29th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
I've been amazed these last few months at how directly the Sunday Mass readings have addressed the on-going crisis in the Church. It seems that every Sunday we are being given the Word of God as a way of seeing into the diseases that afflict the Body of Christ. Though this is surprising, it really shouldn't be. Scripture is the faithful record of how God's people have struggled through the most basic problems that all of us confront daily. Life, death, illness, accident, natural disaster, loss of faith, betrayal, commitment, war, marriage, children, poverty and riches. Three-thousand years ago or just yesterday, men, women, and children are fundamentally the same. We want to live, thrive, love, and see our families and friends do the same. Our sins haven't changed much either. How we choose against God's will and our own redeemed human nature isn't all that different. That some seek rank and power through corruption and deceit is not new. That others abuse their power and wealth for personal gain isn't new. That a few in the Church live day-to-day to corrupt, undermine, and eventually destroy the Body of Christ isn't new. What is new – what is always new – is the Good News of the Father's mercy to sinners – the reality of forgiveness through the repentance of sin.
More times than I can count I've been asked how ordinary Catholics can hang on to their faith while the Church implodes around them. The author of Hebrews gives us an answer: hold fast to your profession of faith b/c you have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens. In other words, because Christ Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father, having risen from the grave and ascended to heaven, grip and hold tight to your trust in the Father's promises. No doubt this is an act of courage! It might even be seen as an act of foolishness. But if it is foolishness to believe firmly in all that the Father has promised, then count me among the fools. Christ Jesus has entered the heavenly temple and there he intercedes for us with the Father. So, with confidence, we can approach the throne of grace and receive His mercy to help us endure the temptation to despair. Nothing done here on Earth can shake Christ's love for us. If we are to follow him, our love must be unshakable, unbroken, and always freely given in service to those who need Christ's love.
The Sons of Zebedee, James and John, show us how NOT to seek to serve the Lord. They ask Jesus for a favored place in the Kingdom. They want recognition. They want power and influence. Wealth and rank. Believing Christ's kingdom to be a worldly kingdom, a kingdom of property, money, slaves, and armies, the Sons of Zebedee see their relationship with the Lord as a golden opportunity to cash in. Despite everything the Lord has said up to this point, despite his persistent teaching about having a faith like a little child, despite his encounter with the rich young man, these two still think that Christ has come to establish a political kingdom in Israel. Jesus sets them straight, again: “. . .whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” We don't know how James and John reacted to this teaching. Did they take it seriously? Did they wink at Jesus and says, “Sure, Jesus, sure. We hear you.” If they didn't believe his words, maybe they believed his actions. He goes willingly to the cross and dies for their sins. That's what it means to be a slave of all – to die a slave's death so that others might live.
How do we do that in our current mess? For the sake of your souls, I urge you to turn your anger, disappointment, despair, and disgust toward holy service. The Devil wants you to dwell on the sins of cardinals, bishops, priests, and deacons. He wants you to fill yourself with righteousness indignation. And then, he wants you to stew in those passions until you are ready to say “Enough!” and walk away from the faith forever. What he doesn't want you to do is to turn your legitimate anger and disgust toward repairing the Church. He doesn't want you looking for ways in your parish to empower your prayer life. He doesn't want you going out of your way to offer others the love of Christ they need. And the absolute last thing the Devil wants is for us to spend some time alone with God looking carefully at our own sin and coming to repentance and forgiveness. With our faith firmly in hand, gripped tightly and holding on, we can be absolutely confident that this crisis has a resolution: repent and believe the Gospel! Only then can we as members of the Body of Christ begin to love as we ought and bring about the justice so many need.
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