Sunday Sermon for October 16, 2016, the Twenty Ninth Sunday in Ordinary time, Year C
Readings: Ex 17:8-13; 2Tim 3:14-4:2; Lk 18:1-8
In the second reading today St. Paul exhorts us, along with Timothy, to remain faithful to what we have learned and believed. The reason St. Paul gives for maintaining the truth is because Timothy knows who taught it to him. For Timothy this means St. Paul, of course, but for us we need to look at things from a larger perspective. While each of us can name a person who has been most influential in our lives regarding the Faith, ultimately we have to be able to say that it is the Church who has taught us. If we were so blessed to have a teacher who was truly faithful, then that teacher was teaching what the Church believes. It is certainly what our teacher believes as well, but it is much larger and the guarantee of truth is far greater than the person of our teacher.
This is a great blessing for us. St. Paul tells us that he was not taught by others, but he was taught through revelation by our Lord Himself. St. Paul faithfully passed on what had been shown to him, but that revelation, as well as what was given to the other Apostles, became the foundation upon which everything else in the Church’s teaching is based.
The Apostles all knew that as extraordinary as the gifts given to them were, they could not look to themselves as the arbiters of truth. St. Peter, when he speaks about what he witnessed at the Transfiguration goes on to state that we possess the prophetic word as being more sure. As St. Paul pointed out to Timothy, all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, refutation, correction, and training in holiness. So, each of the Apostles understood, as the Church does, that nothing they taught could be in contradiction to what is contained in the Sacred Scriptures. At the time, of course, they had only the Old Testament).
But then we ask the simple and obvious question: what does the Bible reveal and what was the content of the teaching of the Apostles? While the answer to this question can be understood in many ways, it really comes down to one: it is Jesus Who is revealed in the Bible and taught by the Apostles. Jesus is God, so the fullness of truth regarding God is found in the Person of Jesus. We can say the same regarding salvation, redemption, morality, the Sacraments, etc. Since the Church is the Mystical Person of Christ, and since the Holy Spirit was given to the Church to lead her into all truth, it is for the Church, not individuals, to determine the truth.
This means that we have both the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church to lean on. Both of these are solid, both are absolute, and both are a guarantee of truth. That said, we have to be careful how we interpret what the Scriptures present, because we can twist things to make the Bible say anything we want. So we can make sure that our interpretation is correct by checking it against what the Church teaches knowing that the Church cannot teach anything which is not in line with the Scriptures.
Why am I going on and on about this point? Because at the end of the Gospel our Lord asks if He would find any faith on earth upon His return. We have to understand this in both the objective and the subjective senses. Objectively, the fullness of the truth will still be present in the Scriptures and in the teachings of the Church. But our own experience of being alive today makes us realize that there are many, in fact most, who will not believe it. However, even if the objective truths are believed, are they going to be lived on the subjective level?
St Paul tells us that we have to be persistent in our teaching of the truth, whether convenient or inconvenient. We have to act on our faith, not only by being good and upright people, but by praying always without becoming weary, as our Lord makes clear in the Gospel, and by striving to do God’s will when it is made known to us as it was to Moses in the first reading. How many of us would believe that if we climbed a hill and held our hands out that that could be the determining factor in a battle? In the midst of the infidelity around us, do we really believe that God is with us and will work in us and through us? This is where we have to apply the Lord’s question even to ourselves who believe objectively what the Church teaches: When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?
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.