Countdown to Ordination: Day 78
I’ve been away for a few days trying to getting some papers done. Thankfully, the men of Fourth theology have less academic work than in previous semesters. What seems even more daunting in the practicum sessions for Sacraments. All of us have been practicing in class sessions to celebrate Mass and the Sacrament of Confession. Some of us have had to practice on our own in other languages such as Spanish and Creole. Still some of us have even been practicing to celebrate the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (sometimes called the Latin Mass).
While meditating on the rites I’ve been practicing and even during the practices, I’m moved by how the Church draws us to prayer. The liturgies really pull us in to reach a level beyond our individual selves, our pleasant community, or even the church community that makes up our nation.
The liturgy of the Church draws us up to heaven outside of time and local space. That’s why I think it’s so crucial for priests to perform the same actions, reading the words exactly as the Church wants them to do: so that the people of God can see that even though one individual priest is celebrating the sacraments in front of them…they (the priest and the people) belong to something greater than their personal desire to act in this way or that, to do this gesture or another one which is more pleasing or eye-catching.
This is also why I suffer so much when I see a priest or a congregation decide to “do his own thing,” forgetting that they belong to something greater and instead focusing on themselves.
As we read today from the Gospel according to St. Matthew: Chapter 11, we read:
As they were going off, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces. Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:
‘Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.’”
It’s interesting to me that Jesus acknowledges that the people didn’t go out to the desert to see anything ordinary but something extraordinary, a prophet of God. And that prophet, St. John the Baptist, necessarily pointed toward something that was greater than he. Yet, there might have been the temptation to only see a strange man with strange clothes eating strange food. For some, St. John the Baptist might have just been a freak show or, worse, purely entertaining.
There’s a thin line to balance on: God will attract men and women to Himself using our natural talents, aptitudes, and individual charisma. Every Christian and every priest has his own. But we can’t let the attraction stop at our personality. In our individual lives and especially at the liturgy, our goal is to move others to see Jesus in our actions. We are called to be prophets like John the Baptist, messengers preparing the way for others to encounter Him.
So one of the worse things a priest can do is to draw people to himself. There are certain celebrity priests who had amazing skills at preaching, teaching, and hearing confessions: Venerable Fulton J Sheen, Padre Pio, St. Jean Marie Vianney. God was their focus and the goal toward which they drew everyone around them.
And then there are other priests, Alberto Cutie in the U.S., Kevin Lee in Australia, Arius in Libya who drew others toward their own personalities and misconceived ideas, their own one-man act. Just recently I ran across a video online of a priest who “stole the show” at a wedding, singing his rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
I can’t condemn him. That is to say, I don’t know that he’ll go to hell for being more concerned for performance than prayer. But his jarring schtick does shock me into considering how I will celebrate the sacraments and catechize. Will I ever grow so bored of the Church’s liturgy or so narcissistic as to start adding my own elements and self-defined doctrine? Even worse, have I already begun to do that and, thereby, draw people away from Jesus and to my broad way play (Matt. 7:13)?
Please pray for priest-performers, for the 2014 class of priests and for all priests that they may worthily and dutifully celebrate the sacraments as the Church intends and as Jesus expects. May their administration of the holy mysteries of God draw us all to realms higher than our own selves to where Christ is all in all.