Tag Archive: religion


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.

The Milk of the Mass.

milk

 

“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!

Many people talk about the vocation crisis in the Catholic Church. However, little changes are made in the ministry of local parishes which foster vocational growth. People, in short, fear changes, even if they will bring positive results. It is easier to assume what we’ve been doing for many years is good enough and can’t actually be the root of the problem.

After hearing a visiting priest lament from the pulpit about our shortage of priestly vocations, I approached him and said that the solution was simple. Unfortunately, he didn’t have time to hear what it was. This does reveal part of our problem: we spend a lot of time talking about how we don’t have enough vocations and spend not enough time acting to encourage them. Do we not have enough time to sit down, ponder the Church’s future and figure out how to best secure it?

Here is the simple, three pronged approach that I put forth for parishes to encourage growth of vocations:

1)      Teach authentic Catholic doctrine.

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The more people come to know the faith and God’s love, the more they will fall in love with God and the faith. Presenting a way of life that is contrary to the shallow world sparks resonance with people- especially young people who are faced with meaninglessness and relativism. Authentic doctrine is not watered-down. It is not a bunch of moral platitudes but putting forth the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in and out of season. We can’t be afraid to discuss the hard stuff, the reality of sin and of spiritual combat. Authentic Catholic teaching is what draws reverts and converts, who all have potential vocations. I have heard too many young adults complain that they are learning more on their own than in RCIA. They are hungering for the “meat and bones” but instead get fed spoonfuls of sugar. Beefing up our RCIA is a matter of investing in textbooks and teachers who are faithful to the Magisterium. renewing belief in the sacraments is a matter of encouraging their use. If the parish priest can, he might want to invest some extra time to hear confessions and teach on the meaning of this healing sacrament.

It is vital to reveal our faith as a life-changing reality- not just a path that is just as good as some other religion. The worst mistake we can make is to adopt a “I’m okay, you’re okay” attitude. This is precisely what the world drills into our head and it’s not what Christ preached.  Christ preached a new way of live, turning your back on the world, rising towards union with God. Our faith has so many avenues of beautiful spiritualities: Franciscan. Benedictine, Dominican. Explore them rather then delving in what other religions practice. What Christ offers to us in the Catholic faith is the way, the truth and the life. People won’t believe in something trivial and they certainly won’t give their lives for it.

2.) Talk about vocations:

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Priesthood, religious life, marriage. These don’t tend to be popular sermon topics, being overlooked for the sake of teaching the basics. Vocations are the basics- they hold the Church up! Without priests, we have no Eucharist. It can’t get more basic than that! How are people going to be interested if we never mention it? Priests and laypeople must work together to show how each of these vocations is so special. Lay people can make the mistake of viewing vocations as another career choice rather than a state of life in relation to God. Priests seldom speak from the pulpit about what inspired them to follow their calling- mentioning both the challenges and rewards of it. This all can be easily changed by raising awareness.

A best kept secret is that vocations are a sign on earth of the kingdom to come. Another best kept secret is the example of Mary. When Marian devotion declines, vocations decline. She, along with all the saints, has so much to tell us about living an authentic Catholic life. They lived life to the fullest and too often, their stories are hidden. Throughout history, saints have been inspired by reading the lives of other saints. Parish libraries that host helpful literature and books about the saints and vocations should be encouraged and if already existing, must be brought to attention. Young minds especially, are inspired by the saints.

Retreats for young people can also inspire them to think of vocations and get involved in ministry. They don’t have to be held at special retreat centers. Try church lock ins, best with a night of perpetual adoration.  Some of this stuff may sound intensive so start off slow. Start maybe with adoration once a week. Foster”Eucharistic awareness” where devotion to the blessed sacrament is practiced, explained and encouraged. It is God who calls us to a vocation therefore we should offer maximum opportunities for parishioners of all ages to sit silently and hear his voice.

3)      Reverence at Mass:

Pope Benedict XVI Celebrates Easter - Easter Vigil

The Eucharist, which is the “source and summit of Christian life” (CCC 1324)  is often treated with little reverence. We make the mistake of stripping away the Mass, getting rid of what we deem to be mere “externals” without realizing they were there for a reason: to engage us with the greater mystery. Then people forget the awesome reality of what is taking place at Mass and eventually walk away. It is incredibly vital for young men to witness the awe and majesty of the liturgy, to see it as something sacred and meaningful. This prompts them to serve the altar, and this is where priestly vocations are most encouraged.

Reverent Masses foster belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, while Masses that are treated like social gatherings or concerts, diminish it greatly. Chances are a man will not marry a woman he isn’t attracted to. If young men are not captivated by the beauty of the Mass, they will never become priests. The Church has a vast treasury of sacred music and moving traditions. Parishes should pull them out of the attic and put them to good use. This is why Vatican II encouraged the use of Gregorian chant (SC 6: 116). It provides a unique substance that people will return to time and time again. You can never go wrong by studying the documents of Vatican II, seeing what they actually called for and applying a principle of continuity to the Mass. Too many creative changes and rupture isn’t good for vocations and it isn’t good for anybody. The reason for such things may be to get people more involved in the Mass but what actually happens is confusion and overall loss of the Mass’s meaning. What people look for in such a time of chaos and emptiness is reverence and peace.  It is like water to thirsting souls.

Credo

What is this Catholic faith of ours? What does it mean to be Catholic? It is history, beauty and majesty. It is a love story between God and man. It is not the mundane entertainment of the world nor is it some abstract concept of our intellect. It is a real covenant relationship, a way of life lived to the fullest. It isn’t the way of death, some sterile, modern standard that is pressed upon us day in and day out, no it is life- defying death. Jesus spoke of this saying:

“I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly” -John 10:10.

Too many people look at our faith as a set of rules and doctrines. They don’t realize that these rules and doctrines are actually a deposit of rich treasure, lovingly passed down by the apostles, and those saints and martyrs before us, originating from Christ’s undying love for us. Our doctrines and expressions are a gift, a sweet yoke. Not like the yoke of the world which burdens and destroys us. We must cast that yoke off and leave it behind. Then we can truly understand the Church’s wisdom, which is as a fount from heaven.

We worship in a liturgy because creation is liturgy, love is a liturgy. It is an act of giving and receiving and then giving again. It is speaking and being spoken to. God has always spoken to us in the law of gift. Moved by love, He spoke and all things in the universe were made and He pronounced them good. Each person, created in God’s image is a gift to be given. Christ offers us the gift of His very flesh and blood. He makes His life our own and we, enraptured by this act of love, can do nothing but adore and cry out “Amen!!”

Catholicism is a wedding, lasting throughout the ages. It is a lush garden where souls are planted and tended, where men become saints. God’s only son, the loving Bridegroom leapt down from heaven and became flesh to rescue us, to deliver us from sin and death. He gave all he had, his very life, for us. When water and blood poured from the side of the crucified Christ, a bride was taken and many sons and daughters were born anew from this union. We become God’s own sons and daughters. Because of this new identity:

“The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.” –Psalm 92-12

In this family of the Catholic Church, we have a foretaste of our promised inheritance. As a wedding gift, He bestowed the Holy Ghost, the spirit of God, so that in a spirit of hope, charity and self-sacrifice, we may show others this Kingdom of God. The husband and wife reveal God’s covenant with man, made from the beginning. The priest’s celibacy shows his mystical marriage with the Church, the chosen Bride. Nothing like this has ever happened! Through the sacraments, which are seven jewels of great price, God makes us partakers in His Divine Life. Everything that belongs to God now belongs to His people.

“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” – Song of Solomon 6:3

What we see in the visible Church points to a wondrous, unseen reality. Our communion here on earth is united to a greater communion in heaven, those who have fought and loved before us. Out of their sacrifices, modeled after the One Sacrifice of Christ, comes our power and strength. We are weak and have nothing in this world for our treasure is elsewhere.

The Catholic faith proclaims the forgiveness of sins, that when Jesus climbed up on that rugged cross, He undid the sin of Adam and reopened the gates of paradise. And how immense is God’s love that when a priest says “I absolve you from your sins” that through the blood of Christ, we are washed clean. Our faith is one that believes second chances are possible!

“Love covers a multitude of sins” – 1 Peter 4:8

This is our faith, why add or take anything away from it? Why not love and cherish it as Christ loved and cherished us? Catholicism is the pure water in which we have been reborn. It is the Precious Blood we drink. It is God’s Holy Spirit moving and breathing within us. It is the anticipation of life and resurrection and of every good thing in the world to come.

I have figured it out, the reason why I feel such a burning love for priests and the priesthood: Because it all reminds me of the true Beloved of my heart, Jesus Christ. You see, all along, I have wanted to marry a priest! I speak here of the heavenly High-priest who I am madly in love with, who I want to walk with me, who I want to stand beside… who I want to be my Husband.

It is religious life!

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 have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created.”

–  St Augustine, Confessions.

 

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Every person in the world can recall a moment in their life when they looked upon something utterly beautiful, a painting, a landscape, ornate building, thread of cloth, graceful animal or blooming flower. Maybe it was a multi-hued sunset or a sky full of stars that dazzled like diamonds. I’m also sure everyone can recall a song or piece of music that captured the soul. Still in these modern days of drum & base and synthesizers, the emotive strains of Mozart, Palestrina or Bach cause one to pause in amazement. Why do these things affect us so? Because, beauty is a testimony to divinity, it places us in the presence of God.

I have heard a many atheists affirm this. The austerity of an old cathedral, the poetic meter of a sacred text or the lofty tones of Gregorian chant speak to something deep inside of them. Everything beautiful or awesome in this world bespeaks an ultimate Beauty and Awesomeness. We love beauty because God, who is beauty Himself, created it. We crave beauty because we hunger for God.

Lately, I’ve noticed that people have been talking a lot about the beauty, ritual and “pomp” of Catholicism, how much it ought to be peeled back to reveal a more simple Gospel. Truly, extravagance and luxury in the Church can take grievous heights, becoming a worldly sort of splendor and causing scandal to the outside world. We only need to look far as the excesses of the Renaissance popes only 600 years ago. Easily, we can regard the ecclesiastical affluence that fanned the flames of the Protestant Reformation. Even today, a bishop who drives a fancy car and lives in a spacious mansion causes scandal- and rightly so. There is a such thing as improper extravagance, which makes the church appear like an elitist club, which damages the soul. However, allow me to distinguish this from the proper “extravagance” belonging to our faith and due to God.

Read details of the Jewish Temple described in the Old Testament book of Kings. How it was framed in fine wood, gold and bronze, how purest incense burned there night and day. This was regarded as the place of God, where His Holiness dwelled, a place betwixt heaven and earth- and it was adorned so. Now, we all know Christ gave us a Temple of His body, made not with human hands, a real and true presence of God with us. No one would argue against that. Yet, I think few make the connections here between Jewish worship and Christian liturgy. When Jews worshiped in the Temple, they believed they were imitating the goings on in heaven. And when Christians gathered for liturgy, they believed they were participating in heaven! Man would no longer just imitate God; no, he would become part of God, become one flesh with Him in the Eucharist. What was once a dim shadow has been seen in clear light- Christ, who was crucified and resurrected, calling each one of us to be His flesh, to be His body! I don’t know about you, but this calls for some celebration.

Contrary to popular belief, a priest’s ornate vestments aren’t for his own glory. They instead represent putting on Christ, entering into His heavenly glory, a glory in which we are greatly unworthy to participate! But see how much Christ loves us. He dons His prodigal children in robes, welcomes them into new life and gives us the feast of Himself! While we may deem it rather boring to hear monks chanting for hours on end, consider that all the hymns in the world, sung ceaselessly cannot describe the depths of God’s love!

Splendor in liturgy isn’t something that should be condemned. After all, the priest only wears those gilded vestments once a day at most. He doesn’t wear them when greeting his friends or when preaching on the street. He wears them, as is proper, to partake in the wedding feast of the Lamb Most-High. At Mass, the person and personality of a priest disappears, subsumed in the vesture of Christ. Yes, we could go on over and over about how many unworthy priests stand at the altar but such critique misses the point. Consider us all sinful, stained and unworthy who stand at the altar. Our God is a God of forgiveness, second-chances and decadent love. He gives to us out of gratuitous generosity. Should we not render praise to him gratuitously?

Beauty can be simple, it can be poor and mean just like the stable at Bethlehem. No one is required to adorn their church with materials they cannot afford. No one is exempt from relieving the poor. This is why, the Catholic Church, despite its historical glories, is still the world’s leading charitable organization. With beauty comes responsibility.  To whom much is given, much is expected. A priest who dons splendid vestments while turning blind eye to the poor and suffering, commits insult against Christ. As he is dressed in Christ, so should he act as Christ. Splendor needs to speak of something higher than ourselves, needs to be an unspoken prayer to God and a token of his gratuitous love for us. It must have meaning. Splendor for splendor’s sake is never good.

I firmly believe in a simpler Church that is also a beautiful Church. Mary, Mother of Christ, in all her poverty, radiated pure, godly beauty.  Thus, so should the Church, the Bride of Christ. She should be bedecked as for a wedding-feast, a bride blushing timidly yet fearlessly carrying high the bejeweled cross.

So I say, let her priests wear the spotless, vestments of Christ while at the same time, running to spread His Gospel, to uplift the fallen and impoverished. Let his fluid chant sing a love-song to Christ and His people. Let the vast, stained-glass windows of cathedrals teach a parable, gilded altars declare thanksgiving and clouds of incense herald holy paths. Where there is love, there is an unspoken beauty; ever ancient, ever new but never meaningless.

 

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One glaring theme to this short story is perhaps a look at the “Scapegoating mechanism” which is used by virtually every human society. A profound wrong is sensed, with humanity and the universe, a sense of sin. In searching for an explanation of the origins of this sin-sense, the society, unable to come to grips with a universal problem of evil, seeks to blame it on a disliked or inconvenient figure- usually a group or person who is marginalized, isolated or misunderstood. This despicable figure MUST be responsible for our suffering, our sin, they conclude and therefore seek to rid themselves of the evil curse by destruction of this selected scapegoat. Only then is everything right again in the universe. This phenomena commonly displays itself in sacrificial cult by which humanity’s sin is placed on the victim and destroyed with it. The term “scapegoat” actually comes from a Jewish ritual in which a family’s sins are transferred onto an unfortunate goat, which is then driven off into the wilderness to slowly die. The idea being, that as the animal’s life is extinguished, so is the curse carried by it. Thus, atonement is attained.

 

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Herein this story contains more than just a commentary on priesthood as victimhood; it is a commentary on modern scapegoating, which often blames the world’s evils on religious figures. Unable to come to terms with their own downfalls as human beings with collective history, modern peoples heap their curses on “hypocritical”, “bigoted”, “mean” or “oppressive” religious ethos. In some regions, it is the Jews, in others, the Moselems yet in the dominant West, it is the Christians, particularly, the Catholics. The last 500 years in fact can be viewed as one long rebellion against Catholic traditions and mores, which have “held humanity back.” Our own inability to protect and love the female sex then becomes their denigration of women. Our lack of concern for the poor becomes their greed. Our rejection of a sense of sin becomes their immorality. We blame Catholic priests on incidences of pedophilia without noting our own commonplace exploitation and apathy for children. We decry religious murders while turning a blind eye to our own harboring of violence. How often, prominent peoples scorn Catholic teachings on marriage while treating matrimony like a commodity to be thrown away when no longer of use. Thus, we project our pitiful downfalls on one target, a scapegoat who must be cursed and driven to its death.

Only by the death of the priest, is the indignation of the old man, the atheist, the student and the crowds who watch, satisfied. In order to be saved, someone must die. Now, who do these characters represent?

The Old Man certainly depicts a past society, one that is disgruntled by current affairs; that feels tossed aside. He blames the slight of disenfranchisement on those supposedly who disenfranchise others, the mainstream Christian religion responsible for holding back minorities just like him.

The atheist girl represents current society, reeling from a Christian past, seeking empowerment and justice independent of God. In turn, in decrying her sister’s injustice which is rightly deplorable, she places blame on religion, which in her eyes, has failed to help the weak and impoverished. She is so scandalized by their weakness without noticing her own weakness and the fact she has slipped into an internal realm of cruelty and sadism.

The Christian man depicts our average Christian; a devout, determined Protestant who carries along his Bible and tries to save the sinful world. He reveals a religion that is safe, in-tune with the world at large. He is pious but not pious enough to be grouped with extremist Catholics, who in his view have perverted the true meaning of Christian faith. He represents another face of current society, one raised up by Catholic heritage but in stalwart rejection thereof. Ultimately, when called to either defend the accosted priest or join the atheist’s arguments, he chooses the former. He and the priest may worship the same Savior but he must prove himself before the world, prove he’s no part of that ancient, irrelevant faith which ironically, his own faith is derived from. His hatred shows stronger than love, his partisanship greater than the simple “Evangelium” of Christ.

The Security-Guard, who plays a small role in this story, is exactly the common milieu of people who go about, feeling duty-bound but who ultimately reject any sense of real duty. When faced with a demanding task, they sink into anger and flee away.

The Student is interestingly called a “student” but is never revealed as such. He’s simply a young man of Dennis’ age, a fellow-man. His personality is exactly opposite of Dennis’s; assertive, threatening, irrational. He represents the epitome of fallen man, swimming in rage, carnality and sin. Described as “like an animal” the student portrays the irrational furor modern society harbors towards an ancient faith like Catholicism: As freakish, unnatural and suppressive, only capable of spreading disease. Anything that inhibits our pleasure or senselessness is a disease. We abhor inquisitions and religious wars while subjecting the very concept of truth to systematic inquisition and waging war against any morality contrary to ours. In rejecting a vengeful God we, in short, become our own vengeful gods. We lay the ills we cannot explain or control upon a scapegoat then repeatedly slay it. In our enraged vindication of what we see as “good” we become like the priest who doesn’t simply offer the sacrifice but delights in the bloodshed to a point where all vestiges of noble “piety” are forgotten. Indeed, without a realization that we need atonement, there can be nothing but a twisted, confused priesthood that sacrifices whatever it deems fit without even knowing why.

Lastly, who is Dennis? He is a depiction of future society with many questions and promises. He is also us, an onlooker; an everyman who calmly surveys the world around him and seeks reason for his existence. While shocked by religion, he is shocked by lack thereof. He doesn’t understand why the Catholic priest has incurred the wrath of five anonymous strangers. Dennis is rational; therefore he waits before coming to a stance, however timid like a majority of men and assumes his decision too late.  He represents the good-hearted philosopher, endowed with natural law. He bemoans hearing of the priest’s wicked religion while realizing the crowd’s one-sided sentence is meaningless, that vengeance becomes as unjust as the crime committed. Being generally un-churched, even he remembers God came into this world to save sinners. Why would the righteous need to be saved? Where is God’s power if evildoers cannot turn from evil and enter into the light of goodness and repentance? What would God’s love mean if the priest’s sins couldn’t be pardoned? Even he, a college student, long-fallen away from Christian faith realizes what the Christian man cannot. He sees mercy. Moreso, he cries for mercy. He says: “Let God be the judge!”

However, our story doesn’t need to end like Dennis’. We can act before it’s too late, can bring sense to the senseless hatred of religion; explain why an earthly scapegoat shall never remove our sins. Genuine atonement comes not from punishing our offenders-real or perceived- but by realizing at first our need for atonement. Then, the initial step is taken. Then we may see clearly our own inadequacies, face them, battle against them and find sure remedy by help from a Sovereign Grace.

 

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