A Tale of Two Priesthoods

Set Free Broken Chains

Urban myths are a dangerous thing to live by; especially in the realm of faith and history. 

One that I heard and then believed ad nauseam was “What about the priesthood of all believers?  The Church Jesus left was supposed to be pure and pristine.  One way those Catholics have it wrong is that only a select few are priests and thus they take away true freedom of the gospel and the priesthood of all believers.”

There is a further one that says, “anything from the Catholic Church that softens things up is a later development to make it look nice in the last 100 years.”

Below I will address both. 

To proclaim the gospel is a charge to all Christians and the Catholic Church affirms this as a natural unfolding of the great commission to make disciples and baptize them (Matthew 28:20).  It is just implied that it is not official likely because it is not in the midst of a mass where clergy read the words of one of the actual gospels of the Bible.  The calling of priesthood happens to all Christians upon initial justification.  But the empowerment for ones expression of the common priesthood is in what is called Confirmation. 

1305 This “character” [sacrament of Confirmation] perfects the common priesthood of the faithful, received in Baptism, and “the confirmed person receives the power to profess faith in Christ publicly and as it were officially (quasi ex officio).”[122 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theolpgica III,72,5, ad 2]

In reference to the referred Confirmation, it is a matter of one having a connection with the divine through God the Holy Spirit that binds the baptized to a common fellowship with the Godhead and not just “my Holy Spirit experience”.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ is proclaimed since no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except through the Spirit of God. 

But doesn’t the role of the priesthood take away from non-priests like a second class citizen placement?  Not at all.  I have bones and I have muscle.  I need one to keep me moving and another that fits in and supports passing on the blood flow.  This is consistent with the many passages in the New Testament where there are distinct gifts to the Body of Christ and how not everyone can say they are everything. 

1547 The ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests, and the common priesthood of all the faithful participate, “each in its own proper way, in the one priesthood of Christ.” While being “ordered one to another,” they differ essentially. In what sense? While the common priesthood of the faithful is exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace –a life of faith, hope, and charity, a life according to the Spirit–, the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians. The ministerial priesthood is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church. For this reason it is transmitted by its own sacrament, the sacrament of Holy Orders. [22 Lumen Gentium,1965 10 § 2]

So if one was to an argument that one side exists to the own detriment of the other, it is really the position of the Catholic Church that the servants are the clerical priests. 

1141 The celebrating assembly is the community of the baptized who, “by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated to be a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, that through all the works of Christian men they may offer spiritual sacrifices.” [Rev 1:6; cf. Rev 5:9-10; 1 Pet 2:5,9] This “common priesthood” is that of Christ the sole priest, in which all his members participate:

Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy, and to which the Christian people, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people,” [1 Peter 55-67AD] have a right and an obligation by reason of their Baptism.  (11 Sacrosanctum Concilium,1965 14; Cf. 1 Pet 2:9; 2:4-5, 55-67AD)

“Aha!  But there you have the problem of how you Catholics go about ceremony that has a  form of godliness but denies the power of God thereof. Just dry religion.”

For that I would respond that such premises are incorrect and miss the good, the true and the beautiful with the following points. 

Liturgy is a word that comes from the Greek that is liturgia meaning the work of the people.  Sounds like a non-Christ centered work?  Consider that Jesus spoke of the “work” to believe in Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3) which was the night he was betrayed and said of communion “Do this in remembrance of me”. 

As for the celebration of these two forms of priesthood?  It is the sacrifice of thanksgiving that is tied to the nearness of Jesus through the Eucharist.  This may be implied where Paul writes,  “Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.  Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God” (Phillipians 4:5-6). The word for thanksgiving is eucharistia where we get Eucharist.  Once again, we see a participation of Christ’s priesthood who has done the direct work by suffering and death on the cross.  When we do liturgy we are doing what Jesus said with a supernatural remembrance “Do this in memory of me”.  Sacramentally, when I go to my parish in Tempe, Arizona, I do not re-sacrifice Jesus in my common priesthood but Christ lives out his sacrifice in me. 

1546 Christ, high priest and unique mediator, has made of the Church “a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.” [1 Peter].  The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly. The faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation the faithful are “consecrated to be . . . a holy priesthood” [Lumen Gentium]. 

Yes, some were within the last 100 years.  The latest ones I can find are in the Catechism quoting from the Vatican II council in the 1960’s.  But one of the source quotes are from St. Thomas Aquinas from the 1200’s.  That is far before any possible “remodeling”.  Plus, for the Bible passages they are quoting that show the common priesthood, it is worth noting that such scriptures that point to  a common priesthood were approved as scripture by the Catholic Church.   If the Catholic Church is so against the priesthood of all believers, why did they call those passages as divinely inspired public revelation?  This was accomplished in the 380’s and 390’s AD with approval by popes. 

One other thing about this common priesthood of the faithful are those who are later in heaven.  There is more than biblical room that the worship before God in heaven can include such intercession ongoing. 

 When he took it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones. (Revelation 5:8).

The beauty is not that Jesus is usurped of his status as Lord, Savior and Redeemer.  The Church does not teach that.  It is that the role of the believers is one that participates in what Jesus did and does in an ongoing way.  We are “a holy priesthood”(1 Peter 2:9). It is no coincidence that Catholic means “according to the whole”.  Jesus makes it that way.     

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Day 1- Humbled Together

The BeginningWhat is the classic conversion story regarding faith?  Is there such a thing?  Can it be run “by the numbers” like a formula?  In Christianity, there are patterns of surrender, but it is best not to see it through a mechanical lens.

An important factor is that Jesus never shamed anyone towards the surrender of conversion.  Shame does not work since it is sort of another flavor for fear and the scriptures teach us that, “perfect love pushes out fear” (1 John 4:12).  Shame and legalism complicate the search for Jesus in ways that take us from simplicity, or in other words, the basics of love.

There is a story I like about the famous American football coach Vince Lombardi.  His team lost a game once that he felt would not have got away from them if they had stayed rooted in the fundamentals of the game.  He then had the next several days full of drills that a high school foot ball team would do.  The re-rooting had to happen.  One can be refreshed on the mission by renewing their perspective of what started them on mission.  Love is the basics and at the heart of the mission.

Such was the case for Jesus the winter before the Cross.  He had been in Jerusalem twice in the last three months or so.  Shame and legalism were the themes of his adversaries and they rejected his love out of principle.

He went back across the Jordan to the place where John first baptized, and there he remained.  Many came to him and said, “John performed no sign, but everything John said about this man was true.” And many there began to believe in him (John 10:40-42).

The Jordan River was full of  the meaning of conversion for the Jewish people.  Just as Moses parted the Red Sea in leaving Egypt, Joshua parted the waters of the Jordan as the people of Israel entered the Promised Land.  It had been seen as a place of going from slavery to the full benefits of being children of promise.  Being children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob meant a context of covenant with God as a person.  To go from one level of relationship with God to a higher one is part of what covenant means.  It means more than “What I have is yours” but “I am yours”.  In the thoughts and feelings of Jesus one can imagine in this later stage of his public life something like nostalgia on how he began ministry before at the baptism by John.  That was where a model of Christian conversion began to be lived out and modeled in one fateful week in part by Jesus himself.

Three years before, the soil of John’s ministry was a prime place for Christ and the community he founded and would begin its foundation in an act and sign of repentance.  One could call the people being baptized as going to the “Church of John” in that with his baptism they were saying they loved God more than their sins and were ready for God’s kingdom to come in fulness. This was a hunger for God’s grace that they could come and receive while putting aside the dirt of the weary journey. The baptism of repentance is good in an admitted need for God.  It is like the 12 Step model in admitting that you have become powerless and cannot manage your life alone. It is even admitting your wrongs and their very nature.  Such admission is the beginning of wisdom but not conversion in fulness: a conversion of the heart.

For Christ and his followers, this had other contexts and those contexts were of fulfillment partly in experiencing the beginnings of the Church which Jesus would found.  Jesus was proclaimed by John to be the Lamb of God and baptizer in the Holy Spirit.  Some who saw him being baptized heard a voice in the baptism that this was the Son of God.  It was in this scene that some began to believe in him and among them two who would become apostles.

Of the pilgrims mentioned above, it is worth considering what they were thinking.  John said that Jesus must increase and he would decrease.  That was significant but still lacked something.  There were no stumbling blocks in the crowd in Jordan.  They had not heard the harder truths yet.  They also did not know what it would be like to have a continued relationship personally with Jesus in tandem with such hard truths.  Does that make their belief in Jesus meaningless?  Not necessarily.  It just means that they believed with obedience to the point that they could with what they knew.  But the call of the price of discipleship would come soon enough like it does to anyone who takes the daring step of seeing Jesus as more than just a nice guy to believe in a savior like hero.  The core message of Christianity is that Jesus is Lord.

One can look at the epistle to the Hebrews which speaks of the foundations of personal conversion, encountering God in His covenantal nature and eternal view.  Below is a general outline for salvation from ones conversion into eternity within in the context of community.

“Therefore, let us leave behind the basic teaching about Christ and advance to maturity, without laying the foundation all over again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, instruction about baptisms and laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. (Hebrews 6:2)

So what is it like to do those things in an experience that is ideal and clear?  One can see in other scenes in the gospels how a conversion to Jesus is murky with condemnation and cynicism.  What I will address next are ways Jesus can show up when the heart of the person is ready, the context is ideal and still have healthy skepticism come along for the ride.  With that in mind, I concentrate on the first 7 days  where Jesus sheds the garb of a carpenter and steps up in the public favor of the Father and models conversion for the world to follow.

To be clear on theology, Jesus was not a convert.  But Jesus made a point in these first days of going public to show what conversion looks like.  The unveiling of Jesus as the wisdom and power of God is not an enigma but a mystery that the humble can always at least get the gist of.  One such humble person was John son of Zechariah baptizing people along the Jordan River.  To a great extent, if one gets his lens, one greatly gets who Jesus is and offers.  It is that Jesus atones for the sins of the world.  Even the worst.

  In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea [and] saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” …… At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. (Matthew 3:1,5).

Repent- A wise man with a dramatic addiction recovery story said that if he meets someone like he used to be that has a history of bad character and cannot describe their own turning point then he hesitates to trust them.  Conversion is a choice and is a turning point.

the kingdom of heaven is at hand!–  Conversion is towards a constant relationship that it rooted in heaven.  It is not about politics, culture or any other schemas that humans conjure up.  God is above the fray and his purest state of kingdom starts and ends in heaven but can be grasped on earth.

baptized by him…. as they acknowledged their sins-  Conversion is a redemption process and is meant for a healthy community context.  The call to Christ, is a call to community.  It is no surprise that in many early Christian communities the norm was for some to stand up to confess sins and receive the grace of the forgiveness in the name of Christ at a church meeting.  Even looking at today in 12 Step meetings there is a confessional quality as someone says “I am…..and I am a(n)…. “  While 12 Step is an honest program, Christianity is more than that.

To know the call of Jesus is to have the norm of knowing that call from honesty into change.  In that, we can all be works in progress. Such is the beauty of the Savior’s work on all who seek him in a community of loved sinners coming out of the shame of our failings.  We are all hungry for that even if we do not know it.

Indefectability

Old Church

I heard a striking story once that nailed the continuity of Christianity to a T.  Tim Staples was on a place once seated next to a young, polite mormon man who had just finished his two years of missionary service.  One of the stances of the Mormon Church is that Christianity started in its pristine shape but then became apostate.  Along came the prophet Joseph Smith who restored what was dead.

On this theme, Staples had some follow up questions on that point.  He asked him “Is ‘all scripture God-breathed’ and is ‘useful’ like it says in 2 Timothy 3:16?”.  He answered yes.  Then he took him to the following passage that most people do not think about.

 “If your brother[l] sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector (Matthew 18:15-17).

His wise follow ups after the young man said this passage were: Is this also applicable?  “Yes!” Was it applicable 5 years ago?  50?  Yes.  Yes.  In 1790?

Then the young man’s face was downcast.  1790 was thirty years before his beloved prophet had his revelation.  So before that, even if one could say there could be more than one valid Christian, there would be nowhere to settle disputes.  The young man was discouraged and a seed was planted that there had to be some kind of Christian community that was both visible and authoritative from Jesus’ passion until now.

And that is the crux of how that argument comes down to: the reliability of Jesus depends in part on a continuity of an institution that keeps existing and has authority in faith and morals.  This is why Jesus said  “upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).  Apostasy?  No match unless one believes that Jesus was a liar, lunatic or combination of that with legend.

There is more to this ongoing church.  It is to carry on the proper glory given in worship to God.  “Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).  So, how can an apostate church bring glory to God?

The other mission of the church that is meant to keep going is being a witness to the grace of God.

that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them (Ephesians 2:7-10).

Notice those words “might show” and “we should live in them” are to be ongoing and not just for Paul’s day.  The context is set up as “the ages to come”.  So God does not get what he wants?  Or, again, does God do this through an apostate church?

And then there is the matter of Mary.  According to scripture there has to be some level of veneration of Mary through all the generations. “And Mary said: ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed’ “ (Luke 1:46-48).

So in every generation there needs to be a people who are giving some reverence to Mary the mother of Jesus.  We have this recorded in the word of God in her conversation with an angel.  If this was conceit on her part about “all ages” then surely Gabriel would have set her straight to make sure no one would worship her.  But yet one can find veneration to her among the Anglicans, Catholics, Coptics and Eastern Orthodox.

Next, there needs to be a perpetual teaching office for any kingdom to continue that is rooted in a spiritual line.  We learn from the Old Testament that there was a teaching office in the magisterium, scriptures and tradition.  Jesus gave us the apostles who carried on the Old Testament and had tradition that would pass on something orally “Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).  This includes the proper celebration of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11) that is what we know through the early church fathers as the Eucharist.  When Jesus said in the gospels that his blood is true drink and his flesh is true food (John 6) and that “This is my body” he meant it and commissioned a church government to regulate the distribution of himself in the Eucharist.

Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God… They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, Flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.” —Letter to the Smyrnans, Ch 6. 107 AD.

He was on his way to be martyred when he wrote this. He was the third bishop of Antioch. The first city where the word Christian was used.

But the teaching office?  We have the word of God!  Scripture alone!  Nor really.  If you look at Acts 1 the apostles replace Judas with Mathias.  He never wrote an epistle just like most of the apostles but in that chapter they quote the psalms about another taking his office.  In quoting the Greek translation of the Old Testament the word for office is where we get episcopate as in that which a bishop holds.  You then see that Paul later tells Timothy to set up bishops who would guard the deposit of faith and would spread that to still more people setting the stage for four generations alone (2 Timothy 2:2).

Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.  Ignatius Letter to the Smyrnans.  107 AD.

In fact, it was bishops that organized the final canon of scripture even more generations later in the late 300’s.  Bishops of that confederation belonged to lines of apostolic succession that are now called Catholic, Coptic and Eastern Orthodox.

But in that council, not the first of its kind, the organized canon was not official without Pope Damasus I presiding over it in 382 and Pope Innocent I finalizing in 405.  Even then the historical residence of the Pope was in Rome (look further back to the 90’s with I Clement the letter).  The bishops could not have anything officially infallible without the say so of the Bishop of Rome.

At this point I would like to get back to the rock and church reference in a fuller context.

Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you [singular], Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16: 16-19).

Peter would be a new royal steward and chief of the new magisterium of the New Israel.  Anyone else that would come up as a new bishop for centuries to come would be defaulted to be approved by Peter or whoever would take also his office with the same logic as Matthias replacing Judas.  In other words, papal succession went with apostolic succession.

“ ‘Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.’ “(Luke 22:31-33).  The word here for strengthen is not just a pep talk.  He would confirm them.  As much as I appreciate the janitor staff of where I went to school, for them to confer on my parchment at graduation would be inappropriate.  Someone of a higher standing than me in that university handed that to me.  In this era, it is common to lift high the banner of “spiritual but not religious” but make no mistake: Jesus is religious, he founded a church and it is hierarchical. I have been the chief of the supposed “spiritual” argument.  But as you can see in what I have outlined above, I believe I have encountered Christ in the context of a a 2,000 year old, Marian spirituality, Petrine governing, authoritative, transcendent called out community.   I am home.

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?

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Where we last left off, God spoke to Simon Peter, a Jew, and Cornelius the centurion, a Roman to get together. For this to happen, there was hardness of heart to get through but not in the Roman surprisingly. 

            So now Peter shows up as directed and is taking a step of faith.  Due to the deeply entrenched oppression by the Romans for a few generations  Peter may have longed for the leap of faith in walking on water to Jesus.  After all, the water never did anything to him personally. 

Acts 10: 34 “Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

            Right here Peter talks about how God provides equal justice.  He will not tip the scales over any person over another by superficial standards in terms of His judgment.  Next, Peter recognizes signs of light in those that are different from him.  More than that, those who have faith and does what is right are acceptable to what he used to think was only a Jewish God. 

            Peter then brings in a serious drive to the point.  He quickly says Jesus is Lord of all.  This is not an authority trip.  Yes, authority is part of Jesus being Lord, but it also involves how he is personal and not a person on the other side of the universe.      

43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”  If you remember from last post, Jesus tells Peter to not call unclean what He calls clean.  Forgiveness is there even for those people.

But the teaching and experience that Peter brings to these gentiles is not just an emphasis on what American Protestants called, “Confessing Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.”   If people come into Jesus, then it is meant to be lived out in a corporate context and on the other side of a solid, measurable dividing line. 

44 “While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47 ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ 48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.”

            The Holy Spirit falling down on the gentile crowd is powerful.  Peter sees that grace of God on the people that confirms not only redemption but a call to communion in fellowship.  You see, in the Church, knowing Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior is a start.  But with the Holy Spirit active and crying from our hearts, we can call God “Daddy”.  Peter sees that they share the same Daddy.  I long for the day that no Christian fellowship on earth is an ethnic or racially based church! 

            The next part is about recognizing the grace of God in fellowship.  This is why the Catholic Church recognizes the coming of the Holy Spirit to enlighten one to be a fully active member in the visible body.  The gentiles received a touch of God’s grace in their hearts, but baptism would further enlist their experience as a solid context for their bodies too to experience the New Covenant (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 to see that passing through inspired water is covenential). It is baptism that seals the mark salvation (1 Peter 3:21). 

            So Peter has come a long way.  He swallowed his ethnic and religious pride. Further change is happening and Peter had to roll with it.  Do we?  Where is our prejudice?  Are we content to keep the Other, Other?  Or do we want to be like Simon Peter or the Good Samaritan and take our own part of being a bridge to those that are yet seeking God in their understanding.  

More Precious Than Gold

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I remember a joke about gold when I was a kid.  Goofy but educational.  A guy is walking down the street when a criminal rips off his watch and runs.  The guy says, “AU! Give me back my watch!” AU is the periodic table symbol for gold.  I got this from the Facts of Life.  

That occurred to me in a roundabout way, when I wanting to write this blog today.  Why is gold so precious?  It is not a small thing to appraise something as more precious than gold. 

Gold is shiny. It is dense.  But particularly it does not absorb outside material.  No stain, no muss, no fuss. 

 When it comes to the things of this world that bring us down, how easily are we stained?  The worries of this life?  Ways to objectify people?  I remember the words of John Paul II were something like, “Love people, use things.  Do not use people and love things.”  There are a lot of dirty things that can cling to us if we do not have a fundamental lean to something that really grounds us in what matters. 

Such is on my mind with Simon Peter here. 

Acts 8:14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit 16 (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money! 21 You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and the chains of wickedness.” 24 Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may happen to me.”

There are two things at least we can get from this story.  First, Peter walked with something more precious than gold or silver: he had Jesus and kept Him in mind as his greatest treasure.  Based on some prior verses in Acts 8 we can guess that Simon the magician had bling since his magic show was popular.  

The next thing is “God’s gift” in this context.  Peter could not pretend to sell the gift of the Holy Spirit because it was not for sale.  Jesus defined the Holy Spirit as a gift to be received from your Father in heaven.  God is in the grace business, not in the profit-business. 

The rest of this interaction is profound and a bit complex.  Peter refers Simon the magician to God for forgiveness.  Maybe he knew Simon had been baptized as a believer or maybe no one had told him.  The bottom line is that Peter did not see him as having any “part or share” in the Church. 

This is important because of the response of Simon to Peter.  Simon is repentant perhaps further than Peter might have hoped for.  He asks for Peter to pray to God for the grace to not be cast out or be kept out of the Church. 

To see the full color of this, I should talk about the sacraments. When you are baptized there is a deep, indelible mark on you that saves or makes one whole (1 Peter 3:21).  You have received the good news of God’s love in Jesus.

The next sacrament that is important is confirmation.  Confirmation is for someone to be counted as a part of God’s orchestra called the Church and is infused with the Holy Spirit.  When the Holy Spirit came upon the 120, they were confirmed.  The Holy Spirit speaks to, and then from, our hearts Abba (Daddy), Father. It confirms a key perception by which we can walk in unity with the Head and the Body. 

What this reminds me of is a frequent saying of Dr. Scott Hahn that, “The good news keeps getting better.”  Simon recognizes where he was falling short and had a good idea about this new kingdom on how to fix it. 

Simon could have gone to any Christian, maybe Phillip the deacon and evangelist for this prayer.  But he responds straight to Peter.  There is a common misnomer in our culture of “Jesus and me”.  But Simon asks Peter instead because Peter was priest as well as an apostle.  Priests administer the sacrament of confession (John 20:22-23, James 5:15-17). In some way Simon recognized that as a newly baptized believer.  

If Simon perceived the Jesus and His Church as just another gig, he would have walked away.  But I believe that by some understanding of the witness of holy living in Peter and the power of Christ’s sacraments that he saw something more.  Simon was working in the wrong currency.  The first pebble he wanted was to be made whole. Since there is not a further comment from Peter I can assume that he showed God’s mercy.  

So in this journey of conversion, if we choose it, what are we wanting for this life that matters and how much do we want it?  Baptism saves us.  Confirmation joins us.  Confession renews us.  God wants us to have it all in at least some way.  Do we?