Priests of Christ are to be leaders who serve: Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Hard-working St. Paul paid his own way by making tents.

Central idea: Leaders who serve God. Doctrine: Priests are frail leaders who should serve. Practical application: Supporting our priests and bishops.

To view Lectionary 151, click here.

Central idea: Leaders who serve God

Reading 1 Mal 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10

A great King am I, says the LORD of hosts,
and my name will be feared among the nations.
And now, O priests, this commandment is for you:
If you do not listen,
if you do not lay it to heart,
to give glory to my name, says the LORD of hosts,
I will send a curse upon you
and of your blessing I will make a curse.
You have turned aside from the way,
and have caused many to falter by your instruction;
you have made void the covenant of Levi,
says the LORD of hosts.
I, therefore, have made you contemptible
and base before all the people,
since you do not keep my ways,
but show partiality in your decisions.
Have we not all the one father?
Has not the one God created us?
Why then do we break faith with one another,
violating the covenant of our fathers?

  • The prophet Malachi chastised Jewish priests who put aside the fact that the law and their authority to teach it came from God. In doing so, they caused many to falter by their bad instruction and they showed partiality in their decisions; that is, they were unjust.
  • This is a perennial danger for us: in general, for anyone who has authority, and specifically, for the men who have received holy orders.
  • We are living in an era in which society in general, our civic leaders, those who control the various means of social communication, and even very many persons with authority in the Church have turned away from God, the law of the Gospel, and the natural law. They have broken faith with God and morality, teaching errors. They have turned aside from the right way and caused many to falter by their instruction.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 131:1, 2, 3

R. In you, Lord, I have found my peace.

O LORD, my heart is not proud,
nor are my eyes haughty;
I busy not myself with great things,
nor with things too sublime for me.

Nay rather, I have stilled and quieted
my soul like a weaned child.
Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap,
so is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the LORD,
both now and forever.

  • Peace is accepting who we are and living accordingly. We are creatures of a good God and want to live according to the law by which we are made. On top of this, we are adopted children of God and are showered with grace to help us behave accordingly.
  • Foolish and mistaken persons try to make themselves great or try to defend their own importance. We don’t need to strive to make ourselves great. Nor do we need to get upset when others don’t recognize our status.
  • This is just as true for the humblest child as it is for an old man who holds great power and authority.

Reading 2 1 Thes 2:7b-9, 13

Brothers and sisters:
We were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children.
With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you
not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well,
so dearly beloved had you become to us.
You recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery.
Working night and day in order not to burden any of you,
we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.

And for this reason we too give thanks to God unceasingly,
that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us,
you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God,
which is now at work in you who believe.

  • Anyone entrusted to spread the faith communicates God’s dynamic message not his own.
  • While the Catholic faithful do not expect their pastors to support themselves with secular jobs, they ought to be hard working.
  • What is more pathetic than a lazy, pleasure-indulging priest or bishop?

Alleluia Mt 23:9b, 10b

You have but one Father in heaven
and one master, the Christ.

  • The Communion antiphon for today’s Mass is, “You will show me the path of life, the fullness of joy in your presence, O Lord.”
  • The path of life by which we begin to enjoy the presence of God now and fully forever is to live under the authority of God.

Gospel Mt 23:1-12

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying,
“The scribes and the Pharisees
have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,
but do not follow their example.
For they preach but they do not practice.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen.
They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.
They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,
greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’
As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’
You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.
Call no one on earth your father;
you have but one Father in heaven.
Do not be called ‘Master’;
you have but one master, the Christ.
The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

  • Our Lord is saying that what the Jewish authorities taught was true and should be followed (if you are a Jew). However, they themselves did not practice what they preached, so their example was bad.
  • They were proud rather than humble and they wanted to be served rather than to serve.
  • What about what Christ taught about titles?
    • A teacher can be called teacher so long as the teacher humbly teaches what Christ taught.
    • A father can be called father so long as the father brings souls to Christ.
    • And a master can be called master so long as he rules as Christ’s steward.
  • In other words, one in authority in the Church must be a servant. So must anyone else in authority in the world if he or she wishes to have Christ as model.

Doctrine: Priests are frail leaders who should serve

  • Bishops and priests have authority over the laity, given to them by Christ (CCC 876).
  • Yet the character of their ministry must be service. “Entirely dependent on Christ who gives mission and authority, ministers are truly ‘slaves of Christ,’ in the image of him who freely took ‘the form of a slave’ for us” (CCC 876). The Catechism reminds them, “Because the word and grace of which they are ministers are not their own, but are given to them by Christ for the sake of others, they must freely become the slaves of all.” (CCC 876)
  • The priesthood, then, “depends entirely on Christ and on his unique priesthood” and “it has been instituted for the good of men and the communion of the Church” (CCC 1551). “The exercise of this authority must . . . be measured against the model of Christ, who by love made himself the least and the servant of all” (CCC 1551). For the bishop or priest, concern for Christ’s flock is “proof of love for him” (CCC 1551).
  • We the laity should remember that bishops and priests are not “preserved from all human weaknesses, the spirit of domination, error, even sin.” While “the minister’s sin cannot impede the fruit of grace, in many other acts the minister leaves human traces that are not always signs of fidelity to the Gospel and consequently can harm the apostolic fruitfulness of the Church.” (CCC 1550)

Practical application: Supporting our priests and bishops

  • Since by the will of Christ bishops and priests have a job to do, we the laity should support them. This support can include the following:
    • Praying for them daily, since they are weak human beings entrusted with a task of the greatest importance.
    • Showing our love and esteem for them, since everyone needs encouragement.
    • Understanding their agenda so that we can intelligently and justly obey it.
    • Collaborating with them to the extent of our own ability.
    • Appropriately correcting them if that should be necessary.
    • The Code of Canon Law is helpful in understanding the role of the laity in terms of the clergy. The following are from Canon 212.
      • 1. Conscious of their own responsibility, the Christian faithful are bound to follow with Christian obedience those things which the sacred pastors, inasmuch as they represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or establish as rulers of the Church.
      • 2. The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.
      • 3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.

The Homiletic Directory recommends the following Catechism points and themes for the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time:

  • CCC 2044: moral life and Christian witness
  • CCC 876, 1550-1551: priesthood for service; human frailty of leaders
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