Pray For Your Priests
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time – A
Fr. David Reitzel
Preached: Nov 5, 2017
“And now oh priests this command is for you, if you will not listen, if you will not give glory to my name . . . then I will send a curse on you” (Mal 1:14-2:2).
God is speaking pretty harshly to his priests through the prophet Malachi. But to anyone who is familiar with the prophets of the Old Testament that should come as no surprise.
There seems to be a constant refrain that echoes through the Old Testament prophets railing against the spiritual leaders of Israel when they have failed to be faithfully either to God or his people. The prophet Jeramiah has even harsher words than Malachi, “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” he says, “Because you have scattered my flock . . . I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” (Jer 23:1).
And just in case we thought that these harsh words were just an Old Testament thing, we only need to read Jesus words immediately after today’s Gospel when he says “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.” And he doesn’t just say it once, he repeats those words seven times, Woe to you, woe to you woe to you. And he lists one after the other the ways that the Jewish leaders have failed in their task of leading God’s people.
Now as a priest, as a religious leader, I am tempted to get defensive when I hear these words. I start thinking, why does God pick on his leaders so much. I mean we’re human just like everyone else, sure we have our shortcomings, and failures, but were not the worst people in the world. We’re trying our best.
But as I catch myself making these excuses, I realise that I’m not going to win this argument. God is right to hold priests to a higher standard and I think this is the reason why:
The ancient Romans had a saying: Corruptio optimi pessima (The corruption of the best is the worst). What that means is that something that has great power, something that is the best, when used incorrectly can in fact cause the worst evil. Imagen the great discovery of nuclear fusion. It can be used to produce energy that can power the greatest cities, but used wrongly in can destroy those same sites in an instant. The corruption of the best is the worst.
Imagine this applied to a person. A politician who is handsome, a great speaker and can really get people to follow him, can lead a country toward great things. But if he is corrupted, ambitious, and self-serving, he can use those same talents to lead that country to its own demise. We can think of maybe Hitler in Germany or Stalin in Russia, men of great talents who used them for great evil. The corruption of the best is the worst.
Now while I would never say that priests are the best in that natural sense. In reality, not all are talented with words, handsome, and able to get people to follow them. But all priests do point to what should in fact be the best thing in our life: God. Whether priests like it or not, they represent God to all whom they meet.
This fact was made known to me by a 4 year old girl. I was once standing at the back of the church and a mother with her 4 year old daughter were beside me. The mother asked her daughter to point to Jesus, intending her daughter to gesture to the crucifix at the front. However, when I looked down at the little girl I saw her finger pointing at me. At first the mother and I laughed and tried to correct her. But you know what? She wasn’t completely wrong. Though I am not Jesus, I am a priest. And all priests from the greatest to the least represent Jesus. We make him present when we forgive sins. We make him present when we anoint the sick. We make him present when we baptise the young. And we make him present most especially when we change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Priests bring Christ to the world and the world to Christ.
That is why the corruption of the priest is the worst. It robs people of their image of God, who ought to be the best thing in their life. They now see God in this fallen way, this broken way, and it is hard to shake it. The action of a politician may have consequences in this life, but the actions of a priest good or bad have consequences for eternity. It makes sense, then, that God holds them to such a high standard and speaks harshly to them in Scripture when they do not remain faithful.
Up till now the homily has focused on the priests, and you may think what does this have to do with us. Well, this homily is actually an appeal fro charity.
Pope Frances probably meets personally at least 100 new people every day. He shakes their hand, exchanges small talk, and maybe gives a blessing. But when anyone who meets the Pope is asked, what did he say, their response is always the same: he said, “pray for me”. The pope has the greatest reasonability of anyone on earth. He knows that, but he also knows that he is week, and so he askes each and every Christion to help him with their prayers.
Well, I would like to ask you to do the same for Fr. Mark and I. We have a great responsibility as priests, but we are weak as well, I don’t think Fr. Mark would mind me admitting it for him. And so we need your prayers. Pray that we be faithful priests, faithful in our service of God and of you. Pray that when we do make a mistake, which we will, we have the humility to admit it, and the courage to repair the damage.
I know this is kind of a selfish request, asking for prayers, but I truly believe that your prayers for the holiness of your priests will only make for a better, and more holy parish. So please, pray for us.