4th Sunday of Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel we learn something very important about Jesus. It’s important to all Christians, but especially to us Catholics. He’s teaching in the Synagogue. But the people who’ve gathered to listen to Him will learn that this isn’t just some ordinary teacher, some ordinary Rabbi. Teachers in Jesus’ time, just like today, taught based on someone else’s authority. Father Paul and I don’t just make this stuff up. We rely on someone else’s teachings. We have the Scriptures, we have the words of religious scholars, we have the teaching of the Magisterium of the Church, and we have the Holy Spirit. If Father, or I, or anyone else who assumes the role of teacher stands up here and makes stuff up, you have every right to complain.

If any of us comes up with some new, radical teaching of our own invention, you should get on the phone to the Archbishop and tell him that we’re preaching heresy. Then the Archbishop will call us in and demand to know what’s going on. It won’t be pretty. We may even lose our faculties to preach or worse. We’re not allowed to preach anything that isn’t the truth, as it’s been passed down over the centuries.

In Jesus’ time, Rabbis taught from the Torah. That was the Word of God and that’s what the people wanted, and deserved to hear. But, here’s this Jesus teaching something new. His message was extremely radical for the first century. And, as Mark says, ”the people were astonished at His teaching.” They said, “What is this?”

One man even speaks up and says, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” But to get an idea of what’s going on, we have to look back at Moses’ words in the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy. “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin; to him you shall listen.” Jesus is that prophet, but the people don’t realize it yet. God promised Moses that He would put His words into His, this new prophet’s mouth. God goes on, “Whoever will not listen to my words which He speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it.”

 

Jesus is that new prophet. This man who challenges Jesus is possessed by an unclean spirit. Here’s the evil one, Satan, challenging Jesus in the Synagogue, the very house of God. Jesus rebukes the man and says to the unclean spirit, “Quiet! Come out of him?” And the spirit, with a loud cry, comes out of him.

Naturally, the people are amazed. “They asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority.” Satan has made a huge mistake. His attempt to discredit Jesus backfires and the people understand. Jesus is teaching with authority, not human authority, but with the authority of God the Father. For the first time in history, someone other than God the Father, has the authority to speak on His behalf. Up to this time, every teacher has taught strictly from the Torah. As Mark says, “His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.”

 

Today, Christians rely on both the Old Testament word of God, and the New Testament teachings of Jesus Christ. But, why is this more important to Catholics than it is to other Christians? To find the answer we have to turn to Luke’s Gospel where Jesus tell the disciples that whoever hears them, hears Him and whoever rejects them, rejects Him. And whoever rejects Him, rejects the One who sent Him. This is the beginning of the teaching authority of the Church.

This begs the question, “Do we always like what the Church teaches?” Not necessarily. Do we have to believe it? We do unless we want to reject God, and that’s dangerous territory. As faithful Catholics, it’s up to us to learn what the Church teaches and to know the difference between Church doctrine and discipline.

The Eucharist is a perfect example. In a few minutes, Father will take the bread and wine, which will be presented to him by members of the congregation representing all of us. The bread and wine are your gifts to God. Then he’ll turn that bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. That’s God’s gift to you. It’s scriptural and has been taught by the Church since the very beginning. If you don’t believe it, then you’re not a Catholic. It’s a core belief and it’s non-negotiable. In fact, according to Saint Paul, if you partake in communion without believing it is what it is, then you’re guilty of the Body and Blood of Christ.

On the other hand, the Church calls us to fast for an hour before we receive His Body and Blood. If you forgot and ate a donut 59 minutes before communion, are you committing a sin? No, that’s a discipline. It’s something we should do, not something we have to do. It can change and it did change after Vatican II. Remember, you used to have to fast for twelve hours. Under certain circumstances, for example, if you’re a patient in the hospital, you can receive the Eucharist at any time.

Disciplines can change, doctrine can’t. Remember when you couldn’t eat meat on Friday? It wasn’t that long ago.

Recently our former Archbishop, Cardinal Burke, has been in the news for things he’s said that aren’t in agreement with Pope Francis. You may wonder, how can this be? Who are we supposed to believe? If you study what both men have said, they don’t disagree on Church doctrine. The disagree on disciplines. Male alter servers aren’t Church doctrine. If the good Cardinal thinks servers should all be altar boys, that’s his opinion. Again, it’s something that has changed over the years. Given the power of the feminist movement, it’s not likely to change back, but it could. In fact, there are still some dioceses where they don’t allow female servers. But, remember that here in Saint Louis he did allow girl servers when he was Archbishop. Frankly, it’s not that big a deal.

To wrap this up, today’s readings remind us that Jesus has a special kind of authority and He shared that authority with His Apostles and their successors, the Pope and the Bishops. It was unique. It was radical. It was outrageous! It’s no wonder that the Jewish authorities didn’t want Him around. His authority was a challenge to their authority.

Make no mistake, there are people alive today who hate Jesus and His Church. Why? For the same reason. Jesus’ authority, and by extension the authority of His Church, is a challenge to them. If I’m in the business of selling sin, our course I’m going to hate the Church. If the Church challenges my political authority, I’m going to hate the Church. If I represent a religious denomination that doesn’t accept the Church’s teachings, I’m going to hate the Church. If I suddenly decide to divorce Jan and marry another guy, I’m probably going to hate the Church. Any time the Church challenges anyone on anything, there’s going to be a backlash. Remember that there were enough people who hated Jesus that they tortured Him and killed Him.

As Catholic Christians, we have a responsibility to know what the Church teaches, to accept those teachings, and to share those teachings with others.

If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.

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New Responsibilities

In my last post I mentioned that Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis celebrated mass last Sunday at our Cathedral Basilica.  I hoped that the text of his homily would be posted on line, and it has been.  You can read it here.  In case you aren’t familiar with Cardinal Burke, he was Archbishop of Saint Louis until last June when the Holy Father appointed him Prefect of the Signatura in Rome.  Then in November, he was elevated to the College of Cardinals.

He was in Saint Louis this week to celebrate a mass of thanksgiving on Sunday and to participate in the Ordination of Monsignor Edward Rice as auxiliary Bishop.

In his homily on Sunday, the Cardinal had this to say:

Receiving new and weightier responsibilities in the Church, my thoughts have turned naturally and gratefully to the gift of having served as your archbishop.  My life in the Church and whatever service I have been and am able to give to the Church has been immeasurably blessed by the faithful of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis and by the years I served you.  I do not forget you and the great blessings which have come to me in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis.  When I was appointed Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, I was particularly grateful that the Holy Father had given me the title of Archbishop Emeritus of Saint Louis.  I treasure my continued relationship with the Archdiocese.

I found the Cardinal’s words particularly relevant because I’ve been appointed by our current Archbishop to new and weightier responsibilities in the Church.  Beginning this Monday I will assume a new position, Director of Saint John Nepomuk Chapel.  Like Cardinal Burke, I am very grateful for all the blessings I have received at my previous assignment at Saint Bernadette Church.  Also like Cardinal Burke, my boss, the Archbishop of Saint Louis, has allowed me to retain my ties to my former parish as well.  I’ll continue to serve the parishioners at Saint Bernadette by celebrating a morning communion service twice each week and perform some other duties as well.

It was an extremely difficult decision to accept this new assignment.  Saint Bernadette has been my family’s home for thirty-five years.  When I was ordained in 2002, I was allowed to remain there as a deacon.  With the exception of my oldest son’s baptism, my children received all the sacraments of initiation at Saint Bernadette.  I was blessed to be able to baptize two of my grandchildren there.  All four of my kids attended grade school there before the school was forced to close in 1999.  I could easily have served there as long as the Lord gives me the physical ability to function as a deacon.  (Hopefully a long time.  But you never know.)

I have a plethora of friends at Saint Bernadette including many who have allowed me to participate in some of the pivotal moments of their lives; baptisms, weddings, and yes, even funerals of loved ones.  I’ll miss these people dearly.

But, I was ordained to serve the Archbishop and to go wherever he needs me.  Now he’s called me to a unique ministry.  Saint John Nepomuk is a church community that dates back almost until the Civil War.  Like a lot of inner city churches, many of its members have migrated to the suburbs.  Nowadays, it’s a chapel rather than a parish, meaning that it has no geographical boundaries.  People come from all over the metropolitan area to attend mass there, many because of their Czech heritage.

Attendance has dwindled and when the most recent pastor retired, the Archbishop made the decision not to assign another priest.  My role will be to run the physical plant, find priests to celebrate mass on the weekends, and to provide for the spiritual needs of the community.  Saint John is the only parish in Saint Louis to use this model.  With God’s help, the church’s members and I will make this work and possibly open the doors for others to do the same.

So, while I’m sorry to leave the comfort of Saint Bernadette, I realize that I wasn’t ordained to be comfortable.  Like Cardinal Burke, I look forward to the challenge and look forward to my continued association with Saint Bernadette parish, too.

God never calls us to do anything without giving us the tools we need to succeed.