11th Sunday - homily
You might have heard the one about the Irishman named Muldoon who lived in the countryside for years with his best dog as his company. One day, the dog died. Muldoon went to talk to a priest, Father Patrick. He said, “Father, my dog has died. Could ya be sayin’ a Mass for the poor little creature?” Fr. Patrick said, “I’m afraid not. We don’t say Masses for animals in the Church. But, you can go down to the new denominational church down the street. We don’t really know what they do down there; maybe they can do a service for the little guy”. Muldoon said, “Ok, Father, I’ll go right away. Do you think $ 5, 000 is enough to donate for the service?” Fr. Patrick said, “Whoa, whoa…my man, Muldoon, why didn’t you say the dog was Catholic!”
We hear about priests in the readings today. In the first reading, God says to Moses that Israel will be a “kingdom of priests”. This applies to us as well – we are a kingdom of priests. Does this mean that we are all to wear black and call each other ‘Father’? No. It means that we all share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. When each of us was baptized, we were anointed priests, prophets, and kings. St Peter confirms this in his first letter. The Church refers to this as the common priesthood which we all make up.
Why, then, do we only refer to certain men as priests? Men like Fr. Mike and me are ministerial priests. Ministerial priests serve the people of God, the common priesthood. We hear in today’s Gospel the first twelve men who Jesus calls to be ministerial priests. He has given them and their successors the role of continuing his ministry to all of God’s people. The question that always seem to arise is, ‘why can only men be priests’? When I am asked this question, I usually…change the subject (how ‘bout this weather, huh?)…!
When I hear the question of why can only men be priests, I give the same reason as to why only women can be pregnant: it’s a biological or physiological thing. God has created men and women differently because we have different roles. He gives certain women the role of bringing natural life into the world; He gives certain men the role of bringing supernatural life into the world. Neither men nor women are greater than the other; they are simply different than the other.
The heart of the priesthood is the celebration of the sacraments. Whenever a priest celebrates the sacraments, he acts “in personal Christi” (in the person of Christ). It is really Jesus who baptizes, consecrates the Eucharist, absolves sins, etc. In order for in persona Christi to happen, a male body is required because Jesus is a male priest with a masculine body. The proper matter is needed for all the sacraments to be celebrated; the same applies to the priest. Let me explain with one of the sacraments, the Eucharist.
Whenever we come to Mass, we see and hear the priest. But, it is really Jesus who is celebrating the Mass. We know this most especially at the consecration. The words are said, “this is my body…this is the cup of my blood”. The priest does not say, “this is his body…this is his blood”. We know it’s really Jesus saying those words. Even though we don’t see a change in the priest, a change has taken place. Even though we don’t see a change in the bread and wine, a change has taken place. It is called transubstantiation – the substance of the matter changes. This applies to the bread and wine as well as to the priest. Just like it is no longer bread and wine, it is no longer Fr. Greg or any priest – it is Jesus Christ.
The proper matter and form must be used with the sacraments. We can’t use potato chips and soda at the consecration. We can’t use oil at baptisms. We have to use what Jesus used and say what Jesus said. With the Eucharist, we have to use unleavened bread and wine made from natural grapes. We have to say the exact words he said – “this is my body”. And, the priest has to have a male body. If we don’t use the proper and form with regard to the Eucharist, then transubstantiation does not occur.
When we go deeper in understanding the priesthood of Jesus Christ, we see that it is an amazing reality! Jesus continues his ministry through the persons of his priests. He continues to bring the sacred ministries to us. He continues to baptize, consecrate the Eucharist, forgive sins, etc. through his priests.
He tells us in the Gospel to pray for more priests. He tells us to “ask the master of the harvest to send more laborers into the vineyard”. He is calling young men from St. Andrew’s to be priests…to be laborers in the vineyard. Some of them have heard the call and are taking steps to answer the call. Please pray for them. Pray that they answer the call generously, and that they minister to the next generations of God’s people. Pray that they will bring the Eucharist to our children’s children. Without priests, we would not have the sacraments. Without priests, we would not have the Eucharist.