Saturday, January 31, 2009

The prophet's choice (Sunday homily)

The people reflected in the readings wanted a prophet—
someone who would speak with authority for God—
and maybe we might like to have a prophet in our time as well?

You realize we actually do have such a prophet?
The Church has the role of prophet in our world today.

Our Lord himself founded the Church,
and poured out his Holy Spirit
to guide the Church with assurance—
even, as needed, with “infallibility”—
meaning, the Church cannot, and will not, err,
when teaching about Christ and how to live for Christ.

So the Church, as a whole—all of us—is prophet to the world.
Each of us, by our baptism has a share in this prophetic role.

This is why it matters that you and I are spiritually active:
why be faithful in going to confession and Mass?
Why continually seek to grow in our faith?
This is why our Catholic schools are worth sacrificing for.
This is why our religious education program is not an “extra.”
We are prophets: Christ is counting on each of us!

Within the Church, the prophetic role
belongs in a special way to the “teaching office” of the Church—
that is, her bishops, led by the pope,
and assisted by deacons and priests.

Now, you might look to your pastor, or our bishop, or our pope,
and you might shake your head! But it’s always been that way.

We’ve always been men with feet of clay,
with our heads in the sand and our finger in the air.

God could have sent us angels to lead the Church;
instead, he personally chose Twelve, with all their flaws.
Maybe he did that was so it would be clear, from day one,
that the success of the Church was the work of the Holy Spirit.

The story goes that Napoleon threatened to crush the Church—
and a Cardinal [Consalvi] replied,
“If in 1,800 years we clergy have failed to destroy the Church,
do you really think that you'll be able to do it?”

If there are times the Church says things we don’t want to hear,
or are hard to follow—well, that is part of what a prophet does.

It is been a bone of contention, for some,
that I am “too conservative” about teaching the Faith,
or celebrating the Mass.
Now, I admit I am prone to my own biases and flaws, as are we all.
If you are here 50 or 100 years from now,
no pastor will follow me who will be any different.

So, the one thing that can correct for that is
that I submit myself, as much as possible,
to wisdom and authority greater than myself:
the pope, the bishops, the Second Vatican Council,
and the longstanding Tradition of the Church.

But not just me, as your pastor—but all of us.
Our common ground can only be what the Church actually teaches,
and the accumulated wisdom of our whole Tradition.

At times I will cite Vatican II, and someone will say,
“wait, that’s not what I was told.”
Many understandably think it was all settled years ago.

In fact, there are a lot of open questions—
and, yes, some rethinking going on.

If you’ve heard about these four bishops,
who are at odds with the Church,
but who the pope is trying to bring back into the fold:
that’s a big part of what that’s about.

Our pope—who took part in the Council—
has written at length about how best to understand
the Second Vatican Council in the light of our ancient tradition.
Many think—many were told—that the purpose of the Council
was to set aside what was handed down:
“Out with the old, in with the new.”

That’s a misunderstanding,
but it really is what a lot of people were told, or experienced;
and because it is a wrong understanding, it needs to be corrected.
If you want to know what Pope Benedict is about—there it is.
If you want to know what I’m trying to do—there it is.

One of the trials of any prophet
is that she sees what others do not;
He tells others what no one else says.

It happens when the pope teaches us about contraception,
capital punishment, or remembering the poor;
it happens when you and I speak up for Christ in our daily lives.

To be a member of the Body of Christ is—and always has been—
to be “out of sync” with the world around us.

That’s why they fed us to the lions,
why they chucked us into concentration camps,
and why people shake their heads and say,
“your values don’t fit in our world!”

They are right!
Because the world is passing away, but Christ is eternal!
Every culture and every generation thinks it has all the answers;
followed immediately by another culture or generation
that knows better!

This is where we find ourselves, day by day,
This is the choice, at each moment:
The culture or Christ?

8 comments:

Jackie said...

This is one of your best, Father. Thanks!

Jeff Pinyan (japhy) said...

A pastor who speaks about current events IN THE CHURCH in his homilies! Intelligently! Without dissenting! And tells it like it is!

May God pour forth His grace upon you!

Jennifer said...

Thank you, Father... I always look forward to reading your homilies! I was pretty surprised to hear our deacon's homily yesterday evening. He reminded us that the ancient people blamed physical afflictions on unclean spirits because they did not know any better, and that it "surprises" him that people today still believe in Satan. :-(

BTW, I pray that you are recovered from your fall the other day! With prayers...!

Father Martin Fox said...

Jennifer:

Thanks for your kind words.

About your deacon's comments...

It may be he misspoke, or didn't express himself as clearly as he might, but--there's an obvious flaw with that argument.

All one has to do is examine all the healings described in the Gospels; one will see that only occasionally are healings tied to casting out a demon; the majority of the time, the Gospels merely describe a healing--no mention of demonic power.

On the other hand, there are clear cases of demons being cast out, without any clear tie to a physical healing. So--with this evidence (which anyone can examine very easily in the Gospels), it seems clear that the Gospel writers were perfectly capable of making the distinction your deacon seems to think they couldn't make, between "healing" and "casting out demons" -- sometimes combining them, other tmes doing one or the other.

There's another discontinuity in that theory -- which I've heard before -- and it is this: the Hebrew mindset, expressed throughout the Old Testament, stayed away from ascribing supernatural action to any power but God. You see this in how the Old Testament rarely even mentions demons or evil spirits altogether; and when they are mentioned, they are described as being "sent by God." This is odd to us, but the Hebrew mindset did not always express a distinction between God allowing things and God causing them directly.

The thinking of scholars is that, insofar as they were surrounded on all sides by polytheism and paganism, God's People were very concerned to lift up the one, true God, as the only God, the only source of Creation and all power.

My point is that historically, the Jewish mindset tended against ascribing things to demonic power; it is true that Jews in the Greek era (i.e., that of the Maccabees forward, including the New Testament), were more open to consideration of angels and demons--but this was a controversial view, as seen by the Sadducees and Pharisees being at odds on such questions. The Sadducees tended to the older view which ascribed it all to the Lord God alone.

Paul said...

Excellent homily, Father. I greatly appreciate your insightful comments and want to let you know that I used your reflection of the Church as prophet in today's world in our RCIA session. Tying Our Lord's authority to the Churches Magisterium turned out to be the most thought-provoking part of our session. They actually "got it" about the need to think with the mind of the Church.

Thank you, Father. Without first having read your homily on the blog, that point would never have been made. Blogging priests have a much greater impact that they even realize. Please remember that on those days when it just doesn't seem worth the effort.

Paul in Long Beach

gramps said...

Another great homily. Having been very sick over the past couple of weeks, my wife and I have been unable to get out to mass. We watch on EWTN and reading homilies such as this are very welcome. Thanks for taking the time to post on your blog.

Anonymous said...

Also want to thank you for sharing your homily to the broader community.
The Church/Magisterium as our modern day prophet is easy to remember and powerful.
Joe K (Mason, OH)

eileen said...

Thank you, Father for teaching us. I know I yearn for homilies such as this.

Regarding what Jennifer's deacon said about people believing in Satan. I have recently been reading accounts from those (pre-Vatican II) who claim to have had visions of Hell and actually one account where someone was *warning* a friend (through, as she put it not her free will) about Hell and telling her friend that praying for her was useless. My point, aren't there valid accounts from saints depicting Hell and/or devils? Seems we have gotten away from reading and telling accounts such as these. Do you think this may be a reason why more Catholics do not believe there are demons and hell?