Remember “The Love Boat?” It was a somewhat unfunny but long-running TV show that took some major and not so major celebrities and cast them in little vignettes that were wrapped up in the context of a cruise. Well, wrapped up in the context of the Season of Advent (a somewhat penitential and preparation season leading to Christmas), are some vignettes featuring our Catholic celebrities of holiness – the saints. While we think of Advent as the season in which we prepare the way for the birth of Christ, it also features a number of saint days that remind us how these saints lived preparing for life with Christ in heaven. Now, while we won’t hear of “Love Boat” type-folks like Charo, Jimmy Walker, Jamie Farr or Norman Fell, we will hear about great holy men and women who served God well. To wit, here are the saints of Advent:
I write a weekly pastor’s column for the bulletins of my two parishes, Holy Cross in Dover and Immaculate Conception, in Marydel, Md.
Someone noted to me that the column I wrote on the topic of biblical origins of common phrases would make a nice article for the Catechetical Corner column in The Dialog. Who am I to disagree? “What I have written, I have written” (John 19:22) and here it is.
It is commonly put forth that it’s a small world. This phrase means to impute the understanding that we are not merely careering haplessly through this life, but that there are connections — sometimes surprising ones — that bind us as God’s children.
These same connections exist in many aspects of our language; there are everyday words and phrases that we use that find their origin in the Scriptures. So, as much as we commonly use this phrase or that idiom and think they are just conventions of language, they actually have the Bible, in common, as their home.
Let’s strap ourselves into the Way-back Machine for this multiple-millennia journey back in time to see the origin of some of the idioms of our language:
• It’s a drop in the bucket
This idiom, meaning a very small part of a larger need, finds its origin in Isaiah 40-15: “… the nations count as a drop in the bucket, as a wisp of cloud on the scales.” Be sure to include that Scripture reading on your “bucket list.”
• There’s a fly in the ointment
This saying, meaning there is a problem in the plan, goes back to Ecclesiastes 10:1: “Dead flies corrupt and spoil the perfumer’s oil.” Ladies, let me say to you that finding flies in one’s perfume is not a nice thing to ponder – so don’t let it cause you to worry about your perfume, lest it become Obsession.
• Bites the dust
This alternate way saying that someone died finds its origin in the Psalm 27, albeit in a different form: “May his foes kneel before him, his enemies lick the dust.” The words are different, the meaning is the same. Although, I don’t how many records Queen would have sold, if they had a song called, “Another One Licks the Dust.”
• A little bird told me
OK, this doesn’t exactly have a verbatim origin in the Bible, but a little bird told me that Ecclesiastes 10:20 comes darn close: “For the birds of the air may carry your voice, a winged creature may tell what you say.” This is probably a precursor to posting “Tweets.”
• Going the extra mile
This comes from Matthew 5:41: “Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.” It means to go beyond what is asked of you. In a fast food scenario, this idiom comes when someone asks you for a hamburger, and you give ’em a Big Mac.
• The blind leading the blind
This also comes from Matthew (15:14): as Christ comments about those darn recalcitrant Pharisees he says that: “they are blind guides of the blind. If a blind person leads a blind person, both will fall into a pit.” This refers to an uninformed person guiding another uninformed person. It would be like Paris Hilton directing a Pauly Shore movie.
• I’m pulling my hair out
This comes from Ezra 9:3: “When I had heard this, I tore my cloak and my mantle, plucked hair from my head and beard, and sat there devastated.” Ouch. This saying refers to a person being very anxious about something. If one is too anxious, it could be a case of hair today, gone tomorrow.
• The writing is on the wall
This idiom comes from the famous scene from the book of Daniel 5:5, when a disembodied hand scrawls a message on the palace wall: “Suddenly, opposite the lampstand, the fingers of a human hand appeared, writing on the plaster of the wall in the king’s palace.” The king does not understand the message, so Daniel helps the king to grasp its meaning. Interestingly, this saying has morphed. It no longer means a cryptic message, but rather, an obvious one. Hence, when the boss writes on your pay stub, “We’ll miss you!” The writing is on the wall for you, you’re fired.
• His knees were knocking
OK, remember the King in Daniel who saw the writing on the wall inscribed by the disembodied hand? Well, he was so scared at the sight that his knees knocked together: “When the king saw the hand that wrote, his face became pale; his thoughts terrified him, his hip joints shook, and his knees knocked” (Daniel 5:6). This idiom has to do with fearing. When one fears something, his knees knock together. Interestingly, on “The Addams Family” no one seems too scared of Thing (a disembodied hand), but Lurch always gave one the heebie-jeebies.
• Nothing new under the sun
Ecclesiastes 1:9 says: “What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun.” King Solomon puts forth this gem, and it means that life (though it may seem exciting) offers little without God. And for those who watch TV, movies and listen to music, this line will indeed echo well with them: amidst the re-makes, retreads, re-releases, re-launchings and re-imaginings, there is, indeed, nothing new under the sun. Thus we experience “Return to Gilligan’s Island,” “Friday the 13th – Part VIII” and about a dozen “Brady Bunch” reunion shows.
• You don’t know the half of it
This saying speaks to the idea that one doesn’t know the full picture of what is going on. This saying comes from the Old Testament, when the Queen of Sheba said to King Solomon: “I did not believe the report until I came and saw with my own eyes that not even the half had been told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report I heard.” (1 Kings 10:7). Basically, she was telling him that she didn’t know the half of it. Kind of like when someone says that on the day after Thanksgiving some stores have crowds. Well, you don’t half of it, until you’ve seen the bulls-at-Pamplona type of madness at the mall that day.
• I’ll nail him to the wall
This phrase that speaks of catching and punishing someone finds its roots in the 1 Samuel 18:10-11: “The next day an evil spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raged in his house. David was in attendance, playing the harp as at other times, while Saul was holding his spear. Saul poised the spear, thinking, ‘I will nail David to the wall!’ But twice David escaped him.” Another translation of this passage reads, “I will pin David to the wall.” While wrestling fans of WWE, WCW and ECW will appreciate the “pin” comment, “nail” really conveys the anger of the comment. That tone expands the franchise of this idiom. Thus, when you “nail” the person, the berating you give them is sometimes called a “hammering” of them or even referenced as “beating them down” – both are things that have to do with nails.
There are hundreds of other idioms with their roots in the sacred Scriptures; this column just gives a smattering of them. So, when you are reading your Bible, keep an eye and an ear out to see how many of these idioms you can find that have made the transition from the Word of God to the words of our everyday language.
Father Lentini is pastor of Holy Cross Church in Dover and Immaculate Conception Church in Marydel, Md.
Last issue, we stepped into the “Wayback Machine” and got some historical background from the Old Testament era regarding the Levitical priesthood of Judaism, as a way of laying the groundwork for discussing the priesthood of Jesus Christ as we know it in the church today. This article will focus on the identity of the priest, and connecting his role to that of the bishop. Both the priest and the bishop share in the priesthood of Christ. Note: the role of deacons will be taken up in a later article.
It’s baseball season. I can tell because the Phillies keep moving me from joy to “agita” on a roller-coaster sports ride. I think that baseball might provide us with a good analogy for the priesthood. “How so?” you may ask. Well, priests can be very well analogous to the pitchers on a baseball team.
On a baseball team there are two very distinct types of players: there are pitchers and then there is everyone else. Pitchers are part of the team, to be sure, but they are different and distinct from the rest. I mean, just look at the stats kept for the pitcher. They are completely different from stats kept for any other position on the team.
Also, the pitcher governs much of the action; when he is on the mound he is at the center of the drama that we call a baseball game. He paces the game, varies the pitches, and nothing can happen in the game without him doing his job.
Bishop visits the mound
One could imagine that a ballgame could be played without a shortstop or a left fielder if needed, but not without a pitcher. If the pitcher has a problem, or a weakness or is just getting clobbered, another pitcher, not some other player, replaces him. A pitcher is one of the members of the team. He is playing the same game, seeking the same outcome, but his role is distinct.
The person who puts the pitcher on the mound is the manager, and the manager may be likened to a bishop. The manager cares about all the players on the team, but he has a special relationship to the pitcher. Thus, we often see the manager go out and talk to the pitcher, but how often do you see the manager go and talk to the left fielder? I am sure in the dugout that conversation occurs between the manager and the other players, but the manager is acutely interested in the performance of his pitcher, as a bishop has a special care for his priests.
So, looking at the priesthood, the priest occupies a unique place. He is chosen from among men, but his role and his place are distinct. He is a person just like the lay faithful are persons, and just as pitcher is a member of the team along with the other players. However, as a pitcher’s role on the team is unique – who he is, where he stands, what he does, what his purpose is – so too, the priest is distinct among God’s people.
Father records saves
Thus, as the pitcher stands on a mound, so the priest stands in the sanctuary. As a pitcher controls the pace of the game within its rules, so the priest celebrates the Mass and sacraments within the law of God and his church. Just as a pitcher and the players on the team share the same goal of victory, so, too, do the priest and the people of a parish likewise strive for the victory of eternal salvation in Christ. Just as when the pitcher gets a “win” or a “save,” the whole team benefits, so, too, when the priest succeeds in his ministerial work, it is a win for Christ and his church – and it saves souls, not ballgames.
So, for me, the priest as a pitcher analogy is one that sings sweeter in my ears than Olivia Newton John on a schmaltzy ballad, thus dare I say, I honestly love it.
Continuing with the analogy, let’s examine the question, “How does a man becomes a priest?” In the truest tradition, priests are born, not made. They have been called to the priesthood from the womb, but need to answer the call that beckons them to God’s priestly service to the people. Some folks will tell you that pitchers are born, not made, that there is a natural ability that some folks have in that regard. That ability can be honed and strengthened but never created. So, with that in mind, the stories of a baseball pitcher and a priest have parallels.
When a pitcher-to-be first discovers that he wants to pitch, it’s usually at a younger age and he becomes more and more acquainted with the sport by practicing his game.
Likewise, a priestly call commonly comes at a fairly young age (yes, there are those 50-year old vocations, but those are not the norm). And that person keeps following that priestly call by practicing his faith. The future pitcher may be scouted in high school or college or even after college; the future priest may be directed toward his vocation by other priests, family or a diocese’s vocation director.
Once he makes the commitment, the pitcher and the priest-to-be begin more formal training – the priest-to-be for a diocese, and the pitcher-to-be for a team.
Minors to majors
The pitcher starts down in perhaps a single-“A” short season minor league team, while the priest-to-be might start in what is called a “minor seminary” (or college seminary). If the pitcher-to-be is good, he rises to the succeeding levels, “A” to “AA” to “AAA” to the major leagues. If the priest-to-be is good he rises to the succeeding levels, “minor seminary” to “major seminary” (where theology is studied) to “lector” (he can read at Mass), to “acolyte” (he can serve at Mass), and to ordination as a transitional deacon (this is where the priest-to-be enters the major leagues: he’s not on the mound yet, but he is slated to be). As a transitional deacon, the priest-to-be can baptize, perform marriages, bury the dead, proclaim the Gospel, bring communion to the sick, etc.
Then it’s time. As per the needs of the team determined by the manager, a player is put into the game, so, too, as per the needs of the diocese determined by the bishop, the transitional deacon is called to holy orders for ordination as a priest. The priest candidate is brought to an ordination Mass, where the bishop (ministering the sacrament of holy orders) lays hands upon him, and the priest candidate makes solemn promises to the bishop and his successors.
In the course of that Rite of Ordination, the Holy Spirit descends upon the man and raises him to the “presbyterate” or “priesthood.” When that happens, from that day forward the man, now the priest, becomes conformed to Christ in a profound way – his role among the people of God is that of a sacred minister. Just like the pitcher whose role on the team is distinct because of who he is (a pitcher), so too, the priest’s role in the life of the church is distinct because of who he is.
Now, all analogies breakdown, and this does one does, too. The priest is a priest on the level of his soul and being, and he stands as an “alter Christi” (another Christ). No baseball pitcher, however good, is changed at the level of his soul and being (although Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, at their best, have occasionally caused me to ponder this point).
Also, as much as even the best pitcher loves the game, baseball is not a vocation, but an avocation. It’s for a living. It’s for enjoyment. It can even be a passion, but it can never be a way of life (although, Red Sox fans may disagree).
So, the point of this article is not to be a theological treatise on the priesthood, nor a run through the ritual or issues concerning priesthood (that’s next issue). The point of this article is to draw a common analogy to help put the priest in perspective relative to the people of God. The priest is a person, he is chosen from among men, but he is not just like everyone else. He has a unique role and that role has everything to do with who-he-is (a priest) and not just what he does.
Frankly, if the pitcher does badly, a team can still win a game, but it makes it that much harder. So, too, if the priest fails in his ministerial role, or wavers in his faith, the people of God can still find salvation through the church in all of its glory, but it makes it that much harder.
Shut out the Serpents
So, pray for your priests, that they may be strong and sound, and that by their presence and ministry may they prevent the opponent (that serpent) from scoring too many runs against our team. Just as so many moms and dads would love to see little Junior to grow up to be a pitcher, with that same fervor and same excitement, they should likewise want that he should be a priest. They should do this because vocations to the priesthood, like any great baseball game, indeed, do begin at home. Play ball!
Father Lentini is principal of St. Thomas More Academy in Magnolia.
Readings for April 29
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Acts 4:8-12; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18
Our Scripture readings for this fourth Sunday of Easter are reminding us of who we are and how God is caring for us. We are children of God. This is not just a name; we really are God’s children, even though the world and sometimes even we do not believe this.
We cannot comprehend how such imperfect people as we could be God’s children. No matter what others and we ourselves may sometimes think, we are most assuredly God’s children, despite our imperfections. And as children we need to be feed, disciplined, taught, and loved. It is important that we remember this so that when God is interacting with us as a parent with a child, we will pay attention.
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The Easter season has begun and in our Catholic faith, Easter is the primary holy day and season of the year. Many folks look at Christmas as the biggest feast of the church year because it represents God coming in the flesh. Thinking that Christmas is the main feast of the church is understandable, but that is not the case.
Easter is the day around which the entire church year revolves.
Readings for Sunday, April 15, Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 4:32-35; 1 John 5:1-6; John 20:19-31
“Receive the Holy Spirit…”
Jesus uses these words in the Gospel, in part, to prepare the disciples for the fact that they are now being sent out. Jesus sends them to preach and to heal and to be peace in the world in the same way that Jesus had been sent to do and to be those things. Through our own share in the one Spirit of Christ – we are no less sent.
Here is today’s Do It Yourself Lent:
Readings for April 8
The Resurrection of the Lord, The Mass of Easter Sunday
Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Colossians 3: 1-4 or 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8
We who have known the Easter story for years may possibly wonder why the close followers of Jesus were so slow to understand, but then we have to realize that we certainly don’t understand what resurrection from the dead is, or how it happens. So we take refuge in Easter bunnies, preferably chocolate, and Easter eggs, which are symbols of new life.
I don’t understand it either. But St. Paul, with his usual forthrightness, told that if it isn’t true, then our whole faith is “vain” and we are back to square one.
Here is today’s Do It Yourself Lent:
Here is today’s Do It Yourself Lent: