Homily for Mass – Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, Ottawa, 7.30pm

[Malachi 1:14-2:2, 8-10;  Ps 131;  1 Thess 2:7-9, 13;  Mt 23:1-12]

Today’s readings should make most priests a little uncomfortable.  The First Reading and Gospel are direct confrontations againsts priests of the day.  Backing this up is almost a counter-picture of an ideal of ministry that St Paul is suggesting from his own life.

The first criticism of priests that we hear from the prophet Malachi is that the priests won’t listen to the Lord.  From listening springs obedience … in fact the latin root of the word obedience means to hear, to listen to.  In order to hear you have to be with someone, you have to be in their presence, paying attention.  This highlights that for the priest everything he does must come from his relationship with the Lord, in which he has listened, and heard the voice of the Master.

Malachi goes on to say that because the priests have not listened, they have strayed from God’s ways, and worse still, they have led others astray.  They have gone so far as to have corrupted the covenant.

There is a great pitfall for priests and for anyone in Christian ministry to think that what they’re doing is ‘all about them.’  Along the way, they somehow loose touch with the One Whom they should be listening to, and their ‘ministry’ becomes more about satisfying their own wishes.  Ministry can sadly degenerate into using other people to meet the minister’s own needs – and we know, all too well, the awful tragedy that that can become in such things as the abuse of minors and vulnerable people.  Such things are a perversion of the priesthood – the exact opposite of what it should be about.

Whilst the First Reading and the Gospel contain sharp condemenations of the priests of the day, it is not – in either reading – a condemnation of ‘the priesthood’ or leadership per se.  Through the prophet Malachi the Lord says to the priests: “so I make you despised and abased before all the people inasmuch as you have not kept my ways.”  And again in the Gospel, Our Lord himself tells the crowds and his disciples: “do whatever they [the scribes and Pharisees] teach you and follow it [because they sit in Moses’ chair]” – “but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.”  It echoes the first reading:  follow them inasmuch as they keep my ways.

 For priests and other Christian leaders, these are stern words, and we do well to reflect on the points they raise: * how hypocritical are we: how large is the gap between what we preach and how we live?  * is our ministry based firmly and always in what we have heard from Our Lord in our prayerful relationship with him?  * do we in any way preach a corrupted message: by deliberately altering or omitting what we dislike, and in so doing, do we cause those who hear us and are led by us, to stray from the true path?  * is our ministry corrupted by vanity, ambition, and self-seeking?

Now, all that might sound a little depressing.  But, thanks be to God, we have the beautiful Second Reading today in which Saint Paul speaks about his own ministry amongst the Thessalonians.  In his estimation, he describes his gentleness to them, how he was like someone caring for their own children.  He describes that he cared for them so much that he didn’t just stop at giving them the message of Christ, but that he gave them his own self, his very life.  He recalls that he worked night and day, so as not to be a burden on anyone.  And probably most importantly, he says that the crucial thing for him was that they received God’s message – and not a human message of his own devising.

We are blessed if we can call to mind priests and other ministers who exemplify those things.  Certainly the saints do: and we have so many examples of Christian leaders who didn’t so much put themselves forward, but who became transparent to the beauty, truth and love of God, and who became true bridges between man and God.  It’s something that all of us priests should aspire to.

In saying all those things with specific reference to priests and religious leaders, we could apply them also to all the faithful.  Every single one of us who is baptised shares in the priesthood of Jesus Christ.  In sharing that priesthood, we offer worship and praise to the Father, and we’re called to share in the work of making the world holy – of bringing people to an awareness of God – assisting in their eternal salvation.

And so these words that priests find so challenging, really are a challenge for every single one of us.  And so each of us should ask ourselves: * do we listen to the Master?  * does all that we do flow from what we hear him say to us?  * do we share with others the truth that he has taught?  * do we corrupt the message in any way?  * do we use others for our own advantage?  * is everything about me?  * what is the gap between what we say with our lips and what we do?

The way forward, I think, is to recall the two greatest commandments that we heard in last Sunday’s gospel: to love God with our whole being, and to love others as ourself.  It must be our priority, as baptised people, to be in the Lord’s presence.  To pray, to worship, to praise, to thank Him – to constantly acknowledge that everything we have is from him.  And secondly, we must constantly seek to be in loving service to others.  Our Lord says: the greatest among you will be your servant.  We don’t really have to go out of our way to do that.  If we’re honest, every day there are many opportunities when I can put aside “me” and seek the good and the advantage of someone else.

May this eucharist give us the grace always to humble ourselves as servants, and as people who authentically share, each in our own unique ways, the ministry and priesthood of Jesus Christ.