Towards the end of our first year in seminary, we were required to take a 30-day silent-retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. It was the summer of 2005, and we seminarians arrived in Omaha for a month off the grid. We were taken about 45 miles northeast of Omaha to a forest in Iowa, where we would pray along the Nishnabotna River for 30 days in silence. Every day would include four to five hours of meditation on the Gospels (Ignatian mental prayer) as well as daily Mass, Rosary, Divine Office and manual labor. The Spiritual Exercises are truly that: Exercises, not a sleepy retreat. However, because of the intensity of our retreat, they gave us weekends to talk with each other and go to town.
One weekend, we went to Omaha to see the newly-released prequel called Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. It was the third prequel that was the missing link between little podracer Anakin Skywalker and his future self, Darth Vader. If you remember the movie, the Jedi were celibate warriors who saved the universe. People like Qui Gon and Obi Wan looked like Franciscans but acted like Jesuits (old-school ones.)
We seminarians came bounding out of that theatre like high schoolers who had just seen Remember the Titans. We exalted in the fact that the Jedi were so clearly the priests of the Universe. We saw: They were warriors, not administrators. It was very obvious that the most talented member of the Jedi order, Anakin Skywalker, had lost his way only when he cracked on his vows of chastity and obedience. The Jedi were so clearly the Holy Priesthood! Seeing that movie was an unexpected boost to our thrill of the potential-future-gift of the priesthood.
Fast-forward 12 years. I have now been a priest for seven years and I have been stabbed in the back by many priests, lied to by many priests, lied about by many priests and betrayed by many priests (including this event that I blogged about a couple years ago which shook my faith not only in the priesthood but even the Catholic Church.) No, I did not come bouncing into the theatre this week. I came trudging into the theatre with my 57 year-old widower-friend who told me as we entered the theater that his brother (who loves Star Wars so much that he actually shows up to parties dressed up as Chewbacca) actually walked out on this movie. I almost turned around when he said this, but I clopped into that theatre, 20 pounds heavier than in my joyful seminarian days. It’s not so much that my vocation is in danger, but I’m just tired of life, jaded at how other priests will just throw me under the bus to save themselves a fraction of the cross in defending tradition. I still walked into that movie theatre in my cassock, but I didn’t care if the teenagers had comments about my cassock being a Jedi outfit or not.
It just didn’t matter.
However, something changed in watching that movie. Not only was The Last Jedi my favorite of the last three Star Wars (and pretty funny, too) but also it completely opened my eyes as to why Satan has attacked the priesthood so much, even from within. A Jedi falls hard in the 2005 Revenge of the Sith after sins against chastity and obedience. But 2017’s The Last Jedi reveals a spiritual force opposed to the Jedi. To wipe out hope in the hearts of the Jedi themselves, regarding themselves, would be all that would be needed to stop a real hope of the galaxy being free.
If I go forth into the fields, behold the slain with the sword: and if I enter into the city, behold them that are consumed with famine. The prophet also and the priest are gone into a land which they knew not.—Jer 14:18
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The movie starts with Luke Skywalker, forlorn on an island. He has seen enough of the Jedi: “I only know one truth: It’s time for the Jedi…to end.” Although a fair critique of the movie has been the lack of a plot-line (as well as a tired, old attempt at feminism) there has been some key developments in the understanding of the Jedi order. It seems that the traditional books of the Jedi order were destroyed along with the Jedi order, but one website noted:
“Rey isn’t [a Jedi], at least as it’s been traditionally defined, so as far as we know there aren’t any Jedi to teach [the little boy.] And yes, the Jedi sacred books survived—stowed away by Rey on the Millennium Falcon—but studying from a book is very different from the master/padawan dynamic built up over generations of Jedi. As Luke vowed before becoming one with the Force in the final act, he won’t be the last Jedi—but what it means to be one, and who gets to carry that mantle going forward, is wide open.”
We soon see a disproportionate attack of the First Order upon the Jedi order, quite odd as the Jedi are only a single part of the Resistance. Indeed, there might be galaxies of normal “lay organisms” (so to speak) who have some ability to tap into the Force, but the main target in the crosshairs of both Snoke and Kylo Ren is so clearly the Jedi order. Of course, the First Order (the Empire in the original ones) hates anyone who opposes them, but the First Order knows that the very existence of the Jedi maintain an invisible grasp on the hope in the galaxy that extends much father than any light-saber.
Towards the end of the movie, Kylo Ren is in an AT-AT and finds Skywalker on the ground. Ren orders his AT-AT and every AT-AT to aim at Skywalker and release everything they got. Hundreds of high-power laser blasts obliterate the area of the target. We see a totally disproportionate hatred of the Jedi order, symbolized in Skywalker’s ground being blasted away. Even Kylo Ren’s underlings remark on his unusual and disproportionate use of firepower for a single target. Somehow, this does not kill Skywalker. Kylo Ren realizes that he must face him on the ground, light-saber to light-saber. We hear this conversation:
Luke Skywalker: “I failed you, Ben. I’m sorry.”
Kylo Ren: “I’m sure you are! The Resistance is dead, the war is over, and when I kill you, I will have killed the last Jedi!”
Luke Skywalker: “Amazing. Every word of what you just said was wrong. The Rebellion is reborn today. The war is just beginning. And I will not be the last Jedi.”
He will not be the last Jedi? Who will be the one to carry the torch for the Jedi? The movie ends with a slave-boy manipulating a broom without touching it. He shines a ring that is symbolic of some force or use of the Force. We don’t know who he will be.
The Holy Priesthood in the 21st Century
I have been seeing a certain meme on Facebook that contains a quote by one of my priestly heroes, Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen. I like this quote because I have a lot more hope in the lay people carrying the faith than the priests and bishops who are afraid of their own shadow in this crisis in the Church.
But The Last Jedi made me re-think the above meme. The Last Jedi made me realize that there will be no restoration of things holy in the Catholic Church without the Holy Priesthood. It’s not only because the priest is the portal to both Confession and the Holy Eucharist. There is something vital to the priesthood to the future of the Church.
A recent non-Catholic study in Christianity Today revealed that the number of Catholics in the world is growing by birth rates, but not by the conversions or even retention rate of past ages of the Church. But the most astonishing fact in the Christianity Today article is how the number of priests is tanking on all continents, even the ones we claim are doing so well in vocations. For example, Africa is doing better than South America in producing priests, but it’s a miserable number considering the Catholic birth rate in African countries. Or, consider the United States: From 100 years ago to 50 years ago, the United States saw one of the greatest vocation booms in the history of the Church to the Holy Priesthood. From 50 years ago until now, vocations have plummeted in an unprecedented manner.
Why has the enemy attacked the priesthood so severely? The answer comes from the attempted-burning of the Sacred Books in the movie, for Skywalker knows that destroying tradition will also destroy the Jedi. The enemy knows this as well as Skywalker, as seen in the dual enemy’s disproportionate attack on the Jedi order.
After St. Francis Xavier brought Christianity to Japan in the 16th century, many more holy Jesuits arrived after him. Soon, a persecution began that forced all priests underground. Although the movie Silence is about those who crack under pressure, the truth of history reveals that countless laymen and women and children and priests endured one of the worst persecutions of in the history of Catholicism for refusing to denounce Jesus and Mary. They were tortured mercilessly upside down (as seen in the movie) but also burned alive, crucified and lowered into active volcanoes. The Emperor hated Christians, but he especially hated priests. If you turned over to the Emperor’s men a Jesuit brother, you were awarded 300 pieces of silver. But if you turned over a Jesuit priest, you were awarded 500 pieces of silver.
Why this disproportionate reward from the enemy of Christ to turn over a priest instead of a brother? The easy, modern answer is “the sacraments.” But the movie revealed that simply having the presence of the Jedi in the universe brings it hope. Remember: Holy Orders without bread and wine to confect the Eucharist is still a sacrament all on its own: Holy Orders. The Japanese smoked out every last priest to the point that in 1644, the last Jesuit was dragged out and killed, and the Japanese had to keep the Catholic Faith underground for 250 years following a persecution of Christians that rivals modern day Islam or the early Roman Empire.
There are many other accounts to show the disproportionate hatred that Satan has for a holy priest above and beyond a holy layman. But I’ll use the enemy’s words, himself. Satan once said to St. John Vianney: “If there were three such priests as you, my kingdom would be ruined.”
St. John Vianney, one of the holiest priests in 2000 years of Catholicism, always with an outrageous haircut that no one ever seems to question.
The power of the priesthood is linked to Christ and the fullness of what He passed down. When people ask me about being a normal diocesan priest who does only the Latin Mass, their vocabulary seems to imply that I like delicate things, whispering Latin as I turn away from the people to face the altar, almost like I like to “play priest” in days of yore, as if I preferred to wear long, flowing albs with lots of whispy lace. Well, I always need to inform such people that it has little to do with the Latin language (as powerful and beautiful and as clear as it is.) Rather, what Pope Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum opened for us priests was a tradition commensurate with the power of the Gospel.
For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.—Hebrews 7:12
The old-rite exorcism is used by every exorcist I know. (It was crystallized in 1614 AD, but it goes back at to about 600 AD.) The sacrament of Extreme Unction in the old Roman Rite (permitted even for us new priests via Summorum Pontificum) contains the most beautiful words of any sacrament I have ever heard or read in the Western Church. The ancient words of absolution that I say dozens of times a day includes the verbiage of the lifting of excommunications (to the extent a priest is able under his bishop) in every single absolution. The approach to the Holy Eucharist in the Traditional Latin Mass fits like a glove in the moral theology of the Church regarding the holiness and dignity of the human body, especially in approaching God in awe and sexual purity.
The old Roman Breviary (Divine Office) is the public prayer of the Church where the priest prays all 150 Psalms a week in Latin. It takes between two or three hours a day. The old Roman Breviary is the most exhausting, the most life-giving challenge of my priesthood, for the mental protection that it provides me is worth it. (If I lapse, I “lapse” into the new and easy Liturgy of the Hours. For all my sins, I always pray my office.) The old calendar is airtight with all of liturgy and doctrine. There is no “ordinary time” in the extraordinary form calendar. There is nothing “ordinary” about it, just as there is nothing “ordinary” about being a Jedi. Why would you be celibate in order to be “ordinary”?
Our Lady of Good Success
In 1600, the Mother of God appeared to Mother Mariana of Jesus Torres y Berriochoa, a nun of the Conceptionist Order, in Quito, Ecuador. These apparitions are known as Our Lady of Good Success and they are Vatican-approved. Shockingly, Mary told Sr. Mariana some very specific things that would happen to the Catholic Church in the 20th century. Again, remember that Sr. Mariana wrote this in around 1600 regarding the coming issues of the Catholic Church 400 years later. Here are just seven things I chose to share that Mary said to Sr. Mariana:
1) “Unhappy, the children of those times! Seldom will they receive the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. As for the sacrament of Penance, they will confess only while attending Catholic schools, which the devil will do his utmost to destroy by means of persons in authority.”
2) “The sacrament of Matrimony, which symbolizes the union of Christ with the Church, will be thoroughly attacked and profaned. Masonry, then reigning, will implement iniquitous laws aimed at extinguishing this sacrament. They will make it easy for all to live in sin, thus multiplying the birth of illegitimate children without the Church’s blessing….”
3) “Unbridled passions will give way to a total corruption of customs because Satan will reign through the Masonic sects, targeting the children in particular to insure general corruption…There shall be scarcely any virgin souls in the world. The delicate flower of virginity will seek refuge in the cloisters.…Without virginity, fire from heaven will be needed to purify these lands…”
4) “The same will occur with Holy Communion. Oh, how it hurts me to tell you that there will be many and enormous public and hidden sacrileges!”
5) “In those times, the sacrament of Extreme Unction will be largely ignored… Many will die without receiving it, being thereby deprived of innumerable graces, consolation, and strength in the great leap from time to eternity.”
6) “Religious communities will remain to sustain the Church and work with courage for the salvation of souls… The secular clergy will fall far short of what is expected of them because they will not pursue their sacred duty. Losing the divine compass, they will stray from the way of priestly ministry mapped out for them by God and will become devoted to money, seeking it too earnestly.”
7) “Unhappy times will come wherein those who should fearlessly defend the rights of the Church will instead, blinded despite the light, give their hand to the Church’s enemies and do their bidding. But when [evil] seems triumphant and when authority abuses its power, committing all manner of injustice and oppressing the weak, their ruin shall be near. They will fall and crash to the ground.”
How can anyone deny that these have come true in the Catholic Church in the 20th century and the 21st century?
But there is great hope, because the Mother of God promised this to Sr. Mariana:
“The free men from this slavery of heresies, those whom the merciful love of my most Holy Son will destine for the restoration, will have a great strength of will, constancy, valour and much trust in God. To test this faith and trust, there will be times in which everything will seem to be lost and paralyzed. This, then, will be the happy beginning of the complete restoration.”
The Spanish for the last two words of that quote is restauración completa. Mary promised that after the 20th century we would see the “complete restoration” of the Catholic Church! And this is a Vatican-approved apparition. Notice that we are not talking about a renovation or a renewal or a revolution. “Complete restoration” implies that something will have been lost that was there before. “Complete restoration” implies that something ancient and good will return to power. The complete restoration of the Catholic Church will not happen simply because lay people are angry about the crisis in the Catholic Church. The complete restoration of the Church will come from the next generation of priests restoring all that is holy and powerful, for the salvation of souls. The next of these spiritual, priestly warriors will come from families like yours, for better or for worse.
We have seen neither the end of the Jedi, nor the end of their tradition of power.