Saturday, November 7, 2009

Priesthood

(32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, B)

(Follow this link for my introduction and apology for this homily.)

For the past five weeks we have been hearing the letter to the Hebrews in the second reading here at Sunday Mass. Since we finish the lectionary’s selections from Hebrews today, I thought it might be good to stop and reflect upon its teachings. On these Sundays in Ordinary Time, the readings from the gospels and the first reading from the Old Testament are selected to match and complement each other, while the second reading proceeds on its own cycle. Because of this, preachers sometimes don’t pay a lot of attention to the second reading during Ordinary Time. Hebrews is worth our time, however, and the readings given by the lectionary lead us into a reflection on the priesthood of Christ. This priesthood matters for us, because we all have a share in it. In some ways, it is the good news of our whole religion.

When we think of the priesthood, we often think just of the ministry of ordained priests in the Church. That’s too bad, because for us Christians priesthood is much more than that. In the simplest terms, a priest is someone appointed to offer sacrifice to God. Since the earliest times, indeed since Adam and Eve’s sons Cain and Abel first offered sacrifice to God, the loving relationship between God and his people has been ratified, exercised, and bonded by sacrifice. Under the old covenants sacrifices of all kinds were offered to God, day after day, year after year. The Temple of Jerusalem, the preeminent place to offer sacrifice in God’s Presence, became the center of the world for the people of God.

The New Covenant ratified in the Precious Blood of Christ reveals all of these prior sacrifices to be foreshadowings of his own sacrifice of himself. Jesus fulfills, ends, and goes beyond all of these sacrifices of religion by offering himself as the perfect, eternal sacrifice, once and for all. In his Passion Jesus takes upon himself everything we are at our worst, even to our dismissing, torturing, and killing each other. On the Cross Jesus enters into the deepest misery and suffering that we have brought upon ourselves and each other with our sins, up to and including the searing alienation from God our modern world knows so well, to the depths of losing even our consciousness of our Creator and the Ground of our being: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me.”

But though Jesus could suffer and die in the humanity and human body he borrows from us through our Most Blessed Mother, death could not hold on to his divinity. The divine Son of God bursts forth from the death we have brought upon ourselves and brings our humanity and human body with him into the new life of the Resurrection. This is what we call the Paschal Mystery of Christ, his passing over through our death into what can now be our new life.

This is why Christ is our High Priest; he is the one who offers the perfect sacrifice to God, and indeed, within God. So in Christianity, there is really only one priest, Jesus Christ, because there is only one Sacrifice. This priesthood of Christ is the priesthood of the Church, because the Church is the assembly of those who have baptized into the death and Resurrection of Christ, and who become his broken body and blood poured out in the offering of the Eucharist.

What this means is that each of us who is a Christian, a member of the mystical Body of Christ, shares in the priesthood of Christ. Each of us is a priest, because the communion each of us enjoys with Christ enables us to offer our own sacrifices and have them drawn up into the one, saving sacrifice of Christ.

This isn’t necessarily some big or glamorous thing. Many of the sacrifices we make in our day to day lives are very small. We give someone our ear or some of our time when we don’t want to. We let go of some our feelings or plans and enter into the messiness of someone else’s life so as to give them some mercy and comfort. Not that there aren’t immense sacrifices that people often make in life, such as the many ways ordinary people give up possibilities and opportunity in order to care for or give to others. The good news for us who share in the priesthood of Christ, is that God raises all of our sacrifices, large and small, to a certain divine dignity. By our baptism and our Communion with the sacrificed Body and Blood of Christ, God draws the sacrifices of our individual lives into the one, perfect, and eternal Sacrifice of the Son of God. Our sacrifices become part of the Sacrifice that saves and renews the world, leading us all from the meaningless of death to the hope of Resurrection. Each of us is a priest of the New Covenant, a sharer in the one Priesthood and one Sacrifice of Christ. This is our dignity and our joy as the priestly people of God.

As we offer our humble gifts at God’s altar today, let each of us offer the sacrifices of our own lives, uniting them to the Sacrifice of Christ we make present in this Eucharist, and let us be grateful to the God who makes us a priestly people in the Blood of Christ.

1 comment:

4narnia said...

this is a great homily for the second reading this weekend, Fr. C! it is a good and necessary reminder for us that "the priesthood matters to us and that we all have a share in it," as you say in your homily. i think that the total giving of those two widows from the first reading and the Gospel, that their giving of their whole "self" is a great example for us and a great reminder that we can't just leave it up to the "ordained" priests to give totally of themselves, but we are all a "royal priesthood," "a holy nation," called to love and serve God with our whole entire being. PEACE! ~tara t~