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Sins of the Priests

November 2, 2015

Blog11-2The Book of the Prophet Malachi is set forth as a kind “riv” (a Hebrew word for a lawsuit, indictment, or controversy) by God. The Lord sets forth a legal case of sorts, which convicts ancient Israel of numerous deficiencies and calls for their repentance. The case that God presents shows a body of evidence that is just as true today as it was then. God has plenty to say and we have much to hear, much to repent of.

I am going to examine the Book of the Prophet Malachi in two successive posts. Today’s post is about the sins of the priests. Tomorrow’s post will focus on the sins of the people.

As we look to the sins of the priests enumerated here, please understand that neither the biblical text nor my commentary should be construed to mean that all or even most priests are like this. But, sadly, the sins and shortcomings of the clergy are far too common. As priests must strive to be better and more holy, so also must the laity remember to pray for us.

With that in mind, let’s consider the sins of the priests (as listed by Malachi) in three basic areas.

I. Shoddy Sacraments

“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? So says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. You say, ‘How have we despised thy name?’ By offering polluted food upon my altar. And you say, ‘How have we polluted it?’ By thinking that the Lord’s table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that no evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that no evil? Present that to your governor; will he be pleased with you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts. And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the Lord of hosts. 10 Oh, that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire upon my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. 11 For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. 12 But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and the food for it may be despised (Malachi 1:6-12).

Those are strong words indeed. And while the injunction regarding blemished and polluted animals has changed, the intrinsic problem too often remains: the shoddy celebration of the Liturgy and the sacraments.

One of the most common complaints from the faithful regards priests who violate liturgical norms and/or allow others to do so. Few things offend charity and unity as much as the open and often egregious violation of liturgical norms. And while it is true that some violations are smaller matters in themselves, why not just celebrate the Liturgy as it is set forth in the books? There are of course options, and not every complaint of the faithful is accurate or fair, but God’s people have endured several decades of exotic and often egocentric liturgical experiments, which are not approved and which take the focus off God and the proper worship due Him.

Not every priest can clear up every problem in the Liturgy the day he walks through the door, but proper liturgical formation of God’s people with due regard to charity and patience is an essential task for the pastor of souls. And the priest should begin with himself. The liturgy, both in terms of its mechanics and its deeper spiritual significance, should be his study and his great love.

Another problem that can emerge is inattentiveness to the dignity and beauty of the Mass and the sacraments. Beauty and decorum are important ways that we communicate our love for God and one other. Priests should be properly vested, prayerfully prepare their sermons, and avoid mannerisms that are inappropriate or overly casual. Opulence is not necessary, but priests should ensure that liturgical appointments are clean, in good repair, and of proper dignity.

Decades ago, poor immigrant communities were responsible for building of some of the most beautiful churches. They also supplied some of the finest liturgical implements and art. It is important that we keep what they have bequeathed to us in good repair. Further, priests can and should teach today’s faithful to follow the example of these recent ancestors of ours by seeking to build and maintain worthy Churches, erected for the glory of God not just the utility of man. In the recent past, many of the faithful have been shocked and hurt by senseless “wreckovations” of sanctuaries and altars. Thanks be to God that many today are growing in appreciation for the older churches and are seeking to preserve them.

If God was offended by the offering of a lame or sick animal, why should we think He is pleased with “just any old stuff” in the Sacred Liturgy? God does not need our gold chalices or our tall churches, but He knows how we are made. And the shoddy, perfunctory, “anything goes” celebration of the Sacred Liturgy says something about our hearts, our priorities, and what we value.

Priests above all must avoid all conscious violation of liturgical norms, make central the devoted study of liturgy, and inspire respect among the faithful for the Sacred Liturgy. St. Paul summarizes well his liturgical teaching of 1 Cor 11-14 by saying, But all things should be done decently and in good order (1 Cor 14:40).

II. Burdens not blessings? Behold your Barrenness!

13 ‘What a weariness this is,’ you say, and you sniff at me, says the Lord of hosts…. 2“And now, O priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not lay it to heart to give glory to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings; indeed I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart. Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung upon your faces, the dung of your offerings, and I will put you out of my presence. So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may hold, says the Lord of hosts. My covenant with him was a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him, that he might fear; and he feared me, he stood in awe of my name (Malachi 1:13, 2:1-5).

The priests of that ancient Jewish time had families, and God warned that if the fathers did not obey, the children would surely suffer many curses. And while priests today do not have children of their own, thousands call us “Father”!

And here in our times is the warning of God that the sins and omissions of the priests surely have brought trouble upon the faithful. We have been through a period in which too many priests have been rebellious, unfaithful to Church teaching, slothful, unprepared to preach, un-prayerful, irreverent, and even guilty of grave sins and violations of their state in life. Far too many priests and religious have also left the sacred call they agreed to live for life.

All of this has resulted in many troubles for the faithful. Some have been left discouraged and angry, most are poorly catechized and ill-informed on critical moral issues. Many are confused by priests and bishops who have openly dissented and, as the text says, who do not listen to God or lay to heart His teaching and stand in awe of God’s name.

As such, the flock is often cursed by this poor priestly leadership and example. Eighty percent of Catholics no longer attend Mass. Many of those who do attend are barely in communion with the Church’s teaching, and struggle to live the glorious vision set forth in the Gospel.

Sadly, this text from Malachi echoes a similar text from Zechariah, Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered (Zech 13:7). This is why the sins of the priests are so serious and why the faithful must pray especially for them. For indeed not only are priests subject to targeted attack by Satan, they are also especially susceptible to grandiosity, pride, and the sin of craving human respect.

Pray that priests do not become weary of exhortation, or speak of their office as a “burden.” Pray, too, that they do not succumb to modern and soft notions that the Gospel is too “burdensome” for the faithful to live, and therefore fail to preach it or to encourage the faithful.

This leads to the third sin of the priests that is mentioned by Malachi.

III. Sacerdotal Silence

True instruction was in [Levi’s] mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you have not kept my ways but have shown partiality in your instruction.” (Malachi 2:6-9)

Silent pulpits are all too common in the Church today. Some priests prefer to “play it safe,” fearing to preach about the issues of the day out of human weakness. Other priests do not believe certain teachings themselves or think them impractical in modern times. Still others, as the text says, have turned aside from the truth, preaching and teaching outright dissent. As such, the text further says, they cause many to stumble by preaching corruption.

It is tragic as well that so many are permitted to mislead the faithful and are not disciplined for it by their religious superiors.

The text says that a priest should guard knowledge. That is, he should protect it from those who would distort it and should refute error. He must also guard it from misunderstanding and see that it is presented in the balance of others truths in the Scripture and in Tradition. St. Paul says of a presbyter (a priest), He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it (Titus 1:9).

The text of Malachi also warns against partiality, wherein a priest picks and chooses what truths he will teach or emphasize. St. Paul said to the elders at Miletus, Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:26-27). Yes, the whole counsel, the complete truth, is to be taught by the priest.

Malachi rebukes the priests of his day for their partial preaching and, sadly, some of these rebukes must still be made. Encourage your priests when they speak confidently and clearly. Thank them and give them support, even if they challenge you. The job of a priest is not to be popular but to be a prophet. It’s tough work and it doesn’t always bring cheers. But even the prophets need support from the 7000 who have still not bent the knee to Baal or kissed him (cf 1 Kings 19:18). Pray for priests and encourage them to announce the whole counsel of God.

These are some of the sins of the priests that God sets forth. Let us not forget that the world also has many hard-working, dedicated, loyal, and holy priests. Yet, as these texts remind us, too easily priests can lose their way; forgetting the glory of the liturgies they celebrate; referring to their office and the gospel as burdensome; and growing too silent out of either fear or laziness.

Pray for priests!

In tomorrow’s post, I will discuss the sins of the faithful, as listed in the Book of Malachi.

Comments (11)

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  1. Bill Phelps says:

    Monseigneur
    I try not to be overly judgmental of the perceived shortcomings of my parishes clergy – they have a tough job to do with minimal resources and a not very helpful chancery. But I do wish my clergy address some issues arising in Maryland and provide some leadership. My clergy was silent on the same sex “marriage” issue and has not addressed the upcoming “death with dignity” push. I say “my clergy” because, of course they are mine and I am theirs. the Cardinal remains silent of these and similar issues for, I presume, to be good and sufficient issues.

  2. Monsignor, of course we must pray for our priests. We support each other on the road to heaven. We have different roles and gifts, but we must preserve the bond of unity, particularly in our worship. Is it ever appropriate for a lay person to speak to a priest about the issues you raise?

  3. Catharine says:

    There is a very real problem which affects both priests and clergy, about which the hierarchy in North America has been shamefully silent for decades: Eucharistic sacrilege. It would appear that in addition to far too many priests and laity receiving Holy Communion whilst in the state of mortal sin, a practice known as sacrilegious communion (a mortal sin in and of itself), a practice has developed of simply dumping the Most Precious Blood down either the sacrarium or even a sink after Holy Mass.
    This is not only an extremely serious sacrilege, but also such a level of sacrilege that the penalty under canon law (Canon 1367 of the Code of Canon Law and Par. 107 of the instruction on the Eucharist Redemptionis Sacramentum issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship an the Discipline of the Sacraments. This is an automatic penalty of excommunication applicable to clergy, religious and laity alike, lifting the excommunication is reserved to the Apostolic See, which means you cannot simply apply to your local bishop; you have to apply to the Holy See in Rome itself.
    A priest named Mark Kreis self-published a little book entitled “The Horror of the Profanation of the Most Holy Eucharist” earlier in 2015. This book treats eloquently of the situation.
    Personally, I believe that the solemn warnings of Our Lady given at Fatima, Akita and elsewhere are coming true: less and less importance is given to the Eucharist, which is the center, source and summit of our Catholic faith; we now see cardinals openly opposing cardinals, bishops vs bishops and priests vs. priests.
    The flock here in Chicago appears to be split right down the middle: those who still believe in, and confess, the Real Presence, and those who deny it.
    If one is evaluating whether to join a particular parish or not, I strongly recommend that you spend some time at the place, watch the priest(s), and pay particular attention to 2 issues: what is their level of reverence towards the Eucharist, both at the elevation and at distribution of Holy Communion time? and,(2) what is their attitude towards the Blessed Virgin Mary?
    If there is irreverence, disrespect or worse on either count, DO NOT join that parish, but rather keep on looking. And, if the abuses are serious enough, write a letter sent via certified mail to both the local bishop and the CDF in Rome.
    To disrespect the Holy Eucharist is to insult and disrespect the face of Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. This simply has got to stop.

    • Taylor says:

      I would like to ask for you to pray for the innocent priest (and his family) who, for lack of instruction, violated this Canon and was excommunicated due to the overly-zealous actions of another.

      • Catharine says:

        @ Taylor:
        Huh? Where on earth did you get that idea from?
        Please read the book referred to above. There is no such thing as “an innocent priest” who for lack of instruction violated Church law against desecration of the Eucharist. In fact, as Father Kreis points out over and over again in his book, no priest gets through the seminary without having proper handling of the Eucharist under both species. It is impossible to be ordained a priest without having this pounded into one’s head.
        Also, there is no such thing such as you speculate to have occurred to the effect that there was “an innocent(?!) priest who for lack of instruction violated this Canon and was excommunicated due to the overly-zealous actions of another.”
        Per Canon law, upon desecration of the Eucharist, which is and of itself requires a certain level of knowledge and mental culpability, the excommunication is latae sententiae and ipso facto, i.e., by the doing of the deed itself. There is no requirement that someone “snitch” or that a priest be formally charged or that some formal trial or other proceeding for the excommunication to occur.
        Now, I will grant you, when I received training as a Eucharistic minister some 15 years ago, there was no mention of this to the laypeople who were becoming Eucharistic ministers. However to infer that priests (who all graduate from some recognized and accredited seminary prior to ordination) lack this basic instruction and training is not credible.

  4. John says:

    My pastor has some remarkable skills. He is an excellent administrator, puts in a lot of hours, bilingual English and Spanish, pretty adept with Latin, too, and congenial. His drawback are his homilies, they are sleepers. An older man he must have made them up decades ago and just recycles them. Perhaps, they were never his thing. Overall, this priest is capable and to reiterate, top of the line managerial skills.

  5. Marilyn says:

    This cannot be a coincidence. Sometimes while praying, I open the Bible at random, and most of the times I get the message I need for that precise moment.

    This passage of St Malachy is what I read yesterday, the same day you posted about it.

    It cannot be a coincidence.

    Since I was abused by a priest and I am having a very hard time trying to recover, especially because most people defend him, protect him, and despise me for talking about it, I frequently get confused and blame myself about it.

    But now, this is God’ confirmation for me. That I am not alone.

    God bless you Mons. Pope, and thank you.

  6. Douglas Kraeger says:

    Sins of silence?
    2 Thes. 2:8-12, “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord (Jesus) will kill with the breath of his mouth and render powerless by the manifestation of his coming,the one whose coming springs from the power of Satan in every mighty deed and in signs and wonders that lie,and in every wicked deceit for those who are perishing because they have not accepted the love of truth so that they may be saved.Therefore, God is sending them a deceiving power so that they may believe the lie,that all who have not believed the truth but have approved wrongdoing may be condemned.”

    What does it mean, “for those who are perishing because they have not accepted the love of truth so that they may be saved.”? Can it be a sin of the priest to not remind people of this basic teaching? What if a priest does not remind husbands of their (daily) duty to wash their wife with a bath of “water with the WORD” (Eph. 5:25) and give them ideas on how to progress in this?

    Does anyone have a priest who reminds all that they must (truly) love the (WHOLE) Truth so that they MAY BE SAVED?

    I believe all ministers of all faiths should put a poster similar to the following in their church, in the sure faith that all would benefit from it.

    “All truly good parents are seen wanting to pray ever more perfectly, are seen washing each other with a “bath of the water with the Word” and committing themselves to a lifelong effort at being open to all Truth from God, through anyone. All truly good parents are seen eager to know and believe whatever it is that God wants everyone to know and believe and therefore these parents, in order to share them with others but especially with their children, are looking for GOD’S ANSWER to the best sequences of questions from people of all faiths with the best verifiable information and who are eager to share such in the sure faith that God’s answers for these questions will lead all, by peaceful means, to the one Faith God must will all to have and for them to thereby reject violence and all man made additions to this Faith.
    There are many in this church eager to help and encourage all spouses to wash each other with a “bath of water WITH the Word” the way GOD WANTS IT DONE (and they have some very good suggestions for questions and ways to do this) and to help anyone start or continue in this quest to pray as perfectly as possible and in the lifelong search for Truth and to help any who are now seeking to find everything God wants everyone to know and believe, one step, one question at a time.” (names, telephone numbers, email addresses)

    Do you see the potential for good if a few lay Christian groups (Knights of Columbus, St. Joseph Society, and non-Catholic groups) started working together and expected their ministers to support this idea? What minister would explicitly, publicly say, “I do not want to publicly, explicitly encourage husbands and wives to wash each other with a ‘bath of water with the Word’ the way God wants it done”?

    Obviously people will eventually know everything in the poster no matter how long it is if the minister makes a monthly, strongly worded comment reminding all that there are members of the church who are eager to help anyone find God’s answer to all questions from anyone. Parents and children will each know (because the poster and the monthly reminders put a “spotlight on the parent’s actions”) whether or not the parents are, or are not, doing what they should already be doing but many times today, in this world, are not doing (washing each other with a bath of “water with the Word” and eager to know and believe all that God wants all to know and believe). Is this not a good way for ministers to frequently remind all (without pointing a finger at any one person) of the importance of truly accepting the love of, and therefore being open to truth, from God through anyone and eagerly seeking ALL the truth that God wants all to love so that they may be saved (2 Thessalonians 2:10)? If you cannot think of a better way, and this idea might help many, many parents, and many children, should you pass this on so others can help improve it?

  7. Catharine says:

    @ Douglas Kraeger:
    Yes, indeed, just as there are any number of priests who fail in some pretty basic aspects of their priestly ministry or who simply do not care, there are many, many priests who take their priestly vocation very seriously indeed and who sincerely strive to uphold Catholic truth in its entirety, tirelessly. Even here on the SW side of Chicago, a veritable hotbed of “cultural Catholicism” and dissent from Catholic truth.
    I would urge all readers of this column and comment thread to take some additional time out on a daily basis to pray, from the heart, for all priests, nay more, for all clergy and religious, who are under constant attack from Satan, that they will have more grace, light and Divine Mercy granted unto them, so that they may fulfill their holy vocations and be that good seed which bears abundant fruit for the Kingdom of God.