Monday, February 7, 2011

The Lost Sacrifice

It never fails.  Whenever someone finds out that I “used to be” a priest they quickly follow up with asking; “Do you miss doing anything?”
                “Yep…Holy Eucharist.”
                The older I get the quicker my response. 
                But, before I elaborate I want you to know a couple of things.  First, I am happily married and the love and constant forgiveness of my wife is what allows me to be forthright with you.  I also offer a disclaimer to any priest or lay person who may read this and feel slighted, challenged, or pushed just a little.
                Last year (outside my diocese--maybe…and not in my current diocese—maybe) I was trying to ‘pray along’ with the celebrant.  Unfortunately he appeared to be suffering from some kind of spiritual angst.  His voice changed during the Eucharistic prayer and he seemed to be in some sort of physical pain.  It just seemed way over the top and just a little too much acting.  Then, following Holy Communion he stood up, told a joke, handled the announcements and his voice was back to normal!
                 It was a dual personality experience.   
                That very well could have been me—acting and playing the crowd.
                When I was a young priest,  I never really ‘offered’ the sacrifice of the Mass.  Sure, I was spiritually formed in the theology and liturgy of the Mass.  But, on my part, something was always missing.  Maybe because as  young priest I was taught that I needed to be more relevant to the people in the pew.  I was told that what was needed were action plans and success plans and professional leaders who had clear goals and objectives and job descriptions.  During my first years of priesthood I watched as Altars of sacrifice were replaced with ‘mission statements’.  And I bought into it.  I was to be more than a priest.  I was to be a leader and a manager and a presider at liturgies.  Here I was a priest and I never did a personal holy hour or just went and sat in the confessional—at an unscheduled time.  No wonder I was empty.
                The result of such an approach, years later, is a consumer based social phenomena gone rampant in the Church.  A priest no longer offers sacrifice but a product.  Priests and lay people buy books and programs and go to seminars to learn to be ministers and offer a product—not an invitation to sacrifice. 
                Sacrifice has been lost.  It has completely flipped.  Satan has to be snickering.
                In a world of identity theft we are faced with the very identity of the priesthood and the church being stolen by secular ideals, approaches, and desires to make the church more ‘relevant.’ 
                Relevant is for an American Idol contestant—not the priesthood, not the church.  When you go down the road of relevancy you end up in relativism…and that is for another time.