By Orlando Hernandez
About 10 years ago, I was working out my new-found faith as a Christian Catholic. At a family party in Florida, the men smoking outside were having a conversation about religion. I was asking some life-long Catholics why they were no longer going to Mass. This man said, “Look at these abuse scandals. I don’t need any priest to tell me what to do, or to ‘show’ me God ! Why do you,” he asked me, “go to Mass?”
I had never read the Letter to the Hebrews. I was still working on the Gospels, but I found myself telling him, “My priest is called Jesus Christ. I go there to be with Him, that’s all. He is the one celebrating the Mass, otherwise, why the heck go?” (I did not know anything about Flannery O’Connor either.)
As some of you know, the key moment of my conversion centered around the Eucharist. I was looking at a Host, raised by the priest, and I was struck by Jesus’ invitation to follow Him. The Living God manifested Himself to me in His full splendor, power, and love. No-one can convince me otherwise. That’s why I go to Mass as often as possible. It is the best thing I do. I have met so many wonderful priests, servants of Jesus. I owe them so much, but I firmly believe that “the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” I believe that, in humility and fully in the power of the Holy Spirit, my priest friends have the right to say in Jesus’ name, “ This is my Body” and “This is my Blood .” But I think they would tell me in all sincerity that it is actually Jesus the High Priest, the Living God, right then and there, who is saying these words.
This is my faith. My faith in the reality of this incredible blast of joy, love, grace, light, wonderment, and so much more that I feel before the Blessed Sacrament. And again I say, this is why I go to Mass as much as possible. Try it out. You might get a BIG surprise.
For the first four weeks in Ordinary Time, we have been reading from the Letter to the Hebrews in our weekday Masses. The author of this Holy Book talks about the High Priesthood of Christ Jesus. Our Lord is compared to Melchizedek, an ancient priest who offers bread and wine, a king of Salem (saalam,shalom,peace). More importantly Jesus is presented as the ultimate, definite, Jewish High Priest, giving as offering for the final atonement for our sins, His own flesh, His own self, His life. He is the prime example for all the men who choose to completely follow Him, to give up just about everything, and go out and be His Apostles, His attendant priests in our Catholic Church.
Our Lord instituted the Eucharist not only so that we could remember and honor His saving sacrifice, but also so that He could be with us in the most intimate, physical, and spiritual way. This can only happen through the men He has chosen over the centuries, an army, a multitude of Apostles who have given the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to Him, and have kept these vows. These men are our champions, our examples, teachers, and bringers of Christ. To do this they gave themselves in a way similar to what it says in Hebrews 10: 5-7 :
“Sacrifice and offeringsYou did not desire but a body You prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings You took no delight. Then I said, as is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God.”
I believe it is this total, humble, selfless surrender to the will of God that gives our Catholic priests the right to celebrate the Eucharist in all Its power and holiness. At the same time, we lay people are not left off that easily. Our Lord suffered His Passion so that we too can approach the Holy of Holiest like those ancient priests. The Temple of His Holy Spirit is now in our hearts. We can find Him there. Do we dare? In our baptism we have been saved, but we have each been declared “priest, prophet, and king/queen”, servants of His Kingdom. Boy, do I feel unworthy of these gifts! But I am not about to reject the gifts of the One I love. No way. I want to please Him. I want to be with Him, and in Him, and He in me. Therefore, to prayer, surrender, and work!
“Brothers and Sisters: Since through the Blood of Jesus we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary by the new and living way He opened for us through the veil, that is , His flesh, and since we have ‘a great priest over the house of God’ let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope, for He who made the promise is trustworthy. We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10: 19-25)
Oh Great High Priest! Guide your Church in the path of righteousness and love. Strengthen us with your Presence. Help us show You to the world. Keep us united in your Mercy. Bring back your children who have strayed. Help us to be instruments of your Good. In gratitude we lift our eyes to You. Amen.