Priesthood: Opening the Eucharistic River for Men
Fr. José Granados, dcjm
Homily, September 25th, 2022; 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Denver, CO (USA)
Today, which in the United States is the day of the priesthood, we hear the parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus. Here is the depiction of the drama of human life, that can choose to close itself off both to its brothers and to God. The rich man was so blind, he could not even perceive that the poor man was there.
At the end of this Gospel, the rich man asks Abraham to send a man risen from the dead, to wake up the world from its slumber. But Abraham answers him, “they have Moses and the Prophets.” Therefore, “they will not believe, even should a man rise from the dead.”
Moses and the prophets warned men to be open to their brethren’s flesh, to not eat sumptuously on their own, as if God were not the origin of the goods they had; and as if these divine gifts did not incite us to create the greatest possible gift – communion. This is how Moses and the Prophets prepared Jesus’ coming, who, after rising from the dead, would teach men a new manner of banquets. This is the Eucharist, the banquet of communion, where we become open to God’s gifts and to our brethren’s flesh.
What about today? Priests have inherited the role of Moses and the Prophets. They not only prepare for the coming of the Risen Jesus, but they even prolong His action in the lives of men. In this way, this parable can help us to understand what the Eucharist and priesthood are.
- Let us first look at the rich man’s banquets. Abraham tells him, “you received goods in life.” This is the rich man’s problem: “your goods.” That is, he thought they were his own property and was so rendered blind to acknowledge the source of all good. The rich man was like a lack that blocks up the whole mountain spring, and interrupts its flow, preventing the water’s fruitfulness.
Saint Peter Chrisologus (Sermon 121) says there is another rich man in this parable: Abraham, of whom the Bible says he has many possessions. Here we can see the difference between the rich man Jesus speaks of. Abraham acknowledged that his goods come from God, and his whole effort consisted in opening up those goods to others, such as when he received God Himself, as a pilgrim, under his roof. Chrisologus says that this was because Abraham, knowing he was a pilgrim, understood the pilgrim. He did not even keep his only son to himself, but rather, giving him up generously, he fathered a great people.
We have Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, who gives himself for food. But previously we also have the presence of Christ’s action – he received all from the Father and directed it all unto Him. We have the great tide of Christ’s love, which invites us to enter into it and to empower all our actions. This is why the Eucharist is not just the peace that we feel when we receive Communion. It is, above all, a great strength to act that transforms our family life and our friendships, our leisure, and our work. This is where true peace is born, which is doing the Father’s will.
This is the priest’s place. He is the man of the Eucharist. He lives wholly from these words, pronounced each day by him: “my body, given for you; my blood shed for you.” Let us note that the priest does not say, “this is the body of the Christ,” but rather, “this is my body,” because he identifies himself completely with Jesus, so he can make Jesus’ action present in the world. Thus, the priest is there so that Christ can reveal him as the head, that is, as the source of gifts, flowing forth from the Father, and directing everything to the Father. Now we can enter into this stream with our whole life and regenerate our actions.
- After all this, we might say, “I do not have the strength to acknowledge the gift and be faithful to it. I have been tested many times and I always return to my selfishness, with the rich man from the parable.” We can indeed resist the dynamism of the gift. The Eucharist reminds us that we need a transformation, in which each person dies in his own isolation, to be reborn into filial adoption and brotherhood. So, amid this banquet, there is a death, and there is a life offered in sacrifice, and there is blood for forgiveness.
Thus we can understand the seriousness of human life. We risk it all in our actions, for a battle is being fought in our hearts between good and evil. Now, good and evil are not the same, but rather an abyss opens up between them. The Church speaks to men, in its preaching, as T.S. Eliot said, “of Life and Death, and of all, they would forget,” and “She tells them of Evil and Sin, and other unpleasant facts.” So, the priest also reminds man of the reality of Evil, and his message is many times shocking and rejected, which is a sign of its truth, just as Jesus’ word was rejected.
The priest lives all this as a minister of penance. In the parable, there was an abyss that separated Lazarus and the rich man, an abyss no one can cross over. This abyss is not only opened in the beyond but for sinners too, who are unable to be saved by themselves. Now, Christ has built a bridge across this abyss, so that we can cross it while we remain in this life. The priest, then, shouts, together with St. Paul: “We implore you on behalf of Christ: be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20).
By crossing the abyss we come back into Jesus’ river, learning to receive and offer up. Indeed, priests are ministers of penance because there are ministers of the Eucharist. These ministries coincide because the finality of Confession is that we might enter once more into the dynamism of the Eucharist. This is why, in Confession, not only are the stains of sin removed, but rather we cross the abyss and enter into the fruitful stream of the Eucharist.
Anyone who sins is indeed like one who places stones to block up the baptismal spring that watered his life. When he removes the stone, it is not just that the weight is removed, but the water really begins to flow again. So, we come out of Confession with new strength to conquer sin, love our family, and dedicate ourselves to our work…
- Thus, we can lift our gaze to the spring’s destination. The parable speaks of a resurrection. Jesus imagines his own Resurrection, which the Jews tried to deny. So it happens to us as well: we live unable to believe in the joy of the Risen One. We are afraid of the greatness that wells up from his life, and we close ourselves off from it. Earlier, I quoted T. S. Eliot: men do not only want to forget death but life too. Like St. Paul says (2 Cor 1:24), then, priests become “servants of your joy,” for the Eucharist invites us to greatness, and calls us to expand our hearts to Jesus’ standard.
This is why a priest can be called “Father.” He is a father because he engenders God’s life within us. This life is not only in the future, in the life beyond, but rather affects everything we do now. A priest’s fatherhood is spiritual, but it is corporeal as well because it launches everything we do in the flesh toward God, to bring us to the Resurrection of the flesh. Priestly fatherhood – the foundation of his virginal consecration – consists in engendering us for the Eucharist, toward Jesus’ Risen Body.
We recall the well-known anecdote of the Curé of Ars when he was traveling toward his new parish. When he got lost in the path, he asked a young lad for direction, and he pointed it out to him. St. John Vianney told him then, “you have shown me the way to Ars; I will show you the way to Heaven.” We might paraphrase him, “you have shown me the way to Ars; I will show you how to take Ars to Heaven.” This is indeed the end goal of Ars, of our families, cities, and our world: to reign with Christ on high. This is why priestly fatherhood is dedicated to.
This parable has so brought us to the priestly mystery. As men of the Eucharist, priests make Christ’s sacrifice present and introduce us to the spring where gifts are received from the Father and become fruitful, unto eternal life. Throughout, the priest invites us to open our eyes to discover Christ who is present, who wakes us up and invites us to follow him. He is the poor man of the parable, for “whatever you did to one of these, my littlest brother, you did for me.” Christ, who has given us all, asks us now to take on his flesh, full of myriad open wounds, like Lazarus’ flesh. He invites us to enter into His body, and direct our paths to the Father from there.
Cardinal Journet said that, during his life, Christ brought about two kinds of miracles. Some miracles were distant, with the word along, and some were close, as when he touched the widow’s son or shouted to wake Lazarus. Now ascending into Heaven, Jesus keeps bringing his miracles about from afar. But this was not enough for Him. He desired also, and above all, to keep working miracles close up. This is why he instituted the priesthood. Through the priest, we not only have the word of Christ but his voice too. We have not only Jesus’ strength but also his touch. Let us pray for priests today, who carry this treasure in clay vessels so that God might grant his Church more servants of our thankfulness, of our reconciliation, of our joy.