By virtue of baptism, every Christian is anointed to serve as priest, prophet, and king within their individual communities. But what exactly does this mean? I confess that, even as a life-long Catholic who always attended Catholic schooling (even for college), this calling often eluded and confused me. How do I—especially as a woman—serve as priest, prophet, and king?
Thankfully, teaching Theology to teenagers requires lots of grappling with the mysteries of our Faith in order to explain them well to others. In the past nine years, my understanding of these roles has changed from one that is puzzling to something that is actually quite practical.
Inherited from Our First Parents
All three roles appear within Scripture at the very beginning of Genesis. In the first two chapters, we learn of our first parents and why they were created (not necessarily “how”). The ultimate reason mankind is created is clear: to love and be loved. However, what is slightly less clear is that living out the roles of priest, prophet, and king is one way in which we achieve this purpose!
Genesis 2 tells us that God planted a garden in Eden and placed Adam there “to till it and keep it.” In Hebrew, the phrase is literally, “to serve and guard” which indicates that Adam’s role includes caring for the garden. But it is so much more than gardening (more on this in a minute)!
It is extremely rare to find these verbs—serve and guard—paired together within Scripture. However, they are used together in this order once again in the book of Numbers, when the sacred author describes what priests are to do in a place of worship. Thus for the ancient reader studying Genesis, Adam’s commission to serve and guard creation would have had a priestly sound to it.
If Adam (who is one flesh with his wife) and Eve were entrusted with this priestly role, then logically speaking, their children and descendants are also meant to carry on the duty.
How do we live this out? First and foremost, priests offer sacrifice to God. As baptized Christians, the sacrifice we offer to God is the sacrifice of our own lives. This doesn’t have to be complicated. In reality, it’s actually quite simple — though not always easy!
- Begin every day with a morning offering when you awake and try to “tune” your heart and mind to truly mean the words as you pray them.
- The age-old practice within our Faith of “offering it up” when we face difficult moments. Though this is sometimes thought of as a Catholic phrase used to get someone to stop complaining, that is not even close to its ultimate purpose! Instead, it is a reminder to not waste the merits of your suffering (which you have to endure anyway) and to entrust these merits to God as a little “death” or “cross,” knowing that He will allow great good to come into the world because of your priestly sacrifice. (Slight sidenote: good, true, and beautiful moments can also be offered to God for His glory.)
- In alignment with “offering it up,” there is the acceptance of “white martyrdom.” While red martyrdom is when individuals physically die for their belief in Christ, white martyrdom is a death that is often faced on a day-to-day basis as social persecution because of one’s Faith. Accepting such a cross, facing it with heroic virtue, and offering it as a sacrifice to God is another manner in which one can live out their priestly role.
- When you attend Mass, be especially present and attentive at the offertory (the moment in which the gifts are being brought to the altar). As the faithful walk towards the front, in your heart and within your mind’s eye, intentionally offer God your life—and everything that is taking place in it at that time. Offer it to Him as a gift, and ask Him to use it for His glory.
In all these things, there is an element of protection—or “guarding”—which is part of the role given to our first parents. They were called to serve and guard the temple of creation. You are called to serve and guard the temple of your body and God’s presence within it.
In addition to serving and guarding the garden, God gives Adam the task of naming the animals—a very important privilege! Typically, only the creator of something is the one with the right to name his or her creation. Though God is the Creator, He gives this right to Adam.
As this first man goes about completing this task, he is speaking on behalf of God. In all Abrahamic faiths, a person who speaks on behalf of God is referred to as a prophet. Whether male or female, as descendants of Adam (who again is one-flesh with Eve), this role extends to us!
Not every baptized Christian is called to a professional life of preaching and prophesying. That is not (necessarily) what God is calling us to through this role. Within Scripture, a prophet’s first job was to share God’s word and explain to the people what God wanted them to do. We fulfill this prophetic calling every time we share some of God’s Truth with another person. This could take many forms…
- When God brings someone into your day and makes it clear they are struggling with something, go out of your way to assist them, even if it is in a small way. Sometimes the only Truth a person needs preached is the basis of the Gospel: that they are loved and valuable. You can speak God’s Truth by the actions you show them.
- Spend intentional time with God in prayer everyday. This does not need to be long and drawn out. However, it is impossible to be a prophet and share God’s Word with others if we fail to know God’s Word ourselves!
- For parents raising children, it means making the time to instruct children in the Faith—something God has already equipped you to do! Read Scripture and other virtuous stories with them, explain feast days, live liturgically, etc. Instruct the young in Goodness, Truth, and Beauty and be intentional about it. Don’t just hope it rubs off on them! If one is not a parent, assist the parents you know with this task. Perhaps you have godchildren, nieces and nephews, or neighbors from Church. The more adults children see living out their faith and teaching them, the better!
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The final role left to be addressed is actually the first present in Scripture. In Genesis 1, immediately after creating Adam and Eve on the sixth day, God gives them the gift of dominion. In other words, Adam and Eve are meant to rule over all of creation. In a sense, they are above it all as they are the highest physical being He created.
This gift of dominion takes on a fuller meaning in light of Jesus. He instructed the disciples that the “greatest” is meant to serve everyone else (Matthew 23:11). Thus to live out our kingly role well, we must learn to serve others well.
We do not have to look far to do this. Opportunities to serve are encountered each day for all of us.
- First, we should evaluate the places in which we have been given dominion. For myself, as a parent, campus minister, and teacher, I have many places where I need to exercise authority. The best way for me to do this is with an attitude of humility and service. This does not mean I become a doormat or a push-over in these roles. It means constantly reevaluating my intention behind every action I take, especially when I exercise my authority. I should never possess an attitude of superiority towards my fellow man.
- There is still an element of “ruling” when it comes to this role, but not in regards to a country or kingdom. As baptized Christians living out our kingly roles, we are supposed to be kings over ourselves, over sin, and over Satan. Anyone who doesn’t master these three things is in all reality, a slave. This could look like binge-watching shows, over-exercising, or even apathy towards fighting a personal addiction. Jesus came to give us power and authority over ourselves and to free us from the things that bind us. Access this kingly power and authority in the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist! Both provide graces to help us take hold of this freedom.
Our Ultimate Role
The call to love is the root of all Scripture. It is the ultimate purpose for which we were made. This is logical considering we were made in the image and likeness of Love Himself. Thus, if we ever find ourselves confused about what the most loving thing to do in a tricky situation, remembering our roles as priest, prophet, and king could be helpful in finding an answer.
Perhaps all we need to do is evaluate how we could better sacrifice, share, or serve the world around us.