There’s a battle going on right now. It is raging all around us in our society. It is raging in the Church.
Sounds dramatic, no?
What is this battle I refer to? It is the battle of tradition.
Our society has, over the years, developed traditions, ways in which we believe we should treat one another and live together. Not all those traditions are good, by the way. Some traditions are not so good and some are flat out wrong. Take, for example, traditions revolving around racism. For a long time in this country, we white folks had traditions based around a belief that people with brown skin were inferior to us and that they should serve us. In fairness, that belief and practice spans pretty much all of human history with groups of people treating each other in a wrong way but nevertheless, you get the point.
So too in the Church do we have traditions. Our traditions in the Church have been passed down for the better part of 2000 years, given to the Apostles by Christ and passed on to the Church down through the ages. Over the past 50-60 years, we have seen a lot of change, both in society and in the Church. We should expect society to change. We should not expect the Church to change, contrary to what the modernists want. Tradition is rooted in the person of Christ and His Apostles and we don’t get to change that now because we have Twitter or whatever. In fact, Tradition cannot change by its very nature.
I say all this because I am going to be taking a different approach to these weekly reflections on the readings for Mass. Rather than use the “new” lectionary promulgated in 1970, I have chosen to return to the readings for Mass from the 1962 Roman Missal. This Missal was compiled and has been largely unchanged since the 16th century and the Council of Trent. Why am I doing this? I am doing this not to be contrarian but merely to return to tradition. I’m not really sure why a new lectionary was needed but it is what it is. So, you will notice some changes, primarily that there will be very few “readings” from the Old Testament. I will be using OT texts, however.
So that was a long preamble to explain why these reflections will look different moving forward for a time. On that note, moving forward…
Our two primary readings today are the Epistle and Gospel reading.
Epistle: Romans 12:16-21
Gospel: Matthew 8:1-13
I feel like it should be noted that our Epistle text picks up in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans at a certain point in the letter. The first part of the letter (first 11 chapters) was spent laying out for the believers who they are in Christ. That’s a bit of an oversimplification but you get the point. Paul does this often; the first half of the letter is doctrinal, the second practical. In other words, Paul tells us who we are in Christ and then, in light of our salvation through Christ, how we are to live. This text is really no different. St. Paul has just spent 11 chapters telling us who we are in Christ, if we are indeed in Christ. In light of this truth, St. Paul now turns to more “practical” matters and how we are to live now. He goes into this list of attitudes and behaviors that are expected of the believers.
Providing good things.
Be at peace with all men if possible.
Don’t be vengeful or take revenge.
Be kind to your enemy.
Overcome evil with good.
We look at this and say, “You can’t be serious. I can’t do that.” In one sense, we’re right. We cannot live in the way we should without help. Don’t get me wrong, we can and should strive for this but if we’re honest, we often fall short. Doesn’t mean you don’t try. Just means that we need to recognize that our own efforts must be in light of and with the aid of the person of Jesus Christ. We bear a responsibility, in light of our faith, to live a certain way. On this, Holy Scripture and Christ Himself is very clear.
St. Paul lists for us some characteristics of a redeemed life. In our gospel reading, we get a real-life example of this from the ministry of Jesus. We read the story of a Roman centurion who comes to Jesus to ask for healing for a servant of his. Here we see a man who, though a Gentile, shows us the life that St. Paul says we are to live. Consider:
He was a man of authority, but he cares for his servant. He is therefore a humble man “not wise in his own conceits.”
He provides a good thing for his servant in asking for healing, which also goes hand in hand with his humility. He didn’t try to handle it himself but asked for help from the only source of help that he believed it would come.
His approach is one of peace. By law, he could demand that Jesus come with him but he did not. In fact, his humility is expressed more powerfully by him recognizing Jesus’ divine authority.
He helps to overcome the evil of the tyrannical oppression of Rome by his own goodness, stating. “I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter under my roof.”
This, then, is how we are to live if we are in Christ. A final note I want to pick up on that speaks to us of Another who lives in the manner put forth by the Apostle. In this, we also see Christ. Consider verse 5 of our gospel reading. A Roman centurion, a “pagan” vessel of oppression comes seeking Jesus. But he comes not for himself but for another. It reminds us of Proverbs 16:7 that even His enemies are at peace with him and, in this, we hear echoes of Isaiah 60.
This, then, is our supreme example. Christ is our example.
It is in Him that we find humility, even to death on a cross.
It is in Him that we are provided good things.
It is in Him that we live in peace, even with our enemies.
It is in Him that we lay rest our desire for vengeance.
It is in Him that we both receive and show kindness.
It is in Him that evil has been overcome with goodness and it is by His strength that we may also overcome the evil in our hearts and of our day with goodness.
Thanks be to God for His great provision for us in Christ!
I have been afraid many times in my life. Fear has been a constant companion for many years. I spent sixteen years living daily with fear. During my law enforcement career, I honestly cannot remember a single day that I was not afraid. Quite literally, the next call may be your last as a police officer. I was a SWAT operator for twelve years. I lost count of the number of operations I was part of. The fear of those operations cannot be overstated. I worked undercover as a narcotics detective for many years. Fear was a daily companion.
Fear is a reality. We cannot do away with it. So if we cannot do away with fear, we have to learn how to function even when we’re afraid. One time, my wife and I were discussing something and she made a comment about me seemingly never being worried or afraid. I said something along the lines of being shot at and in fear of my life so much that the little things didn’t bother me anymore. Once you get used to the idea that you are going to die and there’s really not much you can do to stop it, things come into perspective for you.
Fear is powerful. We are witnessing this in our world today. I’m not that old but I ain’t no spring chicken either. I mean, I’m pushing 50. I cannot remember a time in my life when the whole world seemed gripped by a single fear like we are now. Well, almost the whole world. I also cannot remember a time when we have witnessed such weak and feckless leadership. That weakness and fear and lack of leadership corrupts everything.
Even the Church.
Some you reading this will immediately say to me that I need to be more sensitive or submissive and that I don’t understand the decisions that are being made and blah blah blah. I understand perfectly the decisions that are being made by our leaders. What I don’t understand is why they are making those decisions.
I’m referring to our Church leaders, not the governmental leaders. Anyone with half a brain knows what the government is doing. They are doing all within their power to control us. They don’t care one whit about you or me as individuals. They don’t care at all about the people of their country. They care about extending their own power and control and wealth and they will do whatever it takes to get more of all the above. They will happily sacrifice all of us toward that end.
I’m not talking about government.
I’m talking about our Church leaders.
Never have I seen, never would I have imagined, that the Church would cower in fear before anything on this earth. Never would I have imagined that the Church would just lie down before the State and say, “Yes, master.” Never would I have imagined that the Church would close her doors to the faithful and tell us it’s for our own good, that it’s the “morally responsible” and “pastoral” thing to do.
But that is precisely what we’re witnessing in the Church today. Our leaders have bowed to fear. Our leaders have bowed to the god of safety and comfort. Our leaders have bowed to the State. Never should the government tell us as the Church what we can and cannot do, when we can and cannot worship, how we can and cannot worship. Never should we give in to fear. Yet, here we are.
Our Lord told us,
“I have said these things to you, than in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
I’m reminded of St. Athanasius. When discussing the Incarnation of Christ, he said this,
“For being above all, the Word of God consequently, by offering his own temple and his bodily instrument as a substitute for all, fulfilled in death that which was required; and, being with all through the like (body), the incorruptible Son of God consequently clothed all with incorruptibility in the promise concerning the resurrection. And now the very corruption of death no longer holds ground against human beings because of the indwelling Word..”(underline mine)
What could we possibly fear?!
I wonder what our Lord would say to us now, as we cower in fear before a virus. I wonder what our forefathers in the faith, like St. Athanasius, would say to us now, those who didn’t run from disease or war or martyrdom but embraced suffering for the name of Jesus and went to their death singing with the joy of their salvation. Did you know that, once upon a time, Christians were known for going into disease ridden places to care for the sick even though they knew it would cost them their lives? Have we considered that Jesus touched lepers to heal them, knowing that leprosy was a death sentence in the ancient world?
How dare we cower in fear before anything in the world?
Have we forgotten the words of Jesus, who reminds us,
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)
Let us remind our bishops and priests that their responsibility is not to keep us safe. Your responsibility, fathers, is to lead our souls to heaven. I don’t care if I get a little sick on the way. I don’t expect to make it out of this stage of life unscathed. I’m not afraid of getting sick. I’m afraid of going to hell.
Souls are at stake.
For the bishops and priests, I want you to know that your sheep are looking for a shepherd, one who will lead without fear. We want men and fathers who will lead us to Jesus, not cower in fear before the god of safety or submit to the whim of government. Fathers, you will answer to God. Please remember that. Christians, brothers and sisters, pray for your bishop and priests. Pray that they will no longer be afraid but stand. Pray for your own soul that you will be faithful. Pray for the souls of the bishops and priests that they will also be faithful.
Stand up and speak out. Be faithful, even if no one else will. Our Savior is with you. He will not fail us. Be not afraid.