Thursday, October 10, 2013

Priesthood and the Family

At the beginning of the school year, I gave my kids a priesthood blessing. It's a tradition I pass on from my father, who would place his hands on my head every September to bless me to be guided by the Holy Ghost during the school year. I am grateful for those blessings. They helped me deal with untold struggles through those years, providing strength for things that my dad did not even know about, but was guided by revelation to pronounce upon my head.

My daughter goes to Catholic School, and it's been a great experience. At the beginning of the school year, her grade 1 class were told they would go to Mass and receive a back to school blessing from the priest, where, according to my daughter, he gently touches each child on the head with holy water. I have tried my best to teach respect for other beliefs, and I have been able to point out doctrine we have in common, and clarify areas where we differ. She enjoys learning and participating in their teachings. But this time, my daughter refused to participate, and I didn't make her. Instead, I had a chance to talk to her about the priesthood. The priest has the authority to do many good things to inspire faith, I told her, but he does not have the authority to bless her. I have it, I said. I am her father and I hold the priesthood. The Catholic Priest is trying his best to emulate the blessing I gave her already, but he does not have that authority.

Jacob Blessing His Sons
There have been voices criticizing the Church's exclusionary practices of the priesthood to women. Why don't women have it? Why can't a women administer a priesthood blessing? It's definitely a discussion worth having, and I respect the thoughts on both sides of the argument. But putting gender aside for a moment, I find it remarkable that I belong to a church that does something astounding, something absolutely revolutionary. This church distributes its priesthood authority and power freely to ordinary fathers like me. There is no intermediary clergy that I go to in order to bless my family. So long as I am worthy, I am expected to baptize and confirm and ordain and bless and interview and minister to my own children. The church is set up to support me in that role, but it does not supplant me. There is no other church that does that. I am grateful for a church that places its priesthood power directly in the home.

Consider this recent quote from President Boyd K Packer:
We have done very well at distributing the authority of the priesthood. We have priesthood authority planted nearly everywhere. We have quorums of elders and high priests worldwide. But distributing the authority of the priesthood has raced, I think, ahead of distributing the power of the priesthood. The priesthood does not have the strength that it should have and will not have until the power of the priesthood is firmly fixed in the families as it should be. (Packer, The Power of the Priesthood, April 2010).
The priesthood is not about church ecclesiastics, not really--bishops and deacons and stake presidents and so forth. Men and boys do administer ordinances and are placed in callings that oversee those ordinances (for reasons I do not fully comprehend yet), but the priesthood is not focused within a Bishop's office or an Apostle's ministry. Priesthood organization, the way we consider it in the church in terms of quorums and presidencies and so forth, exists to empower a family.
“The ultimate end of all activity in the Church is to see a husband and his wife and their children happy at home, protected by the principles and laws of the gospel, sealed safely in the covenants of the everlasting priesthood” (Boyd K Packer, April 2012 Conference).
Many of us do not have the ideal family situation of "a husband and his wife and their children happy at home," often through no fault of our own. Sometimes husbands are unworthy or are not members, or absent altogether through death or divorce. Sometimes a person does not marry. Sometimes a couple has no children of their own to bless. How can they receive the full blessings of the priesthood? The Church and its members, in a unified team of both men and women, are expected to serve and love and minister to them, to support them and provide the blessings of the priesthood to any who desire to receive them:  "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27). Members sometimes fail in their responsibility, but sometimes we succeed, and always we are urged over and over again by our leaders to keep trying, to reach out and serve and lift and love unconditionally.

Sometimes there is pain in belonging to a church that teaches an ideal when one does not fit that ideal. I know because I have felt it. But in spite of the pain of mortal shortcomings and disappointment, I have found peace and power in the atonement. I have found strength in the covenants of the gospel, because though we board the ark two-by-two, the Savior blesses us one by one. The priesthood of God opens the door to the atonement of Christ to heal all wounds. The Church of Jesus Christ and its priesthood is a stepping stone--a necessary one, but only a stepping stone--to the salvation of an individual in the family of Christ.
There might be wards and stakes in heaven—I don’t know anything about them—and there may well be some other organization that we don’t know much about. But what we do know will exist in heaven is families. And most of anything that has been revealed about afterlife and our eternal life, our celestial life, focuses on family organization, and thus the high principles of the temple, the covenants we make there. (Elder Holland, Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting 2008)
I am grateful for the priesthood of God in my home, that I can partake, with my wife, in God's power to do his work--"to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life" of three of his children. I look forward to understanding better the work of my Heavenly Parents as I try my best to emulate the patterns they reveal through the prophets.