Category: scripture


The Priest

christ the priest

 

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” –John 14:18

A discussion on the Mass cannot be separate from a discussion on the gift of the priesthood. Crowing the offering of the priesthood of believers, God’s ministerial priests make the Eucharistic sacrifice present. The word “priest” means one who makes sacrifice. Chosen from among men, he presides over the banquet of love. As “another Christ” his hands, voice and body become the very instruments of Christ, used to pour out every kind of grace. The priest’s vocation is to be steward of all gifts which the Mass imparts. We see clearly that his actions, words, prayers and vesture have something to teach us about the gifts.

Gold in the vesture of the priest is not belonging to the man, but to God’s presence which wraps him as a mantle. We think of how the prophets of old chose their successors by placing their mantle upon them. We think of how Christ elected his own apostles and remember that every priest is enrolled in the apostolic ministry of preaching the Gospel to every nation.

The oil of a priest configures him especially to Christ. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit burns a brilliant seal upon his soul. It is the oil of gladness, of Our Savior’s eternal priesthood. He goes to the wellspring of Christ’s own life and draws out the Eucharist from which we all drink. He gives us the sacrament that heals, atones and saves. During the elevation of the host and chalice, let us imagine that oil is being poured out over the people, cleansing us, strengthening us, making us new.

When the priest prays quietly at the altar, he is praying for himself- and for us. Jesus’s disciples asked him: “teach us to pray” and this is what the priest does. Like the Good Shepherd who leads us, he teaches us a silent way of prayer, of turning our eyes to the Heavenly Father and trusting in Him. He lifts up his children, diligently cares for them and feeds them honey from the promised land.

The priest does many acts of reverence during Mass. He bows his head, lifts his hands, makes small crosses and big crosses. Genuflecting before the consecrated Eucharist, he shows adoration for Christ. We worship with head, hands, feet and lips because Christ became man and worshiped his Father in this way. Watching these gestures and responding to them, our whole being participates in the Holy Sacrifice.

Lastly, the priest works hard to provide for our nourishment. He spends many hours in toil, tending to the sick, weak and spiritually wounded. His celibate fecundity and wholehearted devotion become rich milk flowing in the desert. By laying down his own life for us, he provides us with a model of Christian living. In following self-abandonment, we find true happiness. What a happy sight is a priest wearing his collar amidst a bustling, public place! The priest is a quiet, humble enduring token of God’s presence with us always.

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The Milk of the Mass.

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“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” – Isaiah 55:1

The Mass is comprised of two parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which provide nourishment and strength for our souls. We “feed” on the Word and then on the Eucharist. Their source is in Christ, the true life of the Church. What the Holy Scripture speaks of in figure, prophecy and the words of Christ, the Eucharist fulfils. We learn of the true manna from heaven, sit at his feet, and then feed upon Him. This is the milk of the Mass, which flows freely from Christ and is a supreme gift to all who believe.

All of the other gifts pass through and originate from these two teats by which the Holy Church feeds her hungry children. This is why we refer to the universal Church as “Mother Church” because she embraces and feeds people of all nations, helping them to grow into saints. Through the liturgy of the Mass, something divine descends upon us, making our hearts grow bigger, stronger and able to make more room for God’s love. As we become mature Catholics, we will draw from the ample fount of the church’s milk time and time again. Listening to the Gospel, we digest the message, letting certain words come to us and as Mary, ponder the meaning in our hearts. In such sweet instruction, we learn to become a holy people, in stinging rebuke, we notice areas that must be improved. This is the milk working in us, to bring about Christ in us.

Ingesting the Eucharist unites us with Christ. Scripture says: “A man will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife- and they shall become one flesh”. At the moment of consecration, Our Lord leaps down from heaven’s height and takes shelter in the hands of the priest. As the canopy of love is raised over us, Christ comes forth. The one true Savior, concealed under the appearance of bread and wine, dwells in one flesh with his people, his bride. With each reception of Holy Communion, we grow more and more like Christ, our Divine Spouse. In essence, we become what we eat. What makes this mystery even more beautiful is that it is God’s work, not our own. This is the paradox of Christianity, the Living God who did not deign equality with God but became a slave. We are the truly poor ones but he becomes a poor one, ground by our teeth, totally annihilated out of love. That which is high is made low and that which is low is made high for from our feeble, sinful lays, we are called to partake in his riches.

When Scripture says, “Man does not live on bread alone but by every word that passes from your mouth,” we hear a reference to this sublime milk, offered in both the Gospel reading and the Holy Eucharist. For God’s word speaks to us in holy writ and it is the word of God, uttered through the priest that transforms mere bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. At the powerful word of God, every gift of the Mas springs to life. In a new creation, this life throbs, flows and covers the earth. It is important that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is prayed, lived and absorbed into our very being. How rich and blessed are we to be partakers in such choice, divine foods!

The Wine of the Mass.

 

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“Take me away with you–let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers. We rejoice and delight in you; we will praise your love more than wine. How right they are to adore you!”– Song of Songs 1:4

 

When confronted with the mystery of the altar, the presence of God dwelling there, one is overcome by awe. Words escape some while others long to open their mouths in praise. In both cases, the heart groans silently. Have you ever taken time to notice all of the postures and gestures used during Mass? When the priest speaks a certain verse, we say a certain response. He kneels before the consecrated Eucharist, he whispers certain prayers and holds out his hands. When crossing the altar, we bow and starting the Mass, we make the sign of the cross. These actions are really just a hundred tiny ways we say “Lord, I love you.”

This disposition of reverence is the wine of the Mass. Our chanting, our vigils, our candles brightly burning are all signs of a people enamored by God’s presence. These things all serve to foster a union with God. They help us understand who God is and how we respond to Him. Reverence is the song of the wedding feast.

We behave differently at Mass than in the outside world. Feeling a sense of the sacred, our minds cease their restless churning. The structure and solemnity of the Holy Mass brings peace. It conveys a respect for the Lord’s house. In order to drink more deeply of the sacraments, we must lower ourselves, be humble and meek. It is then we hear what God is trying to tell us. Before approaching Holy Communion, we drink the cup of reverence which prepares us to drink the Saving Cup. Our palates are softened to receive the Living God.

To some, reverence is foolish, the dusty remnants of an old religion that lacks contemporary value. But nothing is further from the truth. Amidst materialism, reverence points to something higher. In a world of darkness, reverence sows light. We exert ourselves in charity, feeding the hungry caring for the sick, ministering to the sinner. Having drunk our fill, we may even give our very lives. Capable of so profoundly moving us with love of God and neighbor, wine is corresponds to the end of the Mass, which is adoration.

Wine is intoxicating, like the powerful, just and merciful presence of God, who loves us beyond measure. Our minds reel at such a love! Running and warm, it also becomes the precious Body and Blood of Christ, who intoxicated by love for us, gave up his life on the cross. Enlivened by this spirit, let us run to the King and Bridegroom of our souls!

 

 

 

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This weekend was powerful. Yes, that is the word to describe it: powerful. This is the third year in a row where I attended a young women’s retreat with the campus ministry of St Augustine, sponsored by the Universities of Miami and Gainsville, FL. Though I’m long past being a college student, these retreats have been so meaningful, revealing things about God and myself.

Last year was bitter. Bitterness mixed with sweetness in the three days I described as “like holy week” a dismal crucifixion of myself leading to resurrection. This year, praise God, was sweetness, and as I said, power. The goal of this retreat was first, listen to God, be open to his call. This is especially important for my vocational discernment, which has had its fair share of ups and downs, mostly due to my own stubbornness. It seems that even when God puts a good, beautiful thing in front of me, I deny it in my own pride. And this hurts Him more than anything. With this retreat, I vowed no more. No more saying I was too unworthy or not strong enough. We aren’t called because we are worthy or because we can do it. If so, the world would be filled with careless priests, nuns, monks and married couples who are very strong and very worthy but horrible at what they do. There is a certain power in weakness, in saying “No, God I can’t do it but I trust you anyway.”

The second goal of the retreat was to examine my spiritual motherhood of priests. How well have I been praying for the ones God entrusted to me? Have I served their needs selflessly- or used ulterior motives? Unfortunately, along with the selflessness, those selfish motives can trail behind, the awful thought of “Aren’t I so wonderful for doing this?” The first morning reflection coincidentally (or not) was on Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac. I decided to take my spiritual sons and offer them back to God, asking him to even remove them from my care-if it pleased him. The best way we can honor what God gives us is to offer it back to Him.

The retreat had a huge overarching theme that hit me over the head: Behold the Lamb of God. It started at Mass. As the priest lifted up the broken host and chalice, saying “Behold the Lamb of God” I looked into his eyes. Focused on the Eucharistic Lord held up before him, there was longing, anticipation, and excitement. My heart began to pound as I imagine the priest’s excitement. It wasn’t until the second Mass that God led me to understand. This anticipation was Christ’s own anticipation, of communing with us, becoming one with his bride. More specifically, it’s how he feels about me. At last, I could tangibly see and feel the love of God, taste and see the goodness of the Lord and after 6 years in this journey, it led me back to where I began, in the Eucharistic presence.

After the Mass, I drew a picture of what Jesus had conveyed to me. The Ecce Agnus Dei with streams of water pouring out. The book of Revelation (ch 21 and 22) speaks of a spring of water, the water of life, flowing from the throne of God and from the Lamb. In the power of the Mass, the waters of life are opened and pour out upon all creation. We, who are thirsting for God, for life, happiness and meaning, come and drink. It is the only thing that will satisfy us, the only thing for which we are truly made: A glimpse at the face of God. This powerful message is what propels us towards a new way of life and being.

Mixed into the passages about the streams of water in revelation, is profoundly nuptial imagery. At that time, the new Jerusalem is shown to St John, beautiful as a bride bedecked in jewels, free of all stain, lovely to behold! Wherever we hear “behold the Lamb” we should also hear “behold the bride”. Jesus is not only the sacrificial lamb who takes away our sins, he is the Bridegroom who thirsts for us. The great thirst we feel in times of desolation is but a taste of the thirst God has for us. We almost are brought to feel His own passion and thus, it’s in those times, we are conformed to His heart in a special way. The anticipation of Jesus before we receive communion is the same anticipation a bridegroom feels before the moment of the wedding. If we understood how deeply Jesus longed to be in our hearts, we would faint from love! His love for us is unquenchable. He will go to the ends of the earth, through unspeakable torments then to hell and back for us. He did it once before…

 

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”

And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”

And let everyone who is thirsty come.

Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.”

–          Revelation 22:17

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Sooner or later, every Catholic “goth” chick will pick up devotion to the Mother of Sorrows. Perfect right? While I wrote some poetry about Our Lady at Calvary, weeping over the crucified Christ, early on in my spiritual journey, it wasn’t until recently that a true devotion emerged. If you venture to read my earlier post “The Mother of a Priest” (June/17/2013), you will learn how a friend’s crisis urged me to cling closely to Our Lady, especially in her sufferings. Now, my love can do nothing but continue and grow for Our Lord’s dear mother as she stood by His side- even at the hour of His bloody execution. How tearful and resolute, she watched her priestly son offer sacrifice!

I am not a mother, nor have I ever been, so it wouldn’t be accurate to say I know the feeling of losing a child. Nor can I imagine the torment of it. However, I have seen things and people that I deeply loved be destroyed, get violently taken from me. I have seen close friends and family suffer. I know that feeling, watching, just wishing you could do something…anything- to take their pain away. I know well this powerlessness, this bleeding compassion, such grave heart-ache.  And if there isn’t some kind of suffering right before me, I can imagine it.

I can’t decide which was more agonizing for our Blessed Mother, seeing the cruel torments inflicted on her son or knowing He so passionately loved these tormentors. That same mankind who, blind to grace, lacking love for God and utterly ungrateful, actually took enjoyment at the victim’s suffering. “He has come to save you, to give you eternal life, to heal you, to deliver you from your demons,” she must have thought, “and here you spit and mock him!” Certainly she may have cried unto the crowd: “Yes, your hatred crushes me- yet even moreso His love!”

This was the High Priest of the New Covenant. Mary clad him in the fair vestments of human flesh. Her lullabies were hymns. She offered the first-fruits of her maternity: warmth and milk to His infancy. Patience and wisdom in tender childhood. Rightfully would a priest lament, should his sacred offering be torn from his hands and desecrated or his holy vessel cast upon the ground.  Would he not rend his garments at seeing the temple destroyed? How much more did Mary lament seeing the immaculate Lamb of God stripped, broken, abused and rejected! How sharply she mourned, seeing the precious temple, born from her womb, destroyed! That men crucified His Only Son was such blasphemy that God Almighty rent the skies in two, snuffed out the sun and draped Calvary in darkness.

Mary spent her whole life preparing that offering, dressing him in garments of virtue, perfuming him with goodly faithfulness. Yet surely, did she know?

Yes, she reckoned the words of Simeon: “This child is set for the fall, as a sign of contradiction and a sword your own heart shall pierce.” She knew it, expected the day, the hour when her dearest son would appear as Messiah- and subsequently fall to dismay. Yet nothing could prepare for the flowing blood, the wounds and tears more bitter than gall. Her pondering heart could not bear the sentence, the scourging, the crown of spines pressed down, the rough, wooden cross and the cold nails. Thus, like Abel, she surrendered her choicest lamb to the cruel altar. Here, commenced the world’s most heart-wrenching liturgy. When Jesus cried out “My God, why hast thou forsaken,” Mary remembered the angel’s greeting “The Lord is with thee.” When her precious son, at last, bowed His head and said “Consummatum est”, she raised her arms, having given everything, and answered: “Fiat.”

But the most beautiful thing about Mary’s sorrow was that it came with true victory. No temporary grief over some earthly loss, her tears conquered evil; they erased the sinful pride of Eve and consecrated womanhood forever. They also consecrated manhood- for at Calvary, Mary showed herself mother to all who would call themselves disciples of Christ. Given the good water of such perfect tears, the bloody cross became a tree of life. At this altar, John the Beloved, made the first act of ministerial priesthood. Taking Jesus’s dead, broken body from the gruesome wood, he laid it like a precious host in Mary’s hands.  There, she also showed herself the mother of all priests.

Words cannot describe what an epic mother Mary was. It is with good reason that Scripture describes in few words her espousal to God. Her betrothal sealed in tears and blood; she emerges as the joyful daughter of Zion, the desired beauty of ages. Christ wore a ring of thorns and she, the wedding-band of blackest sorrow. In a heavenly place no longer sorrowful, Mary still desires we recall and venerate her sorrow, offered alongside the Savior’s passion. The poor, virgin-girl from Nazareth has left us with a resounding declaration that all human weakness can be sanctified, united to His suffering. Her example gives strength to Christians everywhere.

By her great pain, Mary stood as advocate of those in pain, bringing forth her Son’s healing balm. By wretchedness, Mary became a refuge of sinners; ever-beseeching executioners lay down their wicked instruments and turn to God. She cleansed Calvary’s hill with tears, saying to the dust: “From this garden, man will be created again.”

A warrior in her feminine way, Mary Most-Sorrowful drew that sword from her own heart and handed it to Christ so He may at last slay the Serpent! How the black rosebud, bowing her head, bloomed forth the white lily! Weeping, did Mother Mary bury her most-precious wheat and rejoicing, she carried back the Easter sheave.

 

So heartily, I end:

Virgin Most-Sorrowful,

Remove from us the dark veil of sin

so we may greet your Son’s dawning light.

O Widow Un-widowed,

Keep vigil when we lack strength.

Mother of Mercy,

Hold your silver lamp against the night.

O Moon,

Shine upon our graves, guide in death’s grim hour

and hush the avenging angel.

Mother Most-Sorrowful,

Black Rose of Calvary,

pray for us.

Picture the most beautiful sight you could ever chance upon… perhaps a snow-swept mountainside or an iridescent-feathered bird of paradise. Imagine the most luxurious scent you could ever smell… a whiff of burning frankincense, a sultry gardenia blossom. Imagine the sweetest sound you could ever hear… a virtuoso’s symphony, the tinkling of sleigh bells. Imagine the most delicious taste and the most pleasing thing you ever touched. Oh how great these things are!

Now, imagine this: that all the wonderful sensations in the world are but a foretaste of heavenly things. The pitter-pat of rain and awesome clamor of thunder are but hints of the majesty of God. Morning sunlight on your skin is but a shadow of the Blessed face of God. All our satisfied- and unsatisfied appetites are only a foreshadowing of our consuming desire for God. Our senses are gifts, love letters sent to us that we may delight in creation and look forward even more to the Creator. That first bite into a ripe mango, the caress of a lover’s hands, the rumble of a cat purring on your lap, all are reminders of a Creator deeply in love with us!

I remember reading in the Old Testament that no man has seen the face of God, for if he should gaze upon God, he would die.

“And again he said: Thou canst not see my face: for man shall not see me and live.” – Exodus 33:20.

Because God is so indescribably beautiful, more splendid than anything in the universe, we would simply die from beauty. Our sinful ugliness would quiver in the Divine Presence and not stand to live. But the amazing thing is that God took all His killer-beauty and became man! That Beauty which withstood not a slightest imperfection, descended to walk amongst abject ugliness and sin. Truly Jesus, in one of his most shattering statements, told his disciples:

“He who has seen me has seen the Father” – John 12:45.

How the Lord deigned to wrap us in divine love and terrific beauty! How Love and Beauty Himself met death so we may see the Father, He who lit stars and painted planets with His fingers, who commanded the sun to burn and rise!

Perhaps one thing about as scandalous as God becoming man was the fact that through Jesus Christ, man could become like God.

“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” – 1 John 3:2

Ponder this a moment…In the Beatific Vision won for us by Christ, we will at last see the face of God- and we will not die!! Truly these are the depths of love and beauty of which, we can readily perceive every lovely, beautiful thing in the universe is but a foretaste. More than sensuous, resplendent and enrapturing things, we were made to desire God from Whom every goodness comes. Yet God does not stand apart on account of our lowliness… He does not deprive humanity of our One Desire because of our guilt; no He brings the One Desired to us!

The greatest, happiest memory we have lived is a taste of God’s love. Whatever ravishes us: the canvas of stars above, the embraces of romance, a stirring motet, Mona-Lisa enshrined, a romp with your kids on a summer day, is a small taste of what God has stored for us. It is written in Paul’s letters that eye has not seen nor ear has heard what God has in mind for those who love Him.

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Moreso, when God enters into us, we become beautiful for it is our souls that are His desired. God stooped down into our mean existence, not a little- but all the way. God became man, suffering and wretched man, to reclaim His one desire. Thus, it only makes sense the beloved would be shaped into the image of the Lover. On earth, the Christian soul may yearn in expectation, groaning within us, awaiting the blessed moment when beloved and Lover unite. Upon our deathbeds, may we joyfully incline our ears as God whispers, in sweetest poetry, saying:

See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone.

Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come,  

the cooing of doves is heard in our land.

The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.

Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.”

–          Song of Songs 2:11-13

The day after my ill-fated encounter with the lady spiritual director, I went to visit another one. You could say I am pretty serious about this spiritual direction thing. I have realized I am the type of person who learns best by example. Regrettably, few people set a good Christian example in my life. Around the age of 13, I learned by example that Christians were better people than everyone else, they were holier, richer and nicer- and by nicer, I mean they had nicer things.  All too soon, I learned I couldn’t be that way, for I was sinful, poor and lacked nice things… No shiny car with a “Jesus” bumper sticker on it, pretty dress to wear on Easter or blonde hair shot with “good-girl” highlights. I remember being told that if I suffered- or was sad, I possessed little faith and this sent me running to the altar-call basically every Sunday.

Fast forward about 10 years and I am Catholic. I am Catholic because I was shown Christians were people just like everyone else but they TRIED to be holy. They could be rich or poor and the nicest “things” were virtues and sacraments, given as gifts from God. Three people figured majorly in my conversion to faith: Brad Poole, Father (now Monsignor) Stanley Deptula and Father Brian Brownsy.

Brad was my first Catholic friend- my first real Christian friend too. He was first to tell me that if I were the only person on earth, Jesus would have still died for me. I learned from Brad that suffering didn’t mean a lack of faith; it meant God loved you and wanted you closer to Him. God desires our hearts and being Christian isn’t just going to church on Sunday, it is a life journey.

Father Stanley taught me about the mercy of Christ. Instead of shunning my idiosyncrasies, he saw a soul that hungered for God. In his office, I had my first confession and though I was terrified, he remained patient and even allowed his two dogs to sit nearby, because they gave me peace. This powerful sacrament and kindly gesture showed forth forgiveness- and a God who gives second-chances.

Father Brownsy was my first Christian teacher. His Masses were the first I attended. He revealed the Sacred Scriptures, how they instruct us day-by-day, and showed me a beautiful world of prayer and liturgy. To these three people, through whom God’s grace so brilliantly shined, I am forever indebted.

It has been five years since my entry into the ancient, beautiful world of Catholic Christianity and I’m still in great need of examples. Left on my own for so long, I have grown dull, stunted and confused. Yes, I study the faith constantly and perhaps know more doctrine, Scripture and history than your average Catholic, but without a stability of spirit, it means little. Thus, spiritual direction!

I sat down with this new spiritual director and spoke to him and he spoke to me.  He was far removed from the lady I met yesterday, expressing gentle love instead of harsh condescension. In short time, he revealed two issues: First, my true happiness would come only if I depended wholly on God- and His will for me. Second, people aren’t naturally capable of love- they must be taught how to love. I must learn how to love so that others could in turn, see love within me. …and this guy didn’t even know about my dysfunctional childhood issues! See the problem is that I want what I want. I wish to choose my life, to become better- often independently of God’s will. I can’t save myself- and this scares the living heck out of me!

There is a realization that I haven’t been taught how to truly love, I mean I think I’ve been taught how to truly love but I really haven’t. This is because I keep resisting it. I keep expecting everything to change around me instead of changing myself. Moreso, my problem is I like myself but I don’t love myself. My life and my existence must be seen with God’s eyes and not man’s eyes whose perception of truth changes every day. So there you have it: two issues brought before the light. They hang on my heart like twin weights of pride and fear, begging to be loosed. As I set these goals and continue seeking spiritual direction, please, if you read this, pray for me.

That is what we Christians do.

Last week a friend visited me. We got to talking about the Mass… and I showed her a video on Youtube of a priest consecrating the Holy Eucharist ad orientem. No, this is not the name of a famous Chinese restaurant- it means facing towards the east, towards the altar. Inadvertently, I started gushing about the priesthood, what a gift it is and how it is a profound sign of romance with God.

To begin, the Mass itself is shrouded in nuptial language and symbolism. Paul refers to the Church in his letter to the Ephesians: “And the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” (Eph 5:31-32) The book of Revelation was originally called “Apocalypsis” from Greek, meaning “unveiling” and it describes in detail a heavenly liturgy and the sacrificial wedding feast of Christ. Christ himself used wedding imagery in his parable of the King’s banquet where those without proper garments were cast away. Most telling, one of the angels gathered around heaven’s throne in Revelation exclaims:  “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (19:9)Everything about a Mass is nuptial. When Mass bells ring, it is a summons to all, to come to this wedding feast. Wearing garments, the priest approaches the altar from the church’s central aisle, as do a bride and groom. The penitential rite asks for God’s forgiveness, so we may be cleaned of sin and given the white garments of grace. We approach the Holy Eucharist from that same aisle, bowing in humility and accepting the flesh of Christ, our Divine Spouse.

Now that this short background is given, I will speak just of the priest, because it was what I saw in the priest that brought me to such admiration. A Catholic priest is one wedded to the Church- and to Christ. The sacrament of Holy Orders unites him with God Almighty in an unseen bond of untold power. It melds his soul into the soul of the Church, which is the Holy Spirit sealed by the blood of Christ. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the consecration, ad orientem. (note: I am not going into liturgical politics here and am aware that consecration ad populum or facing the people, is wholly valid. So please do not misinterpret things)

The priest becomes closed to the world and opened to God. He stands there, partly in silence, sometimes muttering and sometimes speaking plainly. A conversation is happening there, a dialogue so hidden that we dare not pry, we don’t ask “Father what were you saying back there?” It is a conversation so tender that the very heart of Christ seems manifest before us. We perceive Calvary and we gasp at the horror- and sheer beauty of it.

While an epic scene unfolds, the priest becomes less like a stuffy celibate and every minute more like an enraptured spouse. He leans close, whispers sweet nothings to God, his Beloved and gazes into the space between heaven and earth. The man without a wife and family experiences the greatest of intimacies. In amorous poetry matching the Biblical Song of Songs, the soul makes love to God. Here, the priest seems to say: “My Dearest, My Only, I am here…I worship you… I love you. Stay with me and never leave!” The priest becomes as John, the Beloved who leaned upon Our Lord’s breast and who, captured by love, ceased to worry.

Someone who relinquished what is so natural and so goodly for every human man suddenly realizes why. In that moment, nothing is worth more than God. Nothing beckons and calls but God alone. The priest realizes only he can approach the altar, only he may caress the sacred host or raise the precious chalice. Only he can place his head on the breast of Christ, place his hand into His saving wounds and draw out the sacrifice which is mankind’s salvation. What a gift! What profound intimacy and divine love! All the mercy, long-suffering and tenderness of God revealed here!

 

ad orientem

 

Our only proper reaction is to shrink back, bend low and weep as did the Israelites when smoldering clouds wreathed the mountain of Sinai. We can say, “Jesus Christ, my Lord and God, have mercy!” One thing we absolutely cannot do is ignore it, shrug or say in prideful impatience: “What is going on? Will he hurry up?” Even non-Catholic and non-Christian persons cannot pretend that something mysterious is not happening. Whether one adores or despises the priest, he can’t look away; he can’t help but be moved on some level. God is at work in the hands of a priest. He declares His love through the whispers of a priest. He uses lowly men, both wicked and saintly men, doubtful and confident men, ugly and wondrous men, selfish and loving men. Yes, God, who created the entire Universe in ages primordial, chooses mere man that He may draw all men to Himself.

Late at night, into the wee morning, thinking, I began to reflect on what has always been my favorite story from the Bible: The account of Joseph and his brothers who beat him and sold him into slavery. All out of what? For jealousy… Merciless, cruel and unable to see their own gifts and blessings, Joseph’s brothers attacked him, nearly killed him and sold him to a band of Egyptians to be a servile slave. I always remember feeling such joy at the end of this account, however, as Joseph tricked his brothers, revealed his new-found power to them and forgave them. Joseph’s tale is a curious one, full of coincidences, tragedies, vivid dreams and godly wisdom. The figure of Joseph suddenly stuck out in my mind as a figure of the Catholic Church. Let me explain.

Christ chose the Catholic Church to be his people, an heir to the Eternal Father in heaven. He has adorned her like a bride in a coat of many colors. He has showered favor upon her and the promise, “I will be with you always”.  People outside the Church look on and wonder why God has blessed and favored something so small, so bumbling and unworthy.  “Why not us?” wise men say, “and not this silly child who believes in sacraments, miracles and  antiquated doctrine?”

Back in ancient Rome, when pagan religion was deemed most-sensible and most-sacred, Catholics received mockery, spite and yes, relentless jealousy. “What of these fools who love eachother!” cried the counsel or senator even while handing them over for punishment. The reason for this punishment? Jealousy. How dare these people call themselves blessed, favored of the Father- and yet refuse to worship our auspicious gods? How dare they claim to be reborn when everyone knows death is inevitable? How dare they eat bread called “heavenly” and drink wine called “salvation”?

The Romans were not unique. Every age has hated the Catholic Church and sought to beat it down, or at least sell it into some sort of slavery. How can God’s people be free if the head of state chooses their bishops? How can they call themselves blessed with their necks under the sword? How can they feast if everything is taken away from them- even their lives? Many decry religion for causing bloodshed and oppression while forgetting the numerous religion-less regimes that robbed multitudes of people from dignity, freedom, happiness and life.

The Catholic faith is Joseph, taken into the field, beaten and sold as chattel. Like the younger prince sometimes kills off his older brother, heir to the throne, out of envy, the general brotherhood of people has traded in Christendom for false freedom and glory.

Now, let us approach the second part of Joseph’s story and how it relates to the Catholic Church. Rising somewhat to prominence, the virtuous Joseph is accused of rape after refusing the advances of Potiphar’s wife. For refusing to embrace modernism, secularism, liberalism and materialism, the Catholic faith is falsely accused of treason. For refusing to worship the state, she is accused of rebellion. For resisting the tenets of self-made religion, she is called “oppressive” and for adhering to ancient teaching, she is called “irrevelant”, “inhuman” and “unenlightened”. Because she believes in in a transcendent liturgy, she is called “opulent”, because she embraces celibacy, “unnatural” and because she clings to sacred Scripture, “bigoted” and “backwards”.

Joseph gains a semblance of power and stability only to be falsely accused and thrown into prison. There he dreams many dreams. He is like the Catholic laity, filled with God’s Holy Spirit that envisions a future of godliness. He is like the Catholic religious who listens to the voice of God. He is like the Catholic clergy, pouring forth a river of grace. He remains honest, even when bearing ill tidings and condemnation and eventually is seated at the Pharaoh’s right hand.

How ironic it is that the faith once universally hated, scorned and punished is eventually granted the Emperor’s blessing? How strange that the state which once persecuted the infant, Catholic Church violently, now takes it under its wing? All earthly authority comes of God, none has power that he wills not power and know that even the godless heathen can become a divine instrument! Thus like the young Catholic Church, Joseph is sheltered by the state and given a place of influence. How amazing it must have been for bishops who once worshiped in dark, damp catacombs to have liturgy in palaces! How glorious for priests and acolytes to have a golden chest in which to lay the Holy Eucharist! How heavenly for their hymns to echo off of gilded vaults and ascend amidst clouds of incense!

People often criticize this change in the Church, saying that it betrays the simple Christian message of poverty, that their religion became too state-like and that bishops gained too much power for their own good. One might as well have accosted Joseph for wearing fine, Egyptian linen, learning civilized law and conducting the affairs of his own people. No one called Joseph “worldly” and “extravagant” when he opened up the grain stores for a starving population. No one hated him for mediating between his impoverished people and the great Pharaoh. No one complained of his excessive power when he tricked his brothers so they’d receive fear of God then instruct them in forgiveness.

Do not scorn the Catholic Church because she wears a multicolored cloak. Do not disdain her jurisprudence and gifts to the starving. Stop calling her “traitor” because she learns the world’s laws in order to bring men to God. Just as the circlet on Joseph’s brow evidenced the trustful Pharaoh’s blessing, so the golden altars of Catholicism reveal the steadfast love of God. And just like Joseph, the Catholic Church shall rise with bread and silver in her hands, having patiently borne your persecutions and utter the priceless words of Christ: “Blessed is he who taketh not offense in me.”

Protestant: Why do you Catholics worship Mary?
Catholic: We don’t. Catholics honor Mary. We worship God.
Protestant: Why do you honor Mary?
Catholic: We honor her because Jesus honored her.
Protestant: How do you know that Jesus honored her?
Catholic: Because of the fourth commandment. He obeyed perfectly.
Catholic: If Jesus honored His mother then why don’t you?
Protestant: The Bible doesn’t tell us to.
Catholic: But the Bible says that we are to imitate Christ in all things. (1 Corinthians 11).
How do you feel toward someone who loves your mother?
Don’t you love that person in return?

 

 

I would like to add that while the Bible doesn’t explicitly tell us to honor Mary, it does say that all generations will call her blessed (Luke 1:48) Ask yourself how you are concerned with this prophecy.