Homily – 26 October 2014 – The Priesthood We Share

We are grateful to Fr Richard S Vosco for allowing us to reproduce his homily here.

30 Ordinary Time A – 26 October 2014 – The Priesthood We Share

Exodus 22:20-26; Psalm 18:2-3.3-4.47.51; 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Matthew 22:34-40

Today in the United States we are encouraged to speak about the priesthood and the calling that priests have. Some would say the shortage of priests in our Diocese and elsewhere is bad news and it is. There are many reasons for the lack of vocations and why the ministerial priesthood is not open to more members of the church. The good news, however, is that there are about 330,000 Catholics in our Diocese who are also members of the priesthood of Christ.

I would like to focus our attention on the priesthood of the faithful, how the ministerial priest, usually referred to as the ordained priest, fits into the larger family of God and how our renovated place of worship is designed to be a celebration of the priesthood we all share.

There is only one priest, Jesus Christ. This priesthood is to be transmitted to the entire church, the people of the new covenant, you and me. All who are baptized and anointed in the spirit are members of this priesthood. Although there are diverse ministries and talents in the priesthood we share there “exists a true equality among all the faithful in building up the Body of Christ.”  [1]

 

"The ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood differ essentially and not only in degree ... are none the less ordered one to another; [since] each in its own proper way shares in the one priesthood of Christ". However, the essential difference between the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial priesthood is not found in the priesthood of Christ. Further, ministerial priests do not possess a greater degree of holiness when compared to other members of the church." [2]

Ministerial priests are called in the Spirit to assist the people of God in exercising the common priesthood which the Church has received.” [3] The ministerial priesthood is always at the service of the common priesthood. It is in this sense that we priests are different. Not that you cannot do it, our specific job description is to model for the entire church a ministry of service, worship and teaching. This is why it is upsetting to us when some priests commit crimes.

The Catholic religion by its nature is a hierarchical religion. We are organized under and with our bishops who are our chief shepherds, our chief teachers, in matters of faith and morals. Nevertheless, listening to and working with you are essential characteristics of the ministerial priesthood in the Church. Further, the understanding of how God works in our lives is not reserved to the ministerial priesthood. We do not have all the answers. The ongoing revelation of God manifested in Jesus of Nazareth is something we all share in different ways, under different circumstances.

How do we all practice the priesthood? As we know, the Vatican Two Council, recovered many of the ministries once shared by members of the church. These different ministries became obscured and clericalized over the centuries. What we do together out in the vineyard is a good example. Visiting the homebound, working in the food pantry, teaching catechism to our children, ministering to prisoners are some of the ways we can serve others. 

What we do together while here in church is also important. Readers, acolytes, musicians, servers, singers, ministers of communion, ushers and greeters andeveryone else in the assembly all carry out a ministry during Mass. There are no spectators. It can be said that you the church celebrate the liturgy with your priests. The priest does not say Mass for you. How we learn to worship together matters a great deal. But, how we learn to worship together takes time.

Our renovated place of worship, which we will return to next weekend, is a celebration of our common priesthood. The new arrangement of our seats in concentric circles and the location of our ritual furnishings — font, altar, ambo — will serve to enhance all of our ministerial roles. In time these spatial modifications will transform us, the way we worship God and treat each other.

The thousands of stars in the ceiling will help us remember we are part of God’s incredible cosmic enterprise and that we are caretakers of the environment and every creature in it. The baptismal area is a reminder of our initiation into this church. It is the place where we are baptized as prophets and priests! The eight new icons of the saints, chosen by you, will help us recall that we are part of a larger family of God, both living and deceased. 

The centralized platform in the middle of our sanctuary will call our attention to the sacramental actions we carry out together. We will be gathered like a family around the altar table. That altar is venerated because it is a symbol of Jesus Christ whose priesthood we share and who is the high priest of every Mass. The crucifix will be in our midst to help us embrace the suffering and the hope it symbolizes.

The message in today’s readings from Exodus and the gospel of Matthew invites us to think about inclusion and compassion. The Old Testament passage is taken from a code of ethics dealing with social conduct. It calls us to practice a way of living based on tenderness and tolerance for one another and strangers especially underprivileged persons.  [4] This reading is poignant today as we read about the rejection of children crossing our southwestern borders seeking opportunities for survival. It is so hard to believe how some Americans reject these children as if they were dangerous aliens.

The gospel helps us remember that we cannot love God and not love our neighbor. That spirit, that law, is the foundation for the priesthood you and I share. If there is a gift that we Catholics can give to the world it is exercising the priesthood you and I share for the sake of others. 

As we return to our renewed place of worship next weekend let us recall a line from Paul’s letter to the Galatians (NRSV 3:28) – “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you [us] are one in Christ Jesus.“ This line from scripture conveys what we distinctly know about the priesthood of Christ — treating each other with dignity, equality and respect inside and outside our church walls. 

In my work I frequently have used the following statement about our places of worship and I believe it. “Where we pray shapes our prayer. How we pray shapes the way we live.

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1 Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium,  n. 32.

2 “ The Common Priesthood of the Faithful and the Ministerial Priesthood” in On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-ordained Faithful in the Ministry of the Priest. August 15, 1997, Part 1, 1

3  John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis (25 March 1992), n. 17: AAS 84 (1992), p. 684.

4 Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today. Third Edition (Collegevile: Liturgical Press) 2006. pp.196-98


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