Do We Need Priests Anymore?
#DoWeNeedPriestsAnymore is the podcast for July 15, 2018. With the sex scandal of the last decade and the opulence of some priestly lives, do we really need priests anymore? Jesus gives us an answer in the Gospel for today. Listen here and find out more: Download it into your phone. #Mark #Mark6 #Priesthood #Healing #Repentance #Opulence #Rectories #Cufflinks
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For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 7/15/2018 The 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Please pause this audio and read Mark 6:7-13.
One of the saddest things about becoming active in a suburb of Chicago, is that I have met several reporters who covered the sex abuse scandal of Fr. Daniel McCormak. Because I am a priest who dared to go to places that most priests don’t go, I befriended them where they were. They tell me that they used to go to Mass, but don’t now because of all that they knew that never made the papers. They do not trust the priesthood anymore because they feel that priests used their power to protect themselves, protect their power, and protect the privilege of the priesthood. That, my friends, is fair.
There are two large churches in the Northwest Indiana region that are constantly embroiled in controversy over their rectories, the place that the church owns to house their priests. The main critiques are about size for one or two persons and opulence. Whether they were given to the church out of a desire to honor their priests or not is not the issue. The issue is that if the priest stands as the representative of the One who was born in a manger among animal feces and hay, it is a cause of scandal to many to be seen as the representative of the rich, powerful, and privileged. Large opulent rectories, or high priced cars, or fancy cufflinks, or lots of dispensable cash spent on lavish vacations, etc., all of it looks as if the priest is not there to serve, but to be served. Whether meant that way or not, it can be a source of scandal.
In fact, these very issues are what Jesus is addressing in the Gospel Lesson that is found in the Catholic Lectionary for the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time, which is the one I chose to preach on today. We have heard this story over and over: Jesus commissions the Twelve to cast out demons, preach the good news, and anoint with oil for healing. We don’t think twice about what he is doing. We should.
What he is doing is really something cataclysmic to what it means to be a priest in the society of Jesus’ day. A priest was expected to delineate ‘clean’ from ‘unclean’. In other words, he was to determine who was in the community and who was out of the community. A priest was expected to separate himself from unclean people. He was expected to preside at the grand Temple in Jerusalem. He was expected, with the leaders of the synagogue, to maintain the observance of the Law. He was seen as a leader, up top, with a whole system of regulations on who could come, who couldn’t come, etc., etc. He was paid well and lived well.
So, when Jesus comes, commissions the Twelve as apostles, he immediately busts up the meaning of the priesthood. Priests, as exemplified by the apostles here, are to not avoid the unclean, but to seek them out. “He gave them authority over unclean spirits,” it says. One is not sent on a journey with authority over something if that is not what your mission is. The mission of a priest is to go to the unclean.
Next, Jesus tells them to take nothing with them but their clothes, shoes, and walking stick. No food, no money, no extra clothes are to be taken. Jesus is sending them as beggars. The apostles were sent as beggars in the world. They were to be like the lowest of the low. They were to identify with the weak and outcast of society, not the rich, powerful, and status level privileged.
What do you suppose the reaction to these apostles was when they came into villages seeking out the unclean and showing up penniless? The first apostles were radical freeloaders! Instead of coming into town with the power, prestige, and privilege of a priest, the representatives of God Incarnate are to show up with nothing, tell people to repent, and then ask for lodging and food! Imagine how that conversation went? I bet they had just TONS of offers for housing and food—NOT.
The kind of person who would host an apostle would be a host who was open to repentance. It would be someone who would be humble and know their sin. It would be someone who was able to look within and desire holiness. They would support the idea that the unclean should be made clean, the outcast and poor should be included, and that the role of the priest was to proclaim repentance to people that were excluded from the community.
One of the striking things about this passage is the lack of judgment toward others by the apostle. The priest or apostle is not to cast judgment on others. I have had people press me as to whether or not I thought that someone was going to hell or not because they openly lived against what Scripture said. This passage gives me a great guide how to be a priest in a community: mine is not to judge. In fact, the role of the priest is just the opposite.
The role of the priest to heal. The priest is to take the tools of the Gospel and invite people to follow Jesus Christ as the ordering principle of their lives. To get there, the priest is to help heal all the past events.
Past events could be sins or actions for which a person cannot forgive themselves or feel they cannot be forgiven. There is nothing that cannot be forgiven until you die. This is the time to get forgiveness. Abortions, embezzlements, adulteries, fornications, spite from envy, you name it. There is nothing that has made you ‘unclean’ for which the absolution from the Cross of Christ cannot heal you. Priests can offer forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament.
Another way priests heal is to pray and anoint with oil. Mark 6:13 is one of my favorite passages because it shows from where the anointing oil of the Sacrament of Unction comes. I try to remember to carry anointing oil with me at all times. One of the most rewarding things about wearing the collar is when people ask me to pray for them. I usually stop and pray for them right there. I pull out my oil and anoint them. They are shocked. Why? Why would they be shocked? Isn’t that what we are supposed to do? Aren’t priests supposed to pray for people right there to be healed? Aren’t priests given authority over unclean spirits? Isn’t that what Scripture is clearly showing? Yes, I say. Yes!
Priests are still necessary because God has deemed it so. Not everyone is sent. Not everyone is called to live their lives for the highly unpopular job of calling others to repentance in towns where they are not known. Not everyone is called to hear Confessions. Not everyone is called to anoint with oil. Yet, some are, clearly, as Mark 6:7-13 shows.
It is when we stop expecting our priests, and our priests fail to live, like they are in our midst to heal us, love us, live among us as the least of us, that we get a skewed notion of the importance of priests. When priests do not stand with the least, the lonely, and the lost there is something really wrong. When being a priest is about how big your rectory is, how plush a life you live, or prestigious you are, then there is something really wrong with your priesthood. When your priesthood does not throw out all conventions for the protection of children, the elevation of and respect for women, the care of the needs of the poor, and the forgotten, or the healing of the sick, there is something that is seriously wrong and it needs to be corrected.
We need priests in the mold of the Twelve from the Gospel of Mark today. I pray that I can and others will also heed the call and correct our lives. For that, I come to you with a request. Pray for us. Be open to our prayers right then and there. Be open to us anointing you in public, if necessary. Invite us to your hospital stays. Come to us when you need emotional, psychological, sinful, or physical healing. Free us up to do that great work. Again, pray for us. Pray for me. Amen.
This audio is under the copyright of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated and may not be used, reduplicated, or distributed for commercial use without the express written consent of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated. My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated, 2018.
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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian