This week I am celebrating the 20th Anniversary of my Ordination to Priesthood while participating in the 2014 Priest Convocation for the priests of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The week is three days of prayer, fellowship, liturgy, talks, food, (…and chocolate. Did I mention chocolate?) and is being held at the Hershey Lodge and Convention Center in Hershey, PA.
The keynote speaker this week is Father Robert Barron who is the Rector/President of Mundelein Seminary/University of Saint Mary of the Lake, an author, scholar, Catholic evangelist and founder of the global media ministry Word on Fire.
I have been looking forward to this convocation for quite some time. This is the third time we have been at Hershey Lodge for a convocation like this. I believe that many of the guys were really looking for an opportunity to get away for awhile after a hectic Easter season, enjoy the company of their brother priests, relax a bit and catch up on a little sleep, enjoy some stimulating conversations and feed ourselves (physically and intellectually) within a very pleasant and hospitable setting.
Although primarily directed at the priests, I believe that Fr. Barron’s talks will provide good food for the journey for anyone. Thus, my intention is to take some notes and share them with you’all “out there” in the hope that you, too, will be encouraged and inspired as well.
Throughout the history of the Catholic Church, Jesus Christ has been written about as an anointed figure within the context of “Priest, Prophet and King.” Father Barren opened up the first talk this evening saying that, over the next several days, he was going to talk about the priesthood within this context of Priest, Prophet and King.
When one looks at priesthood through the lens of the “New Evangelization” one has to start with a relationship with Jesus Christ. One has to especially consider Christ in terms of:
- Who he is,
- What he demands, and
- What he offers.
Any kind of renewal within the life of a priest, the Church, an Archdiocese, a parish or a person’s life has to start with these three items.
What is a priest? If we refer to the Old Testament, a priest was a mediator, a so called “border-walker” between divinity and humanity. Every priest is another “Jacobs ladder” allowing people to climb up to God (Fulton Sheen). A “Jacob’ s ladder” priest is one who is:
- Not a clerical mystic (often leading to clericalism)
- Not merely “your buddy” or “just another person like us.”
- But someone who likes sinners but hates sin. Someone who hates “bad praise.”
In this regard, Fr. Barron suggested that we begin this week by looking at two particular characters in the Old Testament who were mediators between divinity and humanity.
Adam was someone who originally walked with God “in the cool of the evening.” The cool of the evening was always the best time to walk with someone when one was living “in the desert.” One also could only walk with someone by matching their pace so as not to either out-run them or fall too far behind. In other words, you had to become integrated with this person at this moment of time in order to connect with them.
Look at a rose patterned stained glass window. It has a center focal point from which the other segments fan out. If you remove the center, the rest of the segments, and the entire structure, fall apart. In our own lives with Christ, our center is adoration (from the Latin “adoratio” or “right praise”). The etymology comes from the idea of one being face-to-face or “mouth-to-mouth” with someone with whom you have a relationship. Or look at the word reconciliation (which contains the word “cilia” or eye lashes). Again, it’s about getting people back so that they are eye-to-eye with each other.
Thus, at the center of our relationship with Christ is adoration or worship. The other aspects of our lives, whether they are emotional, psychological, physical, spiritual, etc. do not so much need to be aligned, as they need to be connected to the center – or the whole thing (our life for example) falls apart. Here we see the significance of Jesus Christ’s healing people who were possessed by demons. Demons were things that was not connected or integrated; demons were things that were splintered. (Look at Mark 1:21–28; Luke 4:31-36). As a side-note, Father Barron made a humorous reference to the fact that the first exorcism of Jesus Christ took place during worship and within a church setting [You can derive the meaning from that yourself].
Sin, therefore, is “bad worship.” It forces us to ask the question, “What do you adore?” Is also important to realize that good and proper worship is not a good in-and-of-itself. Good worship inevitably as a positive effect in other areas. Look at the Gloria for example. “Glory to God in the highest” leads, in the next line, to “PEACE to people on earth.” Right worship leads to healthy, integrated, connected people.
Without right praise, the world (or nature) falls apart and returns back to chaos (“The flood waters.” The Hebrew word for such can be found in Genesis 1:2 “tohu wa bohu“).
But what does God do in these situations? He sends, and preserves, a “microcosm” of God’s good order in the midst of the drowning chaos. Noah hunkered down in the ark, protected, nurtured and held life together, small as it was, until the opportunity presented itself when Noah was able to open wide the windows and doors and release life back into the world to thrive and re-create the world once again.
Saint John Paul II gave us an example of this in recent history. Before World War II, like Noah, John Paul II kept the small life of the Catholic Church enclosed and protected during the chaos of World War II. Then in June of 1979, during his trip to Poland, Pope John Paul II opened wide the doors and released the life of the Polish culture and people into the chaos of that particular country. The rest, as they say, is history.
Of course, the priesthood is intimately tied to the Eucharist which is the act of coming regularly and aligning ourselves to Christ. In the Old Testament, “Paradise” or the Garden of Eden which is seen as a “non-enclosed garden” that was fully aligned with God. There were no walls because the whole world was the temple. Our task, as priests, is to “Edon-ize” the whole world once again.
The TEMPLE, the PRIEST and JOHN THE BAPTIST
The Temple was a place where a people gathered and were shaped as a priestly people. It was the place where the people of God went to be taught, to be healed and to have their sins forgiven. It was a place of a people who praise God rightly so that they would, in turn, draw other people to themselves and to God.
But this had to be done within the context of sacrifice. Seminary professor, Matthew Levering, says that “In a world gone wrong, there is no communion without pain and without sacrifice.” Try and put a bad golfer in right alignment of the proper swing. It will initially be painful.
John the Baptist’s mother came from a priestly family. John’s father was a priest. Thus John the Baptist was a Jew and a priestly person who was intimately familiar with the Temple. Being also a prophet, his view of the Temple was like that of all previous prophets: he loves the Temple (he gets it) and he hates the Temple. He was familiar with the prophet Ezekiel and the “Shekinah“. The history of the Temple is an experience of the times when, because of the transgressions of God’s people, the Spirit of God simply the ups and leaves the Temple. However, according to Ezekiel, when the Shekinah returns again, then the water will flow again to refresh the world ( We later see this image fulfilled at the Crucifixion when blood AND WATER flow from the side of Jesus on the cross. The Shekinah has returned and the water, refreshing and renewing the world, is flowing out again).
So we find John the Baptist in the desert. But what is a priest doing in the desert? The Shekinah, again, is no longer in the Temple and the “land is dry” (like a desert). John is in this desert bathing people in the Mikva bath of forgiveness (and they are NOT going to the Temple for this). What does John mean when he says, “Behold the Lamb of God?” This is Temple and priest language because something has to be SACRIFICED in order to re-establish “right praise”. It is the same language that Jesus uses at the Last Supper – all Temple language (altar, priest, sacrifice, body, blood, sins ….)
But something has changed. The people no longer go to the the Temple:
- NOW people come to Jesus to be TAUGHT.
- NOW people come to Jesus to be HEALED.
- NOW people come to Jesus to have their SINS FORGIVEN.
It concerns the aspects of Jesus debated at Chalcedon. With Jesus there is no co-mixing but an integration of the human and divine. We become FULLY HUMAN when we come, in our humanity, in contact with Jesus to be taught, to be healed, to have our sins forgiven. Jesus is the “knitting place,” the “mixing place” where the dis-integration caused by sin and Satan is knit together and made whole again.
Like John the Baptist, in the beginning of his ministry, Jesus first goes to the Temple. Like John the Baptist, He loves the Temple (he gets it) and he hates the Temple. (“Three days I’ll tear it down”).
(From the Hebrew “nabi.”) Certainly a spokesperson but also has overtones of a “madman”). As priests,especially in today’s culture, we need to be a little “mad.” If we “Opra-ize” the message, no one will pay attention to us. But when we’re true to the Gospel, the media is mad at us and doesn’t want to listen to us. It might mean that we’re doing it correctly.
When we speak about “getting mad” we can also be speaking about the the “Anger of God” or the “Ira Dei.” God doesn’t look at appearances – God reads (and “sees”) the heart and thus see the persona as he/she really is. The Austrian-British philosopher, Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein,once said, “The most vexing problem is seeing things as things or seeing things as they are.” Sometime we “notice” something but don’t really “see” it until the lights go on and we crack the code or see the pattern (the “pattern of grace”). Along these lines, Chesterton. once remarked that the “only true prophets are those who see the world by standing on their heads.” True prophets do this..
- …because the WORLD is upside down,
- …and they naturally look foolish when they do it,
- …and they don’t care.
Ahab (and Jezebel his wife) might have been the WORST king ever. He was the ultimate example of “bad praise.” This is why there was drought during his reign. There were also LOTS of false prophets, but only ONE prophet (Elijah) who was in in “right alignment.” Elijah “stands on his head,” calls out the false prophets of Baal and proceeds to mock them. (What we, as priests, must do as well. We must expose the “false prophets of Baal today). Notice during the competition, nothing happens when the false prophets call out. No one listens, no one pays attention UNTIL Elijah brings down Gods power.
What are the false prophets of Baal about today? The same things they were about years ago and St.Thomas Aquinas spells it out: they are the 4 things that we go to God for in order to get happiness. The 4 “altars of Baal:”
Filling our lives, our hearts, our souls is all about “An empty cave that needs to be filled with something” according to the prophets of Baal. And people will frantically dance around these altars until they start even begin hurting themselves (“slashing themselves as was their custom“).
We preach something different. We say, “You’re not meant for that. Your heart will “be restless until you rest in Thee” (Augustine)
Strange message? Yes! But it’s ….
- Why we mock the false prophets.
- Why we stand on our heads.
- Why we look like fools.
Adam is the first priest and is also the first King. God reigns but God also wants us to share in his reign as stewards of creation.
The story of Adam/Eve, the apple, their removal from the garden is the first example of “bad praise” which needs priests to correct it. Adam/Eve is also bad kingship, bad stewardship, bad leadership.
Look at the story of Hophni and Phinehas in the Book of I Samuel. It is an example of priests behaving badly, leaders hearing about it and doing nothing, people getting hurt, losing what was valuable and even people dying (sound familiar?)
David is seen as the paradigmatic kingly figure in Jewish literature. David is also an unlikely king:
- David is NOT from a royal family. David is from God’s family. He is called forth as God’s mysterious choice.
- David initially was one who went and asked God for advice when he initially ascended the throne. David’s later corruption is perfectly aligned with his gradual pulling away from asking God for advice. Kings need to pray – A LOT and so do “Priests of God.” Keep praying. When you stop is when you get into trouble.
- David is a poet, associated with powerful, beautiful, compelling speech. Kings govern (which is different from administrating) through speech. consider Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address which is remembered (not his administrative decisions). Likewise Churchill was able to marshal words to galvanize his country. Consider Aristotle: For good speech you need three items:
- Logos – Information, the purpose of speech. Provide clear direction.
- Pathos – Feeling
- Ethos – Character (especially the character of the speaker/leader)
SAUL AND DAVID are an example of Invidia clericalas (I Samuel 18). In the midst of the leadership a “civil war” breaks out based on envy and jealousy. Meanwhile the Philistines are regrouping and moving on the people of God. Unfortunately this is also seen toady. Such jealousy is unfortunately still a factor of contemporary priesthood as well.
WHEN PRIESTS GO AWRY – What happens to identify the mark of the defect of King David?
- David stops praying and appealing to God for advice (unlike when he was first made king)
- David begins to use, rather than lead, his people (When David is seen walking on the walls, surveying his success)
- David is NOT on campaign. He gets up “late in the afternoon” rather than getting out there and engaging in (spiritual) campaigns.Why is he not out fighting? He’s gotten lazy, complacent and careless which leads him into an encounter with Bathsheba. We know the rest of the story.
- David has lost the skill of battle and being a warrior. Sometimes we need to “hack King Agag before The Lord.” Origen says to read the whole Bible in light of the end of the Bible. The non-violent lamb (also the Lion of Judah and the King of David by the way) who was slain is the one who may open the scroll in the midst of spiritual warfare in the Book of Revelation. Amalek still needs to be “mowed down” and the Amalekites will continue to be fought throughout history. “Putting the ban on the Amalekites” means to eliminate evil totally. Don’t play with it, don’t go half way. Otherwise it’s like a doctor saying, “I was successful. I removed 75% of the cancer from your body. Aren’t you thrilled?” It’s like a priest saying, “Hey, I AM celebrate. I only take off one day a week.” It’s like a wife saying, “I love you totally dear, most of the time.”
- In the end, David forgot his respect for “the Law.” Look at II Samuel when King David is dancing before the ark. The religious praise of God is central to David’s political foundation. this is about “loving the Law.” (“Lord, I love your law”). Consider the “law” of the golf swing. Sure, you can swing any way you want and any way that feels comfortable. But when you do it correctly, according to the “law” of physics and experience, THEN you begin to hit the ball better and enjoy the game more. This is not not an “imposition on your freedom” to play the game of golf. When describing the “law” of proper living, Aquinas starts with happiness then moves to virtue which leads to happiness then to the Law which inculcates the virtues.
JESUS – THE KING par excellence.
14 is the number of David (14 generations + 14 generations + 14 generations that we read in Matthew). The Christmas readings are about David, David, David as well as about warriors and kings (David, Caesar, Herod, the “Three Kings,” the army and the heavenly court, the King of Kings). This is NOT cute, little, kiddy stories. The King of King soon goes into the Temple and trashes the place. He is saying that “there’s a new sheriff in town.” There is a new king and a new kingdom.
And so The Warrior-King takes on the darkness, tricks it, out-maneuvers it and swallows the dark powers. And so do his “officers:
- Think about Pope John Paul II and his visit to Poland in 1979. He arrives with no army, no legions, “naked” as it were and TERRIFIES the Soviet Union! (Remember Stalin: “How many divisions does the Pope have?”) The Vicar of the King of King swallows up the kingdom of darkness with peace and mercy and non-violence…and conquers it without firing a shot!
- A racist man once said to Desmond Tutu as they met on the sidewalk, “Get out of the way. I don’t make way for gorillas!” Tutu moved aside and said, “I do.”
- Understand that this is NOT PASSIVITY; this is NOT ACQUIESCENCE. That’s just another method of violence. “Turning the cheek” means standing your ground and practicing “spiritual aikido” which “leaves your opponent laughing on the floor,” using the aggression of the aggressor against him/herself.
- This is being a David-ic warrior; this is the power of the cross. The phrase used by Pilot, “King of the Jews,” means he is the King of the World. Pilot, in the delicious irony in John’s Gospel, is the first evangelist. He announces it in every language that counted at the time: Latin (power), Greek (intellect), Hebrew (faith and religion), that the rallying cry is no longer, “Caesar Kyrios” but JESUS is Lord.
- The death of Christ on the cross by his enemies (that we must continue to brag about like Paul) was proof to them that Christ was a loser. He still is considered that today. BUT, the resurrection of Jesus is the clear indication that this is NOT the case.