26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Fr. Gregory Gresko, Chaplain, Blessed John Paul II Shrine
As part and parcel of the Christian life, the disciple of Jesus Christ participates upon baptism in a real and tangible way in the threefold office of the Son of God. As the Christos, the “Anointed One”, the Messiah, Jesus comes to live and minister among us as prophet, priest, and king – what we call in theology the munus triplex. Just as the Father anointed the Son of God with the Holy Spirit and established His munus triplex, the entire People of God at baptism participates in these three offices of Christ and “bears the responsibilities for mission and service that flow from them” [Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 783]. Since I mentioned the Catechismso many times yesterday when speaking with you, I figure that it’s only fair for us to use it at least a little bit this morning! I’d like to show you how easy it is -- and how tremendously valuable -- to find what we need in this great summary document of the Church’s deposit of faith and morals, what we are called to trust without reserve as “Catholic teaching”, to confront those folks holding to the teachings of “Catholic lite” with authentic Catholic truth, as mentioned in Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s recent letter to seminarians that I also cited yesterday. Let’s review for a brief moment what the Catechism says about the three-fold office that Christ fulfilled, and for which we as consecrated Christians anointed into the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at baptism bear responsibility for mission and service:
784 On entering the People of God through faith and Baptism, one receives a share in this people's unique, priestly vocation: "Christ the Lord, high priest taken from among men, has made this new people 'a kingdom of priests to God, his Father.' The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated to be a spiritual house and a holy priesthood” [Lumen Gentium (LG) 10; cf. Heb 5:1-5; Rev 1:6].
785 "The holy People of God shares also in Christ's prophetic office," above all in the supernatural sense of faith that belongs to the whole People, lay and clergy, when it unfailingly adheres to this faith . . . once for all delivered to the saints,” (LG 12; cf. Jude 3) and when it deepens its understanding and becomes Christ's witness in the midst of this world.
786 Finally, the People of God shares in the royal office of Christ. He exercises his kingship by drawing all men to himself through his death and Resurrection (cf. Jn 12:32). Christ, King and Lord of the universe, made himself the servant of all, for he came "not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mt 20:28). For the Christian, "to reign is to serve him," particularly when serving "the poor and the suffering, in whom the Church recognizes the image of her poor and suffering founder” (LG 8; cf. 36). The People of God fulfills its royal dignity by a life in keeping with its vocation to serve with Christ:
The sign of the cross makes kings of all those reborn in Christ and the anointing of the Holy Spirit consecrates them as priests, so that, apart from the particular service of our ministry, all spiritual and rational Christians are recognized as members of this royal race and sharers in Christ's priestly office. What, indeed, is as royal for a soul as to govern the body in obedience to God? And what is as priestly as to dedicate a pure conscience to the Lord and to offer the spotless offerings of devotion on the altar of the heart? (St. Leo the Great, Sermo 4,1: PL 54,149)
Why do I mention the threefold office of Christ for us to ponder this morning? We heard in this morning’s reading from the book of Numbers, “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!" We see from our Catholic Catechism that as baptized Christians, we indeed are called to fulfill a very real and tangible prophetic mission. When you and I live in accord with the fundamental call to holiness that God has sealed upon us with His Holy Spirit, we discover that we share in Christ’s own mission and service … We become prophets! We become priests! We become kings! The Holy Spirit has denoted this fact in a unique and irremovable way upon our baptized souls, with what the Church’s Greek calls the sphragis, the Lord’s own seal, like God’s branding or stamping us with His own proprietary mark. If we were to look at the Christian through spiritual lenses, what we would see is the mark of Christ Jesus Himself sealed upon us. Certainly, we would appear still as individuals each in our own particular way, as we never lose our own personality, which is a beautiful creation of God that makes every one of us unique and beautiful in God’s eyes. However, it is most important for us to look like Christ during, and certainly by the end, of our earthly pilgrimage. If we conform to God’s holiness and seek Him with all of our hearts – and we’d better start now if we’re going to succeed through the help of His grace in this lofty goal – then we can be sure that the Holy Spirit will do the hard work in shaping us into the perfect likeness and image of the Son of God, a mark that becomes disfigured whenever we choose sin.
Benedict XVI, at the start of the Year of the Priest in 2009, shared a tremendous insight into what the Church believes the priest to be. While this description relates to that of an ordained priest, nonetheless we know with surety -- from what we already have heard from the Catechism this morning -- that every baptized Christian is called to share in a certain and real manner in the priesthood of Christ to fulfill our role as an alter Christus, or “another Christ” present in the world in which we live. Our Holy Father teaches the People of God concerning priests:
As an alter Christus, the priest is profoundly united to the Word of the Father who, in becoming incarnate took the form of a servant, he became a servant (Phil 2: 5-11). The priest is a servant of Christ, in the sense that his existence, configured to Christ ontologically [in a manner that permanently changes his own being and existence – just as baptism does for each Christian], acquires an essentially relational character: he is in Christ, for Christ and with Christ, at the service of humankind. Because he belongs to Christ, the priest is radically at the service of all people: he is the minister of their salvation, their happiness and their authentic liberation, developing, in this gradual assumption of Christ's will, in prayer, in "being heart to heart" with him. Therefore this is the indispensable condition for every proclamation, which entails participation in the sacramental offering of the Eucharist and docile obedience to the Church (24 June 2009).
When we are obedient to the call to holiness that God places on your heart and mine, in the spirit of Psalm 19 in which we hear how “the precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart”, refresh the soul, and give us a wisdom that is so trustworthy we can invest our lives in it, then we will be able all the more to realize in our own lives the royal office of Christ. We share in His Kingdom and even in His Kingship … God raises us higher than the angels in the court of the heavenly hosts we heard about yesterday from the prophet Daniel.
But as we have heard, we cannot attain holiness without a corresponding purity of heart. We must be free from sin, for God does not share His royal throne with the unholy. We cannot enter heaven with sin having disfigured the image of Christ stamped upon our souls … We first must be restored to the fullness of Jesus’ image and likeness through the purifying Blood of the Lamb of God. It is in search of this spiritual purity that the Psalmist cries out begging to God, “Cleanse me from my unknown faults! From wanton sin especially, restrain your servant; let it not rule over me. Then I shall be blameless and innocent of serious sin.”
Our other readings this morning provide us with guidance in how to grow in holiness. The Apostle James says in our second reading that we must avoid all greed, cheating and manipulation in our lives. We must be detached from the materialism of the secular world. This teaching does not mean that we cannot have possessions, but it does signal to us that money and things cannot be allowed to rule us. Possessing eternal life is to possess everything. To possess what is temporal, passing, and easily destroyed is not to possess in real terms … So we must be detached from the materialism of this world so that it doesn’t become an idol, so that it doesn’t reign falsely on the throne of our hearts. We would be foolish if we thought a significant part of today’s global economic problems weren’t due to man’s failure to honor the very point we’re making about detachment from worldly goods.
Finally, in the Gospel of Mark, we hear quite a jarring challenge from Christ (although perhaps not too shocking for those who played Mafia with me last night during our social): If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. If your eyes cause you to sin, pluck them out. We see here that Jesus is directing us to purify our lives … Every part of our own person, to share authentically in Christ’s Sonship, must allow God to have dominion and rule if we are going to realize the holiness that we are called to live, and by consequence if we are going to discover the heavenly reward promised to all those who honor Him in the obedient love of a son. Our hands – action – what we do must be given over to Christ ad majorem Dei gloriam. Our feet – movement – where we go must be entrusted to God so that His will is fulfilled, for ultimately only in fulfilling God’s will for our lives will we discover true happiness, living the life of a man of God. Our eyes – vision of the mind and heart – what we see and incorporate into our very person must belong to Christ in order for us to live life, and have it to the full.
I would like to close these reflections with some words of encouragement from Saint Augustine. It is not easy to live the Christian life well, but it is possible to do so with God’s help and grace. Let us do our very best, giving the task at hand what truly is our very best, being honest with ourselves in settling for nothing less than the best. Let us no longer settle for the cheap lies that are sin! Augustine says:
Clearly one who is weak must neither be deceived with false hope nor broken by fear. Otherwise he may fail when temptations come. Say to him: Prepare your soul for temptation. Perhaps he is starting to falter, to tremble with fear, perhaps he is unwilling to approach. You have another passage of Scripture for him: God is faithful. He does not allow you to be tempted beyond your strength. Make that promise … about the sufferings to come, and you will strengthen the man who is weak. When someone is held back because of excessive fear, promise him God’s mercy. It is not that temptations will be lacking, but that God will not permit anyone to be tempted beyond what he can bear. In this manner, you will be binding up the broken one.
When they hear of the trials that are coming, some men arm themselves more and, so to speak, are eager to drain the cup. The ordinary medicine of the faithful seems to them but a small thing; for their part they seek the glorious death of the martyrs. Others hear of the temptations to come, and when they do arrive, as arrive they must, they become broken and lame. Yet it is right that such things befall the Christian, and no one esteems them except the one who desires to be a true Christian. Offer the bandage of consolation, bind up what has been broken … “Do not be afraid” (Sermon on Pastors 46).
So Saint Augustine’s final word this morning becomes one of the great messages of Blessed Pope John Paul II during his pontificate. In his opening words to the world on October 22, 1978, the date that now marks the blessed Pope’s feast day, John Paul II exhorted the Christian faithful to break down any walls that would keep them from encountering the person of Jesus Christ, who is the Lord of perfect Love and Mercy: “Non abbiate paura. Aprite, anche spalancate le porte a Cristo!” (Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors to Christ!) If you heed these words, dear brothers, your world will change immeasurably for the good, both in this life, and in the next. Amen.