06 November 2017
Glorifying God and Lifting Burdens
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
This week is the week the Church in the United States focuses on promoting vocations to the priesthood, diaconate, and consecrated life, and it’s called National Vocation Awareness Week. That may seem odd, because our first reading from Malachi and our Gospel passage sound pretty rough on priests. God the Father, speaking through Malachi, has some harsh words for priests: “If you do not listen, if you do not lay it to bear, to give glory to my name, says the LORD of hosts, I will send a curse upon you.” God the Son, Jesus, also is critical of the scribes and Pharisees, who were not necessarily priests, but who were leaders of the Jewish communities in their day: “‘The scribes and Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. 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 doesn’t sound like God the Father or Jesus has much love for priests and religious leaders!
But, on the contrary, God the Father and Jesus both love priests, but they both also hold priests to a very high standard, because they are acting in God’s Name and are called to reflect who God is. As Jesus says elsewhere, “To whom much has been given, much will be expected.” God through Malachi chastises the priests because they are not leading the people in giving glory to God’s Name. And Jesus does not condemn the priests for what they are teaching, but for what they fail to do in terms of helping God’s people. Sadly, in our own country, a few priests have not led the people in glorifying God, and they have not helped God’s people, but have hurt them, sometimes in horrific ways.
So what is the solution? Should we get rid of priests? Should we close down the seminaries and become Christian communities who do not have priests because a small group of priests have not lived up to their vocation? To do so would be not put ourselves as masters of the Church, and as I preached a few months ago, it is not our Church; the Church belongs to Jesus; She is His Bride. Instead, we need better priests.
People often ask me what I do each day (usually right before someone else chimes in that priests only work for an hour or two on Sundays). And I can say that no two days are exactly the same. There are some common things, but you never know what will happen on any given day. The most important part of my job is to do what Malachi said: to lead you in giving glory to God, and that happens most perfectly, most eminently, in the Mass. The Mass is the high point of my day, as I offer to God the Father through Christ the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit, the one, acceptable sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross for the salvation of the world. And in that, I hopefully draw you in, not to glorify ourselves, not to focus inward on how great we are, because we are not great, but rather, to glorify God and so focus on serving God first in the Mass and then after the Mass in our daily lives. That is the key to a priest’s life: the Mass; the Eucharist.
Outside of that, I try to do what Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees for not doing: practicing what I preach, and lifting burdens from people’s shoulders. Practicing what I preach means treating ever parishioner the way I would want to be treated, and treating them according to what the Church, sitting on the Chair of St. Peter, has taught, never giving special consideration because a person is famous, gives a lot, or is a friend. Each day I also try to lift the burdens of the people in my parish, as I talk to them about their marriages, as I hear their confessions and offer them God’s mercy, as I try to help our school students see how much God loves them and help them to mature as Catholic young men and women. Does it take a lot out of me? Certainly. Being a priest is about giving of oneself, in a similar way to how marriage is about giving of oneself (without the sex part). But that is why the Eucharist is so important, because it is the source of the strength and wisdom, without which a priest would quickly burn out and become useless.
The reality is that we need more priests. We need courageous, adventurous men who are trying to live according to God’s law to become priests. We don’t need sissies; they won’t make it. The priesthood calls for a man’s man; not a man with machismo, who is all about his own strength, but for a man who seeks to glorify God and care for the people entrusted to his care, even when the people don’t want the care that he knows God wants for them. You don’t have to be perfect to become a priest; I’m living proof of that! But you do have to want to follow God as perfectly as you can, so that God can be glorified, and His people can be cared for in love and truth.