Wednesday, 31 March 2010
MESSAGE OF THE HOLY FATHER
ON THE OCCASION OF THE TWENTY-FIFTH WORLD YOUTH DAY
(MARCH 28, 2010)
“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mk 10:17)
This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the inauguration of World Youth Day in response to the desire of the Venerable John Paul II for an annual gathering of young people of faith from throughout the world. It was a prophetic initiative that has borne abundant fruits, enabling the new generations of Christians to meet one another, to listen to the Word of God, to discover the beauty of the Church, and to have a deep experience of faith. This led many of them in turn to decide to give themselves completely to Christ.
The present 25th World Youth Day is one step along the way leading to the next international encounter of young people, scheduled for Madrid in August 2011. I hope that many of you will be there to experience this grace-filled event.
To prepare ourselves for this celebration, I would like to offer you some reflections on this year’s theme: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mk 10:17). It is drawn from Gospel passage where Jesus meets the rich young man. It is a theme that Pope John Paul II reflected on in 1985, in a very beautiful Letter, the first ever addressed to young people.
1. Jesus meets a young man
“As [Jesus] was setting out on a journey” – the Gospel of Saint Mark tells us – “a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honour your father and your mother.’ He replied and said to him, ‘Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth’. Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, ‘You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me’. At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions” (Mk 10: 17-22).
This Gospel passage shows us clearly how much Jesus was concerned with young people, with all of you, with your expectations and your hopes, and it shows how much he wants to meet you personally and to engage each of you in conversation. Christ interrupted his journey to stop and answer the young man’s question. He gave his full attention to this youth who was moved with an ardent desire to speak to the “good Teacher” and to learn from him how to journey through life. My Predecessor used this Gospel passage to urge each of you to “develop your own conversation with Christ – a conversation which is of fundamental and essential importance for a young person” (Letter to Young People, No. 2).
2. Jesus looked at him and loved him
In his Gospel account, Saint Mark emphasises that “Jesus, looking at him, loved him” (Mk 10: 21). The Lord’s gaze is at the heart of this very special encounter and the whole Christian experience. To be sure, Christianity is not primarily a moral code. It is an experience of Jesus Christ who loves each of us personally, young and old, poor and rich. He loves us even when we turn away from him.
When Pope John Paul II commented on this scene, he turned to you and added: “May you experience a look like that! May you experience the truth that he, Christ, looks upon you with love!” (Letter to Young People, No. 7). It was love, revealed on the Cross so completely and totally, that led Saint Paul to write in amazement: “He loved me and gave himself up for me” (Gal 2:20). Pope John Paul II wrote that “the awareness that the Father has always loved us in his Son, that Christ always loves each of us, becomes a solid support for our whole human existence” (ibid.). It enables us to overcome all our trials: the realization of our sins, our sufferings and our moments of discouragement.
In this love we find the source of all Christian life and the basic reason for evangelization: if we have really encountered Jesus, we cannot help but bear witness to him before those who have not yet met his gaze!
3. Finding a plan in life
If we look at the young man in the Gospel, we can see that he is much like each of you. You too are rich in talents, energy, dreams and hopes. These are resources which you have in abundance! Your age itself is a great treasure, not only for yourselves but for others too, for the Church and for the world.
The rich young man asks Jesus: “What must I do?” The time of life which you are going through is one of discovery: discovery of the gifts which God has bestowed upon you and your own responsibilities. It is also a time when you are making crucial choices about how you will live your lives. So it is a time to think about the real meaning of life and to ask yourselves: “Am I satisfied with my life? Is there something missing?”
Like the young man in the Gospel story, perhaps you too are experiencing situations of uncertainty, anxiety or suffering, and are yearning for something more than a life of mediocrity. It makes you ask yourselves: “What makes a life successful? What do I need to do? How should I plan my life? “What must I do for my life to have full value and full meaning?” (ibid., No. 3).
Do not be afraid to ask yourselves these questions! Far from troubling you, they are giving voice to the great aspirations that you hold in your hearts. That is why you should listen to them. The answers you give to them must not be superficial, but capable of satisfying the longing you truly feel for life and happiness.
In order to discover the life-project that will make you completely happy, listen to God. He has a loving plan for each one of you. You can confidently ask him: “Lord, what is your plan, as Creator and Father, for my life? What is your will? I want to carry it out”. You can be certain that he will answer you. Do not be afraid of his answer! “For God is greater than our hearts and knows everything” (1 Jn 3:20).
4. Come and follow me!
Jesus invites the rich young man to do much more than merely satisfy his aspirations and personal plans. He says to him: “Come and follow me!” The Christian vocation derives from a love-filled invitation made by the Lord, and it can be lived out only by a love-filled response: “Jesus invites his disciples to give their lives completely, without calculation or personal interest, with unreserved trust in God. The saints accept this demanding invitation and set out with humble docility in following the crucified and risen Christ. Their perfection, in the logic of faith which is at times humanly incomprehensible, consists in no longer putting themselves at the centre but in choosing to go against the tide, by living in line with the Gospel” (Benedict XVI, Homily at Canonizations, 11 October 2009).
Following the example of so many of Christ’s disciples, may you too, dear friends, joyfully welcome his invitation to follow him, and so live your lives intensely and fruitfully in this world. Through Baptism, in fact, he calls each of us to follow him concretely, to love him above all things and to serve him in our brothers and sisters. The rich young man, unfortunately, did not accept Jesus’ invitation and he went away saddened. He did not find the courage to leave behind his material goods in order to find the far greater good proposed by Jesus.
The sadness experienced by the rich young man in the Gospel story is the sadness that arises in the heart of all those who lack the courage to follow Christ and to make the right choice. Yet it is never too late to respond to him!
Jesus never tires of turning to us with love and calling us to be his disciples; to some, however, he proposes an even more radical choice. In this Year for Priests, I would like to urge young men and boys to consider if the Lord is inviting them to a greater gift, along the path of priestly ministry. I ask them to be willing to embrace with generosity and enthusiasm this sign of a special love and to embark on the necessary path of discernment with the help of a priest or a spiritual director. Do not be afraid, then, dear young men and women, if the Lord is calling you to the religious, monastic or missionary life, or a life of special consecration: He knows how to bestow deep joy upon those who respond to him with courage!
I also invite those who feel called to marriage to embrace this vocation with faith, working to lay a solid foundation for a love that is great, faithful and receptive to the gift of life. This vocation is a treasure and grace for society and for the Church.
5. Directed towards eternal life
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”. This question which the young man in the Gospel asks may seem far from the concerns of many young people today. As my Predecessor observed, “Are we not the generation whose horizon of existence is completely filled by the world and temporal progress? (Letter to Young People, No. 5). Yet, the question of “eternal life” returns at certain painful moments of our lives, as when we suffer the loss of someone close to us or experience failure.
But what is the “eternal life” to which the rich young man is referring? Jesus describes it to us when he says to his disciples: “But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you” (Jn 16: 22). These words point to an exciting possibility of unending happiness, to the joy of being surrounded by God’s love for ever.
Wondering about the definitive future awaiting each of us gives full meaning to our existence. It directs our life plan towards horizons that are not limited and fleeting, but broad and deep, and which motivate us to love this world which God loves so deeply, to devote ourselves to its development with the freedom and joy born of faith and hope. Against these horizons we do not see earthly reality as absolute, and we sense that God is preparing a greater future for us. In this way we can say with Saint Augustine: “Let us long for our home on high, let us pine for our home in heaven, let us feel that we are strangers here” (Tractates on the Gospel of Saint John, Homily 35:9). His gaze fixed on eternal life, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, who died in 1925 at the age of 24, could say: “I want to live and not simply exist!” On a photograph taken while mountain-climbing, he wrote to a friend: “To the heights”, referring not only to Christian perfection but also to eternal life.
Dear young friends, I urge you to keep this perspective in developing your life plan: we are called to eternity. God created us to be with him, for ever. This will help you to make meaningful decisions and live a beautiful life.
6. The commandments, the way to authentic love
Jesus reminded the rich young man that obedience to the Ten Commandments is necessary in order to “inherit eternal life”. The Commandments are essential points of reference if we are to live in love, to distinguish clearly between good and evil, and to build a life plan that is solid and enduring. Jesus is asking you too whether you know the Commandments, whether you are trying to form your conscience according to God’s law, and putting the Commandments into practice.
Needless to say, these are questions that go against the grain in today’s world, which advocates a freedom detached from values, rules and objective norms, and which encourages people to refuse to place limits on their immediate desires. But this is not the way to true freedom. It leds people to become enslaved to themselves, to their immediate desires, to idols like power, money, unbridled pleasure and the entrapments of the world. It stifles their inborn vocation to love.
God gives us the Commandments because he wants to teach us true freedom. He wants to build a Kingdom of love, justice and peace together with us. When we listen to the Commandments and put them into practice, it does not mean that we become estranged from ourselves, but that we find the way to freedom and authentic love. The commandments do not place limits on happiness, but rather show us how to find it. At the beginning of the conversation with the rich young man, Jesus reminds him that the law which God gives is itself good, because “God is good”.
7. We need you
Being young today means having to face many problems due to unemployment and the lack of clear ideas and real possibilities for the future. At times you can have the impression of being powerless in the face of current crises and their repercussions. Despite these difficulties, do not let yourselves be discouraged, and do not give up on your dreams! Instead, cultivate all the more your heart’s great desire for fellowship, justice and peace. The future is in the hands of those who know how to seek and find sound reasons for life and hope. If you are willing, the future lies in your hands, because the talents and gifts that the Lord has placed in your hearts, shaped by an encounter with Christ, can bring real hope to the world! It is faith in his love that, by making you stronger and more generous, will give you courage to face serenely the path of life and to take on family and professional responsibilities. Try hard to build your future by paying serious attention to your personal development and your studies, so that you will be able to serve the common good competently and generously.
In my recent Encyclical Letter on integral human development, Caritas in Veritate, I listed some of the great and urgent challenges essential for the life of our world: the use of the earth’s resources and respect for ecology, the fair distribution of goods and control of financial mechanisms, solidarity with poor countries within our human family, the fight against world hunger, greater respect for the dignity of human labour, service to the culture of life, the building of peace between peoples, interfaith dialogue, and the proper use of social communications.
These are challenges to which you are called to respond in order to build a more just and fraternal world. They are challenges that call for a demanding and passionate life plan, in which you use all your many gifts in accordance with the plan that God has for each of you. It is not a matter of accompanishing heroic or extraordinary acts. It means allowing your talents and abilities to flourish, and trying to make constant progress in faith and love.
In this Year for Priests, I ask you to learn about the lives of the saints, and in particular of those saints who were priests. You will see how God was their guide and how they made their way through each day in faith, in hope and in love. Christ is calling each of you to work with him and to take up your responsibilities in order to build the civilization of love. If you follow his Word, it will light up your path and lead you to high goals that will give joy and full meaning to your lives.
May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, watch over and protect you. With the assurance of my prayers, and with great affection, I send my blessing to all of you.
From the Vatican, 22 February 2010
BENEDICTUS PP. XVI
Did you know that you can email the Pope? He's at:
Why not send the pope a message of encouragement and hope, and let him know that he is in your prayers at this difficult time in the life of the Church. Tell him that we are looking forward to his coming to Britain, and that we are loyal to him and love him.
Saturday, 13 March 2010
Invocation 2010 is a UK national festival aimed at young men and women aged 16-35, who are looking to deepen their relationship with Christ, discern God’s will for their lives and perhaps be open to the possibility of a vocation to the priesthood or religious life.
This year's event is taking place from Friday 2 to Sunday 4 July at St Mary's College, Oscott (near Birmingham).
For more information see the website at www.invocation.org.uk
or Fr Manny Gribben on 01946 810324 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by Fr Billing at Saturday, March 13, 2010
Thursday, 11 March 2010
Thursday, 4 March 2010
One of our seminarians in Allen Hall, John Millar, emailed me recently with news of this new video (in three parts) from the Congregation for the Clergy. It has been produced to coincide with the Year for Priests:
Wednesday, 3 March 2010
"Being a Servant of the Eucharist Is ... a Depth of the Priestly Mystery"
Here is Part 2 of the "lectio divina" delivered by Benedict XVI to the parish priests of Rome upon receiving them in audience at the Vatican on Feb. 18.
* * *
We say, rightly, that Jesus did not offer God some thing. Rather, he offered himself and made this offering of himself with the very compassion that transforms the suffering of the world into prayer and into a cry to the Father. Nor, in this sense, is our own priesthood limited to the religious act of Holy Mass in which everything is placed in Christ's hands but all of our compassion to the suffering of this world so remote from God is a priestly act, it is prosphèrein, it is offering up. In this regard, in my opinion, we must understand and learn how to accept more profoundly the sufferings of pastoral life, because priestly action is exactly this, it is mediation, it is entering into the mystery of Christ, it is communication with the mystery of Christ, very real and essential, existential and then sacramental.
A second term in this context is important. It is said that by means of this obedience Christ is made perfect, in Greek teleiothèis (cf. Heb 5: 8-9). We know that throughout the Torah, that is, in all religious legislation, the word tèleion, used here, means priestly ordination. In other words the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that precisely by doing this Jesus was made a priest, and his priesthood was fulfilled. Our sacramental priestly ordination should be brought about and achieved existentially but also Christologically, and through precisely this, should bring the world with Christ and to Christ and, with Christ, to God: thus we really become priests, teleiothèis. Therefore the priest is not a thing for a few hours but is fulfilled precisely in pastoral life, in his sufferings and his weaknesses, in his sorrows and also in his joys, of course. In this way we increasingly become priests in communion with Christ.
Finally the Letter to the Hebrews sums up all this compassion in the word hypakoèn, obedience: it is all obedience. This is an unpopular word in our day. Obedience appears as an alienation, a servile attitude. One does not enjoy one's own freedom, one's freedom is subjected to another's will, hence one is no longer free but determined by another, whereas self-determination, emancipation, would be true human existence.
Instead of the word "obedience", as an anthropological keyword we would like the term "freedom". Yet, on considering this problem closely, we see that these two things go together: Christ's obedience is the conformity of his will with the will of the Father; it is bringing the human will to the divine will, to the conformation of our will with God's will.
In his interpretation of the Mount of Olives, of the anguish expressed precisely in Jesus' prayer, "not my will but your will", St Maximus Confessor described this process that Christ carries in himself as a true man, together with the human nature and will; in this act "not my will but your will" Jesus recapitulates the whole process of his life, of leading, that is, natural human life to divine life and thereby transforming the human being. It is the divinization of the human being, hence the redemption of the human being, because God's will is not a tyrannical will, is not a will outside our being but is the creative will itself; it is the very place where we find our true identity.
God created us and we are ourselves if we conform with his will; only in this way do we enter into the truth of our being and are not alienated. On the contrary, alienation occurs precisely by disregarding God's will, for in this way we stray from the plan for our existence; we are no longer ourselves and we fall into the void.
Indeed, obedience, namely, conformity to God, the truth of our being, is true freedom, because it is divinization. Jesus, in bearing the human being, being human in himself and with himself, in conformity with God, in perfect obedience, that is, in the perfect conformation between the two wills, has redeemed us and redemption is always this process of leading the human will to communion with the divine will.
It is a process for which we pray every day: "May your will be done" And let us really pray the Lord to help us see closely that this is freedom and thus enter joyfully into this obedience and into "taking hold of" human beings in order to bring them by our own example, by our humility, by our prayer, by our pastoral action into communion with God.
Continuing our reading, a sentence of difficult interpretation follows. The Author of the Letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus prayed loudly, with cries and tears, to God who could save him from death and that in his total abandonment he is heard (cf. 5:7).
Here let us say: "No, it is not true, his prayer went unheard, he is dead". Jesus prayed to be released from death, but he was not released, he died a very cruel death.
Harnack, a liberal theologian, therefore wrote: "Here a not is missing", it must be written "He was not heard", and Bultmann accepted this interpretation. Yet this is a solution that is not an exegesis but rather a betrayal of the text. "Not" does not appear in any of the manuscripts but "he was heard"; so we must learn to understand what "being heard" means, in spite of the Cross.
I see three levels on which to understand these words. At a first level the Greek text may be translated as: "He was redeemed from his anguish", and in this sense Jesus is heard. This would therefore be a hint of what St Luke tells us: An angel strengthened him (cf. Lk 22: 43), in such a way that after the moment of anguish he was able to go, straight away and fearlessly towards his hour, as the Gospels describe it to us, especially that of John.
This would be being heard in the sense that God gives him the strength to bear the whole of this burden and so he was heard. Yet to me it seems that this answer is not quite enough.
Being heard, in the fullest sense Fr Vanhoye emphasized this would mean "he was redeemed from death", however not for the moment, for that moment, but for ever, in the Resurrection: God's true response to the prayer to be saved from death is the Resurrection and humanity is saved from death precisely in the Resurrection which is the true healing of our suffering and of the terrible mystery of death.
Already present here is a third level of understanding: Jesus' Resurrection is not only a personal event. I think it would be helpful to keep in mind the brief text in which St John, in chapter 12 of his Gospel, presents and recounts, in a very concise manner, the event on the Mount of Olives.
Jesus says: "Now is my soul troubled" (Jn 12: 27) and, in all the anguish of the Mount of Olives, what shall I say? "Father, save me from this hour... Father glorify your name" (cf. Jn 12: 27-28).
This is the same prayer that we find in the Synoptic Gospels: "all things are possible to you... your will be done (cf. Mt 26: 42; Mk 14: 36; Lk 22: 42) which in Johannine language appears: either as "save me" or "glorify" [your name]. And God answers: "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again" (cf. Jn 12: 28). This is the response, it is God hearing him: I will glorify the Cross; it is the presence of divine glory because it is the supreme act of love. On the Cross Jesus is raised above all the earth and attracts the earth to him; on the Cross the "Kabod" now appears, the true divine glory of God who loves even to the Cross and thus transforms death and creates the Resurrection.
Jesus' prayer was heard in the sense that his death truly becomes life, it becomes the place where he redeems the human being, where he attracts the human being to himself.
If the divine response in John says: "I will glorify" you, it means that this glory transcends and passes through the whole of history over and over again: from your Cross, present in the Eucharist, it transforms death into glory. This is the great promise that is brought about in the Blessed Eucharist which ever anew opens the heavens. Being a servant of the Eucharist is, therefore, a depth of the priestly mystery.
Another brief word, at least about Melchizedek. He is a mysterious figure who enters Sacred History in Genesis 14. After Abraham's victory over several kings, Melchizedek, King of Salem, of Jerusalem, appears and brings out bread and wine.
This uncommented and somewhat incomprehensible event appears only in Psalm 110  as has been said, but it is clear that Judaism, Gnosticism and Christianity then wished to reflect profoundly on these words and created their interpretations. The Letter to the Hebrews does not speculate but reports only what Scripture says and there are various elements: he is a king of righteousness, he dwells in peace, he is king where peace reigns, he venerates and worships the Most High God, the Creator of Heaven and earth, and he brings out bread and wine (cf. Heb 7: 1-3; Gn 14: 18-20).
It is not mentioned here that the High Priest of the Most High God, King of Peace, worships God, Creator of Heaven and earth with bread and wine.
The Fathers stressed that he is one of the holy pagans of the Old Testament and this shows that even from paganism there is a path that leads to Christ. The criteria are: worshipping God Most High, the Creator, fostering righteousness and peace and venerating God in a pure way. Thus, with these fundamental elements, paganism too is on its way to Christ, and in a certain way, makes Christ's light present.
In the Roman canon after consecration we have the prayer supra quae that mentions certain prefigurations of Christ, his priesthood and his sacrifice: Abel, the first martyr, with his lamb; Abraham, whose intention is to sacrifice his son Isaac, replaced by the lamb sent by God; and Melchizedek, High Priest of God Most High who brings out bread and wine.
This means that Christ is the absolute newness of God and at the same time is present in the whole of history, through history, and history goes to encounter Christ. And not only the history of the Chosen People, which is the true preparation desired by God, in which is revealed the mystery of Christ, but also in paganism the mystery of Christ is prepared, paths lead from it toward Christ who carries all things within him.
This seems to me important in the celebration of the Eucharist: here is gathered together all human prayer, all human desire, all true human devotion, the true search for God that is fulfilled at last in Christ. Lastly. it should be said that the Heavens are now open, worship is no longer enigmatic, in relative signs, but true. For Heaven is open and people do not offer some thing, rather, the human being becomes one with God and this is true worship.
This is what the Letter to the Hebrews says: "Our priest... is seated at the right hand of the throne... in the sanctuary, the true tent which is set up... by the Lord" (cf. 8: 1-2).
Let us return to the point that Melchizedek is King of Salem. The whole Davidic tradition refers to this, saying: "Here is the place, Jerusalem is the place of the true worship, the concentration of worship in Jerusalem dates back to the times of Abraham, Jerusalem is the true place for the proper veneration of God".
Let us take another step: the true Jerusalem, God's Salem, is the Body of Christ, the Eucharist is God's peace with humankind. We know that in his Prologue, St John calls the humanity of Jesus the tent of God, eskènosen en hemìn (cf. Jn 1: 14). It was here that God himself pitched his tent in the world, and this tent, this new, true Jerusalem is at the same time on earth and in Heaven because this Sacrament, this sacrifice, is ceaselessly brought about among us and always arrives at the throne of Grace, at God's presence.
Here is the true Jerusalem, at the same time heavenly and earthly, the tent which is the Body of God, which as a risen Body always remains a Body and embraces humanity. And, at the same time, since it is a risen Body, it unites us with God.
All this is constantly brought about anew in the Eucharist. We, as priests, are called to be ministers of this great Mystery, in the Sacrament and in life. Let us pray the Lord that he grant us to understand this Mystery ever better, that he make us live this mystery ever better and thus to offer our help so that the world may be opened to God, so that the world may be redeemed. Thank you.
Posted by Fr Billing at Wednesday, March 03, 2010
"The Priest's Mission Is to Be a Mediator, a Bridge That Connects"
Here is Part 1 of the "lectio divina" delivered by Benedict XVI to the parish priests of Rome upon receiving them in audience at the Vatican on Feb. 18.
* * *
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
It is always a very joyful as well as an important tradition for me to be able to begin Lent with my Presbyterium, the Priests of Rome. Thus, as the local Church of Rome but also as the universal Church, we can start out on this essential journey with the Lord towards the Passion, towards the Cross, the Easter journey.
Let us meditate this year on the passages from the Letter to the Hebrews that have just been read. The Author of this Letter introduced a new way of understanding the Old Testament as a Book that speaks of Christ. The previous tradition had seen Christ above all, essentially, in the key of the Davidic promise, the promise of the true David, of the true Solomon, of the true King of Israel, the true King since he was both man and God.
And the inscription on the Cross truly proclaimed this reality to the world: now there is the true King of Israel, who is King of the world, the King of the Jews hangs on the Cross. It is a proclamation of the kingship of Jesus, of the fulfilment of the messianic expectation of the Old Testament which, at the bottom of their hearts, is shared by all men and women who await the true King who will bring justice, love and brotherhood.
However, the Author of the Letter to the Hebrews discovered a citation which until then had gone unnoticed: Psalm 110 : 4 "You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek". This means that not only does Jesus fulfil the Davidic promise, the expectation of the true King of Israel and of the world, but he also makes the promise of the real Priest come true. In a part of the Old Testament and especially in Qumran there are two separate lines of expectation: of the King and of the Priest. In discovering this verse, the Author of the Letter to the Hebrews realized that the two promises are united in Christ: Christ is the true King, the Son of God in accordance with Psalm 2: 7, from which he quotes but he is also the true Priest.
Thus the whole of the religious world, the whole reality of sacrifices, of the priesthood that is in search of the true priesthood, the true sacrifice, finds in Christ its key, its fulfilment. And with this key it can reinterpret the Old Testament and show precisely that also the religious law abolished after the destruction of the Temple was actually moving towards Christ. Hence it was not really abolished but renewed, transformed, so that in Christ all things might find their meaning. The priesthood thus appears in its purity and in its profound depth.
In this way the Letter to the Hebrews presents the theme of the priesthood of Christ, of Christ the priest, at three levels: the priesthood of Aaron, that of the Temple; Melchizedek; and Christ himself as the true priest.
Indeed, the priesthood of Aaron, in spite of being different from Christ's priesthood, in spite of being, so to speak, solely a quest, a journey in the direction of Christ, is nevertheless a "journey" towards Christ and in this priesthood the essential elements are already outlined. Then Melchizedek we shall return to this point who is a pagan.
The pagan world enters the Old Testament. It enters as a mysterious figure, without father or mother the Letter to the Hebrews says it simply appears, and in this figure can be seen the true veneration of the Most High God, of the Creator of the Heavens and of the earth. Thus the pagan world too experiences the expectation and profound prefiguration of Christ's mystery. In Christ himself everything is recapitulated, purified and led to its term, to its true essence.
Let us now look at the individual elements concerning the priesthood as best we can. We learn two things from the Law, from the priesthood of Aaron, the Author of the Letter to the Hebrews says: If he is truly to be a mediator between God and man, a priest must be man. This is fundamental and the Son of God was made man precisely in order to be a priest, to be able to fulfil the priest's mission.
He must be man: We shall come back to this point, but he is unable, on his own, to make himself a mediator for God. The priest needs divine authorization, institution, and only by belonging to both spheres the divine and the human can he be a mediator, can he be a "bridge".
This is the priest's mission: to combine, to link these two realities that appear to be so separate, that is, the world of God far from us, often unknown to the human being and our human world. The priest's mission is to be a mediator, a bridge that connects, and thereby to bring human beings to God, to his redemption, to his true light, to his true life.
As the first point, therefore, the priest must be on God's side. Only in Christ is this need, this prerequisite of mediation fully brought about. This Mystery was therefore necessary: the Son of God is made man so that he may be the true bridge for us, the true mediation. Others must have at least an authorization from God, or in the Church's case, the Sacrament, that is they must introduce our being into the being of Christ, into divine being.
Only with the Sacrament, this divine act that makes us priests in communion with Christ, can we accomplish our mission.
And this seems to me a first point for our meditation: the importance of the Sacrament. No one can become a priest by himself; God alone can attract me, can authorize me, can introduce me into participation in Christ's mystery; God alone can enter my life and take me by the hand.
This aspect of divine giving, of divine precedence, of divine action that we ourselves cannot bring about and our passivity being chosen and taken by the hand by God is a fundamental point we must enter into. We must always return to the Sacrament, to this gift in which God gives me what I will never be able to give; participation, communion with divine being, with the priesthood of Christ.
Let us also make this reality a practical factor in our life: if this is how it is, a priest must really be a man of God, he must know God intimately and know him in communion with Christ and so we must live this communion; and the celebration of Holy Mass, the prayer of the Breviary, all our personal prayers are elements of being with God, of being men of God. Our being, our life and our heart must be fixed in God, in this point from which we must not stir. This is achieved and reinforced day after day with short prayers in which we reconnect with God and become, increasingly, men of God who live in his communion and can thus speak of God and lead people to God.
The other element is that the priest must be man, human in all senses. That is, he must live true humanity, true humanism; he must be educated, have a human formation, human virtues; he must develop his intelligence, his will, his sentiments, his affections; he must be a true man, a man according to the will of the Creator, of the Redeemer, for we know that the human being is wounded and the question of "what man is" is obscured by the event of sin that hurt human nature even to the quick.
Thus people say: "he lied" "it is human"; "he stole" "it is human"; but this is not really being human. Human means being generous, being good, being a just person, it means true prudence and wisdom. Therefore emerging with Christ's help from this dark area in our nature so as to succeed in being truly human in the image of God is a lifelong process that must begin in our training for the priesthood. It must subsequently be achieved, however, and continue as long as we live. I think that basically these two things go hand in hand: being of God and with God and being true man, in the true sense meant by the Creator when he formed this creature that we are.
To be man: the Letter to the Hebrews stresses our humanity; we find this surprising for it says: "He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness" (5:2). And then even more forcefully "In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear" (5:7).
For the Letter to the Hebrews, the essential element of our being human is being compassionate, suffering with others: this is true humanity. It is not sin because sin is never solidarity but always tears solidarity apart, it is living life for oneself instead of giving it.
True humanity is real participation in the suffering of human beings. It means being a compassionate person metriopathèin, the Greek text says that is, being at the core of human passion, really bearing with others the burden of their suffering, the temptation of our time: "God, where are you in this world?".
The humanity of the priest does not correspond to the Platonic or Aristotelian ideal which claims that the true man is the one who lives in contemplation of the truth alone and so is blessed happy because he only has friendship with beautiful things, with divine beauty, while "the work" is left to others.
This is a hypothesis; whereas here it is implied that the priest enter, like Christ, into human wretchedness, carry it with him, visit those who are suffering and look after them and, not only outwardly but also inwardly, take upon himself, recapitulate in himself the "passion" of his time, of his parish, of the people entrusted to his care.
This is how Christ showed his true humanity. Of course, his Heart was always fixed on God, he always saw God, he was always in intimate conversation with him. Yet at the same time he bore the whole being, the whole of human suffering entered the Passion.
In speaking, in seeing people who were lowly, who had no pastor, he suffered with them. Moreover, we priests cannot withdraw to an Elysium. Let us rather be immersed in the passion of this world and with Christ's help and in communion with him, we must seek to transform it, to bring it to God.
Precisely this should be said, with the following really stimulating text: "Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears" (Heb 5: 7). This is not only a reference to the hour of anguish on the Mount of Olives but sums up the whole history of the Passion that embraces Jesus' entire life. Tears: Jesus wept by the tomb of Lazarus, he was truly moved inwardly by the mystery of death, by the terror of death. People forgive the brother, as in this case, the mother and the son, the friend: all the dreadfulness of death that destroys love, that destroys relationships, that is a sign of our finiteness, our poverty. Jesus is put to the test and he confronts this mystery in the very depths of his soul in the sorrow that is death and weeps. He weeps before Jerusalem, seeing the destruction of the beautiful city because of disobedience; he weeps, seeing all the destruction of the world's history; he weeps, seeing that people destroy themselves and their cities with violence and with disobedience.
Jesus weeps with loud cries. We know from the Gospels that Jesus cried out from the Cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mk 15:34; cf. Mt 27:46) and cried out once again at the end. And this cry responds to a fundamental dimension of the Psalm: in the terrible moments of human life many Psalms are a loud cry to God: "Help us, hear us!".
On this very day, in the Breviary, we prayed like this: God, where are you? "You have made us like sheep for slaughter" (Ps 44: 11 [rsv]). A cry of suffering humanity! And Jesus, who is the true subject of the Psalms, truly bears this cry of humanity to God, to God's ears: "help us and hear us!". He transforms the whole of suffering humanity, taking it to himself in a cry to God to hear him.
Thus we see that in this very way he brings about the priesthood, the function of mediator, bearing in himself, taking on in himself the sufferings and passion of the world, transforming it into a cry to God, bringing it before the eyes and to the hands of God and thus truly bringing it to the moment of redemption.
In fact the Letter to the Hebrews says that "he offered up prayers and supplications", "loud cries and tears" (5: 7). It is a correct translation of the verb prosphèrein. This is a religious word and expresses the act of offering human gifts to God, it expresses precisely the act of offering, of sacrifice. Thus with these religious terms applied to the prayers and tears of Christ, it shows that Christ's tears, his anguish on the Mount of Olives, his cry on the Cross, all his suffering are nothing in comparison with his important mission. In this very way he makes his sacrifice, he becomes the priest. With this "offered", prosphèrein, the Letter to the Hebrews says to us: this is the fulfilment of his priesthood, thus he brings humanity to God, in this way he becomes mediator, he becomes priest.
Tuesday, 2 March 2010
Lancaster University Catholic Society;
Tuesday 2nd March 2010
Jesus Christ the Eternal Priest, and the ‘Priests of Jesus Christ’ - Reflections on The Holy Priesthood of ‘The new and everlasting covenant’ for the Year of the Priest.
Dedicated to the countless zealous and holy men who have served their Mother Church faithfully and continue to do so today, under the patronage of Our Mother Mary, Queen of the Clergy.
~ Following on from the talk a few weeks ago on the Priesthood of the Old Testament, we now come to why the Priesthood of the Old Covenant died with the destruction of the Temple and why it was no longer required and why the Jews have managed to survive without a Priesthood. It was only with revelation not being completed did the Jewish/Israelite people need a Priesthood.
With Christ Our Blessed Lord we are given the ultimate Priest the Eternal High Priest the break with the old but being part of it and setting down a new Priesthood as part of the fullness of revelation, and that it was to last till His coming in glory because He commanded it, “he that said unto him Thou art my Son today have I begotten thee. As he said also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek”. (Hebrews 5: 5-6)
Jesus Christ the Eternal High Priest being fully human and fully Divine meant being among us was and is the Temple itself, and it is through His Passion that we live in hope and also realise the institution of the Eucharist as being the Institution of the new and everlasting sacrifice through the Institution of the Holy Priesthood, which is fulfilled with Our Blessed Lord hanging on the Cross. By this the Priesthood of the Old Testament is fulfilled with the one eternal priest, which is central to understanding the role of the priest’s ministry today.
“Since then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God; let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:14-15)
This Priesthood continues the ancient tradition of the priesthood but is a very distinct identity and develops through the New Covenant, sealed in Christ’s blood. In this fashion the Priesthood today continues the sacred tradition of its fraternity and also builds and grows in ways that strive to the Kingdom to be united with Our Almighty Master. The Priest is Christ’s own living instrument for building up His Church, through this sharing in His authority by acting in the person of Christ.
The Priesthood is absolutely paramount and central to the Church as long as Christ reigns in heaven. At the moment that none of us know of His coming again in all majesty there will be no need for other priests because they are, ‘Priests of Jesus Christ’. But until this time He has left us with Sheppard’s for His flock to help and guide us towards our most Beloved Lord who we seek to Love more and more. The ultimate statement of which is being a priest wrapped up in this all-prevailing Love.
The priesthood in summed up in the Church in one simple phase, “Without the Priest there is no sacrament of the Eucharist, and without the Eucharistic there is no Church” one of Henri De Lubac’s famous quotes. And closer to us here in the Lancaster Diocese St. Plessington from Garstang said “no Priest, no religion”. This must never be forgotten by us as Catholics and must be promoted in all our communities. To consider the Church without the Priesthood is to consider it without Christ. In Christ we are a new creation, the old order passes and all things are renewed. We as the Church, the body of Christ have a baptismal priesthood in we share, we demand as such a priesthood ‘set apart’, it is our very essence, and being ‘founded and rooted in Jesus Christ’ we are ‘founded and rooted’ in the royal priesthood needed for our eternal salvation.
Jesus as Priest in Scripture
In the Gospels we don’t see direct reference to Christ as a priest. This can be considered for two reasons. Firstly, that the priest is such by his example and actions, and Christ acts in such away to set out the way to be a priest to serve and unite His people. The other that as a faithful Jew, He is not a priest, but as a faithful Jew we are given a rich heritage for Priests today in much liturgical significance and the spirituality of the priest for instance the psalms recited by Old Testament priests, Our Blessed Lord and now His priests. But some if not all the language used throughout the New Testament could be linked to Christ the Priest and Priesthood.
Much of the language of Priests is gathered from the gospels then explained and shared in the letters of St. Paul in particular to the Hebrews (4:14-15, 5:1-4, 5:5-6, 7:24-26, 8:3, 9:15, 10: 11-12) and to Timothy (1 Timothy 2:5). And also in the Epistles St. Peter, “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...you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people”(1 Peter 2:5,9).
This very language is resonant in practice throughout the Gospels, in the works and actions of Christ, which he commanded His Apostles to continue. Actions that are part of the Priests mission to day for instance, to preach/teach, guide, comfort and console, lead, rejoice, cast out demons, dispense the sacraments which are founded throughout scripture and most importantly offer sacrifice and be themselves sacrifices.
One of the most vivid and well known scripture portrayals of the Priesthood is that of the Good Shepherd. In St. John’s Gospel (John 10:1-18) it harps back to Jeremiah “I will give you Shepherds after my own heart” (Jeremiah 3:15) which is an indispensible image of Messiah in the Old Testament and is one of the titles given to David, which is important in reflecting on the mission of our priests today. As Jesus was willing to lay down His life, a priest must be aware of the sacrifices that have to be made, like laying down aspects of his life in imitation of Christ. We must aid them in any way possible most importantly through prayer. The priest must love Christ and His whole Church, as “a man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15: 13). As Pope Benedict reminds us this offers an immense insight to the personal relationship of the ‘one who loves and the one who is loved’.
Like the rich young man in St. Mark’s Gospel, the priest is called to change his lifestyle or transform it, in a way which is alternative to the people around them.
‘Priests of Jesus Christ’This entire ministry like Christ’s is not done in isolation it asks for co-operation, like Our Blessed Mother Mary and St. Joseph and the Disciples who were asked to co-operate. This has been lost at time in the history of the Church but the council of Trent call’s upon all priest’s to be out there not to be an isolated and autonomous caste. This Tridentine priest is the model upheld by the Church today that the priest lives among and for the people entrusted to him. And the Second Vatican Council affirmed this with the challenge to also be a cut above to set them apart to show Christ present in him so that others may come to know Christ as Saviour of the world. And so it also set out the importance for all to remember this by the priest’s marks of separation in the form of tonsure, collar and cassock.
Priest’s today are called to be a servant for those who are the members of the Church and also for those who are not, so to be fully ‘Christ-like’. As central to their ministry and very being are the proclamation of the Gospel and the celebration of the Eucharist both being intertwined.
The Priest is a sign left by Christ and is upheld by apostolic succession to help restore our relationship with God, and is a continual statement of God’s intervention in creation. This succession holds to the glorious witness of the Apostles and guarantees we are truly part of His body the Church. The form that the tradition took for this in respects to bishop’s had already developed in the first century, and built upon through the glorious history they have in descending from Our Blessed Lord to be sent out to all the nations.
The priest takes upon themselves, (and we should pray that they do more so) the role of St. Paul as Servant of the Gospel, of the Church and of Christ Jesus. To be a slave to everyone and a steward of the mysteries of God.
The men called to this extraordinary work are ‘ordinary men with ordinary jobs, and yet incredibility chosen by Jesus especially in the case of St. Peter to lead the Apostles and being the Rock of the Church yet coming from a humble fishing boat (The Catholic Priest, Answering God’s Call: by Bishop Michael Evans and Fr. Paul Embery).
Throughout the life of the Church she has been blessed with countless holy men who nourish care for us her children. None more so then the example of St. John Vianney of whom is given to the priests of the world as their example and patron in this the ‘Year of the Priest’. For St. John Vianney we see an immensely holy man who struggled at every stage of his formation, and no-one ever expected much from him, especially in the small parish he was given charge of. But through his extraordinary spirituality and zeal he struggled to keep up with all the work, so much that he slept for about 4 hours a night and ate only raw potatoes because he had no time to cook for himself.
In the Church today there is a lot we can and must learn from St. John Vianney. We today have a lot of small parishes and we create and maintain the poor attitude from parishioners and Priests alike that we can’t do much, and that there’s not much point in trying which leads to their eventual closure. We need to make exceptions in each parish and aim to be exceptional and vibrant witnesses to Christ and our rich Faith like the Cure of Ars, who gave all to a place that had nothing before.
For us reflecting on the ministry of our Priests, we must pray for them to have renewed vigour to stand up in the name of Our Blessed Lord in the face of secular anti-religious attitudes. Pope John Paul II summed up the priest’s challenge well, “If a pastor remains silent when he sees God insulted and souls going astray, woe to him! If he does not want to be damned, and if there is some disorder in his parish, he must trample upon human respect and fear of being despised or hated.” (P. O’Donoghue: Priesthood Today)
We must also pray that our priests face up to the demands of our time, put together well by Rt. Rev. Patrick O’Donoghue the Emeritus Bishop of Lancaster. That the Priest must;
• tell the truth about Jesus is only Saviour of the world,
• tell the truth that the fullness of the Saving truth is only to be found in the Catholic Church
• tell the truth about contraception and IVF
• tell the truth about consumerism and wealth
• tell the truth about homosexuality, pre-marital sex and adultery
• tell the truth about authoritarianism of liberal establishment
• tell the truth about abortion and so called ‘safe sex’
Souls are in mortal danger; the Priest must strip off the outer garments and wash the feet of suffering humanity. And as Cardinal Newman stated the Priest must show unconditional love to humanity, in a way which is viably obvious, being as Gregory the Great said ‘the clothes of love’. All of this must be sought and tirelessly aimed for the Priest to truly ‘put on Christ’.
For this precious mission we must pray for our priests and for more selfless souls to come forward and raise the Chalice of Salvation with Our Blessed Lord. But more importantly we should encourage and promote priestly vocations in our parishes and schools and not side-step or put off the huge need for priests that we have.~
Posted by Fr Billing at Tuesday, March 02, 2010