Sunday, February 3, 2013


We blessed throats after Masses today (on this feast of St. Blaise) so that everyone could yell really loud at the TV during the SuperBowl.  Enjoy the game!

   Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time   C 

In a previous parish assignment, 
I became very good friends
with one of the local Protestant pastors.
Several years after I moved out of that town,
he was dismissed by his congregation.
He hadn’t mishandled funds.
He wasn’t involved in any scandalous behavior.
I’m not aware that his preaching ever strayed into heresy.
He’s so kind and discrete,
he’s never shared with me their specific grievances;
I sense that’s because he wouldn’t ever say anything
that might paint his former parishioners in a bad light.
They were, you see, his own people:
it was the church he grew up in
and where he had worshiped with his young family
before he entered the ministry.

I have discussed with him
(and with other non-Catholic clergy I know)
the differences in protocol and procedure
for the hiring and firing of pastors.
Here in the Catholic Church,
you’re assigned by the Bishop, who has the sole say in the matter;
but in most Protestant denominations,
a pastor serves at the good pleasure of his flock.
Both arrangements have their inherent dangers.
For the Catholic priest, there’s the danger of complacency:
no need to unnecessarily challenge yourself when your job’s so secure.
For the Protestant minister, there’s the danger of compromise:
no need to unnecessarily challenge the congregation
since your job’s on the line.
(Of course, the real problem 
with both of these perspectives
would be to see it merely as a job in the first place.)

The nineteenth century
Danish philosopher and theologian, 
Søren Kierkegaard,
noted that many of the great minds of his generation
had devoted themselves 
to making people’s lives easier
by inventing labor-saving tools and machines.
Kierkegaard would say 
that he, rather, dedicated himself 
to making people’s lives more difficult:
he would become a preacher.

There are plenty of times
when I struggle to be that kind of “difficult” preacher:
struggle against both complacency and compromise;
struggle when I see folks on the wrong path,
and know I should be shaking things up a bit;
struggle to say the hard things
that I believe you really need to hear,
but which I fear you really don’t want to hear.

Now, unlike my Protestant friends,
I don’t much have to worry about losing my job.
I do, however, worry about
the Church’s tarnished credibility these days.
When the news is still full of allegations and cover-up,
it’s little wonder people would question:
By what authority do you say such a thing?
Just who do you think you are to tell us what to do?
And I worry about turning people off or driving them away,
since I may not get another chance to reel them in for Christ.
I’ve been startled on more than one occasion
by what little things seem to cause such major offence.
And—in my weakness—I worry about being a hypocrite.
And—in my pride—
I worry about whether or not people like me.
I worry…but I know it’s not a very credible witness
who withholds the whole truth.
And I know it’s false charity to keep my mouth shut
when I could be encouraging you to grow and change,
or warning you about hazards to your immortal souls.

When Jesus called the hometown crowd to task—
pointing out their lack of faith and narrow-mindedness—
we’re told the people in the synagogue were “filled with fury.”
Is it possible that a little fury now and then
might do us all some good?
It would certainly show that people are listening
and taking the message to heart.
It would show that people care enough
to get passionate about what they’ve heard.
It would show that the one in the pulpit
found the courage to preach the truth,
even though its not popular or “politically correct.”
It’s not for nothing, I guess, that when calling Jeremiah,
the Lord promises to make his prophet
“a pillar of iron and a wall of brass.”
If the faithful of Nazareth were ready to hurl Jesus off a cliff,
then all who dare to speak in his name—and do so authentically—
ought to brace themselves for some hostility now and then.
And yet how often that’s the very thing we’re trying hard to avoid!
As a bishop was once heard to lament:
“Wherever Jesus went, there was revolution;
wherever I go, they throw tea parties.”

So—you may be wondering—
is this a warning shot for some serious hellfire-and-brimstone
the next few Sundays?
Not exactly.
But it is a call for some serious prayer.
Pray for those of us entrusted with the task of preaching,
that when we’re tempted to say what’s acceptable
or what will get us accepted,
we may remain steadfast and true to our calling.
And pray for a genuine attentiveness and openness
for yourself and for all who gather here,
that Christ’s gospel may pose a real and constant challenge to us.

We’ll know, my friends, that these prayers have been answered
when the preaching makes all of our lives more difficult. 

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