Sunday, January 13, 2019

A Kingdom of Priests

Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit at his Baptism. All the baptized share in his life, including his anointing as a Priest, Prophet, and King. But how can every Christian be a priest? Well, let's take a look. And also here is the Fr. Mike Schmitz talk that is referenced in the last third of the homily; check it out!

A Kingdom of Priests

The Baptism of our Lord, 2019

This Sunday is the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord. Last week you might remember that I said we have a lot of funerals around here, and that's true. St. Wenc has a lot of funerals. We have people of the age that we get a lot of them. But we also have the age on the other end where we have a lot of baptisms. Like, I think almost every weekend for the last seven weeks we've had a baptism. And we have a couple more for several weeks to go. We have a lot of baptisms. 

And I have to say when I do a baptism, I always give the exact same spiel at each one. When I explain the water, the candles, the chrism—it's always the same, word for word, almost exactly. And that's because there's always somebody new there. Even if that family's been there and heard my spiels before, there's a new godparent, there's a new cousin, there's somebody who wasn't there before, so I always do those again. Plus I know the parents are plenty distracted when it's their kids getting baptized. So I figure someday they'll be a godparent or there'll be a visitor or they'll be the cameraperson at somebody else's baptism and that'll give them the chance to actually hear the things that I was trying to say. 

So today I'm going to pluck a piece out of our baptism rites and focus on that as we celebrate the baptism of Jesus on this feast. I want to focus on the anointing on the head. In baptism there's two anointings: one before the actual physical baptism—that's the anointing on the collarbone for protection, with one of the oils. And then we do a second one with a different oil immediately after the baptism, on the head, and that we use the holy chrism for. So I'm just going to tell you exactly what I tell all people. And for those who are coming to the baptism today, you actually get that cut out because I'm doing it right here in the homily. Congratulations.

I always open up the chrism—and the chrism has a little scent to it—and I always have like a 3 year old to a 10 year old sniff it, and ask, "Can you smell that?" and they can always tell there's a difference. And that has a practical purpose: the balsam is in there to "flavor" it so that you can smell it and tell the difference between the two oils. But it also marks out the chrism as the highest oil. The chrism is the highest of the three different oils the Church uses. The word "chrism" is actually just the Greek word for oil. But it's from that word "oil"—"chrism" that we get the name Christ. He's the "christos", which means, in Greek, that he is the one who has been anointed; oil has been poured over over the top of him. I then point out that in the Old Testament three different kinds of people got anointed: priests and prophets and kings. But in the New Testament, Jesus replaces all of them. He is the priest, the prophet, and the king. And then I explain how we receive those: by being anointed into him, we become priest, prophet, and king also. 

Now, before I go any further on that idea, let's pause and notice something here. We say that Jesus was anointed, right? In fact, his title—which we have over time treated almost like it's his second name—the Christ, the Messiah, means "anointed one". And we keep saying that he's anointed priest, prophet, and king...But do you remember any story in the New Testament where he actually gets anointed? Like where oil is poured over the top of him? 

We know they were that explicit in the Old Testament: Samuel was called to go to Jesse's house. He was told that one of his sons will be the next king and to bring his oil. And he sees the big, tall one and he says, That's got to be it," and God says, "Nope, that's not it." And then the next one, and he was like, "Ah, could it be that one?", and God is like, "Nope, not that one. Wait for me to tell you." And finally they go all the way through the line and little David is brought in from tending the flocks and God says, "That's the one. Anoint him. That's my future king." And Samuel opens up the oil and pours it on David. And we have that obvious moment. We also have a similar kind of thing in the anointing of Aaron as high priest, you know, and in the anointing of prophets like when Elijah goes to anoint Elisha. But can you think of anything like that in the New Testament about Jesus? Can you think of any anointing scene? And we realize, "Hmmm, there really isn't one." 

So how is Jesus anointed?. How is he the Messiah? "Messiah" is just the Hebrew version of "christos". Hebrew...messiah; christos in Greek; we say "anointed. Open up your missallettes for just one second; I want you see something here today. So look at today's gospel which is on page 48. Look at the right-hand column, just that whole column there: "After all the people have been baptized. And Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove." And then this voice says, "You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased." That's the closest we get.

But everyone else in the New Testament thinks that was his anointing. Turn the page to 53; jump ahead two weeks. This is Luke, Chapter 4. So this is just a chapter later, and all that has happened in the meantime after we saw the baptism part is that Luke gives you Jesus' genealogy and then he goes out into the desert. So this is basically just one and a half scenes later after he's been baptized. What do we see? He goes to Nazareth, and look in the right hand column—see where it's italicized—that's the passage which he reads in the book of Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor." And go down to the very last line. Jesus rolls up the scroll and says, "Today this scripture passage is fulfilled," and you're hearing that Jesus himself considers himself anointed. He says here, "I am anointed by the Spirit of the Lord." When did that happen? The only thing that makes sense in Luke's Gospel is right before—in the baptism in the Jordan—when the Holy Spirit comes down upon him. So that's what we understand to be the anointing.

You can close your books now, but as you do that, I'm going to tell you that this idea is reaffirmed by the Apostles when they go out. In Acts, Chapter 10 Peter says "You already know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power and how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him." Again, this idea that God has anointed him in the Holy Spirit. So think about that for a second while you hear the rest of Samuel. After Jesse's son David is anointed by Samuel, it says this, "Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers and the spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward." So even back there, there is a connection of spirit and oil/oil and spirit, happening at the same time.

Now let's go back to what happens in baptism. We're saying that in baptism you were anointed. Why though? So that you might live as Jesus did. And actually as we put the oil on the head we say, "As Christ was anointed priest, prophet, and king, so may you live always as a member, sharing in (his body and in) eternal life". We're saying, "May you be priests too." And just in case we didn't get that, in the 1st Letter of John—not the Gospel of John—it says of everyone, "But you have an anointing from the Holy One and all of you know the truth." A couple of verses later: "As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you and you do not need anyone to teach you. His anointing teaches you about all things, and that this anointing is real." So you are a priest and a prophet and a king. All of you. Ok, ladies you can be queens if you want.

Perhaps the most surprising feature of all those three roles is the priestly one: that we, as baptized and anointed Christians, are ourselves priests. Again, even if the 1st letter of John wasn't super explicit about us being priests when it talks about us being anointed into Jesus, other places in the New Testament are that explicit. 1st Peter says, "But you are a chosen people, royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession." Then Revelation, Chapter 5 says, "You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth."

So you're a priest. And I was a priest even before May 28, 2005 when Bishop Bruskewitz put his hands on my head and put oil on my hands. Even before I became a ministerial priest I was a priest already—a baptismal priest, a kingdom priest. I already had that. And so do you too. 

We already say that everything of your Christian identity comes from baptism. Think about it: even the word "Christian"—if "Christian" comes from "christos" which means "anointed", the Messiah—then, when we say we are "Christians" we're saying we're Messiah-People; we're anointed people. That's our very title. But what happens in baptism that we get all this stuff from Jesus? Well, we dive down into his death in the water. We come up out of the water into his life and his resurrection. From that point on, "if we have died and risen with him," Paul says in Romans, "we are in him." Everything he has is ours; whatever he is, we are. So if God is his father, he's our father as well.

That's why the call ourselves "children of God", not because God chose us separately; he says, "I am the father of this son; if you are in my son then you are my beloved children too. You are my sons and daughters: sons in the son, daughters in the son. We say we're brothers and sisters as Christians. Why? Well, because if God is your father, and if God is your father, and if God is your father, and he's my father... well, if we all have the same father, we've got to be brothers and sisters then, right? That's how that works. 

I'm not going to focus on the prophetic role or the kingly role; I'm going to stick with this priestly role, but all of those roles come out of being anointed, and that anointing comes out of being baptized into him. Understand, when I say that we're all priests—that you are all priests—don't think that's some hippie thing; that's not some 60s hippie thing where somebody is saying like, "That's right, we're all priests!" No, we understand that there's a difference between ministerial priesthood and baptismal priesthood. But the Church Fathers constantly, for the first 500 or 600 years of the Church, were constantly saying. "Focus on baptism. Baptism makes you sons and daughters, and it makes you priest, prophet, and king."

So what does that look like? What is your priesthood look like? Well, first of all the most obvious thing is that you pray: priests pray to God, right? So we pray, and Paul says we pray in the Spirit, the Spirit that you were anointed with. And he says that the Spirit prays even in our inarticulate groanings. When we don't know what to pray, or when we are just groaning in pain, the Spirit prays in that, because we are priests. It makes sense then.

We also offer things up. Think about your mom telling you to offer things up. You know, you're in the grocery store and your mom is talking to one of her friends and it's going on and on, and you're like. "Mom!!" And she's like, "Offer it up. Offer it up, kids. Shut up, offer it up." She's telling you to do a priestly act: to make a sacrifice and offer it up to God. Offer up your sufferings—in the supermarket. 

Also you're allowed to intercede for others. People say, "Will you pray for me? Will you pray for my family members?" Yes! Because you're a priest, and part of your job is to intercede, for the people, to God. Jesus says, "Anything you ask for in my name, God will grant you." Why? Because you are priests.

But of course the greatest moment of your priesthood is at the Mass, because that's where we come to do the ultimate act of worship, the ultimate act of sacrifice. When we come there, that's the ultimate moment of our worship. But understand, it's not just to watch the priest doing it. We have a message on this from the Gospel of John, chapter 4. Jesus has just talked to the woman at the well, and then he says: "But the hour is coming and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him." He says "in the spirit" becaus it's the Spirit who will make us all priests. And then—"in spirit"—they will all worship the Father. 

And so, at the Offertory, what happens? We bring forth bread and wine, but it's not just that two or three people and their kids bring up the gifts... We are all called to be offering ourselves at that moment. Some of you might have heard growing up: "At the offertory, when the priest holds up the bread and says 'Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation...' put yourself on the paten, and be with the bread there and as it is changed into Jesus, ask that you be changed too. So put yourself on the patent. And when the priest is putting the wine into the into the chalice, put your sufferings in that chalice. Offer up the hard things in your life; join those with Jesus, and in the bitterness of the wine, ask that it be transformed with Jesus's own sufferings into glory as well." Those are things you probably heard before in your lives.

As I was working on this homily, starting after last week's Epiphany homily, somebody said, "You have to check out a video." They said, "Go on YouTube and find this talk from SEEK." SEEK is the FOCUS national conference for college students. 17,000 people were in Indianapolis last weekend and one of their great speakers is Fr. Mike Schmitz. He's a priest from up in Minnesota and he gave a number of great talks that weekend. But he said, "You've got to check out his one on the Mass." And I'm like, "Eh, I'm a priest; I know about the Mass." But he was like, "No. Check it out. Definitely." OK. So I checked it out and it was everything that I was wanting to say about the priesthood and more. So I just want to tell you to check out this video; I'll put it on the link with this homily on the website.

But Father Mike hits this perfectly. He says we oftentimes bring into Mass the attitude which we have when we watch ball games, when we watch a concert, when we watch TV. The idea is, "I'm just here to observe," and that happens because we are told from a young age, "Pay attention." We are told to sit down, be quiet, and watch. Some of you might have seen that little thing on Facebook; it's the mom from "Bird Box". It's Sandra Bullock talking to her kids saying, "You cannot talk. You cannot move. You have to stay still. We are going to survive, but only if you shut up," and it's titled "Prepping the Kids for Mass on Sunday". But that's what we were told, ever since we were young, and so we tend to think I'm here to watch. So hopefully I get educated maybe in the homily; maybe I get inspired by the Word of God; maybe I'm entertained in the other like smells and bells and songs and visuals those sort of things. But in other words, we're not doing much else. 

But if you're priests, you're supposed to be doing something else, right? If you walk in and be quiet, if you sit down and you're getting yourself prepared, it's not to watch. It's because you are about to offer a sacrifice. We are together going to offer a sacrifice. And of course what's offered at Mass? Jesus' own body and blood. But again you are in him, through baptism. So you get to be priest with him, offering his body and blood, the ultimate sacrifice, the sacrifice of his love to the Father.

And again you're not here just to watch the priest pray. Fr. Schmitz has a great line; he says, "Often we think you're a good Catholic, a really good Catholic, if you like to watch the priest pray. And the more you can stand to watch the priest pray—longer and longer—makes you a better Catholic. <<buzzer sound>> Wrong. You are called to be a sacrificer too. You're called to be a worshipper too. You offer the same things. 

And he points out then what I've mentioned before: that our prayers at Mass are mostly to the Father. Why? Because we're in the Son, making those prayers. When you look throughout the New Testament, the Son is obsessed with the Father's glory. And that makes sense because the two ends, the two goals, the points of Mass, have nothing to do with me getting even educated or even inspired. They have to do with what I give—in Jesus. And what are they? The points of the Mass, the ends of the Mass, are to give glory to God and we pray for the salvation and welfare of the Church. And we actually say it aloud. Watch this priesthood sequence: I'm going to be at the altar. I'm going to get incensed because I'm a priest. But then the server is going to incense you—why? Because you're a priest also. Then I'll turn to you and I'll say aloud, "Pray brethren, that my sacrifice and yours..."—and we all know what we're talking about here—it's our shared sacrifice. And you respond, "May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name (That was #1) for our good and the good of all his holy church (that was goal #2). We say explicitly that you participate in the salvation of the world when you are a priest at Mass along with the ministerial priest. We are all priests and we all offer the sacrifice, the victim. 

So, is it just that we're watching? No, we're offering it too. Why? Because there's exactly one priest in the whole world. Not ten thousand. One. And he's Jesus. And all ministerial priests share in his priesthood, but also all non-ministerial priests. Fr. Schmitz's calls them "kingdom priests"—baptismal priests... kingdom priests—I actually like the kingdom line better. You are all kingdom priests; you all share in his priesthood. Yes, the Pope is the visible head of the Church on earth. Yes, bishops lead flocks in diocese, and priests lead flocks in parishes, but you're kingdom priests; you are priests in Jesus. And so what is the Mass? It's ministerial priests leading the kingdom priests together. So Fr. Schmitz's asked the question: Why are you wasting your priesthood? If we just sit and watch somebody else pray, we're wasting our priesthood. You need to connect and say "I'm offering the lamb; I'm offering the sacrifice—Jesus whom I love, who is the lamb that I love—I offer him in sacrifice and I'm offering it up along with the ministeral priest and everyone else here. We're doing that." 

And we also learn that we have to sacrifice too. It's this great point that Fulton Sheen makes, that—notice on the cross—Jesus is priest but he's also victim. Sheen says to all these new young priests who think, "I'm excited to be a priest and offer sacrifice." "Good! Also realize you're the victim, Father. You're going to be offered up too."

And that counts for you too—that you're going to be both a priest, offering your worship in Jesus, but you're also called to be a victim. Remember we said put your sufferings in the chalice and they'll be transformed. Bring your worries, bring your sorrows, bring your pains, bring your brokenness before our Lord and let that be part of your sacrifice. Let it all be sacrificed together.

So today, let us pray together as one priesthood. Let us pray at the altar with Jesus, the Priest, and let us ask him to bring all of our love, all of our prayers, all of our worship, together into his sacrifice. And we can all offer perfect worship and sacrifice to the Father through Jesus—the high priest, his son.

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