Sunday Sermon for July 18, 2021, the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Readings: Jer 23:1-6; Eph 2:13-18; Mk 6:30-34
In the first reading today God, through His Prophet, Jeremiah, levels a condemnation against the shepherds who have been misleading His flock. We are all very familiar with the adage that if we do not learn from history, we are bound to repeat it. Well, here we are. Instead of preaching the Gospel, many priests want to tell the stories of their latest vacation, or tell everyone about the movie they went to last week, or expound about their hobbies or their widget collection.
There is a point to be made that the Gospel has to be made relevant to the people of today, so without doubt, modern examples can be used to highlight the teachings of our Lord. No one has a problem with that. However, when it is highlighting one’s own self or something purely secular, it is no longer about the teaching of Christ.
When we read the Saints, they will often plead with the priests to preach to the people a word that will help bring them to a deeper conversion and a greater love for God. Unfortunately, many priests will not preach this way because of fear. This fear comes from two sources. Sometimes they are afraid that they will not be popular with the people. When I was in the seminary, the essence of what we were taught was that to be a good priest is to be everyone’s friend. Some people might even look to the second reading today to justify such an idea because St. Paul, speaking of Jesus, says He broke down the dividing wall and made us one. He reached out to those who were far away and united them to those who were near to God already.
It is true our Lord reached out to those who were far away, but He did so to call them to conversion, not to be His buddies. He offered them redemption from their sins and salvation for their souls. It is true He is the best friend we can have, but He is a real and true friend, not merely someone with whom we are on friendly terms. He is truly interested in our good, not in going out for dinner or to a show.
The other side of this question that each of us, especially priests, must ask, is: am I a true friend to Jesus? If we are trying to be everyone’s buddy, we are not being a friend to Jesus. We should certainly strive to be at peace with everyone, but we cannot seek popularity with everyone without compromising some essential truths. So, it is necessary that we focus on Jesus and speak the truth, even if that means we are not going to be very popular.
The second place from which fear comes in priests is from the Bishops. Across the country many bishops are silencing priests for speaking the truth. These are priests who have not done anything wrong morally or financially; they are not speaking fluff or heresy. Instead, as St. Paul warned, people are going to seek preachers who tickle their ears. When the words of a priest, assuming he is speaking correctly, create an unpleasant effect in the ears of some people, they complain to the bishop. All too frequently the bishops are quick to accommodate the people who are complaining (especially if they have money). Rather than supporting their priests, the bishops have been silencing them, removing them from their parishes, and not even giving the priests an assignment.
This fear will drive some priests to temper their message. These priests will not preach heresy or foolishness, but they will shy away from the hard truths because of fear of reprisal. In some situations, this may be the more prudent way to go because it is better for the people to have a reverent Mass, receive the Sacraments, and be taught the basics than to have a priest sitting on the sidelines doing nothing. But woe to the bishops who are treating their priests this way. I have noticed over the years that it is almost always the orthodox priests who are treated this way. Rare is the occasion when a correction is made by a bishop to a priest who is speaking nonsense and taking liberties with the Mass.
However, regardless of the situation with your own pastor, every one of us needs to look at the question of truth: do we want it? Are we willing to be rejected and ridiculed because we stand for the truth? On the day of judgment, we will not be able to point our finger at our Pastor and blame him for his watered-down homilies. We all know our Shepherd, the Good Pastor, and the truth He teaches. Are we being faithful in following where He leads?
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.