Fr. Frank McDevitt is the pastor of Our Lady of Grace in Aurora, Ont.
I want to give some thought to priesthood this weekend. Today’s readings speak well to the priestly life.
And The Shepherds’ Trust collection is coming up next weekend in the Archdiocese of Toronto, which calls on us to think about retired priests.
The most essentially good thing I have done in my life is that I became a priest.
Even when things are a grind and when there seems to be more deaf ears than hearing ones, I have not railed against the priesthood.
For some, there is a tendency to put priests on a pedestal, to set them in a system of ideals that can never be realized. Living on a pedestal is a lonely thing – and pretty much the only thing you can do is fall off of it.
In the spirit of today’s readings, I would like to look at another understanding of priesthood. A model of priesthood which can discard the pedestal and a model of priesthood which allows for imperfection, but does not justify irresponsibility.
This is a model not based on sanctity, though a priest, like each and every one of his parishioners, should strive to live a holy life.
This is a model not based on privilege, though privilege has seduced more than one priest who has confused social privilege with the privilege of being a priest at the altar of sacrifice.
I agree with Jesus, beware of those who love to walk around in long robes, to be greeted with respect at the supermarket and have the best seat in the church.
Beware of their prayers if they sound like they have already died and are in Heaven.
By all means, beware. But also be aware that the priest, like each of us, is called by his baptism into Communion with Christ.
The model of priesthood that I would like us to imagine is a model of service.
The core of the priestly call is like the call of the Christian parent or the couple married in Christ or the person looking for a course in life. Each is called in service. To pray and to act in the name of Christ. To work, to transform this world by the grace of God. The priest is given the unique privilege of preaching, teaching and sanctifying those called to this service and so to give service in turn.
It would be foolish to not acknowledge that we live in a time when the priesthood is critiqued because of its makeup. It is a community of unmarried men and this design is problematic for some, though not all.
The people who wrestle with this are to be honoured if it is done honestly, just as those who wish no change are to be honoured if their reasons are honest too.
Our readings today celebrate the holy call to service in priesthood.
It is a service that is tied to human limitations, as well as the boundless love of Christ.
It is a service profoundly affected by human frailty as well as faith.
It is a service grounded in an individual’s history as well as the history of the Church.
In the Book of Kings, the widow of Zarephath prepares to eat her last meal and die, because of the drought that has ravaged the land. She is given a new life by the grace of God, who does not let her meal run out or her jug of oil become empty.
We rely on God’s grace for the same things. It is His grace that replenishes each of us and calls us to service.
Christ is the centre. A priest is a priest because Christ has died and has risen, he is a priest because he presides at Christ’s offering. The same sacrifice here that was offered on Calvary.
Beyond the human dignity we all share, it is Christ who is the source of whatever dignity that is ascribed to priesthood. Priestly dignity resides in Christ, not in the attractive aspects of a priest’s personality or his abilities.
So do him a favour. If he is on a pedestal in your mind, break the pedestal, for he may fall off in any event. If he fails, and priests are capable of great failure – indeed, of appalling failure – remember his sinfulness unites him with you as well. We share the need of the saving power of Christ in our lives.
He too waits eagerly for the saving power of Christ.
I have met my fair share of priests who have only had a small coin of talent or imagination to put into the treasury. In doing so, they gave all they had.
In doing so, they put more into the priesthood than did the one bursting with talent who is seeking something other than the saving mystery of Christ present in our midst.
As I said at the outset, the most essentially good thing I have done in life is I have become a priest. No, it hasn’t always been an absolute joy and certainly more than a few times I have not put all that I have into the treasury.
It has however given me the chance to celebrate every day of the week – week in and week out – the saving mystery of Christ for me, by celebrating it with you in sacrament and in the work of the Church.
This priesthood has called me to salvation, it has called me to service, it has called me to you.
This homily is based on the readings for 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B: 1 Kings 17:10-16; Hebrews 9:24-28; and Mark 12:38-44.