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The Sins of God’s People As Stated in the Prophet Malachi

November 3, 2015

Blog11-2In yesterday’s post, we considered the sins of the priests (and they were numerous enough). Today we examine the sins of the people that the Lord sets forth in the Book of Malachi. Here, too, please understand that not everyone is guilty of all of these things. However, they are common human sins and sinful attitudes. So consider this inspired list (for it is from the Lord) and pray for conversion and repentance, for the picture here is all too familiar.

I.  The Attitude of Ingratitude – The text says,

The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi. “I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How hast thou loved us?”… I have laid waste the hill country [of the sons of Esau] and left its heritage to jackals of the desert.” If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, till they are called the wicked country, the people with whom the Lord is angry for ever.” Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the Lord, beyond the border of Israel!” (Malachi 1:1-5)

God gives us astonishing gifts: life, air, water, food, and family—the list could go on and on. Mysteriously, even the burdens of life are gifts for us in the way they bring us wisdom, grant us humility, connect us more deeply to one another, and bring forth strengths that we never knew we had. Every day, trillions of things “go right.”

This is not an exaggeration when we consider the intricate functioning of every cell in our body, the delicate balance of the earth’s ecosystems, and even the balances and fortunes of our solar system and the cosmos. Trillions of things, large and small, go into every moment of our existence.

Each day a few things go wrong: a health setback, a missed opportunity, bad traffic, etc. But a few things compared to trillions? And yet we are so easily resentful at the slightest wrinkle in our plans, the smallest trial or difficulty.

We are like the ancient Israelites boldly rebuffing God, “How have you loved us?” God replies by simply declaring that he has rebuffed our enemies. Are you and I grateful that God has snatched us from Satan’s grasp? Through grace and mercy, we now stand a chance. Yes, we have a desert (a desert of our own making) to get through, and there are trials to be endured, but in Christ Jesus we have overcome and can make it.

II. Foolish Faithlessness – the text says,

10 Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? 11 Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. 12 May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob, for the man who does this, any to witness or answer, or to bring an offering to the Lord of hosts! (Malachi 2:10-12)

The remarkable insight of this text is that rejecting our covenant with God is not only being unfaithful to God, but also to one another. In the ancient context of this text, every individual who was faithless to the Covenant and its demands affected not only himself, but also everyone around him.

In 721 B.C., Israel had already been weakened and destroyed by the Assyrians. And now faithless Judah was threatened with ruin, stubborn and still unrepentant despite the warning of the destruction of the northern kingdom.

A nation cannot stand when its individuals fail to repent. Nations do not repent unless individuals do so.

In our own time, the United States is living on the fumes of former faith and sacrifices. Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution are demonstrably the fair flowers of the biblical teachings of justice and the dignity of the human person. The Judeo-Christian faith produced what we call “the West.” But Democracy has this weakness: it depends to a great degree on the virtue of the populace. Remove a solid moral grounding and freedom quickly devolves into licentiousness. Remove the anchor to the truth of Judeo-Christian moral precepts and the result is the tyranny of relativism.

And this is where we are today. Our country and culture were once deeply rooted in the biblical vision; belief in God was once evident on Sunday mornings, when most people went to Church. But we are now increasingly secular. Indeed, there is even a growing hostility to faith.

A country cannot undermine its principles and expect them to stand. The text from Malachi says that we have been faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers. Indeed we have—and our whole country and culture have suffered as a result.

The text also says we have married the daughters of a foreign god. Indeed, we have married many daughters of the gods of this world, of the prince of this world. These daughters go by names like greed, fornication, sexual confusion, secularism, relativism, materialism, and narcissism, just to name a few. We have collected many such foreign wives and given our hearts to them. We have been faithless and committed every kind of abomination with them.

And in all this we sin against not only God, but ourselves and one another.

III. Mangled Marriages – The text says

13 And this again you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor at your hand. 14 You ask, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness to the covenant between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Has not the one God made and sustained for us the spirit of life? And what does he desire? Godly offspring. So take heed to yourselves, and let none be faithless to the wife of his youth. 16 “For I hate divorce, says the Lord the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless” (Malachi, 2:13-16).

Yes, God hates divorce. Do we grasp this? Too many do not, even boldly saying that God told them He wants them to be happy, or claiming God’s “blessing” on their desire to divorce.

Necessary separations for safety’s sake are one thing, but in our culture people walk away from marriages at an astonishing rate. Even in the Church many shrug and even want to settle down with “the reality” of divorce instead of insisting, along with God, that divorce is something to be resisted, to be shocked by, and to do everything possible to avoid. Too many also do not take into consideration how their individual decision to walk away from marriage harms others, especially children.

Divorce, along with all the other “mangling” of marriage that we do and approve in our culture (e.g., cohabitation, single motherhood, and adoption by homosexual couples) harm children. Every child has the need and the natural right to be conceived in a home in which his father and mother have married, committed to each other, and stay married—working out their difficulties and preserving their union for the sake of the children. To intentionally subject children to anything less than this is an injustice and is harmful to them. And when children are harmed, the whole culture is harmed. Wounded children grow older and too easily become delinquent adolescents, underachievers, and then dysfunctional adults.

IV. Delight in Disorder – the text says,

17 You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Every one who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?” (Malachi, 2:17)

Too often in our times we glamorize evil or excuse grave sin as “no big deal.” Our movies and many other forms of entertainment glamorize violence, greed, and fornication. There is “gangsta rap” all the way up to the “high-class” House of Cards. Bad and foolish behavior, scurrilous comedians, and the like round out the debasement.

We glamorize evil, laugh at it, and dance to it.

The text here says that the people wearied the Lord by claiming that even those who do evil in the sight of the Lord are good and that God delights in them. Too many people today think that God does not care that they sin and that “He loves me no matter what.” Of course this is a terrible presumption and a highly distorted view of love. Love never delights in what is wrong and wants for the beloved only what is good, true, and beautiful. And God has made us free.

Thus St. Paul rightly says, Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life (Gal 6:7-8). The Greek word translated here as “mock” more literally means “to turn up one’s nose, to sneer.” St. Paul is telling us that God will not be disregarded in this manner. He tells us that our decisions build our character and our character ushers in our destiny. Either we will love God and His Kingdom’s values, or not. And that will determine where we prefer to spend eternity.

Turning up our nose at God and saying it doesn’t matter, when He has said that it does, will not change the facts; our decisions form who we are and will be for all eternity. Those who contemptuously ask, “Where is this God of Justice?” are going to be surprised. Sr. Faustina reported that Hell was quite full of people who had denied that there was a Hell.

V. Injurious Injustice – the text says,

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me,” says the Lord of hosts. “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed …” (Malachi 3:5-6).

The list here is too large to permit commentary on each item, but fundamentally it describes injustice to the poor and vulnerable. Payment of unjust wages, oppression, and insensitivity to the poor, the migrant, and the immigrant, children, and the unborn—those who do such things do not fear the Lord, according to the text. They have forgotten that the Lord hears the cry of the poor and is close to those who are oppressed.

The connection of sorcery and adultery to sins of injustice may not be clear. However, the sorcerers used potions and spells. The Greek Septuagint uses the word φαρμακοὺς (pharmakous) in this text. This is where we get the word “pharmacy.” Sorcery was often connected with abortifacients and contraceptive potions and drugs. As such children, in the womb were threatened and killed by such things.

Adultery always harms marriage and family, and as such, harms children. Thus the notion of injustice to the poor, the vulnerable, and the needy is a rather complete picture. All these sins of injustice are sadly common in our day—and God says that He will judge us for them.

VI – Tightfisted in Tithes – The text says,

From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How are we robbing thee?’ In your tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me; the whole nation of you. 10 Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house; and thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing. 11 I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil; and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. 12 Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts (Malachi 3:7-12).

I have written more extensively on the topic of tithing, recommending it wholeheartedly. It is true that the Church today does not strictly require that one-tenth be devoted to the Church. However, Jesus did commend tithing (cf Luke 11:42) and Catholics ought not to be so quick to set it aside as a practice.

The fundamental point in this text is that the worship and praise of God were being neglected. And this is often the case today as well. Many give little to the Church in terms of time, talent, or treasure. Meanwhile, secular causes and pursuits are well-supported. As our houses, banks, and government buildings have gotten bigger, our churches have gotten smaller. In fact, many are closing. Newer churches often fail to inspire and are utilitarian in nature.

Our immigrant ancestors had far less material wealth than we do today, yet they built beautiful Churches, Catholic schools, and hospitals. Their priorities were different—they were better.

Many people expect more and more from the Church while giving less and less. It doesn’t work that way. God says, Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.

Again, this is less about money than it is about our hearts, our priorities, and our faith. If those are intact, the resources will flow.

VII. Weary in Well-doing – the text says,

13 “Your words have been stout against me,” says the Lord. “Yet you say, ‘How have we spoken against thee?’ 14 You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the good of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? 15 Henceforth we deem the arrogant blessed; evildoers not only prosper but when they put God to the test they escape’” (Malachi 3:13-15).

This is similar to what was said above insofar as glamorizing evil. But here the focus is more on the selfish notion that “I don’t get rewarded enough for doing good.”

But of course we do not obey God just because we will benefit; we obey God because God is God.

That said, there are rewards for following God. However, the rewards may not be in line with the preferences of our earthly passions. We often think of rewards in terms of money, advancement, good health, popularity, and so forth. But sometimes the best blessing is the cross and whatever it takes to kill our pride and prepare us for eternal glory.

We think that we know what is good or best for us, but usually we don’t. We only want things to spend on our passions (cf James 4:3). God does reward those who serve Him, but He rewards us with what will open us up for the best that is yet to come. Too often we are dismissive of spiritual blessings and prefer the toys, trinkets, and tender meats of the world and fleshly desires.

Well, that’s quite a little catalogue of sins! But be of good cheer, God does have a plan. We can conclude our tour through Malachi by looking at some of those remedies tomorrow.

Here is a performance of Carrissimi’s “Peccavimus Domine” (We have sinned, O Lord).

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Comments (11)

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  1. Taylor says:

    It is a blessing to be able to see, read and receive this. Thank you for your dutiful instruction.

  2. Giacomo says:

    I’m loving this journey through one of my favorite OT books. The best is yet to come. God bless

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you for reminding the New Israel, the People of God of the new and everlasting covenant that God still speaks to us loudly and clearly even through the prophets of old. It is remarkable how closely contemporary culture parallels the attitudes and degradation of our ancestors. If they were disciplined by God, we await a severe “correction” for our hard-hardheartedness and arrogance. Only we have no excuse for we have seen the risen Lord.

  4. Nathan says:

    Your blog posts are not helpful to people with scruples. I can’t ever read you anymore, Msgr. Pope. You make me want to despair.

    • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

      Yeah scruples is a bad problem. I hope you can get the help you need to deal with it. That said, I don’t think it is fair to say I make you want to despair. Consider, by way of analogy that wheat is a bad thing for people with celiac disease but it also has had a role in saving billions from starvation. IOW, the biblical call to repentance is still important and necessary to preach even if some people go to a dark place. The question is what is that dark place really about and what can be done to assist those who go there. So try to find a good priest or counselor who does not deny that there is sin, but can help you avoid over-producing spiritual antibodies. Bless you!

      • Nathan says:

        Thank you Msgr. Pope for this thoughtful reply. I probably went a bit too far in my initial comment. But I would ask you to not be overly strict and remember us in the future. I will leave now. Bye.

  5. Catharine says:

    Thank you for an excellent article, Father. Every word in this article is 100% true, and applies to the situation here in the USA in the year of our Lord 2015. I am printing your article out as it is a real “keeper.”
    Two thoughts keep occurring to me, based upon your article:
    (1) Taken together with yesterday’s article on the sins of the priests, the priests are pretty much cut out of the same bolt of cloth as the general lay population. It is up to the general lay population to take ownership of the Catholic faith and beliefs, to live them out from the heart, and to encourage their clergy and religious to do the same.
    Perhaps if the laity had started up more of a firestorm when the situation changed in the mid-1960’s and really, really pushed back at the hierarchy, who mandated all kinds of abuses not contained in Vatican II documents, the situation today would be different.
    (2) There is a train of thought to which I subscribe fully, to the general effect that when a priest falls, i.e., commits some mortal sin or gets into some scandalous situation or other, of course the priest bears responsibility for his own personal sins. But, to the extent that that priest’s parishioners and others failed to pray and offer suffrages on his behalf, they likewise share responsibility for that priest’s fall. If, instead of the nonstop complaining and criticizing about priests, Church hierarchy, etc., these same people would have spent time in home prayer, Eucharistic adoration, rosaries, etc., etc., there would have been more grace, light, and Divine Mercy showered down upon that priest, and quite possibly he either would not have fallen at all, or at least would not have fallen so spectacularly.
    We lay people simply must “man up” (or “woman up!”), or the world will continue to spiral into the abyss.

    • JAC says:

      Catherine, I agree with all that you said, however I think there’s more to it:
      1. Yes priests come out of the general population, but their formation is quite different from the laity’s. Most people don’t get a BA in (or higher) in theology/biblical studies/etc. Most don’t go through he disciplines of the seminary, nor are most taught about spirituality at deeper levels like priests are. The Catholic laity does need to take more ownership of their faith, but the priests are called to be the servants of the people of God, helping us to understand and embrace our faith more fully. Because of this training and the priestly charisms, they have more of the responsibility.
      2.I believe with you that many Catholics are guilty of the sin of omission when it comes to praying for our priests; we are also guilty of talking disdainfully about them when they do fall and not being merciful to the sinner (the way we would like mercy). That being said, this one too is part of a vicious cycle. If priests do not catechize their flock properly, people may not know that this is something that they should do, which leads to the lack of spiritual strength, which can lead to sin on both the part of the priest and the people. God help us!

      Bottom line, we all need to take responsibility for our faith and our spiritual lives, but we were never intended to do it alone. We are in it together and we need to support each other. We need strong priests and bishops and we need to support them with our prayers and encouragement. With that, I’d like to thank Msgr. Pope for being one of those priests for me! God bless you, Monsignor!

  6. Cassandra says:

    “Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution are demonstrably the fair flowers of the biblical teachings of justice and the dignity of the human person.”


    They are demonstrably the *rejection* of biblical teachings–the true teachings of the Church. They embody the errors of the Enlightenment.

    Right in the section on faithlessness, you fail to note that the Constitution is an atheist document. No mention of even a deist God–as in the Declaration. It states not that God blesses, but Liberty; and a hundred years later we received the idol of Liberty that stands in NY harbor from none other than France which was still suffering from the effects of its diabolical revolution.

    “consent of the governed”. An error. Authority comes from above, from God; not from below, from the people.

    The Declaration speaks of inalienable rights bestowed, but neglects any acknowledgment of the rights of the Creator.

    That’s just a start. America was breathing on Christian fumes from the beginning. The ill fruits you see today were planted as seeds long ago.

    “Our country and culture were once deeply rooted in the biblical vision; belief in God was once evident on Sunday mornings, when most people went to Church.”

    Deeply rooted in the errors of protestantism. Is it really pleasing to God for those to go to (c)hurch and worship contrary to God’s explicit will in the Mass? And thanks to the urging of Archbishop Ireland and his gang, Catholics were encouraged to assimilate to the protestant culture. Catholic culture brought over with first generation immigrants was quickly diminished with each subsequent americanized generation.

    • Michael says:

      I recommend reading the following book – American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America

      I also think your post is a bit harsh and really misses the point that Msgr. Pope was getting at. The Deceleration of Independence and the Constitution were indeed crafted using Judaeo-Christian beliefs for their foundation. The Constitution is necessarily more secular due to the founding fathers wish to craft a unique document free from the influences of any religion but based on a sturdy moral foundation.

      Here is a quote from John Adams: “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion . . . Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

      Reading the founding fathers and the history of this country, you cannot say that Msgr. Pope is false when he writes: “Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution are demonstrably the fair flowers of the biblical teachings of justice and the dignity of the human person.”

  7. a Catholic psychologist says:

    Divorce, adultery, cohabitation, etc.. do indeed damage children. I see the effects on children every day in my practice. I would go so far to say that divorce is a form of legal child abuse. There are instances where the safety of children or a spouse may require civil divorce, but in most instances these safety issues are not factors in the divorce.

    Unfortunately, the Church has contributed to the culture of divorce by encouraging annulments. I also think that Pope Francis is not helping the situation by fast-tracking the annulment process. Even if the couple can make the case before a bishop, Church tribunal, and in God’s eyes, that the marriage never happened, it most certainly did happen for the children that came along. Annulment can have the unintended effect of further alienating children from their parents and from the Church. I no longer recommend seeking annulment when children came from the union, because of the message it sends the children. This poses a grave sacrifice for the innocent parent, but I think it also provides them with an opportunity for heroic virtue.