Tuesday, July 24, 2012

On the Priesthood, One Body, One Church

"I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing, says the Lord." (Jer 23:4)


In this passage we have cause for joy, but also a cause for concern—joy because of what the prophet proclaims and concern because of what our brothers are saying. In this passage I see a disturbing trend where Protestants often ignore passages like this. Now it is not that many err completely but rather that there needs to be greater nuance in our treatment of this topic. Now, some take the notion "Jesus is the high priest" to mean that he is the only priest with authority, while others take it to mean that we all share equally in the priesthood that's the end of it.

But this is a prophetic message from Jeremiah, and we must remember that there are many types of prophetic utterances: some foretell God's wrath, His mercy, destruction, restoration, the end of days, or the coming of the New Age, i.e., the age of Christ. This proclamation (Jer 23:1-8) speaks of a passing away of an old order of priests, namely the Jewish priests (of his time) who engaged in idolatry and injustice. It then speaks of the establishment of a new order of priests and the reunification of the people of God from many lands. How is this clear? Jeremiah obviously calls these wicked priests the "shepherds who mislead and scatter my flock" (23:1) but then he uses "shepherds" again as those who will guide the people of God—these men are also priests. This message also clearly speaks of the coming of Christ for it says "I will raise up a righteous shoot to David" (23:5).

He prophesied all these things amidst the slow, painful, and gradual destruction of Jerusalem spiritually and physically.

Some will claim that we are all part of a universal priesthood and that we are made priests by virtue of His sacrifice. Now, we are indeed all called to all share in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly offices of Christ's ministry. But how, and in what way? First, we are all baptized to new life and by virtue of true baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we enter into the Body of Christ, the Church. Now, some have excised themselves from this union through false doctrine and we urge all of them to consider carefully their separation from the Body with whom they cannot live without. This Body, nevertheless, is something that we enter and become a part of through holy Baptism. Since each of us become a member of the Body of Christ we are likewise sharers of His mission—the salvation of all souls.

We participate in the mission of Christ as priest, prophet, and king in the manner which we live our lives. We do this when we work towards the salvation of souls in the individual circumstances of our lives. In this way those who proclaim that we are saved just by an act of faith cheapen the mission of Christ. They do not cheapen it by their zeal, for they bring others to believe in Christ. But they cheapen this mission by not considering the many parts of this mission—that is to say they do not consider the many parts of the Body and their roles in this mission. If faith was the sole purpose of the mission then there would be no need for teachers, preachers, and shepherds because the only teacher and shepherd would be God. By this I mean that many proclaim that only the Holy Spirit guides them. We do not deny His guidance but we reject that the Holy Spirit does not inspire us to lead others when necessary and follow others when necessary. God does not only give us Himself but He also gives us each other so that we might be lead to Him (and in specific ways).

"It is an error, nay more, a very heresy, to seek to banish the devout life from the soldier’s guardroom, the mechanic’s workshop, the prince’s court, or the domestic hearth. Of course a purely contemplative devotion, such as is specially proper to the religious and monastic life, cannot be practised in these outer vocations, but there are various other kinds of devotion well-suited to lead those whose calling is secular, along the paths of perfection."
~Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales
Now it is true that everything good comes from God, but it is also true that not everything is God. Indeed "the very differences which the Lord has willed to put between the members of his body serve its unity and mission" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, sec. 873). Some fulfill this mission as mothers, children, laborers, teachers, and priests. Others share in this mission by the virtues they have been given by the spirit such as humility, prudence, and love. All of these are parts of the one Body of Christ; all are not equal but work towards an equal goal.

So we are called to that ministry which Christ exercised—but if we all merely call ourselves priests of the same kind would we not also all be called shepherds? Who among us then are the sheep? Jer 23:1-8 clearly speaks of gathering all sheep (the faithful) together and giving them shepherds. The context of this prophecy is the coming of Christ, for he will be a wise king, a high priest, and the Good Shepherd. The promise of shepherds is priests in the order of the high priest.

We exercise that same priestly ministry of Christ insofar as we are a member of His Body—but just as some are meant to be teachers, other prophets, and others still interpreters (1 Cor 14:26-40). In this way, I call your attention to Paul's words: "Everything should be done for the sake of building up" (14:26). Similarly "like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Pet 2:5). But how can anyone build a house with the same materials, let alone a temple to God? That is to say if we are all just materials of the same type how do we construct anything? How do we distinguish one thing from another, such as the gifts of the Holy Spirit? Some must be used for the wood (laborers), others must be the inscriptions that adorn the walls (teachers), and others the altar (priests).

We are many parts but one Body, we are different materials that make One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
A Church ready to gather all to herself.
But as it stands, many pick and choose what of the Old Law passes and what is fulfilled. As for me, Jeremiah promised a Messiah—which is true—and shepherds to protect the flock (people of God) so that they "need no longer fear and tremble" (23:4). Why should not this also be true?

I urge you to recall 2 Tim 1:6 where Paul tells Timothy to "stir into flame the gift of God [he was] given through the imposition of [Paul's] hands." What is this action? The imposition of hands was an act done by the Apostles in order to give authority to those seven holy men selected from among the people. Likewise, the imposition of hands by Ananias was decreed by God to give Saul (Paul) authority as His instrument (Acts 9:15-17).

Paul instructs Titus similarly that he should "appoint presbyters" in every town. Here he does not mean "elders" but priests (Titus 1:5). This is clear because the following formula was used for bishops in 1 Timothy 3:2-7. More still, when speaking of presbyters Paul also says "do not lay hands too readily on anyone" (1 Tim 5:22)—meaning that not all are priests according to that order. It is further telling—and those who value truth should read carefully—the gifts given by Paul, by the imposition of hands on Timothy and Titus (and not just anybody) give these men the authority to lay hands on others. So it is not anybody who can raise someone to the order or presbyter (that is, priest) but only those who were given such a gift by the Apostles, a gift that was conferred to them by Christ Himself. Not everyone is a priest according to this order, and not everyone has the authority to "preside" nor the responsibility of that office to "toil in preaching and teaching" (1 Tim 6:17).

Indeed, it was promised that "you are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek" Now, if this priesthood—a priesthood which offers sacrifice—was related to just one man why would it be called an "order"? The order of Levi has passed away but the order of Melchizedek will never pass away because Christ does not pass away (Heb 7:24). If we are to take the promise of Jeremiah seriously, and the author of Hebrews in conjunction with him, who could deny a specific and unique priesthood though which we have shepherds for God people? Furthermore, the high priest has made a sacrifice, a perfect sacrifice, of Himself. As the high priest of the order of Melchizedek his priests are called to offer sacrifice, and more fascinating offer the perfect and eternal sacrifice—Jesus Christ. For the eternal priest is also an eternal sacrifice given for all.
This is what is really happening at the conferal of Holy Orders. A young man joins a noble and heavenly calling, begun by Christ, through His Apostles, to the present day. As he enters into that priesthood by which he was be Christ in a very special way for others he must also be willing, like Christ, to give his life for his sheep.

 It is truly fitting we have such a high priest who, at the right hand of the Father, offers an eternal sacrifice and intercedes for us. As both victim and priest he not only reigns eternally but, by equal amounts of his love and humility, gives His Body and Blood for eternity as a blameless sacrifice. For if the priesthood is established in that eternal high priest, then sacrifices of those in the order of that priesthood do not offer temporal sacrifices, like the blood of bulls and rams, but an eternal and acceptable sacrifice. Indeed the Eucharist is rightly considered a sacrifice of praise. And although this spiritual and perfect sacrifice is offered by all we must recall to our hearts once more that we are the Body of Christ. As a Body of many parts we also recognize that although our whole being prays only the lips can speak praise, only the legs can kneel, only the head can bow, and only the hands can raise the sacrifice. But all together give thanks by their unique actions. So too do the laity and the priest, though different, give thanks for that same sacrifice for which they share and are beneficiaries.

So heed these words which I write, especially those who disbelieve of the order of priests and an eternal sacrifice. Christ's sacrifice was truly "once for all" in that He is the acceptable sacrifice to the Father. But if we do not connect this with the other truths of Scripture we live a lie and we drink poison. For when I and my brethren are confronted with the usual quotes, our detractors, when responded to, will simply say that one bit of Scripture trumps the other (in essence). We accept a universal priesthood as we all should, but then some of you deny the very Scriptural, prophetic, necessary, and authoritative priesthood promised by the prophets, fulfilled by Christ, and enacted through His Apostles and their successors. Do not turn Scripture into a book of mere opinions but see the coherence within. The presence of two truths, even truths that seem to contradict one another, sometimes leads to an even greater, hidden truth not readily seen. We must look to Scripture and the Tradition that gave it to us if we are to passionately search for truth and, with equal love, hold onto it.

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Special thanks to God, of course, but also his servant Padre Cristobal for his inspiring, wonderful, and beautiful homily about the need to work hard, as Catholics. The need to study, work towards virtues, work at ridding ourselves of vices, using the sacrament of Confession, and seeking spiritual guidance from your priests. "No es facil, pero nececitamos trabajar duro por Christo y su iglesia." (It's not easy, but we need to work hard for Christ and His Church). He spoke for 30 minutes, I could have listened 90 more.

Pray for our priests, pray for your priests, and for the love of God seek his guidance in Spiritual things if you find him to be trustworthy and hard working. And if you don't know yet....get out there and find out--make him better by your own desire to be better. That is (but one) beauty of the Church