September 5, 2014

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Ezekiel is the source of the first biblical reading for this weekend. Ezekiel’s name was apropos. It was in effect a prayer, being translated as “May God make [him] strong.” Ezekiel needed strength to be a prophet in a time of great tension for his people.

Seeing the misfortunes that had come upon God’s people, Ezekiel never would have asked, “Why does God let this happen?” but rather, “Why do people sin and therefore bring such chaos and meanness into life?”

While accusing his people of sin, Ezekiel also reassures them that, despite all, God will protect them.

St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans supplies the second reading. An educated Jew, fully versed in the teachings of Judaism, Paul knew the Commandments well. While he saw a special vocation in his outreach to gentiles, he knew that God had revealed the truth through the Hebrew people. The Commandments were from God.

Paul set the Commandments in context. People ultimately obey God because they love God. Therefore, people should treat others well, according to the Commandments, because they love others.

For its last reading, the Church this weekend offers a passage from the Gospel of St. Matthew. Jesus teaches the disciples to admonish anyone among them who somehow is at fault.

The Lord gives a progression of steps. First, a Christian should call a wayward brother or sister to task. Then, if this step fails, the Christian should seek the aid of others in calling the wayward to task. Finally, if this step also fails, the disciple should tell the Church.

If the wayward will not reform, the Church should dismiss the wayward person. A pattern is given as to how this must occur. Behind it all are the facts of the Church, its authority and its place as the repository of all that the Lord has taught and given.

Quite clearly, this reading is about the Church. The Lord anticipates a believing, organized community guided by the Apostles on the basis of all that he taught.

Being a follower of Jesus is a serious matter. No disciple utterly can live as he or she chooses. Each must resemble Christ, obedient always to the perfection of God’s law. God’s law was revealed as a gesture of God’s love for us so that we might have life.

The Church has the right to judge a member’s behavior, even a member’s sincerity, indicated by this Gospel revelation. The Church is not simply a convenient, occasional gathering in which people think and act on their own.

Reflection

Ezekiel’s name in essence was a prayer—asking for God’s strength. Ezekiel knew his limitations and also the challenges that he would face as a prophet. He knew that he needed God’s strength.

For weeks, we have heard advice about being good disciples. To be genuine disciples, we, too, will need strength from God.

We also need direction. The Gospel reading reveals to us that satisfaction for this need in our lives comes in and through the Church. Just over 70 years ago, Pope Pius XII published a marvelous encyclical about the Church, “Mystici Corporis” (“The Mystical Body of Christ”). This encyclical significantly inspired the bishops of the Second Vatican Council, which came shortly after Pius XII’s papacy.

The Church, according to “Mystici Corporis,” was founded by God and blessed by God, but it is composed of limited and, at times, sinful humans.

When members sin, through the Church they may be reconciled with God, if they humbly choose to be. The Church acts in the name of Jesus, conveying to us divine truth, God’s law, but also clarifying the difference between right and wrong.

This guidance is not intrusive or oppressive. It is God’s gift, his support and care for us. Given this guidance, disciples are strengthened. †

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