October 21, 2006

Priesthood

Here's my homily for this weekend:

One of the recent events down in the Church of Boston, where I live and go to school during the week, has been a visit from the heart of St. John Vianney. There were a couple of prayer services, and there were invitations to come “see the heart of a priest.” The focus was on prayer for vocations to the priesthood.

I thought it was a beautiful thing; the permanent deacon who baptized me was very devoted to St. John Vianney, and he made a real impression on me. And whose intercession could be better sought for vocations to the priesthood than the patron of diocesan priests himself?

But I was also reflecting on how it’s too bad that whenever we hear about priesthood it’s almost always about the ministry of ordained priests in the church. We don’t hear a lot about the priesthood of Christ, or the priesthood of the church itself, or about the priesthood of the baptized. Oh yes, we might not to be reminded of it too often, or be encouraged to reflect on it that much, but every baptized person is a priest because of their baptism into the body of Jesus Christ our high priest.

Our readings today are perfect for a reflection on our priesthood. We have the sacrifice of the suffering servant from the prophet Isaiah, and a description of the high priesthood of Christ in the letter to the Hebrews.

So, what is a priest? A priest is simply someone who offers sacrifice to God. In the Old Testament the priests of the Old Covenant offered all of the complicated sacrifices of animals and grains prescribed in the Law of Moses. These sacrifices of the Jerusalem Temple established the people of God as a people who gave the best of themselves and their goods back to God in thanksgiving. The priests had to offer sacrifice day after day and year after year.

Now our Lord changes all that. He offers the perfect sacrifice of his very self, human and divine, on the Cross. And this sacrifice needs only to happen once for the redemption of all the world, past, present, and future.

But this is what makes Jesus Christ a priest! He is a priest because he offers sacrifice to God. He offers the perfect priestly sacrifice of his own life for the life of the world. In this way Jesus Christ fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering servant who will redeem Israel. Isaiah says, “because of his affliction he shall see the light in fullness of days; through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.”

We, the gathered church, are the body of Christ. Indeed that’s what we celebrate in the Eucharist; that we become what we receive in the Blessed Sacrament. When the minister of communion looks us in the eye and says, “The Body of Christ,” they aren’t just talking about the host we are being given. It’s also an affirmation that we ourselves are the Body of Christ – in communion we are addressed by our true name: “Body of Christ.”

The Body of Christ is a body that sacrifices itself for the life of the world. In this sense the Body of Christ is a priestly body. And all of us are called by our baptism into Christ to participate in the sacrifice of Jesus for the life of the world.

Most of the time this is nothing very grand. Almost all of our sacrifices of ourselves are small. We respond with quiet patience when someone interrupts what we were doing. We listen when someone needs to talk, even when it might be boring. We wash someone’s feet by saving them from embarrassment or the natural consequences of their negligence. We clean up after someone whom we know is tired and distracted by other things.

These are the sort of little kindnesses that we do every day, and we can easily pass them over without reflection. But because of our baptism even these little kinds of little sacrifices have a great dignity before God. Whenever you give up some of yourself, your time, or your resources for someone else you are participating in the one perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And as someone who offers such sacrifice to God, that’s what makes you a priest. In all of your little expressions of patience and kindness and gentleness you are a priest of the New Covenant, offering yourself for the life and reconciliation of the world.

So appreciate your priesthood and rejoice in the dignity to which God has raised you! In this Mass we celebrate the New Covenant in Christ’s blood, a perfect sacrifice that we participate in as the priestly Body of Christ. In the Eucharist, all of the otherwise forgotten tiny sacrifices of parents for children, of friends for each other, of co-workers making the effort to put up with each other in patience, all of this is summed up in the sacrifice of Christ. Christ on the Cross draws all of our efforts and hopes into himself and offers them to God on our behalf.

The letter to the Hebrews tells us today that in Jesus we have “a great high priest who has passed through the heavens.” Know that this isn’t just about Jesus Christ, but is about you and me! As the self-sacrificing body of Christ, we too pass through the heavens!

We are the Body of Christ. In the Eucharist, we become what we receive. And so in all of the sacrifices for others, in all that we do for the life and well-being of those we love, it is us who pass through the heavens. And what does ‘passing through the heavens’ mean but coming into contact with God himself? Jesus Christ has made us a priestly people, and because of what he has done for us, every time we sacrifice ourselves for each other, we are brought into closer union with the very life of God. And to see God is our greatest joy.

4 comments:

Brother Lesser said...

Brilliant!

Crescentius said...

Nice.

Jeff said...

Great post, Friar.

Tom said...

Thank you, brother. Thisd is timely as we have recently had this discussion trying to clarify the mystery of the priesthood of the faithful for a retreat talk at CYFM. I hope you do't mind if I hold on to a copy for the future.