I have been tagged by Kate (at home in my Father’s house) for the “Say something nice about a priest” meme. Apparently the person who created the meme meant that we are to say something nice about a particular priest and we are to pass it on to three other bloggers to do the same.
I am going to say something about my parish priest. He is a man who quietly works hard. He doesn’t make a big deal of what he does and frankly most of us only find out via the word of those who have received his care or because we have been there and seen it close up.
I know he has sat with a frail and sick man for over 2hrs offering comfort and the Sacraments. He spent time with the man’s wife too and did this more than once while the man was very ill.
He also did something that he made me promise never to tell- something generous and kind for a friend of mine.
He has offered a great deal of time and support to another friend of mine in a crisis where frankly professionals have been less than helpful.
Some of my favourite priests are Fr John Corapi, Fr Benedict Groeschel, Fr Fessio SJ and of course Frs John Boyle and Ray Blake 🙂 God bless them all especially in this year of the priesthood.
Jesus went around referring to Himself as “The Bridegroom”. I think it is fair to say that the leaders of the Temple understood Him all too well-and they didn’t like it. He was calling Himself a priest-a priest of the old pre Levitical order-a priest like David and Solomon and a priest like Adam and Abraham. He also went around forgiving sins; something only God can do. Something the High Priest only had the authority to do once a year (remember when Zachariah met the angel and lost his voice so he couldn’t give the absolution blessing?). Jesus offered proof of His authority through His miracles.
He raised the dead, healed the sick, cast out demons and calmed storms. Witnesses could see His power first hand. They were then to decide whether this man Jesus really was the Messiah they had been promised and had been awaiting for generations-or whether he was just another wannabe.
The Messiah would restore Israel. All of it. Not just Judea (in the south) with Judah, Benjamin and some Levites-but the WHOLE of Israel.
Jesus chose 12 men and a lot of them came from the north, Galilee. We are not told what tribes they all hail from, only that they are Galilean. So they were probably a bit of a mix but not many Israelites were around. In choosing 12-Jesus is speaking about the whole of Israel. The men are not all Levites (John was related to the High Priest so he may have been but we are not told). We are also not told how old the men were. While it seems likely most were older, tradition at least tells us John was well under thirty-the age a priest could be ordained.
The question modern people raise is why all men? Where are the women? And the silly answer is that Jesus was tied by the conventions of the time. The men he chose gives the lie to this.
So to recap quickly. Adam was the first priest and he was supposed to offer the priestly sacrifice for his bride-himself and he didn’t. God promised there would be a Saviour who would. The priesthood got seriously messed up by Cain but was continued in the way it was meant to through father to son from Seth through to Noah and Melchizedek. So to Abraham until Moses where the Golden Calf Incident ended the priesthood of father and first born son. With the authority given him by God Moses took the priesthood and gave it only to the fathers and sons of the tribe of Levi and that is how it was as Israel entered the Promised Land.
I suppose I should have posted about the Golden Calf Incident before coming to this, but I’ve blogged about it before. To nutshell; Israel turned from the God of true freedom and went back to the Egyptian god of slavery (to money, sex and power). The sons of Levi stayed true and when Moses returned from the mountain and the Face of God they drew their swords and killed all the apostate priests-father’s and first born sons, of the other tribes. With the blood still wet on their swords they became the priests of Israel. On entering the Promised Land the Levites were not allotted a portion of land as they were to live among the other tribes who invited them “be to us a father and a priest.”
The priesthood of Melchizedek, the priesthood of father and son was therefore put on hold as only the fathers and sons of the tribe of Levi were now priests, until David came along. King David was of the tribe of Judah but as King he was also ordained (by Samuel) as priest and could make the sacrifices. It was a special honour. David was a type (or shadowy foretelling) of Christ in that he was a Priest and King and through his psalms we also see he was a prophet. Solomon on being made King was given the blessing and birthright of a first born son even though David had other sons who were older.
Solomon’s priesthood was not automatically conferred. It is up to God who should be ordained and Solomon was supposed to wait for the prophet to anoint him with oil-but on one occasion he did not have the patience to wait and took upon himself the right to make the sacrifice. This may well have been the act of pride that began to see his loss of that great gift of Wisdom. He should have understood that it is God’s place to decide on who will be a priest. No one can take that on for themselves. (Which is why popes can’t cave on ordaining women).
As his reign continued Solomon’s wisdom became nothing more than cleverness in political games. Having build the stunningly beautiful Temple as God had requested he turned to other gods to please his political alliances made through marriage. (A man who doesn’t respect his priesthood doesn’t respect marriage either).
From being a type of Christ -prophet, priest and king of wisdom and righteousness (like Melchizedek) Solomon became a type of anti-Christ, burdening his people with heavy taxes and caring only for his wealth and power which he thought he could find through other gods.
It ended badly. The Kingdom was split and then overcome. Even the Levitical priesthood was scattered among the nations and the Temple was destroyed. The promise that both the throne of David and the priesthood of Melchizedek would be renewed seemed utterly impossible. But of course, nothing is impossible for God.
The next stage in looking at the history of the priesthood has to be to have a look at the rather obscure character in Scripture called Melchizedek. His name might not be his name it might- and more likely was- be a title. Melchizedek means King of Righteousness, something that has profound meaning to Christians as Christ is our Melchizedek. We know, as we read Genesis that Abraham was a priest as he offered sacrifice but Melchizedek seems to be the High Priest. Both he and Abraham are priests of the same God.
In Genesis (14:18-20) Melchizedek offers bread and wine as his sacrifice of thanks to God for the war Abraham has won over the four kings of the north to rescue Lot. At this point God has not specifically requested animal sacrifice but then this sacrifice is slightly different that the usual ones a priest had offered- it was a Thanksgiving (Todah/Eucharist). It has been long recognised that this King of Righteousness is a “type” of Jesus and some Gnostics even went so far as to say he was Jesus. He is the symbol of the priesthood of the Firstborn; thought to represent or even be the great Shem the firstborn son of Noah.
Later (at the Golden Calf) the priesthood of the Firstborn is lost and not restored again until David is made king and priest and Solomon after him. Then in Psalm 110 David announces either of himself or Solomon “You are priest forever of the order of Melchizedek.” He recognised that they were in a very special position-not so much as kings but as men of the tribe of Judah (not Levi) who were ordained priests. The special circumstances that allowed David and Solomon to be priests do not appear to have been repeated once Israel and Judah (with Benjamin) split. The next priest-king of the line of David was Jesus.
The priesthood that Jesus passed on to the apostles is the priesthood of the Bridegroom and First born son that Adam had and passed down to Melchizadek. Jesus is the Bridegroom and First born son who made the sacrifice for his Bride the Church that Adam had refused to make- and He gives us Himself in Bread and Wine and Melchizadek offered on the day the war was won.
A lot of people complain about the quality of many of the priests we have today (pray more) but God must have wondered what He had started when He looked at the quality of the first priests! Adam blew it and gets shut out of the Garden and then we get Cain and Abel.
As first born son Cain would have had a special role as priest in the family-but Cain had ideas of his own it seems. We get the impression from Scripture that Eve thought Cain was the promised one and spoiled him a bit. Abel was less loved it appears. Then they grow to be priests and come to make their sacrifices. According to Jewish tradition these sacrifices were for their brides as they entered married life. Again we see the role of priest is to sacrifice to God for his bride.
In the offered sacrifices we see the symbols of bread and the lamb; Abel offers the unblemished lamb and Cain just offers some grain -but not the best. St Francis of Assisi made sure that the churches he had anything to do with had the most beautiful adornment and chalices of gold and precious stone. Only the best is good enough for God he reminded the people. Mother Angelica followed the same principle when she built her beautiful church with all the best materials she could find.
Cain didn’t feel the need to give God the best he could which I believe would not only have been an insult to God, but to the bride Cain was supposed to be sacrificing for. God didn’t accept the sacrifice. God did however accept the sacrifice of Abel who understood that both God and his bride deserved the very best he could offer.
Cain was jolly annoyed by all this. He got a bit stroppy and in a fit of envy went and murdered his brother. Now, Scott Hahn reckons there was an element of human sacrifice here and it certainly fits neatly. Cain says spitefully, “So You want the best, I’ll give You the best…” and kills Abel. (The fact that Cain apparently was considered the ‘best’ until this point isn’t lost here either). Cain, having offered the sacrifice takes his wife and has to make a run for it after God tells him he is in big trouble.
God then gives Adam and Eve a new ‘first born’ son Seth and from him the priesthood of father to son continues. God does not give up on the priesthood even though it became very badly corrupt very early on.
The year of priests begins under the patronage of St John Vianney who was an excellent and holy priest who became known as the Curé d’Ars. He spent hours in the Confessional just being there for his people. I hope they were grateful for his willingness to offer this beautiful Sacrament.
He was a simple priest who just did what a priest was meant to do. What a great patron for our priests in this year dedicated to them. It’s a year to pray more for our priests. Do you know what, I actually think it is harder to be a priest these days. We live in a pretty nasty culture and as I certainly believe it is much harder to parent these days than it was for our parents, so being a spiritual father is so much harder.
What is a priest?
The central role of a priest is to offer sacrifice. He offers back to God some of those things he and his family-his bride and children, value most to show not only gratitude to God for all that He has given; but to remind the family that things come from God and are not the most important aspects of life. It resets the focus of the family on what is important. The priest leads the family in offering sacrifice as he is a father and a bridegroom.
Adam was the first priest. His role as bridegroom (and eventually father) was to guard the holy place (Garden/temple) and his bride, and to offer the necessary sacrifice when required. Guarding the garden wasn’t that easy it seems and the Serpent entered, getting through the hedge and making his way to the centre of the garden where the two trees stood; the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve were near the tree and the serpent picked on the Bride.
Adam could have spoken up for her, but it would undoubtedly have cost him; he would have to sacrifice the only thing he really had to sacrifice-his life. And he didn’t. He held on to his life and allowed his Bride to fall and even fell with her. Not a good start for the priesthood. It would take another priest to embrace the Tree of Life and offer the sacrifice of His own life on it for the Life of the Bride and her children.
Then came Cain and Abel and their priesthood-but that’s another story to be told soon….