Live-Streamed (Coronavirus Crisis)
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
April 10, 2020
Prophet, Priest, and King
On the day of our Baptism, we were joined to Jesus. Our sins were forgiven. Jesus began to live in us in the power of his death and resurrection. United to the Son of God, we became adopted sons and daughters of God our Father, and we were incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ. Through Baptism, the seeds of faith, hope, and love were planted in us, seeds which, if nurtured by faith, prayer, and good works, enable Christ’s life and love to take deep root in our souls, there to germinate, to grow, to bloom, and to “bear fruit that will last” [Jn. 15:16].
During the Rite of Baptism, titles that belong properly to Jesus are lavished upon us. We are called ‘prophets and priests and kings’. But we may ask, ‘Is this just a bit of sacramental exaggeration, or is it actually true?’ Does Baptism in fact make us prophets, priests, and kings … like Jesus? Good Friday answers that question for us, for in this solemn liturgy, we encounter Christ at the very hour of his passion and death, at the very hour when he is revealed as prophet, priest, and king. If, then, we wish to follow Jesus and to be like him in every way, we must open our hearts to the One who is a prophet and more than a prophet; to the One who is a priest, indeed, our Great High Priest; and we must open our hearts to the King, who gave his life for us with sovereign freedom and humble love.
A Prophet and More Than a Prophet
Jesus, then, is a prophet and more than a prophet. But what is the vocation of a prophet? Is it just to foretell the future? No, not only that; a prophet is one who reveals God’s will. He does so by inspired words and by dramatizing the intentions of God’s heart. So it was with the prophet Isaiah, whom we met in the first reading. Both by his words and by the witness of his life, Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be a Servant, a Servant whom God would uphold, but One who would be spurned and rejected by a sinful humanity. Who of us cannot see in Christ crucified the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy? “Oppressed and condemned, he was taken away…cut off from the land of the living… smitten for the sin of his people…though he had done no wrong… But the Lord was pleased to crush him in infirmity” [Is. 53:9-10].
The prophecy of Isaiah did indeed come to its fulfillment in Jesus, whose saving passion and death we reverently commemorate today. This Jesus who was crucified was, to be sure, a prophet and more than a prophet. Proclaiming the Good News, Jesus not only spoke on behalf of God; rather, he was and he is the living Word of God, the Word made flesh. Likewise, our Savior not only revealed the Father’s saving will; Jesus embraced his will and accomplished it, by laying down his life in love.
Dear friends, you and I will deserve the title prophet, bestowed on us at Baptism, only if, like Jesus, we embrace God’s will in our lives, allow our wills to be bent to his, and join our prayers, works, joys, and sufferings to Christ and to him crucified. In this pandemic, we are called to bear prophetic witness to the redemptive power of suffering, its power to purify us and to change us; its power to help us see what is truly important; its power to open our hearts, and place ourselves at the service of others, especially those most in need.
Our Great High Priest
As we look upon Christ crucified, let us see him also as our Great High Priest. The essential work of a priest is to offer sacrifice in atonement for sin. Unlike the OT priests who went before him, Jesus, God’s Son, offered to his Father, not “the blood of goats and bulls” [Heb. 10:3] but his sinless humanity. By this one offering, Jesus achieved the forgiveness of our sins once for all, and put our relationship with God on an entirely new footing.
And let us be clear, it was in our human nature that Jesus offered himself. Truly the Son of God, Jesus was one of us and able ‘to sympathize with our weakness’: ‘our physical infirmities, our psychological limitations, our struggles with temptation.’ [Mary Healy, Hebrews, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, p. 97]. In this time of uncertainty and fear, how important for us to understand this! “There is no enemy that Christ does not face with us. There is no cross to bear that Christ has not already borne for us and does not bear for us now” – words spoken by St. John Paul II here in Baltimore.
Since by his death, Jesus has defeated the forces of sin and death, let us approach God confidently with our needs, and those of our families and our world. We can and we should pray for an end to this pandemic, for those who have died, for those who are suffering, for those who are putting their lives on the line for others. When we pray for others, when we offer our sufferings for others, we live up to our Baptismal calling as a priestly people that Christ has made his own.
The Royal Way
Finally, something must be said about the Kingship of Christ. Pilate asked Jesus, already scourged and suffering, “Are you a king?” And Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world…” [Jn. 18:36]. Yes, Jesus came into the world, not for earthly power or glory, but instead “to testify to the truth” and to do the saving will of the Father.
In his Gospel, St. John makes a point of telling us that, despite the very real human fears he experienced, Jesus freely embraced the mission that had been entrusted to him by his Father. “No one takes [my life] from me,” said Jesus, “but I lay it down on my own” [Jn. 10:8]. Jesus was not merely a victim of evil plots, nor still less a victim of circumstances. Rather he chose to obey his Father; he chose to die for the sake of our salvation. Jesus was a king, not because he had the trappings of royalty – for, as Isaiah said – “there was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him…”[Is. 53:2]. No, Jesus was a king because with humility, love, and freedom, he laid down his life to set us free – free from sin, free from pride and fear, free from the grip of death. In the blood and water flowing from Jesus’ side – the very lifeblood of the Church and the very source of the Church’s sacraments – we are incorporated into the bloodline of that King whose dominion is not of this world.
In these days when, for reasons of public safety, our freedoms are restricted, we are called to a deeper freedom, a freedom not of this world, but rather a royal freedom of self-mastery over our sins and our fears. Let us seek that freedom which enables us to embrace our share of suffering, in the hope that God would “transform our hearts to the point that they would become capable of loving with a love that is as pure, freely given, and disinterested as God’s own love.” [Jacques Philippe, Interior Freedom, p. 67] When we love like Jesus, we are indeed walking the royal road of sovereign freedom!
Hail to Thee, O Crucified and Risen Jesus – prophet and priest and king!