Sunday Sermon for October 30, 2011, the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Readings: Mal 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10; 1Th 2:7b-9, 13; Mt 23:1-12
In the Gospel reading today our Lord instructs us not to be seeking titles. The difficulty in this is that if we seek a position or a title it often leads to a sense of self importance or even entitlement. At the same time, that does not mean that we should fail to recognize the positions of others and have the proper reverence and respect for the office and the person holding the office.
If this seems like I just contradicted myself, let me clarify the issue. If someone wants to be a priest just in order to be accepted, to be called “Father,” or to be looked up to by others, he seeks the priesthood for the wrong reason. However, even if the person in this position sought it out for the wrong reason the rest of us need to recognize that he is a priest, reverence that priesthood and address him as “Father.” This applies to any other position as well.
The problem, as always, is when pride and selfishness get into the equation. The priesthood, to follow upon the above example, is a beautiful vocation, but it is just that: a vocation. It is not something a person should seek for himself, but it should only be pursued when the person believes he is called by God. It is also necessary to recall that God chooses the weak, the lowly, those who are the worst. Pride makes a person think he is among the elite; God sees it just the opposite. He does this in order to make sure that that the priest remembers that he is a priest for Jesus, not for himself.
While all of this can be applied to any other position, our first reading today shows us what happens when a priest seeks himself rather than God. First the Lord says that when priests turn aside from the way and cause many to falter because of their instruction, He will turn their blessing into a curse and He will make them contemptible and base before the people. Priests have been held in contempt for centuries by those who oppose the Church. However, it is only in our own day that priests have become base and contemptible in the eyes of many Catholic people in the Americas.
While it is a vast minority who have violated young people, there are many who have led people astray due to their instruction, or lack thereof, over the past two generations. We have a couple of generations of people who have not received proper catechesis, we have a majority of people living together before marriage, we have only 20% of the people getting married in the Church, we have a dearth of people coming to confession, and the number of Consecrated Persons has plummeted.
God says in the first reading that He is a great King and that the priests are to glorify His Name. How many parishes have experienced the tabernacle being removed from its spot front and center in the church? Of course, in most of those cases, when God was removed, the priest moved his own chair into the spot where he had displaced the Lord. We have all been to many “Masses” that could compete with Vaudeville. We have all experienced Father Groovy talking about himself, sine fine, while there is little or no mention of God. On the other hand, we have also experienced the other side: angry, judgmental priests who speak in condescending manners and shame the people of God.
The first is often a nice guy who wants to be loved and accepted by others and pays little or no attention to God or the souls of the people. The other speaks the truth, but it is often academic in its style and designed to intimidate others and remind the people that the priest is above them. Priests like this, in the words of the Gospel, tie up heavy burdens to lay on other people’s shoulders, but do not lift a finger to move them.
St. Paul, in the second reading, gives us a very different view. He says that he and his companions were gentle, like a nursing mother, and that they were determined to share with the people, not only the Gospel, but their very selves. They served the people and spoke to them the Word of God in its fullness. Notice that he can even say that the people accepted their preaching, not as the word of men, but as the Word of God. We have heard enough of the false and human instruction; it is time that we hear the Word of God being preached fully and with complete charity by priests who want to give their lives for the people they are called to serve.
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.