Sermons

Summary: We need to continue on the path we were set on by Jesus long ago–the path to holiness. That means giving up everything of this world that keeps us from imaging Jesus and Mary.

Tuesday of the First Week in Course 2020

Saint Mark gets right to the point, just like the high priest Eli. But Saint Mark gets the whole picture, and Eli does not. Mark’s Gospel is designed to demonstrate to his Roman audience–and us–that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Messiah. Look how few lines he needs to do that in today’s Gospel passage. Even the demons recognize Jesus as someone special, sent by God to ruin their long run in Israel. They recognize Jesus as prophet, priest and king. Jesus exercises the power of God that Israel had desired for their kings, who were by and large not holy ones of God, and so their power was almost non-existent, especially in the spiritual realm. So Galilee, as it says here, became what we might call “Jesus territory.”

Eli, on the other hand, is in fact the high priest of Israel, and a leader. But he ruled in a dark time for the tribes of Israel, and he was a feckless leader and useless father. Look at him in this scene. The pious, childless Hannah comes before her Lord and quietly prays for deliverance from her childless life. Eli mistakes her for a drunk. Nonetheless, he still functions as her priest, and joins his prayer to hers. God can work through broken instruments, and play a pretty good melody on out-of-tune horns like Eli. So Hannah does bear a son, who becomes the priest-prophet Samuel, the last judge who in ending the sorry period of the judges, inaugurates the kingdom of God’s people Israel.

For a moment, pay attention to this day’s psalm, one of the few psalms that is found in the historical books of the OT. It is a celebration of plot reversal. Joy comes from sorrow; a child comes from the barren; the poor are made rich. The Blessed Virgin Mary–another woman who because of her vow of virginity could not become a mother–echoed this prayer when she became the mother of the God-man, Jesus. God is the master of plot reversal, of the saving of His people from every affliction. He did it for Hannah, He did it for Mary and in every age since the Resurrection of Christ, He continues to do it in His Church.

So far in this century, the Church has taken it on the chin in just about every year we’ve lived. The greatest sorrows have come from the failures of the clergy to stay on the path of holiness, of chastity and celibacy, of providing guidance and modeling for our young people. But when I think of failure like “Uncle Ted” McCarrick, who fell from a high ecclesial post like lightning from the sky, because of his own wrongdoing, I still have hope. Eli was a jerk. Many priests and leaders over the generations have failed the Church in one or the other way. More than a small number of bishops, even popes have missed the mark of holiness, leadership or both. But the Church has survived.

‘During a frustrating argument with a Roman Catholic cardinal, Napoleon Bonaparte supposedly burst out: “Your eminence, are you not aware that I have the power to destroy the Catholic Church?” The cardinal, the anecdote goes, responded ruefully: “Your majesty, we, the Catholic clergy, have done our best to destroy the church for the last 1,800 years. We have not succeeded, and neither will you.”’

The gates of hell have been belching forth prideful flames and smoke for as many as fifty years in the direction of the Church, but they have not destroyed it. Neither have the leaders who have failed us. Why? Because Jesus Christ is the guarantor of our bond, of our faith, and of our ultimate destiny and current grace. The sacraments are still administered; the daily prayer goes up and once more, this Easter, thousands will respond to the invitation of Christ to become members of His Body.

Furthermore, the U.S. bishops have put in place what are to us clergy irritating systems to protect the innocent, now and in the future. I have had to undergo a criminal background check every three years of my ministry. In the time I have taught in public school, that happened only once. It has been claimed with good reason that the safest place in the country for a young man or woman is the local Catholic parish. So that’s a start.

But we need to continue on the path we were set on by Jesus long ago–the path to holiness. That means giving up everything of this world that keeps us from imaging Jesus and Mary. God has promised us the graces we need to that purpose. Here we renew our vows and our devotion so that we may attain that lofty but attainable goal. Blessed be God forever. Amen.

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