6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A
Sirach 15:15-20; 1 Cor 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37
February 11/12, 2023
I’d like to speak today about something that weighs on the minds and hearts of many.
We are experiencing a mass exodus from the Church, especially by our young. Many others have lost their faith in God and his Church. We ask why? If you ask those who are leaving, they will tell you two things.
1. They no longer believe that there is such a thing as truth. “What is truth?” they ask. It is what makes them feel good and fits their personal preferences. Frankly, some clergy ask the same question.
2. Many priests and bishops have abandoned Christ and his people with all the scandals and abuse. That is the second reason they give.
I would like to briefly talk about both, in light of the gospel I just read.
To all those who leave because they do not believe in truth I ask, “Who then is Christ? How do you imagine him?”
We like to imagine Jesus as we see him in the popular paintings, i.e., the smiling Jesus, with long dark hair, clean robes, walking lightly across the countryside and speaking comforting words of love and peace. Jesus who is physically comfortable, and the Jesus who makes us comfortable. The “nice guy” Jesus. The Jesus who died a sanitized death. I remember once telling someone I wanted to give them a crucifix for Christmas. They asked me to not give one that was “too scary, too bloody”. Jesus the Truth for many is found only in feel-good images.
Today’s Gospel leaves me, at least, with another image of Jesus the Truth. In my mind’s eye, I see Jesus about six inches from my own face and looking rather piercingly at my eyes. I imagine him rather dusty and sweaty from the heat of the sun after spending a lot of time on a small mountain. He is exasperated having just come from a testy confrontation with religious authorities. He just preached the Sermon on the Mount. In that sermon he not only blessed many people — blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the meek, blessed are the lowly, and so on — but he also wooed many others — woe to you rich, woe to you are full and now laugh. He probably ran into a buzz saw from the Pharisees who heard him say those things. So after all that, he is looking at me and through me, saying, “They say (referring to the Pharisees)… but I say to you!” over and over again. I imagine him saying to me, “These are big deals! Pay attention! I am speaking the truth!”
Whether he reveals himself as our friend, comforter, and teacher, or as our just Master and Lord, Jesus is always challenging us to greater and greater repentance and perfection. He always brings us closer and closer to his heart, which burns with such love for us that he wants not mediocrity, but greatness; not a mundane existence, but eternal life. The depth of his love for us is so deep that he shows us the full reality of love, the full demands of love, and the full cost of love.
His love for us is so profound that he perfects us. He insists doing so. He is vehement in his efforts. He never gives up. Yeah, even if it requires his life!
To those who leave because of us the clergy, I would like to say what J.R. Tolkien said to his son. Although I quote him, I can make these my words also: “Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even the sins of the Church and its ministers… I think I am as sensitive as you (or any other Christian) to the scandals, both of the clergy and laity. I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed and even bad priests.” I would add, bishops and deacons.
We deacons, priests, and bishops must examine ourselves to see how we have abandoned Jesus the Truth, and the irreparable harm this has caused. When we abandon Christ, we abandon his people. We clergy need to examine our consciences. We all need to get in line for confession and do penance. We all need to look at how we have contributed to the mass exodus from the Church, especially of our young. To follow Christ will bring dishonor not privilege, poverty not riches, humility not pride, and we must accept this. Too often, we blame the world, and overlook ourselves when explaining the exodus from the Church.
We clergy must not abandon Christ the Truth! We must not abandon God’s people! Perhaps the one thing that hurts me more than all others is to see someone leave the Faith and the Church.
May none of us, laity or clergy, abandon our Lord for demanding a lot, for telling us to look to him for the truth! May we see his challenges for what they are, signs of his infinite love. Let us love him in return.