September 2, 2011

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—“May God make [him] strong.”

Ezekiel needed strength to be a prophet in a time of great tension for his people.

Seeing the misfortunes and tragedies that had come upon God’s people, Ezekiel never would have asked, “Why does God let this happen?”

Rather, he would have asked, “Why do people sin and therefore bring such chaos and meanness into life?”

While accusing the nation of sin, Ezekiel also reassures the people 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 through Hebrew agents in the past. The Ten Commandments were from God.

Paul set the Commandments in context. People should obey God because they love God. 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.

It is an appeal by Jesus for 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 person to task.

Finally, if this step also fails, the disciple should tell the Church.

Obliquely, but still quite clearly, this reading is about the Church. The Lord speaks to a believing community and to the Apostles.

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

Being a follower of Jesus is a serious matter. No disciple utterly can live as he or she chooses. Each person must resemble Christ, obedient always to the perfection of God’s law.

God’s law was revealed, a gesture of God’s love for us, that we might have eternal life.

The Church has the right to judge a member’s behavior, even a member’s sincerity, according to this revealed law. The Church is not simply a convenient, occasional gathering in which people think and act on their desires.


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

For weeks, and again this weekend, we have heard advice about being good disciples. To be genuine disciples, we 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.

In 1943, Pope Pius XII published a marvelous encyclical about the Church, “Mystici Corporis” (“The Mystical Body of Christ”). This encyclical significantly inspired the Second Vatican Council, which came not long 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, human beings.

When members sin, through the Church they may be reconciled with God if they humbly choose to be. The Church speaks in the name of Jesus, conveying to us divine truth, God’s law. It defines what discipleship means—“binding” and “loosing” in the process.

This guidance is not intrusive or oppressive. It is God’s gift, God’s support, to us. Assured that the Church guides us, we are strengthened in faith. †

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