Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Nation of Priests

(11th Sunday, A)

“Christian” is more than a label we put on ourselves. It is an identity, for sure, but it’s also a vocation, a mission, and a way of being in the world, of being in our families, our community, and our country. It is God who calls us and gathers us together for his mission in the world.

As we pray in the Eucharistic Prayer, “From age to age you gather a people to yourself, so that from east to west a perfect offering may be made to the glory of your name.” And what is this offering? It is the world itself, sanctified through our apostolic efforts and made acceptable to God. This is what it means in the first reading from the book of Exodus when God says that his people will be a “kingdom of priests.”

A priest, in the most basic sense, is someone charged with offering sacrifice to God. To sacrifice something, in the most basic sense, means to make it holy and offer it to God. Therefore our mission as Christians calls us all to a priestly life of offering sacrifice: we are to work to make ourselves and the world around us holy. Then we are meant to offer a sanctified life and world back to God as a sacrifice of praise.

This mission has its roots in Jesus Christ himself. As God made one of us, the Word of God sanctified and redeemed our human nature by his willingness to dwell within it as one of us. In the same way, we who are made into the Body of Christ by this Eucharist are meant to continue the sanctifying presence of Christ in the world. It is our job and our joy to make the world around us holy.

To get a sense of what this will look in practice, we turn to the Gospel we hear today. Jesus sends the twelve with authority to heal the sick, raise the dead, and to drive out demons. This is our job in the world as successors of Jesus’ first followers. We Christians are called to be a healing presence in the world, to show our society the possibility of a way out of the cycles of violence that plague and injure our world. We are called to raise the dead in the sense that we can show people a way out of the deadness of sin and the misery of living in a world with no meaning or purpose. It is the duty and joy of us Christians to be empowered by Christ to drive the demons of injustice, of prejudice, of violence out of this world and thus make a redeemed and sanctified world an acceptable offering to God.

Jesus looked out at the people of his own time and saw that they were “troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.” The people of our time aren’t much different, led astray by the false promises of our culture of materialism and made tired and depressed by this world’s glorification of selfishness and sin. God is depending on us, the priestly people he has called to himself, to denounce and drive out the demons of our culture, to sanctify ourselves and the world around us, and make of all creation a pleasing offering to God.

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