30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Preached at Assumption Parish in Bellingham, WA, and the 7:00 p.m. Spanish Mass at St. Joseph’s Parish in Lynden, WA.
Previous Years: 2018
Karl Jung, the father of analytical psychology, pioneered the idea of archetypes, that is “universal, primal symbols and images that derive from the collective unconscious.” In other words, Jung said, there seem to be ideas that are common to all human cultures and eras, ideas which transcend nations or religions or epochs, ideas which can be found in every corner of humanity, and which find particular instantiation in each culture. For example, the archetypal idea of a heroic warrior might be expressed as a gladiator, a knight, a samurai, or a cowboy: each marked by its own time and culture, but all sharing the same basic function in cultural narratives. Though the idea of archetypes is not longer widely used in psychology, they have become extremely influential in literary analysis and certain branches of religious studies. Jordan Peterson, for example, became popular partly for his archetypal explanations of Biblical stories.
I mention this because our reading from Hebrews today seems to be providing us with the archetypal – that is, universal and cross-cultural – characteristics of a priest. There are many historical examples of priests, be they pagans sacrificing people and animals, or shamans performing naturalistic rituals, or Catholic priests offering the Mass, but they fact that they are all priests mean that they share certain common traits. According to the author of Hebrews, what are these traits?
First, they are a representative of the people to God. This is the basic function of the priest, the thing that separates the priest from the politician or the banker or the schoolteacher. If one is made a representative of the people in the things that pertain to God, one is a priest.
Second, what does such a representative do? They offer gifts and sacrifices. These might and often are physical objects, like concoctions, trade goods, animals, or sometimes people. They might be prayers or rituals or mortifications. But in every case the priest is associated with offering. The idea of making these offerings for sins, as the Letter to the Hebrews states, is a somewhat more Judeo-Christian concept than universal concept; but we could say that every priest in every culture makes these offerings in order to overcome the separation between God and humanity, a separation which the Judeo-Christian tradition calls sin.
Finally, Hebrews tells us that every priest is chosen from among men, something that allows the priest to empathize with the people he is representing. Otherwise, if the priest were a foreign character, who came down from heaven, not up from the people, the priest would be more like a demi-god, a concept with very different connotations and characteristics in world literature. Notice also that word chosen. A priest who is called by God is obviously a much better representative than someone who appoints themself.
Again, Hebrews seems to be presenting us with the universal characteristics of priesthood, regardless of the religion or culture in which that priesthood is found. So how do these characteristics map onto the Christian priesthood? Well, there are actually three priesthoods in Christianity: the perfect priesthood of Jesus, the universal priesthood of the baptized, and the ordained priesthood of the hierarchy.
Let’s start with Jesus. As long as we are talking about archetypes, though, a quick tangent. From time to time, especially around Christmas, you will hear the criticism that the story of Jesus is just a made-up story that simply copied earlier, pagan religions. Leaving aside the fact that this Jesus-is-a-made-up-story argument is incredibly ignorant and shows a complete lack of historical research or knowledge, it is true that in Jesus we see many patterns which also occur in other religious narratives: the virgin birth, the miracle worker, the religious teacher, the persecuted holy man, the resurrection, etc. Jesus fits many religious archetypes. But if Jesus is who we say he is, if Jesus is God-become-man, then why would we expect otherwise? If there are universal concepts embedded in the subconscious of humanity, then of course Jesus would fulfill and perfect those archetypes! It does not mean that Christianity borrowed or stole anything, it means that every previous religious story was preparing for its perfection in Christ.
Well, this is certainly true of the priesthood of Jesus. Every priesthood before Jesus was an imperfect image of the priesthood exercised by the God-made-man. Is Jesus a representative of humanity before God? Yes, and perfectly – he is himself God, the second person of the Trinity, so his mediations for humanity are perfect mediations. Does Jesus offer gifts and sacrifices for sins? Yes, and perfectly – he offers himself, the most intimate offering possible, and he himself is God, the most powerful and meaningful offering possible, the only offering that can destroy sin, not just cover it up. And finally, is Jesus raised up from among men? Yes, and perfectly – he was perfectly human, receiving his flesh from the womb of the Virgin Mary, sharing in every human weakness except sin. As Hebrews says, he is a priest who “is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness.” Jesus is the perfect priest, perfectly human and perfectly divine, offering the perfect sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.
The second Christian priesthood is the universal priesthood of the baptized. As with everything Christian, this is a participation in the priesthood of Jesus. Because everything about Jesus is perfect, including his priesthood, it would be stupid for us to make up our own stuff. Instead, we participate, through baptism, in everything that Jesus is and Jesus does. If Jesus is a priest, so are we. And do we share all the characteristics of priesthood? Are we chosen from among men? Yes, God calls us out of fallen humanity into the life of grace through baptism. Are we representatives before God? Yes, as the chosen people of God, it is our solemn duty to represent all of humanity to the Father, through the Son, in the communion of the Holy Spirit. And do we offer gifts and sacrifices for sins? Yes, our prayers, petitions, and sacrifices are always offered in reparation for the sins and failings of the world.
What does it look like, practically, for us to act as the priests of the entire human race? First, we have to empathize with those around us, particularly those who are marked by the weakness of humanity, those who live on the margins, who suffer from economic, societal, or emotional distress, those who experience disease and disability, and those who have not yet received the saving water of baptism. And then we much intercede for these people before God, offering prayers for their salvation and well-being and also offering sacrifices, penances, and mortifications in reparation for their sins. Of course, as Hebrews makes clear, we must offer these things for ourselves and our own sins, too.
Finally we reach the third Christian priesthood, the ordained priesthood. Theoretically, this priesthood is not necessary. It is easy enough to imagine a Christianity without an ordained priesthood, as the majority of Protestant churches live out exactly this kind of Christianity. But we are not Protestant, and we Catholics believe that somehow, for some reason, Jesus decided that his Church, his community of the baptized, who themselves are all priests, would also benefit from the ministrations of priests. And so Jesus gave us the sacrament of Holy Orders, which raises up priests for the priests. It is from the People of God that ordained priests are raised it and it is the People of God that ordained priests represent to the Lord. And what do ordained priests offer to God? It is the gifts brought by the Church, it is the prayers of the Church, it is the penances and mortifications of the Church. Just as all of the baptized are called by God to represent the entire world before God, the ordained priests are called to represent the entire Church before God. The laity live their priesthood in service of the world, and the ordained live their lives in service of the Church. Though, again, theoretically something Jesus could have chosen not to institute, the ordained priesthood is a great gift from the Lord. Imagine a world where the baptized had to carry out their supremely difficult mission, without themselves having the benefit of being ministered to by priests.
On that note, I would be remiss if I did not end this homily with a plea for vocations to the priesthood. Just as the world will collapse into ruin without Christians in every nation interceding for the world, the Church will collapse without ordained priests offering prayers and sacrifices in the Church. Ordained priesthood is a blessed life, and every Catholic man should be encouraged to consider this beautiful life of service. It should be normal for priesthood to be on the list of potential careers right next to doctor, lawyer, and engineer.
And the people of God are desperate for more priests. Desperate. I feel horrible about how little time I can actually give to my parishioners, how rarely I can go to each home that requests me for dinner, how far out someone has to ask for an appointment. We need more priests to act as bridges between God and his chosen people. And we need more priests from our own pews. We are blessed in this diocese by the presence of many missionary priests who come to us from other countries, like Fr. Thumbi, Fr. Cancino, and Fr. Khan before them who all served in this area. These are holy and dedicated men, and the Church would collapse without them. But if a priest is supposed to “deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness,” if a priest is supposed to empathize deeply with the people he serves, it is easier for a priest to do this if he was raised in the same place that he ministers. We need more men who deeply understand the culture and the people that they serve, because they themselves were raised in that same culture. As Hebrews states, “every high priest is taken from among men.” Priests should not have to come to this diocese from foreign countries or from missionary orders. God is calling the young men of this parish to the priesthood. He is asking you, or your sons, or your grandsons to serve his people by serving his Church. There is nothing more fulfilling than participating in the perfect priesthood of Jesus through our baptism. And, for those who are called, there is nothing more fulfilling than serving the chosen People of God by living even more deeply into the perfect priesthood of Jesus through ordination.
Seré perfectamente honesto contigo. Cuando era seminarista y la Arquidiócesis me dijo que tendría que aprender español, estaba resentido. Y cuando me ordenaron sacerdote y el arzobispo me envió al Valle de Skagit, donde casi la mitad de los feligreses hablaban español, estaba aún más resentido. Me inscribí en el sacerdocio para tratar de servir y salvar mi propia cultura: la cultura de los anglos bien educados de clase media a alta que están abandonando la Iglesia Católica en masa. No me inscribí para ministrar a una cultura que no era la mía, una que no entendía. No quería tener que aprender diferentes tradiciones culturales, ni hablar en un idioma extranjero, ni lidiar con problemas que no fueran los de mi propia gente.
Afortunadamente, mi tiempo en el Valle de Skagit y la gracia de mi ordenación suavizaron mi corazón. Llegué a amar profundamente a la población mayoritariamente mexicana en esas iglesias y llegué a apreciar cuán fieles, celosos y enamorados de Jesús eran esas personas. Mi corazón se convirtió para preocuparme apasionadamente por ellos y tratar de salvarlos del problema del secularismo que ha destruido la fe de mi propia cultura. Los hispanos todavía tienen fe y los amo por ello. Si la fe regresa a este país, será de nuestros hispanos.
Sin embargo, todavía me siento muy incómodo al ministrar a los católicos hispanos. Mi español no es bueno y nunca tendré tiempo para mejorarlo hasta el punto en que me sienta cómodo hablando en español. Y nunca entenderé verdaderamente la cultura hispana, porque yo mismo no soy hispano. Puedo escuchar a los hispanos, puedo orar con los hispanos, puedo amar a los hispanos, pero nunca seré hispano. Y este es un gran problema.
Nuestra lectura de la Carta a los hebreos nos dice: “Todo sumo sacerdote es un hombre escogido entre los hombres y está constituido para intervenir en favor de ellos ante Dios, para ofrecer dones y sacrificios por los pecados. Él puede comprender a los ignorantes y extraviados, ya que él mismo está envuelto en debilidades.” En otras palabras, un sacerdote es un buen sacerdote porque es elegido entre las personas a las que sirve. Es un buen representante ante Dios, porque también se representa a sí mismo. Conoce las luchas y las oraciones de la gente, porque estas son también sus propias luchas y oraciones.
De acuerdo con este estándar, nunca seré un buen sacerdote para ustedes. Los amo profundamente. Deseo desesperadamente que reciban los sacramentos y que sus familias se fortalezcan en la fe. Y continuaré trabajando incansablemente para ofrecer lo que pueda como santo sacerdote de Dios. Pero nunca seré un buen sacerdote para ustedes, porque no soy uno de ustedes. Y eso me rompe el corazón porque, de nuevo, los amo y quiero lo mejor para ustedes.
Es por eso que debo preguntarlos, directamente y con fuerza, ¿dónde están sus sacerdotes? Desde el comienzo de este país hasta ahora, cada ola de inmigrantes a los Estados Unidos ha traído y levantado a sus propios sacerdotes. Este país estaba lleno de sacerdotes alemanes y irlandeses y italianos y polacos. E incluso hoy hay un porcentaje igual de sacerdotes vietnamitas en esta diócesis que feligreses vietnamitas. Pero no hispanos. Tenemos muy pocos sacerdotes hispanos, aun cuando los hispanos constituyen un porcentaje cada vez más alto de católicos en las bancas. Hay algunos sacerdotes, como el Padre Cancino, que vienen de países extranjeros para servir en este país, ¡y esto es maravilloso! Pero muchos de los sacerdotes de esta diócesis que sirven a los hispanos son gringos, que tienen que aprender la cultura y el idioma. Yo mismo en Bellingham, el P. Tom en el valle de Skagit, el P. Bloom en Monroe, el P. Cal en Mountlake Terrace. P. Wichert en Bothel, el P. Gary en Bellevue. Todos gringos, con grandes comunidades hispanas. Solamente hay P. Alvarez quien es un Hispano con una gran comunidad Hispana.
¿Por qué? ¿Dónde están sus sacerdotes? ¿Por qué sus hermanos y sus hijos no se han convertido en sacerdotes? Hay tantos hispanos y son tan fieles y, sin embargo, ninguno de ellos se convierte en sacerdote. ¿Por qué?
Tengo algunas conjeturas. El primero es la situación económica en América Latina. Tengo entendido que en la mayoría de los países latinoamericanos, las familias deben pagar para que sus hijos vayan al seminario, como pagarles para que vayan a la universidad, lo que significa que solo los hombres de clase media y alta pueden ser sacerdotes. Dado que muchos hispanos se mudan a los Estados Unidos en busca de trabajo, es poco probable que muchos de nuestros hispanos en este país hayan crecido en familias en las que pensaban en el sacerdocio como una opción. Pero déjame decirte, es una opción. En este país, un hombre debe pagar su título de asociado, un título de dos años que se puede obtener en un colegio comunitario local y que es muy asequible. Después de esto, la Arquidiócesis paga el resto de su educación. Todos los hombres de esta arquidiócesis, incluso aquellos que no provengan de familias ricas, pueden ser sacerdotes.
Mi segunda suposición es que la cultura hispana está muy orientada a la familia, lo cual es, por supuesto, un aspecto hermoso y maravilloso de la cultura. Desafortunadamente, esto también significa que hay mucha, mucha presión para los nietos. Sé que hay muchos hispanos santos en nuestros bancos, que oran por la Iglesia y oran por los sacerdotes. Pero me preocupa que estén orando para que los hijos de otras personas sean sacerdotes, no sus propios hijos. Quieren sacerdotes, pero no a expensas de los nietos. Entonces tengo que preguntar: ¿Estarías dispuesto a renunciar a la posibilidad de tener nietos para que Jesús y su Iglesia puedan tener otro sacerdote? ¿Son los nietos más importantes que asegurarse de que los católicos tengan la Eucaristía y el perdón de los pecados? Ore para que sus hijos sean sacerdotes, no los hijos de otras personas.
También creo que, debido a que nuestros hispanos encuentran tanta alegría y felicidad en sus familias, no pueden aceptar el celibato del sacerdocio. No pueden creer que un hombre soltero como yo pueda ser feliz. Pero esta es una falta de fe. El celibato gozoso solo es posible gracias a la gracia de Jesucristo. Si cree que nunca podría ser un sacerdote célibe, o que su hijo nunca podría ser feliz sin una esposa, entonces no cree en la gracia de Jesucristo.
Ahora bien, mis conjeturas podrían estar equivocadas, pero ese es exactamente el punto, ¿no es así? No conozco ni entiendo la cultura hispana, porque no soy hispano. Si no quiere que me pare en este púlpito y diga cosas estúpidas o inexactas sobre los hispanos, ¡entonces comience a trabajar para levantar algunos sacerdotes hispanos! ¿Cuánto tiempo hemos tenido misa en español en el condado de Whatcom? ¿Treinta años? ¿Cuarenta años? ¿Dónde están los sacerdotes de este tiempo y esfuerzo?
Jóvenes de esta parroquia: si aman a su Dios, si aman a su Iglesia y si aman a sus familias, entreguen su vida al servicio de ellos. Sigue a Jesucristo y conviértete en su sacerdote. Tu gente te necesita desesperadamente.
Original English Text of Spanish Homily
I will be perfectly honest with you. When I was a seminarian and the Archdiocese told me that I would have to learn Spanish, I was resentful. And when I was ordained a priest and the Archbishop sent me to the Skagit Valley, where almost half of the parishioners were Spanish-speaking, I was even more resentful. I signed up for the priesthood to try to serve and to save my own culture – the culture of middle-to-upper class, well-educated Anglos who are all leaving the Catholic Church in droves. I did not sign up to minister to a culture that was not my own, one that I did not understand. I did not want to have to learn different cultural traditions, or speak in a foreign language, or deal with problems other than the problems of my own people.
Thankfully, my time in the Skagit Valley, and the grace of my ordination, softened my heart. I came to love deeply the mostly Mexican population in those Churches and came to appreciate how faithful and zealous and in love with Jesus those people were. My heart was converted to care passionately about them, and to try to save them from the problem of secularism that has destroyed the faith of my own culture. Hispanics still have faith, and I love them for it. If faith returns to this country, it will be from our Hispanics.
However, I am still very uncomfortable ministering to Hispanic Catholics. My Spanish is not good, and I will never have the time to improve it to the point that I feel comfortable speaking in Spanish. And I will never truly understand Hispanic culture, because I myself am not Hispanic. I can listen to Hispanics, I can pray with Hispanics, I can love Hispanics, but I will never be Hispanic. And this is a huge problem.
Our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, “Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness.” In other words, a priest is a good priest because he is chosen from among the people he serves. He is a good representative before God, because he also represents himself. He knows the struggles and the prayers of the people, because these are also his own struggles and his own prayers.
According to this standard, I will never be a good priest for you. I love you, deeply. I desperately desire that you should receive the sacraments and that your families should be strengthened in the faith. And I will continue to work tirelessly to offer what I can as a holy priest of God. But I will never be a good priest for you, because I am not one of you. And that breaks my heart because, again, I love you and want what is best for you.
It is for this reason that I must ask you, directly and with force, where are your priests? From the beginning of this country until now, every wave of immigrants to the United States have brought and raised up their own priests. This country was filled with German priests and Irish priests and Italian priests and Polish priests. And even today there is an equal percentage of Vietnamese priests in this diocese as there are Vietnamese parishioners. But not Hispanics. We have very few Hispanic priests, even while Hispanics make up a higher and higher percentage of Catholics in the pews. There are some priests, like Fr. Cancino, who come from foreign countries to serve in this country, and this is wonderful! But many of the priests in this diocese who serve Hispanics are Gringos, who have to learn the culture and the language. Myself in Bellingham, Fr. Tom in the Skagit Valley, Fr. Bloom in Monroe, Fr. Cal in Mountlake Terrace. Fr. Wichert in Bothel. Fr. Gary in Bellevue. All Gringos, with large Hispanic communities.
Why? Where are your priests? Why have your brothers and your sons not become priests? There are so many Hispanics and they are so faithful, and yet none of them become priests. Why?
I have a few guesses. The first is the economic situation in Latin America. My understanding is that in most Latin American countries, families must pay for their sons to go to seminary, like paying for them to go to college, meaning that only middle- and upper-class men can be priests. Given that many Hispanics move to the United States looking for jobs, it is unlikely that many of our Hispanics in this country ever grew up in families where they thought about priesthood as an option. But let me tell you, it is an option. In this country, a man must pay for his associates degree, a two-year degree that can be obtained at a local community college and which is very affordable. After this, the Archdiocese pays for the rest of his education. Every man in this archdiocese, even someone who does not come from rich families, can be a priest.
My second guess is that Hispanic culture is very family-oriented, which is, of course, a beautiful and wonderful aspect of the culture. Unfortunately, this also means that there is lots and lots of pressure for grandchildren. I know that there are many holy Hispanic people in our pews, who pray for the Church and pray for priests. But I worry that they are praying for other people’s sons to be priests, not their own sons. They want priests, but not at the expense of grandchildren. So I have to ask: would you be willing to give up the possibility of grandchildren so that Jesus and his Church can have another priest? Are grandchildren more important than making sure Catholics have the Eucharist and the forgiveness of sins? Pray for your sons to be priests, not other people’s sons.
I also believe that, because our Hispanics find so much joy and happiness in their families, that they cannot accept the celibacy of the priesthood. They cannot believe that an unmarried man like me could be happy. But this is a lack of faith. Joyful celibacy is only possible because of the grace of Jesus Christ. If you believe that you could never be a celibate priest, or that your son could never be happy without a wife, then you do not believe in the grace of Jesus Christ.
Now, my guesses could be wrong, but that is exactly the point, isn’t it? I do not know or understand Hispanic culture, because I am not Hispanic. If you do not want me to stand in this pulpit and say stupid or inaccurate things about Hispanics, then start working on raising up some Hispanic priests! How long have we had Spanish Mass in Whatcom County? Thirty years? Forty years? Where are the priests?
Young men of this parish: if you love your God, if you love your Church, and if you love your families, then give your life in service to them. Follow Jesus Christ and become his priest. Your people desperately need you.