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THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – A – November 05, 2017

 

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Malachi 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10
A reading from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians 2:7b-9, 13
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew 23:1-12

Dear Reader,

This Sunday we hear the Prophet Malachi address a specific audience, the priests.  For those who are not of that class, it would be easy to sit back, relax, and not let the prophecy pierce the heart.  That would be a mistake.  There are chastisements in Malachi’s words that the whole Assembly must hear.

Think of this.  God appoints the prophet to speak to the people what God wants the people to hear.  The Prophet’s message has not so much to do with foretelling the future, the commonly accepted meaning of the word prophet, as it does with calling the people to a change of heart, a conversion, and a return to God’s ways.  If you were to read the deleted lines from Malachi’s oration, you would learn that God is upset because the priests are not following the law.  Imperfect animals are being offered in sacrifice.  Blind and lame animals were considered polluted and therefore unfit to be placed on the altar.  But the people do not escape the reprimand, since they are the ones who present the priests with the inferior animals.

The priests have become careless in their observances.  This is a source of scandal to the people who in turn have become careless.  In effect, the people are acting like Gentiles.  If they continue in these illicit practices they will become corrupted, and with corruption will come weakness.  Their earlier corruption resulted in the Babylonian Captivity.  This restored people could fall again and become contemptible and base before all the people.  Remember the adage about being doomed to repeat historical mistakes if we do not learn from our history?

Malachi’s final question of the priests today has particular appropriateness for us.  We are the baptized.  Through our Baptism we share in Christ’s priesthood.  Living out our priesthood means that we ought to be a people serious about praising and glorifying God, even as we are committed to treating our sisters and brothers, indeed all people with justice and love.

In the Gospels for the past few weeks, the priests, scribes, and Pharisees have had confrontations with Jesus.  The results have been Jesus’ telling judgment-laden parables.  We have heard that these groups plot against Jesus and look for ways to condemn him.  The scribes and Pharisees are not present in today’s Gospel as Jesus addresses the crowds, i.e., those undecided about Jesus, and the disciples, i.e., those committed to following him.  Both groups ought to pay heed to the official teachers since the teachers sit on Moses’s chair.  They are the official interpreters of the Law.  As such they have the responsibility to be prophetic with they teach the people.  As Jesus says, Observe all things whatsoever they tell you.  To follow the Law is to do God’s will.  But another adage seems to apply here.  Do as they say, not as they do.  Follow the Pharisees teachings but do not act like some of them.

The problem quite clearly is that some of the Pharisees may know the Law well, they may spend time arguing about which law is most important, but they are not facilitating the Law’s intent.  They are being oppressive and judgmental and, in the process, are breaking the spirit of the people.  What has achieved prominent importance for some of the Pharisees is the image they project, how the people perceive them.  They do nothing to ease the burdens of the people, but rather they add to them.  All their works are performed to be seen.  They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.  They love places of honor at banquets…and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’”

Recently I saw a picture of a prelate gathered with a coterie cassock and surplice garbed supporters.  In full regalia, the prelate’s capa magna cascaded down his back and stretched across those assembled with him.  Talk about widened phylacteries and lengthened tassels that Jesus decries.  The bishop is the chief shepherd and teacher in the diocese.  But splendor of garb and life-style make it difficult to see Jesus in the midst of that refinery.  I was impressed many moons ago when Pope Paul VI gave the triple-tiered papal crown to a museum as a historical artifact, never to be worn again in a papal precession.

The image of the church suffers today, not only in the United States, but in Europe as well. The sexual abuse scandal contributes to that, as does the inappropriate response of some bishops to it.  In Ireland, Mass attendance in that Catholic country continues to decline.  Numbers of Catholics are leaving the church, either to join other denominations or to give up the practice of the faith.  St. Pope John Paul II made public acts of atonement for past ecclesial abuses, vis-à-vis the treatment of the Jewish people during the Holocaust and the Inquisition.  That attitude ought to be replicated by others in the hierarchy so that the image that emerges is one of a penitential church whose primary functions are to praise God in union with Christ, animated by the Spirit to be servants of the poor and seekers of justice for all.  Harsh judgments and ready refusal of access to Communion do not help that image, except among the ultra conservatives among us.

Pope Francis, from the day he stepped out on the balcony and bowed before the assembled and asked them to pray for him, Francis has continually been prophetic in word and deed.  He has put aside the splendors of the office.  He doesn’t live in the papal apartment.  Rather, he resides in an ordinary ground floor apartment.  He drives himself in an ordinary car.  He breakfasts with street people.  He has washed the feet of the imprisoned and kissed those feet, even if they belonged in women and non-believers.  He pleads for a poorer church serving the needs of the poor.  He has dethroned some of the hierarchy who live in the midst of excessive bling.  He does not judge and says he believes even atheists can get to heaven.  Racism.  No.  Sexism.  No.  Elitism.  No.  We are all one family of God, loved by God in time and for all eternity.

The Gospel is addressed to all of us.  To hear the proclamation as focusing only on the hierarchy and thereby letting ourselves off the hook, so to speak, is a mistake.  Again, remember that we are united in the Baptismal Priesthood.  We are called to worship god in prayer and praise, to co-celebrate Eucharist as full, active, and conscious participants, and to live as members of the Body of Christ, in service of one another and as seekers of justice.  Actions speak louder than words.  We should not be questing after power, but looking for ways to empower.  That is what Archbishop Oscar Romero was about and may be why his canonization has taken so long.  Some in the church saw him as an embarrassment.

As we listen to Jesus this Sunday, we can hear words of encouragement.  Practice humility, which is nothing more than recognizing that all we have and are, is gift.  Listen to your inner promptings.  That can be the Spirit inviting you to recognize your talents so that you can make them available to God’s people through service.  That is how the lowly will be lifted up.  Paul’s words in the second reading will resonate in your heart: And for this reason we too give thanks to God unceasingly, that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus