THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY                 NOVEMBER 5, 2017


The prophet Malachi minces no words in warning priests, “You have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your instruction.” Then Jesus comes along and is no less demanding of the religious leaders of his day, “Do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example; For they preach but they do not practice.” After further berating such leaders, Jesus concludes, “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”


These are demanding words to a preacher and have disturbed me at times. I remember, for some while earlier in life, feeling depressed after sitting down after giving a homily. Who was I to be telling others what to believe, to say, to do? I don’t always live it myself. The only way I could get over that was to realize I was preaching to myself first. I am putting forth ideals I find in Jesus that I struggle to live as well.
 I have also come to speak only what I truly believe in my heart and try to speak from the heart. At the same time I admit that I don’t particularly like “feel good” talks that really don’t challenge one to think and prompt one to a continuing conversion, myself included.
 As for being called “Father,” that can be embarrassing at times and automatically sets me up for some people as not being real. I imagine Jewish Rabbis must feel the same way at times.


What I hear Jesus calling for is integrity and humility. I am called to be who I say I am, making my behavior an expression of my beliefs, no matter the cost. Integrity means you have learned what life means and you live your life like you mean it. This, of course, applies to anyone in authority – parents, educators, politicians. The danger that I often see in human beings is the inability to handle power or success. Once you have power you must defend it against any critics and use it in unjust ways.


What made Jesus both popular and frightening was that he never stopped talking about the real meaning of life. “You are worth more than many sparrows,” “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” Jesus forgave sinners. He never demanded perfection of anybody. But he was particularly hard on hypocrites, especially those who act in the name of religion.


This past week all of the Christian world observed the five-hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. For four hundred years Protestants and Catholics treated each other brutally, and religious leaders were particularly responsible for carrying on levels of antipathy, arrogant superiority and, at times, physical abuse and warfare. In 1960 Pope Saint John XXII started speaking of Protestants as our separated brethren and reached out to them in love, apology and compassion. Now many from both sides are looking for ways to work together, live together, and eventually to be the one Church of Jesus Christ. Alas, it has often been the religious leaders who have carried on the divisive separation. The times call us to integrity and humility.


From Father Richard Rolhesier I have found this Jewish folk-tale which runs something like this:


There once was a young man who aspired to great holiness. After some time at working to achieve it, he went to see his Rabbi.
“Rabbi, he announced, “I think I have achieved sanctity.”
“Why do you think that?” asked the Rabbi.


“Well,” responded the young man, “I’ve been practicing virtue and discipline for some time now and I have grown quite proficient at them. From the time the sun rises until it sets, I take no food or water. All day long, I do all kinds of work for others and I never expect to be thanked.
”If I have temptations of the flesh, I roll in the snow or in thorn bushes until they go away, and then at night, before bed, I practice the ancient ascetical discipline and administer lashes to my bare back. I have disciplined myself so as to become holy.”


The Rabbi was silent for a time. Then he took the young man by the arm and led him to a window and pointed to an old horse which was just being led away by its master. “I have been observing that horse for some time,” the Rabbi said, “and I’ve noticed that it doesn’t get fed or watered from morning to night. All day long it has to do work for people and it never gets thanked. I often see it rolling around in the snow or in bushes, as horses are prone to do, and frequently I see it get whipped.


“But, I ask you, Is that a saint or a horse?”






Fr. Timothy J. Joyce, OSB, STL