O Royal Priest

[The priestly commission of the lay faithful equips them to] produce in themselves ever more abundant fruits of the Spirit.

For all their works, prayers, and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily labor, their mental and physical relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne—all of these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Pt 2.5).

During the celebration of the Eucharist, these sacrifices are most fittingly offered to the Father along with the Lord’s body. Thus, as worshipers whose every deed is holy, the laity consecrate the world itself to God — Lumen Gentium 34.

In the living waters of Baptism, by the fragrant chrism of Confirmation, made perfect through the ministerial priesthood in the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice, and joined with my bride in our sacramental life-giving one-flesh union, I am called to be, and to act, as a royal priest who consecrates and up-offers his whole embodied existence to God as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1f).

This is the whole purpose of life.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. — Matt. 6:19-21

This priesthood I have become sweeps my every action into its liturgical ambit, permitting God’s transforming Fire to enter and burn in the heart of creation, like magma beneath the crust, preparing it for transfiguration in a new creation. I found all this in the symbol of the lit Paschal Candle:

On this, your night of grace, O holy Father,
accept this candle, a solemn offering,
the work of bees and of your servants’ hands,
an evening sacrifice of praise,
this gift from your most holy Church.

My priestly hands, held aloft by the Church, are to be twined with the World and joined to the labor of bees in making wax to feed the Fire of God. My priestly hands are to be twined with both earth and vine in making bread and wine for the for the life of the World, while heavy laden with alms for the poor. Through these Gifts, Creation finds its perfection. Finds its tetelestai (Jn. 19:30) in becoming, through love, a sacrificial banquet filled with all the fullness of God.

My priestly offering is to be found in

Sweat. Laughter. Exhaustion. Fear. Calm. Prayer. Long labor. Stupidity. Failure. Anxiety. Heroism. Feeding. Fasting. Sleeping. Keeping vigil. Insomnia. Sin repented. Singing. Dancing. Staring. Fixing. Confused. Numb. Joyous. Forgiving. Repairing. Playing. Bedridden. Reading. Writing. Pleasure. Agonizing. Doubting. Trusting. Loving. Serving. Imprisoned. Sick. Weak. Forgetting. Exercising. Waiting. Stressing. Comforting. Reprimanding. Patiently enduring. Celebrating. Grieving. Cleaning. Gardening. Visiting. Impatiently fretting. Lonely. Delighted. Visiting. Addiction withdrawing. Smiling. Crying. Wondering. Beautifying. Dying. Nothing. All. My, our, His whole messy lot.

The material readied for this Sacrifice should be great, for all is in our reach, no matter our limits. By a single act of the will, by a simple intention of faith in love with hope, all is consecrated. Drench it all now, O Christian, in the torrent of mercy gushing from the side of our dead God (cf Jn. 19:30-37).

Pray your epiclesis in simple faith with Elijah…

“Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. — 1 Kings 8:37-38

This post came to me while my wife made dinner for an elderly woman who lives alone. She delivered it just now, and sat with her for a time. While she was away, the Fire fell. I heard it roar, and it took everything up into the Banquet. Even before Mass had begun. My God. Yet we will finish this only then.

Listen outside. The Fire! It’s falling up, everywhere…

Spiritual Offering-Communion in this time of Eucharistic Distancing

I felt moved to write for my own use an amplified “spiritual Communion” by adding to it another key component of Holy Mass — our offering up to God before our receiving from God.

I offer my deepest thanks to God for all the priests and bishops who faithfully make present this Most Holy Sacrifice in our world every day. May these days of Fast increase our gratitude for the gift they make of their lives for us and for our salvation.

…So, for what it’s worth…

[After making an Act of Contrition]

Lord Jesus,
I offer myself now
as a living sacrifice
to your Father and my Father
through the eternal Spirit
in union with your Eucharistic Sacrifice.
I join now to this Great Mystery
my every prayer, thought and labor,
my every fear, struggle and weariness,
my every joy, rest and pain.
May my offering find favor in your sight.

[pause briefly in silence]

Lord Jesus,
I also ask you to open wide my spirit
that I may receive your Living Sacrifice
wholly present in the Holy Eucharist.
I beg you, through your Spirit,
to enter now under my roof and,
in this time of absence, dwell in my desire
with the fullness of your Presence.

May this holy exchange of Gifts, Lord Jesus,
be for my salvation
and the salvation of all the world
to the praise of your glory in that New Creation
where, with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
you live and reign as God forever and ever. Amen.

Bless with abandon

Sacramentals derive from the baptismal priesthood: every baptized person is called to be a blessing, and to bless. — Catechism #1669

God has entrusted to each baptized Christian the authority to bless, which means imploring “the grace of the Holy Spirit that descends through Christ from the Father” (CCC #2627).

For Catholics, this is to be distinguished from the “constitutive” form of blessing offered by an ordained minister, which permanently brings about the dedication of a person or object in the service of the Church — like the blessing of an altar. For the laity, blessings are principally expressed in the form of an invocation, asking God to shower some particular gift on something or someone. This difference does not make the non-ordained blessing “lower-grade,” but simply distinguishes its mode and purpose.

All this to say, baptized Christians should see blessing as a normal daily activity, or, even better, as a grave duty. St. Paul tells us that God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens” (Eph. 1:3). Every. And so everywhere you go, at any time, whether quietly in your heart, or aloud, or by outwardly tracing the sign of the cross on another’s forehead, the baptized should bless with abandon. In every new situation, we should invoke the divine grace of mercy, peace, deliverance from evil, forgiveness, healing, faith, hope, love, joy, i.e. “every spiritual blessing in the heavens.”

When I invoke a blessing with spontaneous prayer, I use formulas like:

“God bless you.”
“Come, Lord Jesus!”
“Come, Holy Spirit!”
“Father, kindly send your blessing…”
“May the Lord bless you…”
“Lord, hear my prayer for…”
“I beg you, Lord Jesus…”
“O Lord, open…”
“Dear God, grant…”
“Keep safe, O God…”
“Merciful Father, bring healing to…”
“O God, through the intercession of St. X…”

Catholics have a rich treasury of blessings, especially the traditional Catholic blessing at meals, “Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts…” And the magnificent Aaronic blessing, taken from Numbers 6:22-27:

The Lord bless you and keep you!
The Lord let His face shine upon you,
and be gracious to you!
The Lord look upon you with kindness
and give you peace!

One of the more poignant blessings is the one Jesus commands. Right after telling his disciples to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,” He says “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Lk 6:28). St. Paul echoes this when he says, “bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them” (Rom 12:14), while St. Peter counsels the Christlike response to evil is to return “a blessing, because to this you were called, that you might inherit a blessing” (1 Pt 3:9). Such blessings given by baptismal priests gush from the open side of the Wounded Healer.

Let me especially say spouses should bless each other and (grand)parents should bless their (grand)children every day, all their lives. Spouses and parents have been given special authority by God to do this. Whether near or far, audible or silent, wanted or unwanted, expend your treasury of blessings. Bless them at bedtime, bless them before they leave home, bless them in times of illness or fear or temptation. And add secret sacrifices to augment your blessing. I know a mom who has quietly skipped lunch whenever possible for decades as so many sacrificial pleas to God for Him to bless her children.

We fast so we can feed.

I knew an ordained priest, now deceased, who would bless everyone everywhere he went. Not long before he died, I asked him what he would like most to be remembered for as a priest, and he offered an answer that gave new meaning to his rampant blessing

I hope it could be said of me, ‘Here lies a priest of God who died poor because he gave everything away.’

Byzantine chant

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul. Built in A.D. 537

Lifted up on the Cross by Your free will, Christ God, grant mercies to the new commonwealth that bears Your name. Gladden our faithful rulers by Your power, giving them victories over their adversaries. May Your alliance be for them a weapon for peace, an invincible standard. — Kontakion of Elevation of the Holy Cross

I heard a story on NPR recently about this remarkable recording. It’s absolutely haunting.

“Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia” is the first vocal album in the world to be recorded entirely in live virtual acoustics. With a stunning reverberation time of over 11 seconds, the acoustics of the one-time Byzantine cathedral of Hagia Sophia were measured and analyzed, and auralized in real-time on Cappella Romana’s performance by the Icons of Sound team at Stanford University (iconsofsound.stanford.edu).

Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia presents more than 75 minutes of medieval Byzantine chant for the Feast of the Holy Cross in Constantinople, one of the greatest celebrations in the yearly cycle of worship at Hagia Sophia.

This was my personal favorite.

Increasing Faith’s Intention Span

In the signs of bread and wine, the faithful people place their offering in the hands of the priest, who lays it on the altar or table of the Lord. The spirituality of the gift of oneself, that the Offertory teaches us, can illuminate our days, our relationships with others, the things we do, and the sufferings we encounter, helping us to build the earthly city in the light of the Gospel. — Pope Francis

This coming year I plan to finally write a book on the kind of spirituality able to empower Christians to live a truly secular path to holiness, at home with God amid worldly concerns. At the heart of that spirituality for Catholics is the mystery of the Offertory at Mass, when the symbolic gifts of bread, wine and alms are brought forward by the faithful to the altar for a final consecration into the new creation growing out of the Body of the risen Christ.

I won’t expand further on that idea here, as I have done often in the past, but I will say that the lack of understanding of this mystery by the faithful leads to Masses littered with empty signs and a lack of any clear spiritual intention to offer one’s labor and life as gifts returned to God with thanksgiving. This lack of understanding and intention in turn impoverishes both this World, and the World to Come, depriving them of the gathered materials Christ awaits from us for the building of a new heavens and a new earth. In the words of Gaudium et spes:

The Spirit summons [the lay faithful] to dedicate themselves to the earthly service of humanity and to make ready the material of the celestial realm by this service of theirs … He frees all of them so that, by putting aside love of self and bringing all earthly resources into the service of human life, they can devote themselves to that future when humanity itself will become an offering accepted by God.

In light of these thoughts, I would love to share here an unexpected gift I received the other day. A former seminary student, Fr. Andrew Gutierrez, texted me a link to a video accompanied by the words, “Thanks for inspiring this spirituality in me.” I thought immediately, 💥Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine, “O Lord, now you can let your servant go in peace.”

This is my mission as a theologian, to share “all the riches of assured understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, of Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:2-3). Treasures hid in His Offering, in our Offering.

And then below that video is a “Farm Mass” photo that was texted to me last year by another former student, Fr. Mark Shoffner. On occasion, he said, he brings liturgical blessings, and the Mass, to homes and workplaces so he can make clear for the people the link of faith and life. So he can honor and hallow the very places where the faithful bake the bread, ferment the wine and gather up their alms for the Offertory.

…and show them that the sacred is simply the sacramental form of the secular; is the secular in its fullest depth.

Thank you, Frs. Andrew and Mark, and countless other priests, for living out this magnificent vision of faith.

{be sure to turn on the volume for the video]

Orphans living with their parents

Wastefulness is the original Christian attitude. The entire Passion occurs under the sign of this complete self-wasting of God’s love for the world. — Hans Urs von Balthasar

Once, at my request, my Confessor chose for me a Lenten penance to carry out. He said, “Identify in prayer one or two people to lavishly waste time and attention on this Lent. Ask God to guide you in your choice. Give them as much undivided attention as possible and love them intensely in those times. Make it about them, though, not about you. Penance isn’t primarily about self-perfection but about making yourself more useful to others, for God’s sake. Because penance should yield more love.”

I sat in the pew after Confession was over, and asked God to help me choose. Two people vividly appeared in my imagination, one an obvious choice and the other surprising. I just went with it.

My meditation that Lent made me more aware of the ways we Americans (I) inhabit a cultural sea of A.D.D. that has produced a people starved for attention, like Lazarus, loved by the dogs, lying at the gate of the distracted rich man. As a friend of mine who has worked for nearly two decades in family ministry once said it,

So many homes I deal with have orphans living with their parents, widows and widowers living with their spouses. There’s just a ton of lonely humans living in a world addicted to busy, to distraction, to seeking sources of love and affirmation outside the family. I am straight with people who complain of a world of faces aglow in the light of screens that it’s because inside it’s lonely and cold and dark — so unplug the screens, limit the outside leaks of time and attention and reconnect with each other!

Waste copious time.

May this Lent reinvigorate our culture with a fresh surge of time-wasting attention, setting every home’s hearth ablaze in the warm light of love glowing from within.

Simplify, do or die.

“Every increased possession loads us with new weariness. The best thing in life aren’t things.” —John Ruskin

Lent approaches, and the three pillars of Christian life call your name: Pray. Fast. Give alms.

Prayer is your consent for grace to empty you out of the superfluous and open you up to the supernal God, that He may fill you with all that is needful for giving. Fasting affords you opportunity to freely suffer self-emptying and gather your gift. Alms give leave to the gift gathered, that in just love you might at last be free to meet others in need with open hands.

The motto of Lent in this regard might be, “Simplify, do or die.” All Christians are called to embrace the beatitude of poverty, to live lives of simplicity. Simplicity means not absence of parts but unity of focus — all in my life serves the unum necessarium, “the one thing necessary” which is the vocation to love God with all I am and have, and love my neighbor as my (other)self.

Prayer simplifies, fasting simplifies, almsgiving simplifies.

Gospel poverty requires an audit not only of my bank account and possessions, but also of the priorities that govern relationships, the employment of talents and the use of time. Is all in right order? Is there waste? A lack of good-order for lack of planning? Is love served in all things? Do I carefully distinguish needs from wants? Am I truly free to be attentive to others’ needs or am I bound by habits or things that render me paralyzed, blinded, in-curved, and so incapable of noticing what I should?

A simple life forms the capacity to see things as they truly are, through the eye of charity. Pope Francis’ very challenging Lenten message, focusing on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, catches this:

The rich man dresses like a king and acts like a god, forgetting that he is merely mortal. For those corrupted by love of riches, nothing exists beyond their own ego. Those around them do not come into their line of sight. The result of attachment to money is a sort of blindness. The rich man does not see the poor man who is starving, hurting, lying at his door.

This Lent, may we each quietly (Matt. 6:3) audit our lives in the light of love’s poverty, so as to simplify our lives, open our hands and be made capable of seeing the poor God begging by our life’s gate every day. And we can join St. Basil the Great in beginning this needful discernment…

When someone steals another’s clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.