Today’s readings are all about priesthood. The first reading makes this clear – it’s this text which is referred to in the ordination prayer. In the desert you extended the spirit of Moses to seventy wise men who helped him to rule the great company of his people. The connection to our current priests is then explained in the text: With the same loving care you gave companions to your Son’s apostles to help in teaching the faith: they preached the gospel to the whole world.
So priesthood is not an invention of the Catholic Church. The Order of Bishops, Priests and Deacons was instituted by Jesus himself at the Last Supper. Jesus could do that because he is the Only True Priest. We cannot understand Jesus Christ if we do not understand him as the High Priest, the only priest and mediator between God and man, the one who not only offered the sacrifice but is himself the sacrifice of communion which people eat to enter into the life of the Trinity.
So a priest is another Jesus, an alter Christus. And so it is appropriate that we have the very justifiably hard words of Jesus in the gospel today: But anyone who is an obstacle to bring down one of these little ones who have faith, would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone round his neck. These words apply above all to priests because they are above all answerable to God for the care of the sheep, the little ones, he has placed in the priest’s hands. So please take time to love your priests: we need your care, your fraternal correction, and above all your prayer
But of course there is not just one kind of priesthood in the Church: there is a second. The First Reading talks about this too!: If only the whole people of the Lord were prophets, and the Lord gave his Spirit to them all!’ Jesus Christ makes this come true through baptism. The Church is a people of priests, what we call the common priesthood, set apart and made holy by God to offer sacrifice for and bring back to God all of Creation. And it is the baptised who have great responsibility for the world. Whereas ministerial priests have, in a sense, just one narrow area of authority, faith and morals at the service of God’s people – there is no end to the domains in which the lay faithful sanctify the world – through the arts, sciences, politics, culture, education, family life, civic life and the care of the cosmos.
This is really important because many Catholics forget this. When things go wrong, or when things need to change, it is not just the ministerial priests who are concerned: anyone who is baptised, they too are answerable for how well or poorly they exercise their priesthood. So do I intercede daily for my work colleagues and family? Am I a model Christian or do I act just like non-Christians? Do I have holy pictures on my desk and at home? Do I pray for all the troubles in the world everyday? Do I regularly go to confession to make myself holy? Do I bring my faith into my sport, art, sciences, politics, teaching, the public square of my society? Do I start new ecclesial projects for the benefit of the most poor, especially our youth? Do I love everybody as God loves them? These are small examples of your common priesthood. You have the grace to change your environment. And you have two options:- waste this priesthood God has given you; or live every day as a faithful lay priest, set apart to sacrifice yourself for the salvation and healing of the world.