Thursday, January 11, 2007

You are a Priest Forever According to Melkisedek

"You are a priest forever accoring to the order of Melkisedek."

What does that mean? Just exactly what does “forever” mean? How does that find a meaning in our human life? Who is Melkisedek? What is a priest?

I do not claim to know the objectively true answers to these questions. I do know the subjective answers to them. I have been meditating them for nearly sixty years. That is a longer time than the smiling young man on the left has been a priest. Or is it? We will explore that as we go forward in our reflection about the priesthood and what it means to a priest, to those from whom he rises and to those who are asked to receive him into their midst as their pastor.

Father Romeo Seleccion, M.S., the priest in the picture on the left has been a priest for twenty-five years now. He has a lot of “war stories” to tell. I know one or two of them, so to speak. But these are not the core and the substance of his priesthood. These make up the “Barbara Walters Interview” part of his life. There is a lot more going on inside him and inside those who touch his life than the “war story” dimension.

You are a priest forever. This is a key concept in the definition of a priest. It is going to come in handy when we consider the “Melkisedek” part of the definition. Most of us are familiar with the saying, “guaranteed for life.” Most of us have lost our trust in that expression for a lot of reasons, most of which are a result of seeing things stop functioning long before the end of OUR lives. But the manufacturer responds with, “well, we built it to have a life of three years, and yours lasted for five years. Therefore, we have more than fulfilled our promise to you.” Oh, really now? So then, what could “forever” possibly mean?So we look forward and we think, “Well, I see flowers, pets and people dying around me every day. That surely isn’t living forever.” Then we catch ourselves and remember what we learned in our first year of catechism that when we die, we live in heaven with Jesus Himself. Ah, so that must be “forever”. We struggle with that one even though every time someone dies we hear people buzzing all round us, “(S)he is in a better place”. Then we notice that they are the professional grief ministers from the church and we remain only partially reassured. I am here to tell you that means and . Eternity is a circle, not a line. Eternity has no beginning and no end. Forever is eternity and therefore “forever” is not a line, but a circle. Forever is God’s existence outside of time.
A priest is a priest from all eternity and for all eternity. A priest is a priest in the presence of God for all eternity, no matter what happens to him during his earthly sojourn. The Catholic Church knows this. You have learned in your catechism that there are three sacraments that can be received only once in a human lifetime, Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders (Priestly Ordination). We also know that the sacraments of the Church were instituted by Jesus Himself. Since Jesus is God, we believe that He knew what He was doing. The man who is a priest also knows this. Talk to any priest. Once you get friendly with him a little bit, ask him when he knew that he wanted to be a priest. After reading this you won’t be surprised that he’ll say that he thought of it since he was just a tiny little boy. I personally know this to be true. I also know that God has a way to weed out those who only think that they are chosen from those whom He has really chosen. Those who have been eliminated from the service to the Church because of their sins and their crimes are still priests forever and I am a faithful believer that if they do not sin against the Holy Spirit, we will see them in heaven.

You are a priest forever. Let’s put the accent on the word “priest”. We all think that we know what a priest is. We see people dressed in black and we think that we are seeing a priest. We see a man with a “roman collar” and we think that we are seeing a priest. We are sure that we are seeing a priest when we participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We know that the presider of the liturgy is a priest. We know that because he priest is essentially the presider of the sacrifice. We know that from the very first pages of the Bible. Abraham is the priest “par excellence” building altars and offering sacrifices every where he went. Noah was a priest as well as others that are too numerous to mention here. Notice that Noah and Abraham are two of the strongest believers and most loyal individuals with regards their relationship with Yahweh. As it turns out, the priestly standing was rewarded to the family that did not join the rebellion against Yahweh in the desert. The sons of Levi did not bend their knee to the golden calf and in fact carried out Yahweh’s order to slay the rebels who had turned against Him. They were awarded the privilege of the priesthood to the chosen people of Yahweh. It is therefore undeniably clear that the priest is a person who has already sacrificed his life to God in staunch faith and steadfast loyalty. The priest never looks back. He only looks to God. The Levites took it on the chin for a couple of centuries when there were some rather bad people in charge of God’s people here on earth. Finally, once Saul was no longer in the picture and David became King, he renewed the Levitic priesthood because the sons of Levi never wavered from their commitment to Yahweh. David himself was a priest, in fact the priest who rescued the priesthood and was able to give it back to the Levites. The priest of today is a priest in the unbroken line of fidelity to Yahweh, through Melkisedek, David and to His Son, Jesus Christ.
From Jesus Christ we go back to Melkisedek, (Genesis, 14: 17 – 20) the priest who was also king of Salem. Melkisedek appears out of nowhere to offer a sacrifice of bread and wine for the benefit of Abraham who was coming off a victory over Chedorlaomer. The king of Sodom, to no one’s surprise did not render any spiritual offerings. Melkisedek, however, being “a priest of God most high” offered a sacrifice of thanksgiving and pronounced a blessing upon Abraham. Abraham gave him a generous offering of 10% of all his belongings and to the king of Sodom he gave nothing and he took nothing so that he would not be beholden to the king of Sodom. This is a picture of the priest in the line of Christ. He offers sacrifices, he presides over the altar and is beholden to no one. The priest is “a priest of God the most high” at the service of the people of God. He is beholden only to God. He cannot be bought and what he offers cannot be sold. He is a priest according to the New Covenant. The priest of the New Covenant is a high priest according to the oath which appoints him a son of God who has been made perfect forever. (Hebrews; 7, 28)

The priest of the New Covenant has been named by God as the envoy of His Son, Jesus who came to fulfill all the promises made to Israel. The New Israel deals with God through the Priest for it is he who is the mediator of the New Covenant.

The priest of the New Covenant is a healthy mixture of monasticism and corporate management. He is a person of deep theological and spiritual convictions. He is a person who can look people in the eye and say the truth, no matter what their civil standing. He is a person who can also look down the barrel of a .45 and still say the truth without breaking a bead of sweat (hot or cold). He is a person who offers the holocaust of himself to the Christian community. It matters not whether he expects the assignment to last 2 months, two years or twenty years. His dedication to the chosen People of God is never anything short of perfection. The priest of the New Covenant knows how to mentor the people of the community in the art of fidelity in the service of God. The priest of the New Covenant knows his sheep. Jesus knew Peter well enough to promote him early. Jesus surely knew the bravery of Thomas, (John, 11;16); He knew the loving loyalty of John and we know that He was keeping on eye on Nathanael (John 1; 43-51). The priest of the New Covenant knows that God’s success on earth depends on the well-oiled teamwork of the most professionally astute of the members of the community. The priest of the New Covenant knows how to “un-invite” the negative influences from his table and how to “invite” the replacements. (A tax collector? Are you kidding? Saul of Damascus? You’re out of your mind!)
The pastor of our parish, St. Christopher in Moreno Valley, CA has been a priest for 25 years. Frankly, this is not such a long time in terms of mathematics. In terms of fullness of life measured by the intensity of human experience that fills the life of the priest every day, it is a long time. Every day there are events that seem to stop the clock as they unfold. If the smiling young man whose picture appears here were to recount his experiences reaching back 25 years, he could make OUR hair turn grey. The priest offers not only his life to God on the altar of life, but ours too. We deliver our souls to him. On any given day, the priest becomes an alcoholic, a gambler, a murderer, a wife abuser, a doubter, a quasi Atheist, a rapist, an embezzler, a kidnapper and is host to a variety of other doubts and disturbances that cross his threshold. And that is only what comes to him from the outside. The priest has an intense community life inside the rectory and in the organization that reports to the rectory. This is the “corporate”, business aspect of the priest’s life. This is where the pastor lives the life of a CEO. It is here that he is required to assure the success of the “operation”, both financial and spiritual. It is in this segment of his life that he builds the “spirit” of the parish. In every parish there are employees who are called upon to produce results that assure the welfare (Economic and Spiritual) of the parochial community. There is usually a cadre of volunteers who assist both these employees and the priests to produce high quality spiritual and “business” results. Here the pastor gets to manage employees and volunteers. At St. Christopher Parish there are perhaps close to 40 or 50 people who require day to day management. Needless to say, they are not all of equal ability and zeal. Remember the Pareto principle? 20% of the people give you 80% of your success. 20% of the people cause you 80% of your problems. The 80% in the other side of both these numbers need to be managed too. Put all of this together and you have a long 25 years.

Let me call upon you to notice the diametrically opposed set of skills that are called into play each and every day of the priest’s life. Every day the priest is part “MONK” and part “CEO”. Every day he has to create peace in the heart and the souls of those seeking spiritual consolation and direction. Then he has to motivate, discipline and manage a group of people according to the best practices of corporate management. These two responsibilities engage the priest in two different worlds. His management of the situations that arise in one and the other spawn allies and adversaries at every turn. Worse, the allies and the adversaries cross over from one world to the other and before you know it, you hear things like, “It’s not all about work, you know” or “The law is the law. If they don’t stop stealing, their kid won’t be allowed to first communion, period.” Now let me tell you, that can make for a very long 25 years.

All of this being said, I will take my leave from this encomium of the priesthood by saying that St. Christopher has been blessed over the last 6 years with a pastor who is honest, deeply spiritual, very patient and exceedingly kind. I ask all of you to join me in prayer to ask the Lord to care for and support our Father Romy, no matter where the road of life takes him. He is a person who has indeed placed himself on the altar of the holocaust. We are all better because God sprinkles us with Fr. Romy’s blood, sweat and tears. In thanksgiving for him, let us ask God to make the next 25 years of Father Romy’s life happy, holy, loving, peaceful and health-filled.

When God takes him by the hand and walks with him, (Genesis, Chapter 5, verse 23 and 24) not a single one of us will have to cry because we will all be sure that God has shown him the way into heaven.

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