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Be a Good Priest

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

At first glance it certainly seems like the readings for this weekend are meant for me more than they are meant for you. After the past few weeks of Gospels in which the Pharisees have been trying to trap Jesus in his words and find something to accuse him with, today Jesus turns and accuses the Pharisees in the fullness of truth. He says the preach but they do not practice, they place burdens on people but do not help them, they love honor and recognition. They have failed to heed the first reading when the Lord gave a commandment specifically to his priests, telling them they are to give glory to the name of the Lord or else they will be cursed. And as a priest I can tell you that it is a very good thing that we have these readings in our lectionary, that every so often the priests who gave their lives for the sake of ministering to you must stop, must hear the accusation of the scriptures… and must examine their hearts and their lives in front of the People of God. Even the priests that you admire and have been a part of your lives and that you think are “good” priests are not perfect… and in fact it is especially those beloved priests that need to make sure they haven’t been corrupted by the admiration given to them and slowly allowed their priesthood to be about themselves instead of about Christ. This is a good Gospel for us priests to preach and see if we have become the hypocrites.

But these readings are important for your lives as well, because we should not forget that you are all priests. When you were baptized, you were anointed as priest, prophet, and king. This is what we call the common priesthood of the baptized. It is not the same as the ordained priesthood that I take part in, obviously, but it is priesthood. It is the basic function of a priest to make things holy. You make things holy; you make the world holy. The common priesthood of the baptized has the mission of going out to the world and making it holy by your presence as those joined to the life of Christ and living in his Spirit. The ordained priesthood simple focused that mission, it “ordered” or “arranged” that mission, into making you holy. So I help you to become holy and you help the world to become holy. That is the similarity and the difference in our priesthoods.

So now let me place these scriptures before you and ask: has your life of faith resulted in glory being given to the name of God? Your baptism was not about just your individual salvation or your individual relationship with God. It certainly begins there, no doubt. But by your baptism you are given the grace to become the servant of God who goes out to your brothers and sisters to lift their burdens as a servant to all, as you share with the world the love and peace and mercy that we find in the presence of our God. Does your love for God make you the humble servant of others, or have you exalted yourself as holy? Who is at the center of your faith, the people you serve or you yourself? I hope that you make time to pray with this, and perhaps let God show you a new perspective of what you have always been.

But before I end I want to say a quick word about “call no one on earth your father,” seeing as how you all call me father. Using the title of father began out of people’s affection for their priests and desire to respect the role they have in our lives. It’s the same as how it would feel strange to call your biological father by his first name. What the Gospel is saying as I read it, it give no one the respect and deference that you give to the one Father in heaven. In other words, Jesus didn’t ban us from using a specific word, he reminded us that respect and glory ultimately belong to God alone.

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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.

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