28 Oct 2018
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Every October, on the last Sunday of the month, the Catholic Church in the United States celebrates “Priesthood Sunday.” Officially, it’s “a day to reflect upon and affirm the role of the priesthood in the life of the Church as a central one” (from Serra International). And, to be honest, it’s an idea I’ve struggled with; primarily because what we do here at Mass isn’t about any of us—it’s about God.
Even when there is a wedding, or a baptism, or confirmation, or the blessing of an anniversary, and so on, it isn’t about us. Instead, it’s always about offering thanks and praise to God for what he’s doing. You know, a wedding is a time to celebrate God’s grace having brought the couple together; God’s grace blessing them and strengthening them in their lifelong union of love. At a baptism and at confirmation, we celebrate God’s gift of salvation and new life. And so on, and so on.
What we do at Mass isn’t about any of us—it’s about God. And so, on this “Priesthood Sunday,” there is something to celebrate and to honor. And what we hold up today is…priesthood. “Now, wait a minute, Father. You just said we weren’t going to do that.” Well, true. But we are going to celebrate what God is doing. And what he’s doing, as we hear in the Letter to the Hebrews, is that Jesus is being—at this very moment—our great High Priest. And he’s inviting to share in that same priesthood.
Priesthood is, fundamentally, a state of being. It’s part of who someone is. It describes the nature and lifestyle of a person. And at the heart of that lifestyle are two things: offering and intercession. Offering and intercession.
When we come to Mass we do a lot of things: sit, stand, kneel, sing, put money in the basket, pray, genuflect, listen to Scripture, write intentions in the prayer book, say Amen, profess the faith, and just generally try to give our attention to what’s going on. And all of that is an offering of ourselves. From the moment we say, “Ok, I’m going to go to Mass,” until we get here and participate in Mass, we’re offering ourselves to God: our time, our attention, our money, our gifts, our prayers, our hopes and faith, our voices, our intentions, and our hearts.
And even when we leave from here, we still live a life of offering. Offering our time to neighbors, friends, and family; offering our help to those in need; giving of our gifts and our talents where they’re needed; and so on. At the heart of priesthood is this idea of “offering” and “giving.” And so, “priesthood” should describe every one of us.
This is what the Roman Catechism says: “All the faithful are said to be priests, once they have been washed in the saving waters of Baptism. Especially is this name given to [those who,]… enlightened by faith and charity…offer spiritual sacrifices to God on the altar of their hearts.”
And this understanding of priesthood has been around for a very long time. The Roman Catechism was written by Pope St. Pius V…in 1570. And, of course, before that there was Saint Peter saying to the people, “You are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God” (1 Peter 2:5). Not sacrifices and offerings on the stone or wood altar, but spiritual sacrifices on “the altar of the heart.” And we carry our hearts and souls with us all the time. And so, whenever or wherever we are, we can exercise our God-given ability to “make an offering.”
And also right there at the heart of priesthood is the idea of “making intercession” for others; praying to God on behalf of others. You know, at Mass when we have our Universal Prayers, we all respond, “Lord, hear our prayer.” “For the Church, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, hear our prayer. For the sick and the needy, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, hear our prayer. For those who have died, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, hear our prayer.”
The thing is that we all pray: Lord, hear our prayer. It isn’t just the ordained priest who says it; we all say it. We all offer prayers of intercession—for the Church, the world, the needy, our own needs, and for all the faithful departed. And, you know, this is what Jesus does for us in heaven. We see that beautifully in the Gospel of John (17:6-26) when Jesus prays to God the Father. He says:
“I pray for them…Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am…that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
Jesus, our great High Priest, is praying for us—always. He’s always interceding on our behalf, for our good. And by exercising the priesthood God has invited us to share in, we do the same for the world, for those who hate us, and for those we love.
Now, if you’re wondering why I get to dress in black and wear a white collar, why I get to wear the fancy clothes at Mass, the reason is this. The ordained priest is here to model a life of offering and intercession. Just as Jesus came to mentor the Apostles in the ways of priesthood, so the ordained priest is here to mentor all the baptized in the ways of priesthood.
And so, be sure to pray for me and for all ordained priests, that we might be faithful to our call to serve you, and to offer our lives for you, and to pray for your good.
On this “Priesthood Sunday,” we celebrate and honor priesthood itself. We thank God for inviting us to share in the life of Jesus who is the great High Priest, the one who offers himself perfectly and fully; the one who is always selfless in his prayers for us. We worship God alone here at Mass. But we do that by exercising our common priesthood, our common call to offer ourselves to God, and to pray for those who need God.