Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Priesthood of the Faithful

Yesterday, Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter, I came upon a favorite sermon of mine in the Breviary. It's from St. Peter Chrysologus and it's based on a Scripture passage (Romans 12: 1)that we often use in the Apostleship of Prayer to provide a Scriptural basis for making a daily offering of ourselves, all the prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of our day.

The sermon begins with love. We are only able to make a loving offering of ourselves if we are deeply aware of the offering that Jesus has made for us. Thus, St. Peter Chrysologus writes:
Listen to the Lord's appeal: In me, I want you to see your own body, your members, your heart, your bones, your blood. You may fear what is divine, but why not love what is human? You may run away from me as the Lord, but why not run to me as your father? Perhaps you are filled with shame for causing my bitter passion. Do not be afraid. This cross inflicts a mortal injury, not on me, but on death. These nails no longer pain me, but only deepen your love for me. I do not cry out because of these wounds, but through them I draw you into my heart. My body was stretched on the cross as a symbol, not of how much I suffered, but of my all-embracing love. I count it no loss to shed my blood: it is the price I have paid for your ransom. Come, then, return to me and learn to know me as your father, who repays good for evil, love for injury, and boundless charity for piercing wounds.

Then St. Peter Chrysologus talks about the call of the baptized to make a return offering of themselves to the Lord. He says:
Listen now to what the Apostle [Paul] urges us to do. "I appeal to you," he says, "to present your bodies as a living sacrifice." By this exhortation of his, Paul has raised all men to priestly status.

How marvelous is the priesthood of the Christian, for he is both the victim that is offered on his own behalf, and the priest who makes the offering. He does not need to go beyond himself to seek what he is to immolate to God: with himself and in himself he brings the sacrifice he is to offer God for himself. The victim remains and the priest remains, always one and the same. Immolated, the victim still lives: the priest who immolates cannot kill. Truly it is an amazing sacrifice in which a body is offered without being slain and blood is offered without being shed.

A bit later, St. Peter Chrysologus, after making reference to a quote from Psalm 40 that also appears in Hebrews 10, he concludes with a practical exhoration on how to live the offering that all the baptized faithful are called to make:

Paul says: "I appeal to you by the mercy of God to present your bodies as a sacrifice, living and holy." The prophet said the same thing: "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but you have prepared a body for me." Each of us is called to be both a sacrifice to God and his priest. Do not forfeit what divine authority confers on you. Put on the garment of holiness, gird yourself with the belt of chastity. Let Christ be your helmet, let the cross on your forehead be your unfailing protection. Your breastplate should be the knowledge of God that he himself has given you. Keep burning continually the sweet-smelling incense of prayer. Take up the sword of the Spirit. Let your heart be an altar. Then, with full confidence in God, present your body for sacrifice. God desires not death, but faith; God thirsts not for blood, but for self-surrender; God is appeased not by slaughter, but by the offering of your free will.