Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time –
November 5, 2017
I’m not sure it’s a chance circumstance or the dance of the Holy Spirit, but it was only when I started to put this homily to paper that I remembered it was Vocation Awareness Week. I don’t often preach about my priesthood, but the readings today called me into it. What I hope, in reflecting about my priesthood, the Word of God might also speak to you in your vocations in life, as a grandparent or teacher or team captain or big sister or neighbor or godmother or husband or wife. Perhaps, using my vocation to the priesthood as kind of a mirror, you might find a message that also speaks to you as a servant of Christ.
Malachi is a prophet that we don’t hear from too often; he speaks to the Israelite community after they returned to Jerusalem following their exile. They were in a cocky mode at the time; things were good and life seemed like it was where it was supposed to be. The temple was being rebuilt and everything finally seemed to be going their way. But Malachi speaks to priests-gone-bad, a courageous thing to do given the power priests yielded in his time. Their offense, as Malachi put it, was that they no longer were giving glory to God’s name.
As a priest, I am constantly challenged by that, asking myself if what I am doing is truly honoring God’s holy name. Or another way of asking it: what do we do that would dishonor our family’s name? We are sometimes less than what we are called to be; we fall short of the promises we make in life. For some of us ambition takes hold, or laziness. At other times it is our ego. Still other times we operate out of the fear of rejection; we want people to like us so we stop being who we are called to be. Sometimes it’s just plain ol’ sin. We mess up. And in doing so, we dishonor God’s holy name. Malachi says that when that happens, when the priests stop giving glory to God’s name, he will send a curse upon them. Sounds ominous, doesn’t it, like God lining me up in the crosshairs. But curse, in the Old Testament tradition, is God simply allowing the effects of our sins to catch up with us. God doesn’t send a curse; God just lets the curse happen.
In the same way Jesus’ words called the Pharisees to task. They were called to be servants of God, teaching the precepts and the laws of the faith, but they were doing nothing to help them live those expectations. How easy it could be for us as priests and bishops to throw out all kinds of rules and expectations but not lift a finger to help negotiate the demands we place upon lives. How easy it is for any of us to burden people, pointing out their imperfections without the accompanying grace of mercy. How easy it is to accept the exaltation of the title without the cloak of humility.
And then sandwiched in the scriptures readings of this day is this great portrait of priestly life that has often spoken to my heart, an image that St. Paul called himself to: to be as gentle as a nursing mother cares for her children. Gentleness is an often underrated quality among us priests and in the world, for that matter. We honor heroes and strength, winners and power, but not gentleness. Gentleness must be the book cover for the Gospel we preach or we shouldn’t be preaching it. Gentleness must be the mantra of our lives.
So I thank you, my sisters and brothers, for calling me into humility and authenticity as I preach and attempt to live the gospel of Jesus Christ in my vocation of priesthood. Please, continue to demand much of me, and, when I let you down or fail, if mercy warrants, forgive me.
And as I reflect upon these scriptures as we begin this Vocation Awareness week, I hope they speak to you, in your vocation: as sons and daughters, as fathers and mothers and grandparents, as neighbors and friends, as servants of the Lord. And I hope that as we venture together in this stumbling, glorious, wonderful and vulnerable community called church, we might be gentle with each other and always live humbly as servants of Christ; that we might always bring honor to God’s holy name, so that one day, also, we might all be exalted.