Faithful Fathers

Priesthood Ordination 2017 – Photo Credit: Daphne Stubbolo

Sunday’s Feast of Corpus Christi brought the first Masses of the new priests ordained here in Washington. It was also Father’s Day. The readings for Corpus Christi suggest a kind of threefold office for the priest (related to teaching, governing, and sanctifying). I thought it might be good to present some of the notes from that homily on the blog today. Here, then, are three facets of a faithful Father—of a faithful priest.

I.  The Priest Announces the Truth – Throughout the readings today we see Moses, St. Paul, and Jesus announcing fundamental truths for God’s people. Scripture says, For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts (Malachi 2:7). In today’s readings, four truths stand out that the priest should announce.

REMEMBER – Moses says to the people, Do not forget the Lord your God (Deut 8:14). He also adds, Remember how for forty years now the Lord, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert (Deut 8:2). Hence, every priest must stand before his people and say to them always (whether explicitly or implicitly), “Never forget the works of God. Do not forget what He has done for you. Remember Him and what He has done for you!”

To remembering means to have so present in my mind and heart what God has done for me that I’m grateful and different. Indeed, gratitude is a form of joy. When we are grateful, an awful lot of poison goes out of our heart. When you’re joyfully grateful, it’s pretty hard to despise your neighbor, or to be stingy and greedy, or to be vengeful and envious. Yes, a lot of poison goes out of our system when we remember what the Lord has done for us; we are grateful, joyful, different. At every Mass, the priest, as a Father, should remind his people never to forget the works of the Lord.

REJOICE – Here, too, today’s readings portray the priestly call for his people to rejoice in the Lord. Psalm 147 says, Glorify the Lord O Jerusalem; praise your God oh Zion! (Psalm 147:12), and the beautiful Sequence Hymn says, Laud O Zion your salvation, Laud with hymns of exultation, Christ your king and Shepherd true.

Every priest, as a faithful Father, must summon his people to rejoice in the Lord. The Lord only permits difficulty in order for some greater glory to be ushered in. Every priest should say, as in the words of Scripture, “Do not be sad, do not weep, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!” (Neh 8:10) Joy is the natural state of every Christian, and every faithful priest should summon his people to joy by being a man of joy, hope, and confidence himself.

Sadly, joy is not the first thing that many people see upon walking into a typical Catholic congregation. Too often the scene looks more like a funeral than the wedding that the Mass is supposed to be. While it is true that people express joy in different ways, joyous is not the first way most outsiders would describe a typical Catholic congregation.

Every faithful priest should stand before his people and say “Rejoice,” not only with his words but also by his demeanor, hope, and manifest confidence.

RE-CENTER – In the first reading, Moses says to his people, Not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God (Dt 8:3). Here, too, every priest, as a faithful Father, must exhort his people to center their lives on things that really matter. Too many of God’s people focus on lesser things such as sports, politics, money, or how they stack up against other people. But every faithful priest, every faithful Father, must stand before his people and remind them, in the words of Isaiah,

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live (Isaiah 55:1-3).

Yes, Sunday after Sunday, the holy priest must remind the faithful of that which really matters and call them to focus their lives on heavenly, lasting things rather than earthly, passing things.

RECEIVE – In the Gospel today, Jesus warns, Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have a life in you (Jn 6:53). Thus every priest will celebrate the Eucharist for his people faithfully and will exhort them never to miss a Sunday. His chief desire is to feed the people entrusted to his care and to warn them that if they neglect to feed on the Holy Eucharist of the Lord, they will have no life in them.

They will be like the children of Israel in the wilderness who would never have made it to the Promised Land if they had not faithfully eaten the manna that God gave them to preserve them in the desert for over forty years. Neither will we make it to the heavenly Promised Land if we do not receive frequently our manna—the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ.

Every priest, every faithful Father, must stand before his people and say, “Come, eat His Body, which was broken for you, and His Blood, which was shed for you.” Every priest will seek the lost sheep to restore them to the nourishment they desperately need and without which they will die.

II.  The Priest Admonishes the Timid and Temperamental – In today’s Gospel, as the Lord Jesus announced the essential truth of the Holy Eucharist He encountered many who were quarrelsome and murmured against Him.

How does He deal with them? Upon hearing their protests, He does not compromise. He does not water down His teaching. Rather, He intensifies it and warns them clearly.

When He tells them that they must eat His Flesh and drink His Blood, and they object, He warns them with this well-known Jewish expression: “Amen, amen I say to you!” Then He goes on to say that unless (which is a very strong and exclusive word) “you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you will not have a life in you.” He then intensifies His teaching even more by substituting an impolite word for eating: τρώγων (trogon), which means to gnaw on or devour.

So when it comes to an essential truth, Jesus does not water down or “cave in.” Rather, He solemnly reasserts the truth even more forcefully. He does this not to be argumentative, but because He loves them and does not want them to be lost forever.

So, too, for the priest of God today. We live in quarrelsome times in which many murmur and protest: about the Eucharist to be sure, but also about many moral teachings. The priest of God, as a faithful Father for his people, must not water down the truth or compromise. Rather, he must speak the truth even more clearly. He must explain it with love, so as to save his people from the error that can and will destroy them. Yes, like Jesus, every priest must speak the truth clearly and in love.

St. Paul admonished Timothy, Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but will surround themselves with teachers who will tickle their ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires (2 Tim 4:2-3).

All the more reason, then, that the priest of God must stand before his people, not counting the personal cost, and speak the truth to them in love, speak to them the truth without which they will perish.

III.  He Advances the Transformation of God’s People – Notice that in this brief passage the Lord Jesus presents the same truth four times:

i.    I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever;
ii.   Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.
iii.  The one who feeds on me will have life because of me.
iv.  Whoever eats this bread will live forever.

Obviously, since repetition is the mother of studies, Jesus wants us to lay hold of this truth: if we receive His Body and Blood and follow Him in faith, we will have eternal life!

Yet many misunderstand the concept of “eternal.” The Greek word αἰῶνα (aiona) refers not merely to the length of life but also to its fullness. Therefore, in offering us eternal life, Jesus is not simply saying that we will live forever in the sense of a very long time. Rather, He is saying that we will become more and more fully alive with Him, even in the present, and that one day we will enter into the glory of Heaven forever where we will be so alive that our life here will seem to have been a mere coma. St. Ireneus says that the glory of God is the human person fully alive.

Therefore, every priest must stand before his people and announce to them a fuller life, a richer life, a more wonderful life—not in some distant Heaven, but even now! He cannot be content merely to point to the possibility of such a thing. Rather, he must stand before them as a living witness, as one who has committed himself to prayer, to the sacraments, to the Word of God, and to walking in holy fellowship with the Church. He must show that even now he is experiencing a life made richer and fuller by the grace of the sacraments working in his life. He is not merely to announce to his people the richer and fuller life; he is to stand before them as a witness of it.

Of this, I myself can testify. Now well into my fifties, my body is heading south. My soul, however, is more alive than ever before. I am more joyful and more confident. I love God more. My prayer life is coming alive; my mind and heart are being renewed. I’ve seen sins put to death and new graces come alive.

Yes, every priest must be able to stand before his people as a living witness of how the Lord can transform our lives and bring us into the fullness of eternal life, even now. In this way, he helps to advance his people in the transformation that is the normal, the expected life of God’s people.

Here, then, are some facets of a faithful Father, gleaned from yesterday’s readings at the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ.