PROPHETS IN OUR MIDST!
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
July 5, 2009
Sunday Reflection / Catholic Homily
Ezekiel was not one who would mince words. He was not the type who would soft-pedal an important message, or one who would hesitate, or even doubt prophesying at all, when face to face with people who, he knew all too well, could either relent or resist. Heedful or rejecting, rebellious or ultimately accepting, … whatever it was that characterized Ezekiel’s hearers was the least of his concerns. Ezekiel prophesied “in season and out of season.” “And whether they heed or resist – for they are a rebellious house – they shall know that a prophet has been among them” (Ez 2:5).
On the other hand, we see Paul today in a moment of sincere and utter self-acceptance, a time when he recognizes that even God-sent apostles and prophets like him do have their difficult moments, a portion in life when, like the Master Himself, who begged the Father in his most agonizing moments at the Garden of Gethsemani: “If it is possible, take this cup away from me … but not my will, but yours be done.” Paul refers to his famous “thorn in the flesh,” about which, “three times [he] begged the Lord […] that it might leave [him].” We see Paul humbly accepting his weakness. We see him, too, humbly claiming the power behind that weakness – Christ. On account of him, and for his sake, he could humbly declare: “I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10).
That type of rejection that blunts, as it were, the power of the prophet to do good on behalf of those he is sent to, was also part of the experience of Christ, who saw first hand a sore lack of acceptance on the part of his very own townmates and acquaintances. They saw in him no more than a lowly carpenter, the son of a carpenter too, a very ordinary guy from the neighborhood. Surely, they thought, this man, a local guy like all of them “average” inhabitants of Nazareth, could not have been capable of making great waves, let alone do wonders! Ordinary folks are only capable of ordinary strokes, they must have thought.
The picture conjured up by these three distinct but at the same time, similar vignettes of three prophets is nothing short of timely and relevant, given the situation the Church finds herself in these days. If we go by what commentators, cartoonists, journalists and anchor persons both on radio and TV, and the print media endlessly love to harp on and talk about ad nauseam, the Church’s (and her modern-day prophets’) experience is not exactly one of enthusiastic and welcome acceptance.
We see rejection left and right. We see the erosion of trust in not a few quarters. We feel people second-guessing their priest-pastors all the time, not any different from the way Jesus’ townmates murmured among themselves: “Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands? Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters with us?”
There are those who obviously “take offense” at us! And there are those who consciously and deliberately conspire in order to make even more and more people to take offense at us. Without in any way intending to condone the possible and actual indiscretions that some of us have done, I perceive a strong current of rejection of the Church and what she stands for, which now finds justification in the unfortunate events that happened involving some men of the cloth both in high and low places. People with axes to grind against the Church now find a perfect vehicle on which to hitch their personal issues. The sin of Peter is ascribed to Paul. The mistake of a few is made out to be a mistake of the whole.
The Church, as a whole, has been getting a great deal of bashing from the media and the forum of public opinion. The Church’s and, her pastors’ weakness has been exposed!
All three readings today offer us a salutary perspective given the atmosphere of rejection and mistrust that prevails, at least on the part of those who are in a position to manipulate the flow and direction of public opinion. With many of them claiming to be catholics and active members of the Church, today is a good day for them and for all of us to be reminded that prophets and pastors like Ezekiel, Paul and Jesus Christ Himself, cannot be cowered into silence by rejection and non-acceptance. Truth and the proclamation of the truth never was, never is, and never will be dependent on people’s enthusiastic acceptance. Ezekiel told them like it is, and unmindful of the people’s rejection, found solace in the thought that people would know “that a prophet [was] among them.” Despite the “thorn in the flesh,” Paul found out that it was in his weakness, that he really was strong.
The Church is definitely humbled by the sins of the fathers. We, your pastors, are humbled and mortified by our own personal sins, some of which indeed, caused, and still cause, anguish to many of you and even cause you to take offense at us, at the Church, - at times even - at the Lord Himself! We do not deny the weaknesses that there are within our ranks, among our leaders, within our persons, and within the Church. Media practitioners just love to expose and rehash every lurid detail they could get their hands on.
I call on everyone, especially those who have taken offense at the Church and her pastors, all those who are hurting in some way, all those who continue to inflict wounds on mother Church, all those who continue to suffer the rapid erosion of respect from people, all those who are struggling with their faith and sense of lively attachment to the Church – all of us who owe so much to the Church that has tried her best to be Mater et Magistra (Mother and Teacher) to us all, since we were baptized … please pray together with the whole Church as we declare: “Our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for his mercy.” We fix our eyes on the Lord, who alone is the strength of those who falter and have faltered. We fix our gaze on the Lord, whose grace alone is “sufficient for [us], for power is made perfect in weakness.” We plead for his mercy on behalf of all those who, on account of their sins, have caused so much anguish to so many in the Church. We plead for God’s mercy so that the sins of a few would not be imputed to the whole. We plead for his mercy so that the weaknesses of a few that keep on hogging the headlines, may ultimately spell strength for the overwhelming majority who, by and large, ever so quietly, go faithfully through their daily duties albeit unreported, unheralded, unsung – nay more, - even unrewarded materially speaking.
In the final analysis, it is not those who succumbed to human weakness and who unfortunately caught the eye – and the ire – of a culture that looks for convenient scapegoats to our collective guilt and sinfulness, that will bring the boat that is the Church back to the safety of the shores of acceptance. But it is the prophets in our midst, the unsung and quiet heroes who live silent, faithful and persevering apostolic lives who, despite non-acceptance, despite rejection and loss of respect and esteem, who preach in season and out of season, who tell things “like it is,” who humbly accept that in their weakness, Christ is their strength … these are the men and women who are worth being talked and written about, but whose stories – at least for now – would not sell and would not get enthusiastic applause, and which therefore, get no media mileage to speak of.
Ezekiel did not get it. Neither did St. Paul, with his “warts and all” (thorn in the flesh). And most of all, neither did Jesus get mobbed and followed by enthusiastic crowds as he told them “like it is.” And in case you forget what we heard last Sunday, solemnity of Peter and Paul, “Not even the gates of hell will prevail against [the Church].”
My fellow priests and pastors, cower not in shameful silence! Preach and prophesus with conviction and commitment. My fellow Christian believers, go on listening to the prophets in your midst!