Seeing in Action Christ the High Priest, 30th Sunday (B), October 25, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Church of the Holy Family, Manhattan
30th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
October 25, 2015
Jer 31:7-9, Ps 126, Heb 5:1-6, Mk 10:46-52

 

To listen to today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The text that guided today’s homily was: 

Domine, Ut Videam!

What do you want me to do for you?” Which one of us would not want the Lord to ask us the question he asks Bartimaeus in today’s Gospel? Bartimaeus’ response is one that has become a common aspiration of Christians through the centuries: “Lord, I want to see!” The early saints saw in this expression more than a cry from a physically blind man. They have seen in it the plea of all those in every generation who have been in any type of darkness. “Lord, I want to see!” See what? We learn from Bartimaeus the purpose of our sight. The Gospel tells us, “Having regained his sight, he followed Jesus on the way.” Just like St. Peter’s mother-in-law, as soon as she had been cured of a severe fever, used her health to serve others (Mk 1:30-31), so Bartimaeus, now that he could see, used the gift of his sight to follow the divine Giver, the Light of the World (Jn 8:2). Our eyes — both our physical eyes and the eyes of our heart — are gifts of God so that we might see Jesus and follow him. Our whole nature has been created by God so that we might say, like those Greeks in the Gospel who had not yet met the Lord but presented themselves to Philip: “We want to see Jesus!” (Jn 12:21).

We want to see Jesus in prayer. We want to see Jesus in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. We want to see Jesus in others, in the faces of those we love, in the faces of those we find so difficult to love. We want to see Jesus behind the distressing masks of the poor, the sick, the lonely, the homeless, the abandoned, the blind. We want to behold Christ’s face in the beauties of creation. We want to see him behind each of the commandments, teaching us how to love. We want the eyes to see his will in our daily life, in the present and for the future. Ultimately we want to see him forever face-to-face in heaven, smiling on us with love. But so often we’re blinded. Sin blinds us. Worries blind us. Pain and suffering blind us. Hatred and prejudices blind us. Others, including those we love, can sometimes get in the way and remove our line of vision. Today, the Lord comes to us and asks us, as he asked Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” Today we respond, each in our individual circumstances, “Lord, I want to see!,” begging him to take out whatever planks are in our eyes so that we may see him clearly and follow him, like Bartimaeus before us.

Seeing Christ the High Priest

But there is one area in the Church today where perhaps all of us need God’s help to see Him more clearly: in the priesthood. The priest is ordained to act in the person of Christ, in his preaching, in his celebration of the sacraments instituted by the Lord, and in his shepherding God’s family. We’re all supposed to see Christ the High Priest working through his priestly ministers. We certainly want to see Christ the High Priest in his instruments. But for several reasons, both due to some of the blind spots of our culture — the struggle to perceive the sacred and thinks that special vocations would signify inequality rather than diversity of service — as well as to the counter-witness given by the priests whose names have been prominently featured in the media over the past decade and a half, it has become harder for many Catholics to see Christ working through his priests. The last Sunday of October is marked by the Worldwide Marriage Encounter and the International Serra Club as World Priest Day and hence it’s a good time to allow the Lord to give us once again his eyes, so that we might see priests as He sees them, and why He founded the priesthood the way He did for our salvation.

To help us, we have today’s second reading, which explicitly describes for us the priesthood. It mentions first the Old Testament levitical priesthood and then the priesthood of Christ, the true high priest. But what it says is applicable the priests of the New Covenant, those who are ordained to act in the person of Christ the Eternal High Priest. It’s important for all of us in the Church to grow in our trust of what Jessus established for us and our salvation in the priesthood of the apostles, their successors and those Christ has called and ordained to continue his saving work. So let’s see what Sacred Scripture teaches us today about the priesthood and how we’re supposed to respond.

“Every high priest,” the Letter to the Hebrews says, “is chosen from among men and put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not presume to take this honor on himself, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.”

We learn various truths here.

Priestly Vocation and Mission

The first thing we learn is that priests are “chosen,” taking on the priesthood “only when called by God.” Priests are not elected or appointed by the people, because even if all the six-billion men and women in the world got together and elected one person to act on their behalf, they could not give this person the power to change bread and wine into the Lord’s body and blood or to forgive your sins, which only God can do (Mk 2:7). He is chosen directly and sent out by Christ. We call the priesthood a vocation, because the priest is “called” by God himself. That’s the first thing the letter to the Hebrew teaches us.

The second is what the priest’s fundamental mission is. Hebrews tells us that is “put in charge of the things pertaining to God on their behalf.” His responsibility is to steward the great treasures of God for all the people. God has entrusted them with his word; the priest is, in some respects, the voice or sound-system of Christ, proclaiming Christ’s Gospel. He’s entrusted them with his priestly work in the sacraments, investing them with the power to bring his own body and blood down to earth. He’s entrusted them, whose role is to offer Christ’s own self-gift and sacrifice for sins, with the power of the Holy Spirit to forgive sins in his name (Jn 20:19-23). He’s made them shepherds of His flock, so that they might be foster-fathers of the family Christ came from heaven to earth to establish. For the sake of God’s people — for you — Jesus did this, to perpetuate his saving work. And how important the priest is for this saving work! As the patron saint of priests, St. John Vianney used to say in his catecheses, if the Blessed Mother appeared here live today, she could not give you Jesus again as she was able to do to the shepherds and the Magi in Bethlehem. Even if all the angels and archangels were here, acting in unison, not even all of them together could forgive even your least venial sin. The priest is the only person in the entire universe capable of doing this, and he does this, not by his own merits and powers, but because he has been chosen by God and given these powers for the sanctification of all God’s people.

The Good and Bad Side to the Priest’s Humanity

The third reality is that priests are chosen from “among men.” He’s not selected from the angels. He’s certainly not God. He’s fully human, he’s full of human weaknesses and frailties, just like any other person in this Church today. This truth has a good side and a bad side to it.

The good side we read in Hebrews: “He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and the wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness.” The priest has human emotions, desires, and struggles. God has chosen “earthly vessels” (2 Cor 4:7) to minister his sacraments, and this is one of God’s great gifts. To preach the great news of forgiveness from sins, the Lord has chosen to send out ordinary reconciled sinners, men like St. Peter, whose first words to the Lord were “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Lk 5:8). They are meant to be un-intimidating human instruments, subject to weakness, who trust in and receive the Lord’s mercy. Priests do not stand outside of the human mess of sin, but are in solidarity with sinners and are meant to tangible witnesses that forgiveness and liberation from sin is possible. They’re first sheep, and then shepherds; first disciples, then apostles. That’s the good side to the priest’s humanity.

But there’s also a bad side: just like any other human being, the priest is capable of being tempted, giving into temptation and sinning. We know all too well that some priest have given into temptation to commit some truly heinous and scandalous sins. This does not mean that God has made a mistake. The reality is, however, that the men God chooses, invests with priestly gifts and powers, and to whom he is always faithful may be faithful in return or not. God chooses men, not angels, and men prone to sin at that, and sometimes like other Christians they choose to sin. We can see this lesson about the bad side of the priest’s humanity from the beginning. Before he chose his twelve apostles, Jesus spent all night in prayer to his Father (Lk 6:12). He taught, formed and loved them intimately for three years. He gave them power to preach in his name, to cast out demons, to cure the sick, even to raise the dead (Mt 10:7-8). He called them “friends” and treated them as his friends (Jn 15:15). Yet, in spite of all this, one of them betrayed him for 30 pieces of silver, another betrayed him to stay warm by a fire, and the rest betrayed him to try to save their own hides. But 11 of the 12 came back and almost all of them died to plant the seeds of the Gospel. That’s still the same pattern today. Even though some in certain circles like to focus more on priests who fail than priests who are faithful, there are so many more who remain faithful, whose names don’t appear in the newspapers, who are still offering their lives to serve Christ and to serve you out of love.

The Way We Respond to the Reality of Christ’s Establishing the Priesthood

What are the faithful called to do in the face of these realities of the priesthood that the Letter to the Hebrews reveals?

The first thing is to be grateful to Christ for the gift of the priesthood and for the divine gifts He gives us through the priesthood. Without the priest, there would be no Eucharist. Without the priest, we would have no way on earth of assuredly having our sins absolved. Without the priest, we would probably not even have unity among believers. We need first and always to thank God for the gift of the priesthood, for the sacraments the Lord makes possible uniquely through it, and for the priests who have said yes to the Lord’s call. This is something we should do at all times, but especially on this World Priest Day.

The second thing is to pray for future priests who can continue to do these miracles of God’s people. Jesus commanded us to pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send more laborers into his vineyard (Mt 9:38). We’re called to do this because priests are not chosen by us or appointed by the Church, but are “chosen” and “called by God.” If we really look at the priesthood for what it is, we will pray, as well, that God call and choose boys of our parish and of our family to say yes to him in this way.

That leads to the third response we’re supposed to have, based on the humanity of the priest: We’re called to remember that priests are not angels, but are chosen from among men, men just like the men we know. There are young men here in Church today who might think that because of all their imperfections, the Lord could not possibly be calling them to be priests. They and all of us in the Church are called to recall that the Lord might be calling them not despite their imperfections, but because of them, so that they, aware of their weakness, may be able to “deal gently with the ignorant and the wayward.

Fourth and lastly, because of the “bad side” of the human reality of the priesthood, we’re called to pray for priests, that they remain faithful to the Lord, so that they can help all God’s people remain faithful. The great priest-saints of the history of the Church have said, very humbly, “But for the grace of God go I.” One of the great saints of all time, St. Philip Neri, used to wake up every morning and turn to the Lord very humbly in prayer, saying, “Lord, it’s me, Philip. Please help me so that I do not betray you today.” Priests simply are always in need of prayers that they remain faithful to this grace. If you want holier priests, I encourage you to pray more for them. We priests need your prayers. I’m so grateful to the people across the world, including here at this parish and within our diocese, who had a prayer and fast day for priests yesterday. We need your prayers!

As we prepare to move from the Word of God to the Word made Flesh, I’d like to finish with a small mention of how the Lord originally called me to the priesthood. It was when I was four, attending daily Mass with my mother. I watched elderly Fr. Jon Cantwell say the words of consecration and then, with great effort because he knees were bad, hobble down the marble steps of the sanctuary to give God to the people old enough and lucky enough to receive him. I was transfixed as I watched him hold Jesus Christ in his hands and then give him to others. I saw then that the priest had to be the luckiest person in the whole universe, capable of holding God and giving him to others. He was entrusted not just the things of God but God himself, incarnate, for their behalf. That’s when God inspired me to ask for the gift of the priesthood, which he confirmed 18 years later when I was in college. Now as I prepare to be God’s instrument in the celebration of the most important event that takes place anywhere on any day, as I get ready for something that still blows me away — to have bread and wine totally change into Jesus’ body and blood in my hands and then have the privilege to give God to you — I still believe that the priest is the luckiest person in the whole world. May God give us all the eyes to see him in the Eucharist and how lucky we are just to be in his presence, not to mention to receive him. The Lord, the Eternal High Priest,  has indeed done great things for us and is still doing so: we are filled with joy!

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 JER 31:7-9

Thus says the LORD:
Shout with joy for Jacob,
exult at the head of the nations;
proclaim your praise and say:
The LORD has delivered his people,
the remnant of Israel.
Behold, I will bring them back
from the land of the north;
I will gather them from the ends of the world,
with the blind and the lame in their midst,
the mothers and those with child;
they shall return as an immense throng.
They departed in tears,
but I will console them and guide them;
I will lead them to brooks of water,
on a level road, so that none shall stumble.
For I am a father to Israel,
Ephraim is my first-born.

Responsorial Psalm PS 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6

R. (3) The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.
When the LORD brought back the captives of Zion,
we were like men dreaming.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with rejoicing.
R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.
Then they said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us;
we are glad indeed.
R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.
Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like the torrents in the southern desert.
Those that sow in tears
shall reap rejoicing.
R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.
Although they go forth weeping,
carrying the seed to be sown,
They shall come back rejoicing,
carrying their sheaves.
R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

Reading 2 HEB 5:1-6

Brothers and sisters:
Every high priest is taken from among men
and made their representative before God,
to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.
He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring,
for he himself is beset by weakness
and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself
as well as for the people.
No one takes this honor upon himself
but only when called by God,
just as Aaron was.
In the same way,
it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest,
but rather the one who said to him:
You are my son:
this day I have begotten you;

just as he says in another place:
You are a priest forever
according to the order of Melchizedek
.

Alleluia CF. 2 TM 1:10

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Our Savior Jesus Christ destroyed death
and brought life to light through the Gospel.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MK 10:46-52

As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd,
Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus,
sat by the roadside begging.
On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth,
he began to cry out and say,
“Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”
And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.
But he kept calling out all the more,
“Son of David, have pity on me.”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called the blind man, saying to him,
“Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”
He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?”
The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.”
Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”
Immediately he received his sight
and followed him on the way.

 

bartimaeus