The Priesthood: Hallowed be Thy Name

seven sacramentsLast week we considered how “Our Father, who art in heaven” is a reminder of our Baptismal dignity. Baptism makes us children of the heavenly father. But Baptism, like childhood, is only potential, looking forward with promise.

That promise looks forward, above all, to praise. We are given divine birth so that we can know the divine. We become “sons in the Son” so that, like the Son, we can become eternal praise of the Father.

Every newborn baby has a father, but does not yet know his name. The promise of earthly birth is, above all, the possibility of relationship, of knowing others in the world, above all our family, by name. The promise of our heavenly birth is that we can know the name of the holy one, know the holiness of his name, hallow his name. “Our Father, who art in heaven” bears fruit in “hallowed be thy name.”


We can enter more deeply into this next line of the prayer by picturing a priest at the altar. He lifts up his hands in praise, he hallows God’s name. Indeed, Baptism is the door into the Church – so that we can attend the perfect praise of the Mass. We dip our fingers in baptismal water at the door, and go up to the altar; our Baptism gives us access to the place of the Priest; calling God our Father opens up the possibility of hallowing his name.

Now, in Catholic theology there are two kinds of priesthood. Baptism itself makes us priests: “Having been drawn to Him, a living Stone, indeed rejected by men, but elect, precious with God; you also as living stones are bulit up a spiritual house, a holy priesthod, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. . . . You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for possession, so that you might speak of the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (I Peter 2:4-5, 9). We are all stones building up the Church, all priests, all people of praise.

And so the proper name for what we typically call the sacramental priesthood is really Holy Orders. Orders means hierarchy, leadership. It is not that the sacramental priests are the only priests – it is that they lead the priestly people in the priestly service of worship.


If we are a priestly people, why do we need priestly “orders”? Imagining the ordained priest when we pray “Hallowed be thy name” can help us understand.

Yes, my life is called to be praise. I am called to hallow God’s name. But I need an image of that hallowing. I can think of myself at Mass best by drawing to mind the one who leads me in worship.

The sacramental order is all about making things vivid – giving us, fleshly people, clear images of the truths of our faith. We are not left to understand vaguely that we have been born again to a new Father – we see it happen, in Baptism. We understand that all of life is praise when we have special moments of praise, with special leaders in praise.

The ordained priest is, first of all, a sacramental image of our praise. He manifests in his body this truth of our faith.


He is also a sacramental image that praise is a gift. I do not make myself a Son of God, I receive it – it is poured onto me in Baptism through the ministry of the Church, the Body of Christ. I do not rise up to God in praise by my own strength, but that too is a gift. The ordained priesthood is a gift to us, something that we cannot make ourselves. We cannot ordain priests except through the hand of the ordained, reaching back to Jesus and the Apostles. And we cannot offer perfect praise except through that sacramentally ordained ministry.

The point is not that priests are better Christians. The point is that the priesthood itself – all of our priestly service – is a gift from God. The sacramental priesthood is an icon showing that worship is a gift.

We further remind ourselves of that gift by invoking the word “name.” We only know God’s name because he has told us. Again, there is an icon of this truth in the Magisterium of the Church: God speaks to us from outside of us, through Scripture, interpreted by the Tradition, interpreted by the ordained leaders of the Church. To know God is all gift.


Finally, it is a gift that draws us together, not dispersed to our private rooms, but gathered around the altar of praise – gathered around the ordained priest, who leads us in procession.

When we pray “hallowed be thy name,” even in our private rooms, we call to mind the ordained priest and understand how all of life is drawn to the altar of praise.

How would it change your day if you saw it pointing to the altar?

Crossing through the Desert

The Agony in the Garden, Sandro Botticelli

The Agony in the Garden, Sandro Botticelli

EX 3:1-8a; 13-15; PS 103: 1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8, 11; 1 COR 10:1-6, 10-12; LK 13:1-9

In these middle Sundays of Lent, the Gospel readings call us to conversion, and the Old Testament readings give us a brief history of conversion in the Old Testament. This Sunday they give a dense meditation on the passage through suffering.

In the Gospel, “Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.” All year, we are in Luke’s Gospel; here, in chapter 13, we are after 9:51, the pivot point, when “Jesus steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.” Luke’s Gospel, like Lent, is the journey to the Cross.

And some tell him about what horrible things Pilate does to people.

Jesus’s response is twofold. On the one hand, he says that having horrible things happen to you is not necessarily a bad thing. “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means!”

And yet he has already changed the subject, from the suffering they endure in their bodies to the state of their souls. The questioners say, “oh, they suffered!” Jesus says, “they are not sinners.”

And so the second thing he says – twice, after two parallel stories – is “if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” On the one hand, he says, don’t worry about the suffering. Suffering is not evil, sin is evil, and suffering – such as the suffering inflicted by the evil man Pilate – does not prove that you are evil. On the other hand, suffering is the destiny of evil people.

He underlines this second point with the story of the fig tree: it is given a few chances, but finally, if it does not bear fruit – the fruit of repentance – it will be cut down.


There are two kinds of punishment. There is vengeance, an expression of hatred. But there is also correction, or discipline, which is an expression of love. Correction often makes us suffer; often it is precisely through suffering that we correct the ones we love, as when we punish our children. But that suffering is a tool.

God never hates, he is never purely vengeful. To the contrary, the only suffering that does not correct is the suffering of Hell. But that suffering is self-imposed: if we refuse to embrace the good, we end up without it. Suffering in this life is a tool of love, meant to save us from the meaningless suffering of eternal emptiness.


Our Old Testament reading, from Exodus, and our Epistle, from First Corinthians, are both about Moses in the desert. The desert is the place of suffering, the epitome of Lent.

St. Paul tells us “our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea.” They were saved in a fearful way. The cloud (which led them through the desert) did not feel like enlightenment. The sea (which parted to let them escape the Egyptians) was terrifying – it saved them because it destroyed what would hurt them, the Egyptians. But God saved them through those fearful ways.

He provided for them in the desert, with “spiritual food” and “spiritual drink.” It was precisely in lack that they discovered God’s sufficiency. The suffering of the desert was not a bad thing. It was a place to discover God.

“Yet God was not pleased with most of them,” and so “they were struck down in the desert.” We have to use that suffering well. Going out into the desert, we have to find God. If instead we make it a place of grumbling, the corrective suffering of love turns to the empty suffering of Hell.

All of this, says St. Paul, a sign of our Baptism. We are plunged into the water. The Greek word for Baptism means the water goes over our heads, we are submerged. But if we find God, that drowning is a place of union.


In Exodus, Moses finds God in the desert. “Leading the flock across the desert, he came to Horeb, the mountain of God.” Horeb itself is a Hebrew word for “desolation,” in the midst of Sinai, which means “glaring,” as in, glaring sun on glaring sand and rock. It is in the desert that he meets God.

God is in a bush with “fire flaming” – the doubling is an emphasis. God is fire – but not fire that destroys. God has “heard their cry of complaint,” their “suffering,” their “affliction.” He has not abandoned them in the suffering. It is in their suffering, in the desert of Egypt, that they learn to turn to him.

And there Moses discovers God as I AM, as the only thing that is fully real. But we have to go to the desert, we have to pass through the suffering of Lent, to find him.

How is God purifying your sight through suffering?

Politics and Culture

Politics_0I was recently discussing politics with a friend in Washington, DC. She is a faithful Catholic and involved in high-level things in Washington. Someone who knows some things.

But when it came to the upcoming presidential election, she said she had trouble caring. Apart from appointing Supreme Court justices, she said, the presidents don’t really do anything. “I don’t see what difference it makes. Democrat or Republican, and which one, they all end up more or less the same.

Now, this is not a web page of political commentary, and I have no intention of delving into particular issues or records or positions. But I think my friend’s question, “What difference does it make?” can help us think about the connections between faith and politics.

These connections point both ways. On the one hand, our faith can help us think about political candidates. On the other hand, our involvement in politics is an important expression of our faith. Faith helps politics and politics helps our faith. Politics is part of Catholic spirituality.


Here’s the central insight of this post: politics is about culture. When Bill Clinton was running for president, there was a saying, “It’s the economy, stupid.” That is, people don’t really care about all the other little arguments: what they care about is the economy. Well, for the Catholic, we have to say, “It’s the culture, stupid.” It’s always about culture.

Without wading in too deep, I think some of our candidates illustrate the point. One party (I’m going to talk about the other one, too!) is committed to abortion as a basic human right. There’s lots to say about the marriage debate, but for us as Catholics the point is simply this: that party is also committed to saying there’s nothing special about the relation between one man and one woman that has traditionally been called marriage. That party, furthermore, refuses to recognize the right of the Church – of the Little Sisters of the Poor! what a remarkable choice – to exercise its charitable functions while maintaining its beliefs about right and wrong.

Now, there are legitimate questions about how much economic difference these debate make in the long run. But the bigger point is, what kind of a culture are we creating? The President is a figurehead, a sign of what we believe as a country. Indeed, our laws themselves are a kind of figurehead. They have practical consequences – but before that, even more important, they indicate our values as a country. They both express and, by that very expression, shape our culture. To be a country – a culture, a civilization – that shrugs its shoulders at the family, religious liberty, the right to life: all of these things shape who we are.


Now, my friend would acknowledge all of this, and would not vote for candidates who hold those positions. But there are other problems in the other party.

Two major candidates in that party brag about their willingness to kill innocent people in the Middle East. We can debate terrorist policy, ISIS, Iran, Iraq, and all the rest. But one of the candidates was recently asked in a debate about his plan to “carpet bomb” Middle Eastern cities. Carpet bombing means indiscriminate, not just shooting terrorists but bombing all the people who live near them. Traditionally, it is precisely an act of terrorism: make the country capitulate by terrorizing them. He embraced the term.

Another candidate was asked about his plan to kill the wives and children of terrorists. He too embraced that plan. He said if they’re going to fight dirty, we must too. We must become like them.

Both candidates embrace torture. One of them quibbles about the legal definition, apparently concerned more with whether its legally allowed than whether it’s right and good.

The question is: what does that say about our culture – and what does it do to our culture, if we elect someone with such positions to be the figurehead of our nation? It might not “make any difference” in terms of whether we beat the terrorists (or it might) – but that’s not the main question. The deeper question is what happens to our culture when we embrace targeting innocent civilians as a governmental priority.

Maybe they wouldn’t even follow through on these promises – but to elect someone who makes those promises – as major priorities – is to destroy our culture. Maybe we as Catholics can’t sway the election – but we can at least voice our opposition.

Standing with the popes and the bishops, I would suggest (more controversially, perhaps) that the way we treat our immigrants has similar effects.

Who are we as a nation? What do we aspire to? This is the deeper importance of politics. These are the questions our faith helps us answers – and the questions our faith demands that we involve ourselves in.

What kind of culture do you think the various candidates are promoting?

Our Father: Baptism

seven sacramentsToday we begin a new series, exploring the sacraments through the Our Father. I laid out the general theme in a post several months ago. Now I want to take some time to consider how each line of the Our Father helps us think about a sacrament.

The purpose here points in both directions. On the one hand, we want to be able to pray the Our Father well. The sacraments can give some substance to the words, a way to focus on what we’re saying. On the other hand, we want to appreciate the sacraments. The Our Father can give us a way to appreciate each of the seven sacraments – and, indeed, a daily way to rediscover them all, for they are all important to our lives. At the heart of the Our Father is the most powerful prayer for making a spiritual communion. But while we’re at it, we can spiritually unite ourselves to all the other sacraments that surround communion.


We begin, then, with Baptism: Our Father, who art in heaven.

Baptism is the sacrament of rebirth. The word means “plunging.” The original rite involved going down into the water and coming up again. (We have radically simplified that rite; the Latin Church sometimes likes to minimize the experiential aspect of the sacraments in order to emphasize the divine power, which does not rely on us.) So the symbolism is of dying, as we go under the water, and rising again as we come up. There is freshness, a cleanness, a refreshment in this new life – just as there is some fear and trepidation as we approach the water. Baptism is death and rebirth.

But behind this rebirth is another element of rebirth, regeneration. It is not just that we are born again from the womb of the Church our Mother. It is even more that we are conceived again by God our Father.

Jesus is the only-begotten Son, the only one who is Son by nature. But in Baptism we are joined to him, so that we become sons and daughters – “sons in the Son,” says a traditional formula. We enter sacramentally into his human death, and so are reborn united to his divine sonship. We receive the power he put into the waters – and it is the “power to become children of God” (John 1:13).

We are born again “not of blood” – that is, this Sonship is not baked into our human nature. “Nor of the will of the flesh”: our sinfulness turns away from this Sonship. “Nor of the will of man” (John 1:13), because we simply do not have the power to make ourselves sons of God. We are born again “of God,” with the sonship only he can give us.


Every time we pray “Our Father, who art in heaven,” we can remember that by Baptism we have been given a rebirth to heavenly life. We have been called – and truly are – sons and daughters of God. This dignity is heavenly, impossible to obtain apart from the infinite divine power of Jesus, through his sacraments. And it is heavenly, too, because our citizenship, our home, our inheritance, is in heaven, with the Father who has made us his own.

Every time we pray “Our Father, who art in heaven,” we ought to remember how awesome our Baptism is. We carry that Baptism with us. It is our spiritual garment, the constant source of our spiritual dignity. And everytime we think of Baptism, we should realize that it has made us able to call the God of heaven our Father.


It is appropriate that Baptism comes first in the Our Father. Baptism is the door, the beginning. We remind ourselves of our Baptism at the door of the Church, because Baptism is our entrance into the mysteries of all the other sacraments, especially the Eucharist, the heart that beats at at the center of the Church, of the sacraments, and of the Christian life. Baptism is our wedding garment, without which we are not allowed entrance.

It is only a beginning. When we pray about Baptism at the beginning, we realize that it must be completed by worship (hallowed be thy name!), by service (thy kingdom come!), by endurance (thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven!). It must be fulfilled by the Eucharist (give us this day our daily bread), by Penance (forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive), and by Suffering and Death itself (lead us not into the Test, but deliver us from the Evil).

We do not understand Baptism if we think it is the end. We do not understand our sonship if we think once we have it, nothing else matters. Baptism, and calling God our Father, is the beginning of our heavenly journey.

How does Baptism change the way you look at your life?

Second Sunday of Lent: Our Citizenship is in Heaven

The Agony in the Garden, Sandro Botticelli

The Agony in the Garden, Sandro Botticelli

GN 15:5-12, 17-18; PS 27:1, 7-8, 8-9, 13-14; PHIL 3:17-4:1; LK 9:28b-36

On the Second Sunday of Lent the Church has always read the Gospel of the Transfiguration. Before Vatican II, it was always from Matthew; now it from Matthew, Mark, or Luke, according to the Gospel we are reading that year. It puts a positive spin on what Lent is about.

This year to help us understand we have a short reading from Philippians. First, St. Paul gives us a Lenten sounding message: “Many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conducts themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach. Their glory is in their shame.” Repent!

But then he gives the reason: “Our citizenship is in heaven.” From there comes Jesus, and “He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body.” From Lent we look up to the Transfiguration (and forward to the Easter and all that follows).

The key connecting verse is, “Their minds are occupied with earthly things.” The problem with those who oppose the cross, worship their bellies, etc., is not so much the wickedness of the earthly things as the forgetting of things heavenly. God has so much to offer us – and we pay no attention. “Their end is destruction” because they chase after what passes away (full bellies, etc.) and forget the glory that last forever.


The first reading is the Lord’s promise to Abraham. It’s a peculiar progression. First God promises: “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so shall your descendants be.” (That’s as heavenly as the Old Testament promises get.)

Abraham believes, and God counts it as righteousness. (That’s the key verse in Romans, you know: our righteousness is in trusting God’s promises.) Abraham trusts God.

But then God reminds him, as last week, that he is nothing but a wandering Aramean, and Abraham asks – with that righteous faith – “how am I to know that I shall possess it?”

There follows a strange scene: Abraham cuts up some birds, fire passes between them: odd. A key line, however, is “a deep, terrifying darkness enveloped him.” Abraham discovers the truth of God’s promises by passing through the darkness. Then “a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch”: God illumines the terrifying darkness, but with terrifying fire. The Lectionary leaves out the verses in between, where the Lord tells him of Egypt: “your seed shall be a stranger in a land not their own, and shall serve them. And they shall afflict them four hundred years.”

Abraham knows the truth of God’s promises not in success but in captivity, not in glory but in darkness. His act of sacrifice leads him into total trust that the Lord who has promised will do it. And so his eyes are lifted to the stars.


Now, in Matthew (26) and Mark (14), the Gospel of the Transfiguration occurs at the very end, just before the Cross. But Luke structures his whole Gospel around the journey to Jerusalem, so the account we read this year is early, in chapter 9.

Jesus has just told them “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day” – the first prediction of the cross in this Gospel, I think. And then he applied it to the disciples: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”

After the Transfiguration, Jesus will express his frustration at this “faithless generation.” He will tell them again that he will be delivered into the hands of men – and they will respond by talking about who is the greatest.

And then comes the great pivot point of Luke’s Gospel, 9:51, “when the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” – to his death.

That is the context of the Transfiguration.


Then we can start to hear the words of this Gospel. “Moses and Elijah spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.” The word in Greek is exodus – it means his road out, a path both of liberation and of death. In his glory, they speak of the passage through death to glory.

Peter wants to stay with the vision – but they are taking about the road. The Transfiguration is a call forward. Our citizenship is in heaven. We are called beyond.

And they hear the words “This is my beloved Son,” like Abraham, from a frightening cloud.

The Transfiguration is a call to glory. A call to the road that leads, yes, through the Cross, but to heaven.

How do your Lenten practices call you on to heavenly glory?

First Sunday in Lent: Saved by Faith

The Agony in the Garden, Sandro Botticelli

The Agony in the Garden, Sandro Botticelli

DT 26:4-10; PS 91:1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15; ROM 10:8-13; LK 4:1-13

I was struck this year on Ash Wednesday by the Offertory Prayer, which asked that through our Lenten observance we “may become worthy to celebrate devoutly the Passion.” The word for worthy could also be translated as “fit.” It’s hard to enter into Christ’s cross unless we have some sense of the Cross ourselves. We need to spend some time meditating on suffering if we want to understand what happens for us on Good Friday.

Our readings this Sunday help us to think about suffering in terms of abandoning ourselves to God’s care.


The translation of our first reading, from Deuteronomy, is marvelous. Moses is giving instructions for the people when they finally claim the Promised Land. “When you come into the land which the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance, and possess it, and live in it,” say the verses immediately before our reading, “you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the earth which you shall bring of your land that the LORD your God gives you, and you shall put it in a basket. . . . And you shall go to the priest in those days, and say to him, I profess today to the LORD your God that I have come into the land which the LORD swore to our fathers to give us.

All that we have is a promised gift from God.

But then comes the great part: “Then you shall declare before the LORD, your God, ‘My father was a wandering Aramean who went down to Egypt.” Now, this is a bit of an overstatement. Their father – Jacob-Israel, who went down to Egypt – was born and spent most of his life in the Promised Land, but his wife and his mother were from Aramea (in the Syrian desert). The point of the wonderfully Jewish exaggeration is to say, “I am nobody, I come from nothing.”

But from that nothingness, through the suffering of Egypt, God brought us to the promise. It is not we who are strong, it is the pure generosity of God.

That is the first reading’s commentary on suffering: we join ourselves to Christ on the Cross, where we finally become aware that only God can raise us up.


The second reading, from Romans, takes us deeper into the element of faith. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Some of our Protestant brothers and sisters take this verse out of context, but the point is important.

“One believes with the heart and so is justified.” We have no way of become just, righteous, good, except through faith – faith, indeed, in the promise. Christianity is all about promises, just as the Israelites experienced the Promised Land. I cannot raise myself from the dead – whether from physical death or from the more important spiritual death that is sin. Everything depends on the Promise and God’s strength.

“And one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.” And then we come to salvation, we reach the finish line, only if that trust in God’s promise bears fruit in a life of conversion, a life that, with the mouth and every other part of our life, bears witness that Jesus is Lord.

Not just that Jesus is Savior, but that he is Lord: our life, our profession of faith, has to show that he is master of all of our life. We can only do that if we abandon ourselves to faith in him.


“The word – the word of faith that we preach – is near you, in your mouth and in your heart,” says Paul in our reading from Romans, commenting on Deuteronomy.

Our Gospel this week is Jesus battling Satan in the desert. He embodies this teaching on two levels.

First, Jesus himself bespeaks his faith in the power of his Father by having the word of Scripture in his mouth. Jesus shows us that our greatest defense against the devil is to quote the Word of God against him, to trust in revealed wisdom.

(The devil, of course, also quotes Scripture, out of context – and Jesus puts it back into context, by knowing Scripture better.)

So Jesus teaches us to rely on faith. But he is that faith itself: the most powerful word of Scripture is the very name of Jesus. He is the victor, he alone.


This is the Lectionary’s commentary on suffering, to begin our journey toward the Cross. We must become absolutely weak, abandon our strength, and join ourselves to Christ, abandoned on the Cross – with absolute faith that it is God who will save these wandering Arameans from the power of Egypt.

I am weak, but he is strong.

How does your Lenten penance help you experience your weakness?