Just a couple of words on our first reading and the gospel. Both readings are filled with harsh, condemning words. Both readings are demanding authentic leadership from religious leaders.
A number of years ago Avery Dulles wrote a book titled Models of the Church. One of the models he uses is that of the Servant Church, a church modelled on Christ the servant, Christ the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep. As Christ said of himself, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” This image of servant is far removed from the community leadership described in today’s scripture, a leadership that demanded power and prestige.
Malachi excoriated, even laid a curse on the priests of his day claiming they have turned aside from the way and caused many to stumble by their instruction having corrupted the covenant of Levi. Christ has basically the same message for the religious leaders of his day. He mocks their need for recognition by their extravagant religious garb, their need to have places of honour at banquets and front seats in the synagogues.
We always have to remember that not all the Pharisees and Scribes fit into this negative category, most of them were good men faithful to their calling. Luke tells us that is was the Pharisees who warned Jesus that Herod was out to kill him but both Malachi and Jesus were compelled to expose the hypocritical behaviour of the religious leaders of their times. They do not practice what they teach.
Bishops and priests, like the rabbis are the guardians of traditions, traditions that go back to Moses and to the apostles and we can be in constant danger of not living up to our own teachings, especially the social teachings of the Church. There are many who enjoy ostentation, special insignia and honorific titles. If we are honest we do not always practice what we preach but as some wag observed, thank God we do not preach what we practice. Today’s gospel should be uncomfortable reading for any bishop or priest. As someone recently suggested to priests, “if we wish the honour of preeminence, let it be in service rather than in being served. If we as priests aspire to be number one, let us be the first to forgive, to heal, to minister.” These words mirror Paul’s reflection in our second reading when he describes his ministry to the Thessalonians, “we were gentle among you, like a nurse caring for her children, so deeply do we care for you that we determined to share with you not only the gospel but also ourselves because you have become very dear to us.”
Today we have to admit the lack of open leadership given by some bishops. We are embarrassed by the lack of open and responsible leadership shown by some bishops as they chose to cover up the sins and crimes of their priests in the misguided attempt to protect the reputation of the church.
This is a wound that will take a long time to heal, a trust that will take a long time to be regained.
Getting back to the model of a Servant Church I believe this parish is an important part of a Servant Church. I have in mind the good men and women who bring Holy Communion to NYGH, the men and women of our St. Vincent de Paul Society, your contribution to Justice and Peace by supporting the Just Coffee program, your support of our efforts to bring a refugee family from Iraq to the safety of Canada, your support of the homeless and hungry by providing Casseroles for the Good Shepherd Centre, your contributions in support of young mothers at Rosalie Hall and you generous financial support in response to help those affected by recent natural disasters.
In all these efforts we are truly living this Mass outside these walls, we are trying to image the Christ who came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for all of us.
All of us fall short of the mark, we admit we are mistake-making beings. But we can keep on trying to be what God calls us to be, people of love, people of healing, people of openness to others, brothers and sisters in Christ. May we all be graced to be faithful to our calling.