Sunday Sermon for November 5, 2017, 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
As the saying goes: “the more things change the more they stay the same.” I am amazed when I read the first reading and the words God addresses to the priests. What was happening a couple of hundred years before Jesus came into the world is happening again. While the circumstances are different, the pattern remains the same.
God condemns the priests for not giving glory to His holy Name, for turning aside from the way of the Lord, for giving poor instruction, and for voiding the covenant of Levi. For this reason the Lord turned their blessing, their priesthood, into a curse for them and made them contemptible and base before the people.
By the time Jesus came into the world things may have improved a little bit because, as we read in the Gospel, the people could at least do and observe everything the scribes and Pharisees taught (many Scribes and Pharisees were not priests). However, the people were not to follow the example of these men. So, they spoke the truth in public, but lived a lie. Everything was for show. As it was in the days of Malachi, so now, the Scribes and Pharisees are not giving glory to the Holy Name of God but seeking their own glory..
Today we fall into similar problems among some clergy. There are those who give homilies that are nothing but fluff. Some, tragically, teach heresy. Others seem willing to accept anything because they believe all religions are essentially the same. Still others believe everyone goes to Heaven, so we are here only to make people feel good about themselves and provide nice ceremonies at important moments in people’s lives.
Unlike the scribes and Pharisees, we do not have to worry about placing heavy burdens on people’s shoulders; instead, we tell people they do not have to go to Mass every Sunday, that sins against the sixth commandment are not sins, that using God’s Name in vain is okay, that the Church is living in the Dark Ages with her teaching on contraception and divorce, but since we live in the enlightened time of the twenty-first century, we can throw off such medieval ideas.
In this understanding of things, the Church is accused of binding heavy loads and placing them on people’s shoulders, but these heroic priests who claim to have only the best interest of the people in mind are lightening the burden for them. This is tantamount to saying that God is the One placing the burden on these people because God does not want what is best for them. It alsoimplies that the Church does not teach the truth or that the truth can change because we have a better way these days.
Even secular studies bear out the truth, although they will not usually take it to the step I will mention: the Church has always taught what is correct and is the best. These “nice” priests mentioned earlier seek their own glory and are presented as heroes by the media while priests who teach the truth are considered “mean” and intolerant. A man is called to be a priest, not for himself, but for the Lord and for His people. We cannot give glory to God if we do not preach and live according to His truth. We cannot serve His people with charity by lying to them. People may not want to hear the truth, but that does not change the fact that it is the truth.
St. Paul reminds the Thessalonians of his, Silvanus’, and Timothy’s gentleness with the people and their love for the people as they shared the Gospel and their own selves with them. Because the people could see the example of the Apostles they could hear their teaching and come to believe what they heard was truly God’s word and not the word of the men who preached it. People are made for truth and for love. Truth and love have to be combined, as evidenced in the practice of St. Paul. He loved the people he taught as a true father who did not shy away from the truth or water it down.
We need to pray for our priests. Through the media God has made them contemptible and base in the eyes of many. The great gift they have been given, which far surpasses that given to the priests of the Old Covenant, becomes a curse if they fail to preach and live the truth of the Gospel with love. Even worse, they pull down many people with them when they glorify themselves instead of glorifying the Lord. Each of us is called to holiness in the vocation God has chosen for us. Pray for holy priests so that we have holy people.
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.