May 10, 2020 – Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A
Acts 6:1-7; Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19; 1 Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12
FR. JOHN MITCHELL
“[L]ike living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5) For indeed, you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
At the end of this coming week, four men will be ordained to the ministerial priesthood for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Deacons Carlos Londoño, Patrick Magnor, Edward Sanchez and Justin Weber are each top-flight individuals – living proof that God knows what he is doing, as he calls and equips quality men to serve his holy people.
Notice that their ordination will make them ministerial priests, but they have been called from the ranks of the royal priesthood of God spoken about in Peter’s first letter this Sunday. “Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ.” (Lumen Gentium 10)
The royal or common priesthood of the faithful is what every Christian participates in by virtue of his or her baptism, and it often gets lost in the shuffle. But its significance is tremendous, and every effort of the ministerial priesthood is ultimately oriented toward drawing out this royal priesthood of the faithful. As the Catechism puts it, “the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians.” (CCC 1547)
The longer our “stay home” order remains in effect in our beloved state, the more crucial it is for people to understand what it means to be a “royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of [God’s] own” (1 Peter 2:9) as they strive to cultivate the Domestic Church in their homes. A brief dive into the history of our priestly call may help us all to embrace it more eagerly and reverently.
Most basically, a priest is an authorized mediator who offers sacrifice to God on behalf of others. Before any “professional” class of priests existed in the Old Testament, the priesthood resided in the natural order of the family, with fathers of families and tribes doing priestly things like building altars, erecting pillars, planting trees, and offering sacrifice on behalf of the people entrusted to their care. (See Genesis 12:8; 28:11-22; 21:33; 8:20.)
I think of my sister and brother-in-law erecting an outdoor statue of St. Joseph with their children in these past few weeks at home, and think of what priestly work that was for them to do, as they entrusted their family and all its needs to St. Joseph’s care, and helped their children build a spiritual relationship with the foster father of our Lord.
God’s original plan for his chosen people of Israel was for him to be their one king and for every Israelite to share in a kingly and priestly role. “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests,” he told them in Exodus 19:6. But as the Bible painstakingly shows, above all in Judges, they were unable to live up to this high calling of a common sovereignty under the direct rule of God. They begged for an earthly king like all the other nations, and God granted their request, but he had bigger plans in mind than they were imagining.
God established a covenant with David that made his house an everlasting dynasty in which the monarch was both son of David and son of God. (2 Samuel 7:10-16) God’s purposes were then brought full circle when in the fullness of time he sent his very own Son to enter the line of David as true man and true God – Jesus Christ – and thus restore us to being under the direct kingship of God, but with an added twist.
As we are baptized into Christ our eternal king and High Priest, we regain the common royal priesthood that was once lost. Only now, by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we are enabled to rightly carry out what this common sovereignty demands of us, as we surrender our lives to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and strengthening.
The Catechism provides a good idea of what living out this common royal priesthood entails: “[T]he laity, dedicated as they are to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and prepared so that even richer fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them. For all their works, prayers, and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit – indeed even the hardships of life if patiently born – all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. In the celebration of the Eucharist these may most fittingly be offered to the Father along with the body of the Lord. And so, worshipping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God, everywhere offering worship by the holiness of their lives.” (CCC 901)
In this light, the ministerial priesthood comes into focus as the sacrament, or “outward sign,” of the true kingship of Christ, our Head, at the service of drawing out the royal character and priestly calling of God’s people, called to sanctify the world and mediate God’s grace to it by our self-sacrificial service, as we become “living stones … built into a spiritual house … [to] announce the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:5, 9)