Sunday Sermon for November 5, 2023, the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Readings: Mal 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10; 1 Thes 2:7b-9, 13; Mt 23:1-12

In the Gospel reading today, our Lord tells His disciples to do whatever the Scribes and Pharisee taught them, but not to follow their example.  Because the Scribes and Pharisees took the place of Moses regarding authority among the people, their teaching regarding the Jewish faith could be trusted.  What is interesting is that although they taught the faith correctly they did not live what they taught.  Instead, they were harsh and demanding, laying heavy burdens on people and doing nothing to help them.

We see the opposite problem in the first reading where God condemns the priests because they were commanded to give glory to the Name of God through their teaching and example, but they taught things that were not in keeping with Divine Revelation and thereby led people astray in both their teaching and their example.  The Scribes and Pharisees had to work to get their positions; the priests were born into their positions.  Certainly, the priests needed to be educated, but their priesthood was a birthright that some apparently took advantage of for their own gain.

Considering what has happened in the Church over the past few decades where priests have so often failed to teach the truth and, in some cases, have violated every shred of dignity and trust that was given to them, God’s statement to the priests of old takes on a profound meaning for us: “I, therefore, have made you contemptible and base before all the people.”  Our Lady foretold this four hundred years ago when, in Quito, Ecuador (Our Lady of Good Success) she said the priests at the end of the twentieth century would be held in contempt.  Even if there is a good and holy priest, in the minds of some people he will be lumped in with the scoundrels.

So many priests, Bishops, and Cardinals in recent years have been trying to find a “compassionate” and “pastoral” approach that does not challenge people to amend their lives.  Sometimes this is due to the fact that the priests are not living moral lives themselves, as we have tragically seen too many times.  At other times, it is a false compassion that suggests it would be too difficult for people to change from their sinful ways in order to live upright and holy lives.  Even from the Vatican we are receiving this kind of teaching.  God said of the priests of old, and I have to assume it remains true today: “I will send a curse upon you and of your blessing I will make a curse.”

Contrast all of this to what St. Paul says in the second reading.  He speaks about how gentle he and his companions were with the people and the affection they had toward them.  He reminded them of the ways they toiled at manual labor so as not to be a burden to any of the people.  Because of the example of the Apostle and his companions, the people were able to receive the Gospel.  But, St. Paul makes clear, it was the Word of God they preached, not a human word.  They spoke the truth, which can be difficult for some, but the example they set corresponded with the word they spoke and the people were able to receive it. 

Many priests want to be liked; they want to be popular with the people.  We do not see this attitude in our Lord, nor in any of His Apostles.  The Apostles wanted what was best for the people; they desired the salvation of their souls.  They did not try to cozy up to the people, they did not seek their money, they did not seek glory for themselves.  Instead, they did what priests are supposed to do: they gave glory to God.

As we look around at the devastation in the Church today, it is easy to see how poor preaching, watered down catechesis, and bad example have led many out of the Church.  It is with this in mind that we must all look to the good of our own souls and, in charity, seek the good of others.  We know the truth, even if it is being denied by members of the hierarchy.  We need to make sure our prayer life is in good order, we need to read the Scriptures, we need to strive for virtue.  It is easy to point fingers and make judgments, but our Lord told us in the Gospel reading that we need to be humble and we need to be servants.

This is what Jesus did, and still does, for us.  He gives the example and He speaks the truth.  Therefore, do whatever He tells you and follow His example.  He has never been a burden to us; He is the meek and humble Servant.

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