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Priesthood Sunday

JMJ

Priesthood Sunday

I puzzled over what to say about the priesthood today because it’s obviously a topic near and dear to my heart… But I got some help from an unexpected source this past Thursday. I’ll tell you about that a little later. But before that let me just ramble on at random for a bit about this very special calling.

First off, this is not a feast day per se. Priesthood Sunday is simply a day of recognition that came about from an American organization of priests-something like a labor union I suppose, a few years back, when our profession was reeling after the abuse crisis. That was 2001. The year I was ordained.

Because of the sins of a few, and the mismanagement by a few more, the rest of us got a huge black eye. I guess we suffered from guilt by association. So as a means of mutual support but also to re-educate the faithful about the priesthood, this day was promoted as Priesthood Sunday

This last Sunday of October was chosen, I presume, because of that second reading, the letter to the Hebrews which speaks about priesthood. Especially that last line which refers to a mysterious figure from the early Old Testament. It also refers to Jesus, and well, to me…. and others like me. Catholic priests.

Before I go on, please indulge me while I re-tell a story which will help me make a point about this special calling.

It was told by Fr. Ed Friede of Christ the King in Ann Arbor. First off, he was a convert to the Catholic faith. Like many Protestants, he came in with a certain amount of resistance, but he did come in. After a while he felt a call to the priesthood. But he wanted to become a scientist, and get married.

So he resisted. But God persisted. One day in desperation, he made a deal with God. He wanted a sign. He said, “I will open my bible and will do what ever you say Lord. He opened to Psalm 110, which says “ The LORD has sworn an oath and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

Well, that was not the desired result. So Ed gave God another chance. Taking great care to open his bible to another page, far, far away from the psalms, he opened to today’s passage from Hebrews. The New Testament quoting the old.

“You are my son, this day I have begotten you , just as he says in another place, You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” Gotcha Ed.

Ok, with that out of the way, let me continue the rambling. Do you know what the definition of priest is? It really hasn’t changed and it’s a universal definition regardless if you are a Catholic, or a Jew or a pagan. A priest has always been defined as one who offers sacrifice. In olden days, priests would offer up plants, or animals, or even human beings to the gods. In the case of the Jews however, the priests sacrificed lambs and other animals to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

But of course, with the coming of Jesus, and the new, and everlasting covenant, the sacrificial lamb changed. Jesus was recognized by his cousin John, (in that scene over there) as the Lamb of God. And Jesus as high priest in the order of Melchisedek, offered himself up, in sacrifice, to the Father, in atonement for sin.

And so, here at mass, I too, as a priest, offer up the very same sacrifice. Not a new sacrifice, as some might claim. Not a re-sacrificing of Christ, but actually a participation in the very same sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary so many years ago. I can do this, we can do this together…… because his sacrifice was an eternal action, because it was performed by a person who is …eternal .

Now of course, there are many dimensions to the priesthood. It has even evolved in our own times. When many of us were growing up, the priest did it all. He said mass, did baptisms, marriages, administered last rites, heard confessions, did RCIA, and even mowed the lawn.

But then came the exodus from the priesthood. Many left. Parishes closed, we were spread thin, and now some priests serve more than one parish. But, we’ve adjusted and adapted. We’ve rolled with the punches, and changed with the times. We had no choice.

And in the process, the laity became more educated and now do many of the things that the priest had done by himself. We have become more collaborative in our ministry.

The purpose of this day then is to recognize that this special calling is something that came from God. The priesthood, along with the Eucharist, was introduced at the last supper, as a means by which Christ would fulfill his promise to not leave us or forsake us, to not leave us orphans, but to remain with us all days until the end of the world.

And while he would do that in many different ways, the primary way would be through individuals, his priests, whom he called, fishers of men.

And these men would be called to act like Jesus. To imitate him in taking up their crosses daily, and following him. To be patient and kind and compassionate, slow to anger and quick to forgive, to be gracious, and long suffering.

And to not be afraid to teach things that the world may not want to hear.

Now when I began I said that I learned of another perspective earlier this week. Thursday was the new memorial of St. Pope John Paul II. It’s so new that the Roman Missal we use at mass does not have the prayers relevant to the feast day. And so when I said, let us pray at the opening prayer, my altar server held up my cell phone and I prayed off the internet from a website that provides me with digital daily prayers instead of from a prayer book. That was different.

In any case, there was a reading provided from a homily given by Pope John Paul on October 22, 1978. This last Thursday was the actually the 37th anniversary of his first Sunday homily given only a few days after his election as pope. His very first words to the world were: “Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ.”

But his major point was that the laity share the priesthood with the ordained, the priests.

We should recall another passage from the early bible which identified the ancient Jews as a priestly people, a holy nation, a people set apart. JP said “He who was born of the Virgin Mary, the carpenter’s Son , the Son of the living God, came to make us all “a kingdom of priests”.

So it’s safe to say, I think, that the laity really should be held to the same high standards we priests are. You too are called to be patient and kind and compassionate, slow to anger and quick to forgive, to be gracious, and long suffering.

And to not be afraid to teach things that the world may not want to hear.

Now in my experience as a priest, I have that standard that I must try to attain but as you may have heard, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Saint Paul said it best in his letter to the Romans earlier this week. He said the good he wished to do is not what he would do. But that there was a constant battle going on between the flesh and the spirit of Christ.

I have thus occasionally surprised myself and maybe surprised some of you by saying hurtful things. Part of my duty then becomes the obligation to reconcile with that brother or sister. To say “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me” . Or at the very least, to say, “Hey, can we talk? Let’s try to work this this thing out. Maybe we can find a compromise.”

And sometimes, we do reconcile and surprisingly become even stronger in our relationship than before. On the other hand, some have walked away , refusing to forgive me. That part of the Christian obligation to forgive seventy times seven never gets beyond forgiving only once.

So again, this part of the universal priesthood applies to you as much as it does to me. Learning to say “I’m sorry” and “ I forgive you” is required of the disciple of Christ.

Let me then again close with a quote from the Holy Father , St John Paul II with his fatherly exhortation to all of us, priests and laity alike.

“Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope, and all those who wish to serve Christ, and with His s power, to serve the human person, and the whole of mankind.”

 

 

 

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