Sunday, January 27, 2013

Priest, Prophet and King: Reflections on the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

"The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
He has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
release to the prisoners,
To announce a year of favor from the LORD
and a day of vindication by our God;" - Isaiah 61:1-2a

In the Gospel today, Jesus reads this passage from Isaiah and concludes that "Today, this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing." Today, I tell you that this passage needs to continually be fulfilled by the Body of Christ on Earth.

After we were baptized, we were anointed with an oil called the Holy Chrism. This is the same oil that is later used for the sacraments of confirmation and holy orders. As we are anointed with this oil, the priest says:

Priest: The God of power and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin and
brought you to new life through water and the Holy Spirit. He now anoints you with the
chrism of salvation, so that, united with his people, you may remain for ever a member of
Christ who is Priest, Prophet and King. 

We are anointed priest, prophet and king following in the footsteps of Christ. Jesus was a priest in offering himself up as a sacrifice for us all. He was a prophet in declaring the Kingdom of God. He was a king in his service to everyone in healing and in setting an example for us all of a life lived in holiness. Not all of us will literally be priests. Some of us will not take Holy Orders and some of us cannot take Holy Orders. Not all of us will be called to preach on street corners like the prophets of the Old Testament. This idea of evangelization frankly scares most Catholics. Not all of us will be in leadership positions. The Church won't run well with too many cooks in the kitchen and some people just don't want the responsibility. But we can all be priests, prophets and kings in our own way.

So, where did this idea come from? I see plenty of evidence in the Bible of Jesus being a priest, prophet and king, but no where is this explicitly said. You're not crazy. It isn't explicitly in there. It is mentioned in the early 4th century by Eusebius of Caesarea and it has been expounded upon by the likes of Sts. Augustine and John Chrysostom and this idea was used extensively by the Protestant Reformers. It's called the "Threefold office." It is used to explain how Christ fulfilled all of the Old Testament predictions of the messiah. It is also used to expound upon our mission as part of the body of Christ.

So, what does this have to do with my everyday life? How can I be a priest? Well, for beginners, there is lay ministry. With the vocational discernment shortage, there is a huge demand for lay people to step up to the plate and do some of the things that the religious used to do like visit the home-bound or run Catholic schools and hospitals. But, not all are called to do lay ministry. So what do you do then? The Catechism of the Catholic Church (902, to be exact) mentions that parents play a special role as priests in passing on the faith to their children. If you don't have children, you can take time out to spend with God. Deepening your prayer-life and earnestly trying to follow God's will are both wonderful ways of fulfilling our call to be priests.

What about prophet? What exactly is a prophet anyway? Don't they just sit around and tell the future? Well, not exactly. I like the Old Testament definition of a prophet: A person who speaks by divine inspiration or as the interpreter through whom the will of a god is expressed. A person gifted with profound moral insight and exceptional powers of expression. (Source) A prophet doesn't necessarily tell the future. A prophet spreads God's message. Any Catholic can fulfill this call by teaching the faith or evangelizing. Or, if you don't want to put yourself out there like that, you can always be a prophet by your everyday words and actions. Simply by being the best Catholic Christian you can be, you are prophetically witnessing to your faith. You can be a prophet by making the world a better place and making your opinions known.

How on earth can I be a king? I live in America (Okay, I'm assuming so because most of my audience is in the US, but if not, that's cool). America doesn't have kings! First of all, Jesus said, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them and those in authority over them are addressed as 'Benefactors'; but among you it shall not be so. Rather, let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant. For who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one seated at table? I am among you as the one who serves." (Luke 22:25-27) So, our kingly office is not literally an office of leadership. We practice our kingly calling by serving others and by trying to live a moral life. Those are two things everyone can do.

In today's Gospel, Jesus points out these three parts of His calling and consequently our calling. Like Jesus, we are anointed. Like Jesus, we are to give sight to the blind (through the priestly office of teaching). Like Jesus, we are to proclaim liberty to captives (through the prophetic office of witnessing to our faith). Like Jesus, we are to let the oppressed go free (through the kingly office of service).

The following is a live performance by Casting Crowns of their song "Love them like Jesus." This song speaks to how we are to imitate Jesus in our everyday lives, even if that means sometimes just being present to someone who is suffering.

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