Friday, June 27, 2014

A reflection on priestly life -- part one

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
I will never go to a Catholic bingo game again. My Aunt Morticia was snatched away from us at the tender age of 101 and 8 months. We were overwhelmed by her premature and untimely death.  Aunt Morticia had not attended Mass since the Korean War, but was deeply spiritual and a devout Catholic. She never failed to attend Monday night Bingo at Our Lady of Spain Parish. She felt it her duty to support the church in this way.
In our grief, we called the nearest Catholic Church to arrange a funeral and spoke with Monsignor Fensterslammer.  He was horrible. We informed him that we had planned a wonderful slide show on the life and loves of our Aunt Morticia and wanted to show it in church after communion. (She once dated Xavier Cougat and was rumored to have had a fling with Calvin Coolidge.)  This was to be followed by a bag pipe rendition of “Puttin’ on the Ritz” to which melody her great, great, great niece was going to tap dance in the sanctuary. (It’s the cutest little routine. Morticia loved it. We just knew that the marble floor in the sanctuary would be perfect for tap dancing.)
Despite our grief at the unexpected death of our beloved Aunt Morticia, Monsignor Fensterslammer just said, “Are you out of your minds???”  
I didn’t think this was very pastoral and neither did Bishop Lance Fairweather whom we promptly called to complain. He said Monsignor Fensterslammer would be hearing from him. I hope he gives it to him good.
Ann T. Clerikuhl
 Dear Ann,
I commiserate wholeheartedly with your grief. I myself am mourning the loss of a beloved friend, one of the finest priests I have ever known. I miss him greatly, because, among other things, he always counseled me to restraint and tolerance. Now that he is gone and no longer able to restrain my baser instincts, I would like to address your question in the context of a long treatise on the priestly life in our times, at least my priestly life in our times. He always told me it would be unwise to do this, but he ain’t here, so here it goes.
First, allow me to say that I have no regrets about having spent my life as a priest. As I see life’s little conveyor belt chugging along and the people just ahead of me dropping into the great beyond like widgets off an assembly line, I have no regrets about having said “Yes” to the Lord’s call to the altar, no matter which way the altar happens to be facing at the moment. I whine a lot, but I come from a long line of world class whiners who thought that complaining was an Olympic event. 
I remember complaining to another whiny descendant of the Germans. He looked square at me and said, “Yeah, but you get to say Mass.”  He was absolutely right. I get to say Mass. To hold bread in one’s hands as it becomes the flesh and blood of the Messiah is an amazing privilege. It is not the priesthood I am complaining about. It is the non-priesthood I am complaining about. And my parish — my parishioners are wonderful. They far exceed me in holiness and generosity. I am not complaining about the parish. It is the non-parish I am unhappy with. 
Non-priesthood? Non-parish?  The non-priesthood and the non-parish are things like the pet “parent” calling and asking for a wedding ceremony for their two dachshunds.  We wouldn’t want them to live in sin now, would we?  Or the person who comes looking for a gallon jug of holy water because some psychic told them they have to paint their children’s bedroom with the stuff.  I just love it when the TV psychics tell people that because their house is built over an ancient Indian graveyard, they have to get a Catholic priest to do an exorcism while a shaman blesses the house with burning sage.  Then the TV pans to some priest, supposedly “Catholic”, doing a scene right out of the “Exorcist”. 
“Get the yellow pages, Junior. That’s just what we need to get Pa’ to stop drinkin’! They got to have discount exorcists in the Catholic Church. After all, don’t all them priests take vows of poverty?” 
I may be exaggerating, but I am not making any of this stuff up. I have been asked to do the strangest things for animals and to cast the devil out of the darnedest places. People seem to get most of their religion and all of their history from the television and having seen a show on the discovery channel, they assume that they know how this stuff is supposed to work.  Catholicism is a coherent and reasonable way of life. As such it is not well suited for present day America. 
I think that the priesthood, especially the diocesan priesthood is in crisis. Our understanding of the priesthood and the parish comes from Middle Eastern and European village life a thousand years ago. The expectations we have of priests and churches are created by television and the popular (lack of) culture. Most of the pundits of modern culture, the geniuses of the media, have not darkened the door of a church or synagogue since Jesus was a boy, yet they create an outdated expectation for the Church that the faithful, the unfaithful and, amazingly the clergy swallow hook, line and sinker.
The faithful and the unfaithful can be forgiven for their ignorance. After all, if it’s on TV it must be true. But the clergy? The clergy of our times constantly talk about “being pastoral.”  This is new-speak for wanting to be liked because if we are not liked, people will leave the Church and that would be horrible wouldn’t it?  Jesus was always nice to people, especially small children and large dogs. He was so nice that they crucified Him.
The geniuses of the media are about as deep as a puddle.  Allow me to recount an incident from my own life. When the movie “The Exorcist” was re-released about 15 years ago, the mid-level officials of the diocese went into panic mode. They had no exorcists because they fervently hoped that no one actually believed in that stuff anymore. The mid-level officials certainly didn’t. They realized that they were going to be deluged with calls from people whose children’s heads were spinning around 360 degrees as they levitated over the furniture. Worse than possessed children, they were going to get calls from journalists looking for a slow news day scoop. The mid-level diocesan officials summoned all the priests who were involved with the charismatic renewal, the only ones who still believed all that mumbo jumbo, and told them to brace themselves.  Having some fluency in the Spanish language, I was assigned to all Spanish speaking demons and the journalists who accompanied them.
Sure enough, it was not long before I got a call from the chancery asking me to come down to the chancery for an interview with some network called Telepsycho, or Mundobizarro or something like that.  I then got another call telling me they would come up to my parish because they wanted some place that looked more, well, religious than an office downtown.  That afternoon I got a call from my secretary to come downstairs. The Telepsycho Mundobizarro people had set up for the interview in church. I walked over and the place had been backlit in smoky purple light that made it seem like a cheap fortune teller’s storefront. They wanted to put a light on me that made me look a little like Bela Lugosi’s Dracula. I said “Kill the lights or no interview.”  They grudgingly did so, but it was clear that they were looking for a story and not for the truth. If you see it on TV, it’s probably a lie, especially if it’s on the news.
Next week: More of a harangue that will go on indefinitely.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Why focus on Christ on the cross, He rose didn't He?


Dear Rev. Know-it-all,

Why do Catholics still have a crucifix in Church and say dreary prayers like,“…to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears”?  Jesus rose from the dead and we are an “alleluia people.”  It’s a wonderful world and the Catholic Church is still spouting on about sin and repentance and self-denial. It’s like that old song,  “You'll get pie in the sky when you die.”  I’m glad I was raised in the new, more upbeat church. Get with it!

Yours truly,  
Ann Thusiast

Dear Ann,

Face it. Rock Hudson was uninterested in Doris Day, though he and Gomer Pyle of Mayberry were quite close.  And Doris Day’s first husband beat her and eventually committed suicide. Her second husband divorced her. Her third husband died and then her fourth husband divorced her.  Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz endured three divorces and died of an overdose and probably cirrhosis of the liver. Alfalfa of the little rascals — one marriage, one divorce, was shot to death in a fight over 50 bucks.

So what’s my point?  “You'll get pie in the sky when you die,” is an old lyric from “The Preacher and the Slave”, a song written by the union organizer Joe Hill in 1911. It was written as a parody of the hymn “In the Sweet By-and-By.” It mocks the promises of eternal happiness that Christianity offers to the poor and downtrodden of the world.  The song holds that religion is just a way to keep people down.  Promise them heaven and rob them on earth.  We should get our pie now!

I would venture that it’s quite the opposite. My generation was raised by movies and television and everyone else in this country was raised by the media as well. The entertainment world made outrageous promises. One could live happily ever after despite a few fights just like Rock Hudson and Doris day, home was just a click of the heels away like Dorothy and her ruby slippers and children were sweet and innocent just like Alfalfa of the Little Rascals. The era of happy escapist movies started in the beginning of the 20th century and blossomed into the happy marriages of the sitcoms in which one or two children were allowed, like Rob and Laura Petrie (Rob two wives, one concubine in the real world. Laura: three husbands).

My point is this: You were lied to, not by the Church. You were lied to by Hollywood.  Your expectations of a happy life in which all problems could be resolved in a half an hour, except for the serious one that took a whole feature film. Happiness was being loved and having the man or woman of your dreams and just a couple children.  The most self-evident doctrine of Catholic faith is that of original sin. We are a flawed race of beings and this world is most certainly a valley of tears, tears of our own manufacture.

It didn’t work out for the television people, but we still believed the lie.  We now live in a world of lies. Television, radio and even internet commercials tell us that diets work, we can lose weight without even trying and that miracle foods cure everything. I dread turning on television or radio because invariably I hear or see a commercial for some product guaranteed to perk up men’s sagging interest.  I am especially amazed by the commercial with the two old people sitting in two separate tubs on a beach as the sun sets. Have you ever sat in tub on the beach? Have you ever wanted to sit in tub on the beach?  All I can think of are sand fleas and mosquitoes — and nosy tourists.  Pie in the Sky? How about tubs on the beach?

Christianity says things like, “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive,’” (Acts 20:35) and “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33) — not, “slimmer thighs in 30 days or your money back.”  The Gospel promises a struggle with evil and human weakness.  Socialism and capitalism promise an earthly paradise in which Science will solve all our problems. Science is great, but it seems to create at least as many problems as it solves.  Science has made better weapons, but not better people.

Our indoctrination by entertainment has been a non-stop barrage of lies and, after a century of lies, we have believed it all. We marry only to divorce. We want what we want and we want it now.  Our entire sexual morality is based on wish fulfillment no matter what that wish may be.  People have been taught to say, “Not that there’s anything wrong with it?”, or “Who am I to judge?”  Certainly, we would never want to judge, or to condemn anyone. We would just like to point out that a rose by any other name would still have thorns.
My favorite is the transgender thing.  How painfully, exquisitely tolerant people are expected to be when an old friend comes to a gathering wearing a dress and heels announcing to the old frat buddies that the name is no longer Al, but Alexandra.  I have no objection to anyone’s fashion choices, but the mutilated former rugby player confronting me is not a woman, no matter how well the hormone shots are working.  This is not judgmental, nor is it condemnatory. It is just true.  But I want it… It will make happy… It’s who I really am….  We have watched entirely too much television and we have lost our minds.  We believed the TV and the Movies and have tried to find happiness by going from bed to bed, from marriage to marriage. We have left behind us a string of broken hearts and homeless children who can’t seem to hold down a job.  The Gospel has always told us that this life is not about happiness. It is about faithfulness and generosity, heroism and the highest human nobility and it actually used to teach that sex was about children! Now we have a world that believes it should have what it wants and that sex is about me.

I suppose I shouldn’t expect more from the world. Its Prince is a liar and the father of lies, but what really alarms me in this madhouse age is that some of those in leadership in the Church seem increasingly to tell the same lies.  As you may have heard me say already, can anyone remember a sermon that says the purpose of life is sacrifice? Have you heard any sermons that remind people that artificial birth control is gravely immoral? Or a funeral sermon that doesn’t canonize the deceased? “Uncle Alexandra was a wonderful caring person.  She was loved by all three of her wives and will be greatly missed by her current husband whom she married after her operation.  She was literally father and mother to both her children and we know that she is in heaven with Jesus.”  Maybe she, or he, is. Maybe not.  We have lost our minds and to point out that fact is impolite. It is hate speech.

Give me pie in the sky. It can’t be any worse than the pie in the face that we are currently enduring.

The Rev. Know-it-all

Friday, June 13, 2014

What is your problem with same-sex "marriage"?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
I heard you say that the state may one day demand that the church marry same sex couples.  Well, the Catholic Church says that a man and a woman marry each other and it's not a marriage if it isn't one man and one woman.  So, wouldn't that be our argument???
Yours truly, 
Al Thesame 
Dear Al, 
I promised myself that I would drop the topic of marital and connubial strangeness because I am so sick of the whole thing and there’s no way to convince these people anyway, but just today I heard that the glorious state of Illinois, led by the devout Catholic governor, Pat Quinn, and adding another feather to its cap, has just approved same-sex marriage. I mention this simply because a state one-third of whose population calls itself Catholic could not care less about what the Church teaches about sexual morality and family life. Though not a Catholic, Senator Mark Kirk, one of Illinois’ two voices in the national senate was recently asked, “Who came first, God or country?” He immediately said “Country!” I don’t think he represents the bulk of Catholic Illinois in this sentiment. I suspect that many of the Catholics in Illinois when asked who comes first, God or country, would respond, “Neither. I come first!”  
Illinois, the 9th most Catholic state in the good old US of A joins those other Catholic states like Massachusetts (½ Catholic), in declaring same sex marriage legal. When you say that the Catholic Church defines marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman, and that should be enough, why should the state pay attention to the Catholic Church when Catholics pay no attention to her? They will lose no votes in defying the teaching of an outdated and impotent religious group. Catholics divorce and abort at the same rate as non-Catholics and I suspect that they are more favorable to same sex marriage than non-Catholics because of the triumphs of progressive Catholic education over the past forty years.
I once wrote that only 24 percent of Catholics believed in the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist. Someone corrected me saying, “Oh, no, Father, 100 percent of Catholics believe in the Real Presence.” The respondent’s point was that if you refuse to believe in the Real Presence, you are not a Catholic. One may have doubts and questions, but to believe means to trust. We trust what the Church teaches. Herein lays the problem. Not many people trust the Church. It is very common for people in our times to say that they are spiritual but not religious, or that they are Christians and believe in God just not in organized churches. Fine — let them follow Jesus alone, who defined marriage when He said, “…for this a man leaves his mother and father and clings to his wife and the two become one flesh.”  (Mark 10:7) Jesus says in no uncertain terms that marriage is the coming together of a man and a woman in one flesh. And what is that one flesh? Is it not the children to whom they give life? In that child’s flesh two people literally become one flesh. This is clearly Jesus vision for marriage: mom, dad, and the kids. 
If you claim to be the follower of Christ in any sense you must believe this. You can’t be disciple of a rabbi, much less a rabbi who is the Son of God, if you say, “I believe all He says, except that business about marriage.”  So I paraphrase what was said to me. “100 percent of Christians -- and of course Catholics -- believe that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman that is open to the possibility of children.”  It’s just fine with me if you want to marry your flat screen TV, or your sports car or your Uncle Fritz. The problem is that the One for whom I work, whom I worship and for whom I may someday have to die, disagrees with you. And unless you rose from the dead and can promise eternal life I’m sticking with Jesus. As far as I’m concerned, He’s a much better bet than the governor of Illinois. 
We Catholics have to admit that we lost the battle sometime in the late 1960's when we decided, despite two thousand years of consistent teaching, that families were not the purpose of marriage.  The pope wrote an encyclical “Humanae Vitae” which reminded us that the intimacy of man and woman was inseparably bound up with the life of the family. Malcolm Muggeridge, author of “Something Beautiful for God”, a life of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, converted in his 80's from agnosticism to Catholicism.  He said that the decision in the 20th century of which the Catholic Church would be proudest would be her decision to reject artificial birth control, because artificial birth control would divorce erotic love from family life. And so it has come to pass. 
Artificial birth control meant that a man and woman could enjoy intimacy without sacrifice. In times past there was danger in sexual intimacy, for a man, because he risked becoming responsible for the care of his offspring. The danger was even greater for women who before antibiotics risked death every time they gave themselves to a man in intimacy. The passion and intensity of Erotic Love was once so great that man and woman would risk a great deal for its sake, and if they did things right that intensity of love spilled over into an absolute devotion to their children. Now it has been replaced with casual sex that can be free of any real risk or sacrifice. 
Children are not the natural outcome of intimacy anymore. They can be prevented or if need be killed in the womb. Fidelity is optional because divorce is the norm. The few children that our marriages produce command no real loyalty. It is common to meet children now who have never met their fathers. Faithfulness to spouse and family are entirely optional. We have no passion for our spouses and no passion for our children. It has come to pass as Mr. Muggeridge said. 
Two men or two women can pretend to marital love, but they cannot achieve it. Why? Their physical relationship is absolutely closed to family life. If they can convince some stranger to collaborate in the production of children, the child born will never be the reflection of the beloved. Even opposite sex couples who cannot have children participate in family life by their openness to children. By their faithfulness and self sacrifice they strengthen the bonds by which societies are made whole.  A same-sex couple BY ITS NATURE cannot be the cause of intense and passionate family life. 
I remember my mother, an old woman standing by the coffin of her husband, my father. He had been the love of her life since college, almost 50 years before. She touched the cold dead hand in the coffin and then quietly took my brother John’s warm and living hand. She held the flesh that the two had become and was consoled. “For this a man leaves his mother and father and clings to his wife and the two become one flesh.” 
We live in a world of convoluted relationships, in which the few children we have are more often than not reminders of failed relationships. We love them but they are not the one flesh that a man and woman can become. What was the strength of Christian civilization has become the failure of enlightenment defiance. We decided that we were the masters of nature and so have come to be unnatural. And that is the strongest argument I know against same-sex marriage. 
Rev. Know-it-all

Friday, June 6, 2014

Where is Heaven?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
We know that the Blessed Mother is in Heaven body and soul, but are there any other resurrected saints in heaven with their bodies? We are taught that our bodies will be reunited with our souls at the last judgment. Is this correct? How can there already be bodies in heaven?
Yours truly,
Ann Phinnity
Dear Ann Phinnity,
I get variations of this question all the time. Where is heaven? It must be somewhere. It clearly must be some place if the resurrected bodies of Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother are there, not to mention Elijah who was taken up in a fiery chariot and Enoch.  Genesis 5:24 “Enoch walked with God, and he was no longer, for God had taken him.”
The first problem is the confident assertion, “We know...”  St. Paul disputes the very idea that we know. 1Cor. 13:9 “For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.…”  No matter what we know, we know it only imperfectly.  Most of us have a concept of heaven that we learned in Sunday school when we were seven.   Does this mean what we learned when we were seven was untrue? No, it may be true, but incomplete.  Again, St. Paul “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1Cor 13:12) and “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those that love him.” (1Cor 2:9). Eternity is only hinted at by the world as you and I perceive it.
Have you studied any modern physics? Neither have I. I can barely add. This will not stop me from holding forth on the subject. Have you ever heard of holographic theory?  No? Good.  You won’t know if it I get it all wrong. Let us proceed.
String theory is an attempt by physicists to explain what everything is made up of by describing the itty-bitty particles of which things seem to be made as one dimensionalstrings”.  I have no idea what this actually means. If it is true, and the heavy hitters like Dr. Stephen Hawking are interested in it, it means that all those things in your kitchen that seem round and square and sharp are ultimately made of incredibly tiny barely visible things that have no width, no depth and no height.  They have only one dimension, whatever that may mean.  This, of course, leads us to holographic theory, but I’m sure you saw that coming.  You must know about black holes, and by this I do not mean the basement crawl space in which you store all that stuff you meant to throw out and are afraid to go into because you think a raccoon has moved in.  This is not what I mean by a black hole.
There are some very, very big stars that run out of fuel and then collapse in on themselves because of the force of their own gravity. There is so much burned-out matter in them that when they collapse all that matter is squeezed into a little point that is so small that it can’t even be measured.  It is immeasurably dense, even more dense than the neighbor’s kid who can’t chew gum and walk at the same time.  It is so dense, and had such strong gravity that even light can’t escape it.  If you get anywhere near a black hole you would be squooshed into part of the immeasurable little black hole, called a singularity, and you would probably be torn apart in the process. 
A black hole destroys everything that gets anywhere near it. We have no idea what is inside a black hole. We can see right up to the edge of a black hole, but there is a kind of border at the edge of a black hole beyond which we can see nothing because light, necessary for seeing, can’t escape the black hole. This border is called an event horizon.  You can’t see beyond a horizon.  With a black hole we can’t even guess. Black holes are all over the place. In the middle of our galaxy, the good old Milky Way, there is, you guessed it, a black hole, around which our galaxy swirls like a moth circling a fire.
Dr. Steven Hawking, a really smart fellow, says that a black hole destroys everything that comes into contact with it — even information! Now by information, physicists do not mean things like the recipe for your grandmother’s rum cake, which is probably somewhere in that basement crawl space we have already discussed.  When physicists sit around discussing information they mean, “that which can distinguish one thing from another".  Information gives a thing its identity. Physicists are fond of saying that information cannot be destroyed. I imagine it’s something like digging a hole in the back yard. You can fill in the hole, but you can’t un-dig the hole. That’s how all those detectives solve crime in crime thrillers. You can’t undo information. But, are you sitting down?  Dr. Hawking, that really smart fellow, says that in a black hole, even information would be destroyed!!! 
This perplexed physicists, because one of the basic rules of physics is that Dr. Hawking can never be wrong, and another is that information cannot be destroyed. This worried Dr. Leonard Susskind who eventually realized that information could be stored at the edge of a black hole on the event horizon in two dimensions.  This is what called a hologram. When three dimensional information is stored in two dimensions it is called a hologram. This may seem obscure, but I bet you’ve seen a hologram. They are all over amusement parks and star wars movies.  They aren’t really that obscure. They are part of daily life and popular entertainment. Who knew?   
This leads physicists to suspect, for reasons beyond my grasp, that the universe itself may be a hologram.  In other words that truck in your neighbor’s back yard that hasn’t moved in years and about which you’ve called the village at least twice is only there in a theoretical sense. The annoying piece of junk is actually the manifestation, the perception of information stored in two dimensions at the edge of the universe.
At this point I need to lie down and put a cold cloth on my forehead….. I’m back now.  The universe, reality itself — or that which we perceive as reality — is actually information.  This brings us to an interesting digression. Dame Isabel Piczek, particle physicist and Shroud of Turin enthusiast, points out that the marks on the shroud are really holographic information. The shroud markings are two dimensional, but the shroud contains holographic details and darned if they weren’t able to make a holograph out of the thing. The actual image is not on the shroud. The shroud is just the blue print for the image. The image of the crucified and risen Christ actually hovers about two feet off the shroud. I saw the hologram of the shroud image at Notre Dame de Sion, a pilgrimage hostel in Jerusalem. The mind boggles!
Long before this point, you must have wondered, “What in blazes is this fellow trying to say?”  Just this — things are not always what they appear. Even if you have a hard time swallowing the miraculous, and the idea of resurrection, you have to admit that they are not nearly as implausible as modern physics. In fact the idea of miracles fits in very nicely with modern physics. Energy appears in different states and different dimensions and the world is unimaginably more wonderful and mysterious than a pile of brick and mortar. 
So what has all this to do with where are the bodies of Jesus, Mary, Enoch and Elijah? Simple, they are in the mind of Almighty God as are you and I.  By His word He made everything out of nothing, and by His word sustains everything in being.  The universe (or the universes, if there are others as some theorize) is all the speaking of that Being who is being itself. Time and space are nothing for Him who is all in all, (Col 1:17) for whom all places are here and all times now. For Him the place which is heaven and the place which is earth are not different places. For Him the moment of final judgment and the moment of death are but one moment.
This idea of different universes and dimensions is old hat to Christians. We have always believed in different worlds. There is supernatural and natural reality that intersect, quite wondrously in the human person. So where is heaven? All around you. You can’t escape heaven, and you certainly cannot run away from God.
 Rev. Know-it-all

Monday, June 2, 2014

What's with the "Laying on of Hands?"

Dear Rev. Know-it- all,

In the readings from Mass a couple Sundays ago it said that they chose seven deacons and laid hands on them. What’s that all about? Does it mean they grabbed them or something?


Zachary “Zach” Ramentahl

Dear Zach,

I often say the only stupid question is the question unasked, though yours comes close. The laying on of hands means that the people with appropriate authority placed their hands on the heads of those chosen in a gesture of ordination. There’s a lot of significance in this simple gesture.

It certainly goes back to Israelite beginnings, we read about it in the Torah, especially in the books of Leviticus and Numbers. Moses laid hands on Joshua. By laying his hands on Joshua’s head, (Num 27:15-23) he conferred leadership on him. Moses did the same with the 70 elders of Israel (Num 11:16-25). They in turn ordained their successors in the same fashion. The succession of elders ordained by the laying on of hands certainly continued until the destruction of the temple in 70 and perhaps beyond. Rabbis were ordained by the same procedure.

In the Old Testament, priests (sacrificers) were not ordained. They were consecrated by being anointed with the blood of the initiation sacrifice. It was called, “the filling of the hand.” The priest’s hands were filled with the offering he brought for his installation in ministry. Kings were consecrated by an anointing with sacred oil, but there was no laying on of hands for (sacrificer) priests. Altars were consecrated, doorposts were consecrated, corner stones were anointed, but elders were ordained. Consecration was symbolized by anointing. Ordination was symbolized by the laying on of hands.

Things get complicated here. In English as well as German, French, and Italian we have a problem with the word priest. The word priest (pruester, German; prete, French; preti, Italian) is used to translate two different Bible words — Zaqen in Hebrew and Presbyteros in Greek mean elder. Kohen (Hebrew) and Hiereus (Greek) mean “one who offers sacrifice”.

The confusion arises from a translation error. Both the Greek words Hiereus and Presbyteros are translated “priest” in most languages. This causes chaos. Unlike this article which at this point is causing boredom. Let us stop using the word priest for a moment.

Sacrificers are consecrated by an anointing. Hebrew sacrificers didn’t need designation for service by the laying on of hands. They were designated by virtue of their physical, genetic descent from Aaron. To be consecrated as a sacrificer in the temple, it was necessary that one be a descendant of Aaron the first High Priest Elders were chosen from among the respected older men of Israel and were ordained by the laying on of hands. Sacrificial victims (goats, sheep, oxen etc.) are also “ordained” by the laying on of hands. Consecration and ordination are clearly two different things.

I was ordained to the sacrificer-hood (priesthood) of Christ in the order of elder. Francis Cardinal George was ordained to the sacrificer-hood of Christ in the order of supervisor (bishop). Here in Chicago-land, he is responsible for the sacrifice of Christ the Great high Sacrificer. In union with Christ, the bishop offers the sacrifice of the Mass for the salvation of the world. He couldn’t make it here last Sunday, so he sent me who am only ordained to the sacrificer-hood of Christ in the order of elder, but it'll do in a pinch. He and I were both ordained with the laying on of hands and consecrated with the anointing of oil and the Holy Spirit. We combine the sacrificial order of ancient Israel with the presbyteral order of ancient Israel. We both govern and sacrifice. That’s the symbolism behind the words and gestures.

Well, that’s all lovely, but what’s it all for? What’s all this dreary nonsense about sacrifice anyway? How does some pigeon getting its neck wrung, or a lamb roasting on a giant barbecue pit in the temple of Jerusalem have to do with my spiritual life? Worse still, how does Jesus gasping for breath on a cross save me from my sins? It’s all kind of awful this priest-presbyter-zaqen-kohen-sacrificer business. Why do this?
Easy, we do it for Love. The word used almost exclusively for love in the Bible is of course the word “agape.” Agape is a specific kind of love. Jesus defined it when He said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.” In that endless parade of sheep and birds and oxen brought to the altar, people were bringing their very lives and livelihoods to lay before the God they loved and who loved them.”

 If it is true that God is love, and true that love is sacrifice, then it is reasonable to say that God is sacrifice!! The Christian faith believes that from the altar of the Cross, Jesus taught that sacrificial love is the purpose of life.

The world (which is a complete mess) says that the purpose of life is acquisition. The young couple in love gets the dream wedding and lives happily ever after. We get the big send off when we die. We get the good job. We get the trophy wife. We get the big house in the suburbs. We get early retirement, wonderful health and special blue pills that keep men frisky well into our 90's. We get the 2.3 children who are enough to be ornamental and visit us when we are old, but not enough to cause us much expense or inconvenience, even if we have to hatch them in a Petri dish or kill their unwanted siblings to keep the family a manageable size. We can have it all!!! At least that’s what the TV teaches us and that’s what we, in turn, teach our children.

Christianity is the most counter-cultural movement alive today. Its founder teaches that the meaning of life is to give. The spirit which runs the world says that the meaning of life is to get. Giving is the purpose of life. That’s what the gesture of the laying on of hands means. Elders and sacrificial goats get ordained by the laying on hands. The laying on of hands is woven through the whole sacramental life of the Church.

Baptism was originally conferred at the same time as confirmation, which has a laying on of hands. Penance calls for a laying on of hands when there is no confessional screen. Even then, the hand of the priest (elder) is raised in blessing. Holy Orders (Ordination) is conveyed by the laying on of hands. The anointing of the sick involves a laying on of hands and even marriage implies a laying on hands. During the ceremony the priest says to the young man and woman, “Please join hands” All these sacraments are gestures of sacrifice. Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders clearly offer people to the service of the Lord. In Penance the promise or change is made for the sake of the Lord. Even in the Anointing of the Sick we place ourselves completely in God’s hands. Holy Matrimony is not the bride’s special day. A young man and a young woman come to the altar to pledge as an offering for one another’s salivation, and for the salvation of the children God may give. They swear to share the joys and suffering of this brief life in the hope of eternal life for one another.

And Mass. Mass is the great sacrifice. In Mass there is a laying on of hands when the priest (who is both ordained as elder and consecrated as sacrificer) stretches his hands over bread and wine to designate them as the sacred offerings that will be transformed into the flesh and blood of Christ that were offered on the altar of Calvary. In the sacraments we pledge ourselves by a most solemn oath to live a purposeful, sacrificial life. We don’t go to Mass to get. We go to Mass to give. We give ourselves to the Lord for the salvation and redemption of the world in union with His own sacrifice on the Cross.

This is why people who can’t stay married to one person or people who aren’t living the Christian life shouldn’t take Holy Communion. If they cannot be faithful in a world they can see, how can they be faithful in a world unseen? How can they offer their lives for something intangible when they don’t understand that the purpose of life is to give oneself away?

So why sign up for this dreary sacrificial religion with its complicated sacraments and sacrifices and all of its mumbo jumbo and laying on of hands? Simple: Christ. He said that if you lose your life in this world you will gain eternal life. There is nothing more wonderful to know Jesus Christ, who is infinitely true, perfectly good and the unimaginably beautiful. I can hear the old hymn, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face, and the things of this earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”

Ultimately death comes for us all when we must give up all those things to which we cling so desperately. Why cling to that which you cannot keep when by letting go of it, you gain what you cannot lose? Let the Lord lay His hands on you and claim you for His own.

Rev. Know-it-all