Ever try reading the Bible cover to cover? Most people who do so start off with a bang: Genesis is riveting ... Exodus is action-packed ... and then there's Leviticus. Screeeeeeeeeeeeech. While Leviticus is absolutely beautiful, lots of ordinary folks like you and me slow down in Leviticus, often getting lost in the myriad of details and intricate descriptions.
Like today ... today's first reading is from Leviticus. There's the detailed outline of when to celebrate what feasts. Then there's the command to: "bring a sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest, who shall wave the sheaf before the Lord that it may be acceptable for you". Eh hem ... what's a sheaf? Then there's comment on the Sabbath, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Booths (no, not the booths that we used to have at fairs or festivals).
Okay, here's what's awesome about the Leviticus ... the Book of Leviticus is about the priesthood. So, let's go back to the beginning, a very important beginning. Stay with me here. Abraham's grandson, Jacob (Israel) had twelve sons, born in the years around 1750 BC. Listed in order of age, they are Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin (Genesis 29:32 through 30:24 and Genesis 35:18) Levi was the third son. Simply put, it was Levi and his tribe (the Levites) that were dedicated by God to serve the other tribes as priests (see Numbers 35). Thus, the Book of Leviticus is about the priesthood (the Levites ... therefore Leviticus) of ancient Israel.
From the very beginning of Israel, God desired the priesthood. Why? What's the big deal about the priesthood? Essentially priests do three important things: they represent all of humanity before God, they act on behalf of God before all humanity, and they lead humanity in the worship of the one, true God.
Look at Moses. What was Moses doing in the first readings this week? He hiked up the mountain to talk to God on behalf of the Israelites. He came down the mountain to act on behalf of God in the midst of the Israelites. He led the Chosen People in worship. For 4,000 years the priesthood has been essential. Of course, because of our High Priest Jesus Christ, Jesus himself is the ultimate mediator to the Father, as well as the one who acts here on earth. However, Jesus himself not only fulfilled the priesthood, but He instituted the ordained Catholic priesthood so the He Himself could continue to minister to us and for us. For 2,000 years the Catholic ordained priesthood has been essential.
My time away from home this summer has been dedicated to one thing: the renewal of the priesthood. Why? There's a great line in the movie The American President that goes something like this: "When people are thirsty enough in the desert they'll drink the sand when they see a mirage." Our country is searching, our culture is bankrupt. And, wandering in the a "desert" of sorts, our culture has consumed the "sand" because of the many "mirages".
There's also another saying that reminds us: "In the absence of order or vision people will create their own so as to run away from chaos." None of us wants spiritual chaos. None of us wants to feel lost in our spiritual life. And, in the absence of a priesthood that is supposed to be Jesus, people will create their own structures (albeit impotent) and their own traditions (albeit empty).
The priesthood is about one person and its not the name of the guy who says Mass. Its about Jesus. The Truth that sets us free and the Way that leads to freedom is only found in Jesus: not programs or personnel or personalities. However, Jesus himself―almighty God himself―established the ordained Catholic priesthood to safeguard us from mirages in the desert or having to create our own order in the chaos.
They often say that the ones who hurt us the most are those we love the most. Thus, let me close with a few thoughts. If you have ever been hurt by a priest, I, on behalf of the priesthood of Jesus Christ, apologize. If you have ever been disappointed by a priest, I, on behalf of the priesthood of Jesus Christ, apologize. If you have ever been misled by a priest, I, on behalf of the priesthood of Jesus Christ, apologize. I learned a long time ago that restoration begins with repentance. Therefore, I authentically repent and ask for your forgiveness.
Secondly, pray for the renewal of the priesthood. After all, you can not hear your own Confession. You can not consecrate you own Eucharist. You can not anoint yourself when you're dying. We need the priesthood. I didn't make it up, God did ... God Himself has ordered it such. However, we need your prayer; we priests need your prayer. Pray for our holiness. Pray for our "dying to self". Pray for our staying rooted in the person of Christ.
Pray for your priests ... and you and your family and the world will receive what you're ultimately hungry for: Jesus.
© Fr. Mark Toups, 2013
IN PREPARATION FOR THIS WEEKEND'S HOMILY
- There are a few ways you can best prepare for Mass this weekend. First, read the readings that will be proclaimed at Mass. Click here to read the readings online.
- The homily this Sunday will focus on God's presence in the midst of our anxiety. Be not afraid. So as to best prepare for Mass, ask yourself: how and when do you experience anxiety?
- Know anybody who is struggling? Know anybody who is filled with worry or anxiety? Bring them to Mass.
- See you Sunday!
"The priest is not a mere office-holder, like those which every society needs in order to carry out certain functions. Instead, he does something which no human being can do of his own power: in Christ’s name he speaks the words which absolve us of our sins and in this way he changes, starting with God, our entire life. Over the offerings of bread and wine he speaks Christ’s words of thanksgiving, which are words of transubstantiation―words which make Christ himself present, the Risen One, his Body and Blood―words which thus transform the elements of the world, which open the world to God and unite it to him."
― Homily, Solemnity, Sacred Heart of Jesus, June 11, 2010
ARCHBISHOP ROBERT J. CARLSON ON THE IMPORTANCE OF THE PRIESTHOOD
THE INSTITUTE FOR PRIESTLY FORMATION