Monday, October 31, 2011

The Fatherhood of God Perpetuated in the Church

My Father, the deacon, and I at my first Mass
Recently a woman found herself apologizing for crying on my shoulder and taking up my time.  I reminded her that God consecrated me for that very purpose, that she would know especially in pain and sorrow, that God deeply loves and cares for her.

Listen to my homily today:

If you have trouble listening click here.

In the readings for today, the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, we see that a priest is a sign of the tender Love of God the Father, who arranges to give us very real and incarnate signs, or sacraments that we may know his love.  A priest is an alter Christus, another Christ, who has been given the sacrament of holy orders so that the people of God may filiate themselves to the Father in very real ways.

How many people find very real consolation, strength, blessing, life, and holiness in their relationship with the priests God has given them!  For it is clear that it is the will of God that the relationships of the Most Holy Trinity would be marvelously perpetuated in the Church.  When the faithful live as sons in the Son and filiate themselves to the fatherhood of God present in the priesthood of Christ, God is glorified and man is fortified.  Yet, on the other hand, there are some priests that do not give consolation but afflict the children of the Church.  In recent times we have been very aware of this, almost too aware.  The failure of priests has become often the most favorite topic at the bus station, in the grocery store, at homes and workplaces, so much to the point that it would seem that priests may be terrible villains.

It must be remembered that priests, while the dust has been kicked up a lot lately about the sex abuse crisis, are the lowest number of perpetrators and the management of the Church has handled it as the harshest of juridical penalties that civic law would never allow.  In Germany, the anti-catholic criminologiest Christian Pfeiffer claims that priests are the least number of offenders as .1% of all cases.  In the United States this number is even lower at .03%, while the insurance claims for married clergy are more than double this number and teachers triple.  Yet why are priests targeted?  Because they should be 0%.  They represent God's fatherhood and for this reason the damage is exponentially greater.

Thanks be to Jesus, who gave us this beautiful scripture, to "Call no man on earth our father" (Mt 23:9).  He said this so that when we do encounter the sinfulness of the Church, we will not ultimately allow this to shake our faith, because ultimately there is only One Father who is worthy of the name, before whom all other fathers whether spiritual or human appear as a very insufficient substitute or stand-in for the real thing.  Now, many so called "bible christians" interpret this scripture out of context.  The Catholic principle of interpreting scripture is context.  Let the bible interpret itself in light of itself and in light of the Catholic tradition, the magisterial teachings, and the teachings of the fathers and saints.

What is the context?  In Exodus 20:12 we hear to "honor our father."  In Matthew 3:9 and Luke 3:8 we see that Jesus himself called human men fathers such as Abraham and David.  The Blessed Virgin Mary called Abraham as father (Luke 1:55).  The Apostles Paul, who surely knew how to interpret scripture called himself father of the disciples in Corinth (1 Cor 4:5) and Thessalonica (1 Thess 2:11-12), and even called St Timothy, a young bishop, his son.  Clearly the New Testament tells us that it is right and good to call men by the title father.  So what IS the context?  Jesus immediately before this passage warns us of those teachers who do not practice what they preach, who
"They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people's shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them"

It is clear that this passage ought be interpreted in light of that seemingly harsh first reading for today:
You have turned aside from the way,and have caused many to falter by your instruction;you have made void the covenant of Levi,says the LORD of hosts.
It refers to those priests who do not teach the teachings of Christ present through the legitimate authority of the Church, and therefore rather than help souls enter into life, they impede them.  For those Catholic priests who oppose the teaching authority of Christ present in Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium, it is time to tremble.  The penalty God speaks of here is very severe.  But the faithful, ought not get too caught up in their failure, they ought not lose their faith because a so called, "father" or "teacher" has not taught them the correct doctrine, for they share their fatherhood only in a participatory or instrumental way.

In closing, I would like to share with you the words of Archbishop Chaput, which he gave in his homily for the national convention of the Knights of Columbus in Denver, Colorado on August 2, 2011.  Watch video here.
"Bishops, priests, and deacons are too often weak and sinful.  We need to be held to high standards.  Some of us deserve to be chastised.  The Church's leadership, the clergy, should always be marked by humility and service, and never by a sense of entitlement.  But it is important to remember that men and women did not found the Church.  They don't own her and they have no license to reinvent her.  The Church belongs to Jesus Christ.  The different roles within the Christian community, clergy, laity, and religious life - have equal dignity but different purposes.  Certain failures, including the sins of the clergy, need to be named, but when people deride their bishops and priests out of pride or resentment or some perverse desire for what they perceive as power, they undermine the Church itself, and they set themselves against the God whose vessel the Church is, and that, as Scripture suggests, leads in a painful direction.  All real reform in the Church today requires two things….renewal begins not in vilifying others but examining ourselves, honestly, repenting of our own sins, and changing ourselves.  This applies to every baptized person, from the Pope to the average man or woman earning a wage.  We are all sinners.  We are all in need of repentance and in need of God's mercy.  When we really understand that we can speak to each other with honesty and love and the reform of the Church can begin.  The second thing we need for reform in the Church is faith, not faith as in theology, or faith as a collection of doctrines and practices, although these are important, but faith as a single-minded confidence in God.  Faith as the humility, and in a sense, the passion and recklessness to give ourselves entirely to God.  That kind of faith changes people, that kind of faith shifts the world on its axis, because nothing can stand against it,"

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