A priest should be like a lead ox.

Tuesday, 5/5/ 15

Today’s first reading tells the story of how Paul and Barnabas, after having preached the Gospel in four towns, on their way back through those towns, stopped to appoint a worthy man in each place as their presbyter.

Although many Bibles translate that by saying they appointed an elder for each town, we Catholics prefer saying that they appointed a priest for each place. We back up that contention by pointing out that if you look up the word priest in Webster, you will find it to be a contraction of the word presbyter.

I always like pointing out the derivation of that word presbyter. It comes from two Indo-European words pres and byt. Which meant the “lead ox.”

When a farmer plows with a pair of oxen he is lucky if he has an older ox who knows how to pull tirelessly by never resisting the farmer’s directives.

Let me insert one of my memories. My Korean parish of a dozen years consisted of a series of valleys fanning down from Mount Soraksan. To get to some isolated villages I had to climb over a series of ridges.

I have this one memory of stopping to rest atop one of the ridges. There was something holy for me at the sight of a lone farmer and his old ox. They were plowing one of those rice paddies that follow each other in a series of wide stairs down from the high mountain.

With no building or any person within miles of them, they lifted clods of black earth, with the farmer singing out, “Eero eero,” telling his companion to turn neither to right or to left.

I like pointing out that the priest is meant to be out in front like a lead ox. He shouldn’t be like the man up in the carriage, swinging his whip.

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