Sunday Sermon for September 6, 2020, the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Readings: Ez 33:7-9; Rom 13:8-10; Mt: 18:15-20

In the first reading God tells Ezekiel he has been appointed watchman over the house of Israel.  As such, Ezekiel is to warn the people according to God’s command.  If Ezekiel fails, he will be held responsible for the person’s death, but if Ezekiel is obedient and the person refuses to repent, Ezekiel is not responsible.  This might sound harsh to us, but it is actually the prophetic vocation.

Most people think of prophecy as predicting the future.  God can tell His prophets whatever He pleases, so sometimes He speaks to them of future things.  However, if we read the prophets carefully, we will find that most of the time God calls the prophet to tell the people to stop sinning and to turn back to God. 

We see in this the great love God has for His people.  God does not want anyone to be condemned; rather, He wants every soul to be with Him in Heaven.  To this end, He has given us His Word, He has given us His Church, and He gives us prophets.  When we look at what happened in the Old Testament, we find there were many false prophets and a handful of true prophets.  This can make things difficult for us because God told us through the Prophet Amos that He would do nothing in the world without first telling us through His servants, the prophets.  Moreover, St. John tells us we are not to despise prophecy.

Many people today claim to be hearing or seeing something from our Lord or our Lady.  Many of these people enjoy the attention they receive from such claims.  However, as we see in the Old Testament, it was rare that true prophets enjoyed the esteem of the people. Even when the people knew they were true prophets, the people normally did not want to listen to what the prophet had to say.  For the prophet Jeremiah, it was difficult for him to deliver the somber message he had to preach and face the rejection of the people.  The Lord upbraided Jeremiah and made him work on himself so he could bring forth only the sacred without the vile.

God wants only what is best for people, but the prophet must want the same.  St. Paul tells us in the second reading that all the commandments can be summed up in the one commandment of love for neighbor.  Charity must be the motive behind all of our actions.  If this is true of every person, it is even more so for the one who is called to speak on behalf of the Lord. 

We all know fraternal correction can be difficult, sometimes more for the person providing the correction than for the person receiving the correction. Imagine if God calls you to stand up before a congregation, or even in front of the leaders of the Church or State, to call them to repentance.  This would be nerve wracking, to say the least.  When we see corrupt officials, it would be a challenge to address them with charity.  It might be easier to call them names or treat them badly, but that is not normally going to change someone’s heart.

Do the actions of these people deserve to be condemned?  Yes.  But then, we have to ask, do my actions deserve to be condemned?  Yes.  Perhaps my sins are different from the sins of the political leaders, but they are still offenses against God.  It may even be that my sins are worse than theirs, but mine are not as public as theirs and, therefore, not known.  The fact they are hidden does not reduce the gravity, nor does comparing myself to someone else (“At least my sins are not as bad as that person’s”) make my sins any less offensive in God’s eyes. 

We all need to recognize ourselves as sinners and repent.  Once forgiven, we need to extend that same kind of mercy and forgiveness to others.  We must have a love for souls, desiring their repentance and salvation.  This kind of love allows us to correct others in charity, going, as our Lord tells us in the Gospel, to speak with the person privately and keeping it between yourself and the other person.  Only if the person does not acknowledge their wrongdoing are we to seek another witness.

It is often easier for us to gossip and complain about others than to correct another person out of charity and to pray for that person.  Each of us, because of our baptism, is a priest, prophet, and king.  Each of us is called to live lives of holiness, to love God and love neighbor which is to do the will of God in all things and to seek always what is best for others.

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.

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