot expect to have the relationship with our Lord that we were made for, and the relationship with our Lord that we want, if we are not willing to give him time and presence. We cannot just declare ourselves Christians and expect no further requirement on our part.

So it takes not only time, but commitment and effort. A few weeks ago, we as a parish made a commitment to praying. Every Catholic is required to go to Sunday mass, but our prayer lives should be much more than that minimum requirement of the Sunday mass obligation. And many of us signed up in some way to increase our commitment to prayer. And today we need to consider making a commitment of time and talent in two ways

    1. We need to work as hard on understanding of our faith as we do in our prayer life,
    2. We need to live out our faith in service to each other and in community with each other so that our lives match our prayer life.

 

Whatever commitment we make to God should not be a one-time thing. Christian conversion is always on-going. Moses and St. Paul didn’t just have one conversion moment, and neither should we. In our prayers, in our intellectual growth, and in our community service, we should renew our commitment to God every day.

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Expectant Waiting

The readings for last Sunday and this Sunday are about what’s important and how to protect it. Last Sunday’s readings were about what is not important. Riches are not important, building bigger barns or bigger retirement accounts is not important. This Sunday’s readings are about what is important. What is truly important is that we have faith in the promise made by God, and that we protect and sustain that faith.

When we use the word “faith” we can mean many different things. We use the term “Catholic Faith” to mean the body of beliefs that we hold to be central to what gives meaning to our lives. But sometimes faith another word for confidence, which seems to be the meaning we see in the Letter to the Hebrews today. The writer says, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”

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