Happy Easter – Jesus is on line one

Do you have a cell phone?  Does your cell phone tell you who it is that is trying to call you?  Do you usually check that caller ID and decide, based on who it is, whether to answer the phone or not?

“Answer”, “Ignore” or “Send to voicemail”?

I do! In all honesty, when someone at my school says to me, “You have a call on line one,” I almost always ask, “Who is it?”  Then, I decide if the person is worthy of my time, if I am prepared to talk to that person, if I don’t like that person or if it is conversation I would prefer to have later.  I am sure the same thing happens to me when I call others as well.  I am not offended , trust me, I am a high school principal.  Try calling a parent in the middle of the day.

Caller ID

I love caller ID.  When I know who is calling, I know how I am going to react.  I am going to pickup the phone if it is my mom or wife because I want to make sure they are OK.  I am going to pick up my calendar if it is my Pastor because he probably has something for me to do.  I am not going to always pick up the phone if it is my best friend because, we will talk forever and I got to make sure I have time to sit and chat.  I am not going to pick up the phone at all if I am driving because that is dangerous and I am not trying to kill anyone. Like many of you, I make these discernments each time my phone rings.  And that it OK.

If it is God, pick up and answer!

But, when it comes to Christ, when it comes to God, you can’t hit the “ignore” button but so many times; Can I get an amen?  I shouldn’t say to God,” I will call you back later.”  You shouldn’t say to God, “Not now I am busy.”  We shouldn’t say to God, “I have something more important to do.” You can’t say to God, “This isn’t a good time, go talk to someone else and get back to me later.”  You can’t put God into your voicemail but so many times.  When God calls, you must pick up the phone and answer.  And unlike your mother, pastor, wife or best friend, don’t simply say “Hello.”  Answer God’s call by saying, “Here I am Lord, what do you want me to do!”

Are you sure you have the right number?

Brother and sisters, I know at least for me, I have put God on hold many times in my life.  I hit the ignore button, turned on my voice mail and took a message.  And he kept calling.  I tried my best to not be a deacon but God kept calling and I kept saying, “You must have the wrong number.”  God said, “Follow me” and I said, but I don’t have the time. I said to myself, “Most Deacon’s are retired, I still have to work” (Which isn’t true by-the-way, but that was my excuse at the time).  God said, “I gave you that job that keeps you so busy, want to keep it?”  I said “God, I have not studied religion since high school, and I wasn’t all that great at it.”  God said, “I am the perfect teacher, I can teach anyone, including you.”  I even said “God, I am really not sure I am worthy.” And God said, “I know; That is why the Holy Spirit will be heavily involved in this endeavor.”  Like the disciples on the Sea of Galilee, with me, God knew whom he was calling.  Sometimes, we think God doesn’t know what he is doing don’t we?  God’s doesn’t ask for a resume because he already knows our qualifications.  This is important because we often ignore God’s call not out of spite for Our Lord but rather lack of confidence in the graces he has given us.  You see, God is not asking us to change who we are, he is asking us to take the talents that he built into us and use them for the Kingdom of God.

I knew you before you were formed in the womb

I often meditate upon the reason why God chose fisherman to be the first disciples, the first Bishops of the flock.  Maybe because fishing was a dangerous profession and he needed men who would not be frightened easily.  Maybe it was because fisherman had to be patient and building the Kingdom of God requires among many things patience.  Perhaps it was because fisherman had to be able to read subtle changes in the weather and water conditions in order to fill their nets and those same skills were needed in leading the early Christian community.  Perhaps it was because fisherman rarely worked alone and they had a sense of community that he wanted in his Church on Earth.  Maybe it was all of the above and maybe it was a set of qualities that I have yet to understand. But he never said to them, “Stop being fisherman.”  Rather, I will take those skills I gave you and make yourselves “Fishers of men.”

Brothers and sisters, when God calls us, he knows what he is doing and he knows whom he is calling.  When you answer God’s call, you will never hear God say, “Sorry, I dialed the wrong number!”   I heard a priest say once, “God never calls the qualified but qualifies everyone he calls.”

Each of us has a talent or a gift that God wants us to use to build his Kingdom.  God is calling us to use that talent.  For some of us, you are being called to lector, join the choir, be a minister of holy communion, join the St. Vincent de Paul Society become active in any number of ministries we have in an average parish.  Your phone is ringing, answer the call, it’s God!  Some of you are called to be priests, deacons, religious sisters or brothers.  Don’t send God to your voice mail, answer and say, “Here I am Lord.”  Some of you are called to be married and to be parents, maybe even adoptive parents, God is calling, don’t text him back saying, “I am busy.”

Say yes!

Brothers and sisters, God is calling and when we answer yes, he doesn’t promise that our life will be easy.  But, he promises that our life will be fulfilled.  In your prayer life, God is calling; Through your friends, God is calling;  Through the voices of your family, God is calling.  Perhaps even through this blog post, God is calling.  Answer the phone and say, “Here I am Lord.  What do you want me to do?”   Happy Easter!

Spy Wednesday Reflection: The Sins of the Clergy

Wednesday of Holy Week is traditionally called “Spy Wednesday” since it is this day when Judas conspired with the Temple Leadership to hand Jesus over. He would accomplish his task the evening of the next day, but today he makes arrangements to hand Jesus over and is paid.

One way to reflect on this terrible sin is to reflect that Judas was among the first priests called by Jesus. We see in the call of the Apostles the establishment of the ministerial priesthood. Jesus called these men to lead his Church and minister in his name. But one of these priests went wrong, terribly wrong, and turned against the very one he should have proclaimed.

Among the other “first priests” we also see great weaknesses evident. Peter in weakness denied Jesus, though he repented later. All the others except John fled at the time of the passion. And so here we see the “sins of the clergy” made manifest. Christ did not call perfect men. He promised to protect his Church from officially teaching error but this does not mean that there is no sin in the Church and among those who are called to lead. The story of Judas shows that even among those who were called, one went terribly wrong.

In recent years there has been much focus on the sins of Catholic Priests who went terribly wrong and sexually abused the young. The vast majority of priests have never done such things, but those who did so inflicted great harm.

There are other sins of the clergy that have nothing to do with sexuality that may also have caused great harm. Maybe it was an insensitive remark. Perhaps it was the failure of a priest to respond at a critical moment such as a hospital visit. Whatever it might be that has caused you harm or alienation, please don’t give up on God or the on the Church. If a priest or Church leader has caused you grief or to feel alienated please know that there are other priests, deacons, and lay leaders who stand ready to hear your concerns and offer healing. Let the healing begin. Ask among your Catholic family and friends for recommendations about helpful and sensitive priests or Church leaders who can listen to your concerns, address them where possible, and offer another opportunity for the Church to reach out to you with love.

On this “Spy Wednesday” pray especially for priests. We carry the treasure of our priesthood in earthen vessels. As human beings we struggle with our own issues. We have many good days and some less than stellar moments too. The vast majority of Priests are good men, though sinners, who strive to do their very best. But some among us have sinned greatly and caused harm to the Body of Christ, as did Judas. Some of us may have caused harm to you. Please accept an invitation to begin anew.

If you have stayed away through some hurt or harm caused by any leader of the Church, strive on this “Spy Wednesday” to still find Christ where he is found. Among sinners and saints too, in the Church he founded: Perfect in her beauty as the Bride of Christ but consisting of members who are still “on the way” to holiness.

As usual, after all my verbiage, a music video offers this message better than I ever could. Allow this powerful video to move you if you have ever been hurt or know someone who has.

Finding Wisdom in an Old Hymn

One of the great yet largely unknown hymns of the Church is Take My Life, and Let it Be. It was written by Frances R. Havergal, in February of 1874 and speaks of the Christian’s total consecration to God.

I thought of this hymn today while talking with someone and thought too how appropriate it was as I write today on the evening of the Feast of the Annunciation. For, in today’s reading at Mass we read:

Sacrifice or oblation you wished not,
but ears open to obedience you gave me.
Holocausts or sin-offerings you sought not;
then said I, “Behold I come.
(Psalm 40:7-8)

Now this psalm refers especially to Christ, but also then to us;  for it is not enough to be ritually observant. No indeed, Jesus has established a new manner of sacrifice. The priests of the Old Testament sacrificed something other than themselves: lambs, goats, turtledoves and so forth. But Jesus our High Priest sacrifices himself. In the New Testament, the priest and victim are one and the same.

Hence Psalm 40, above, declares that the sacrifice Jesus offered was not to kill an animal, but to obey, and offer himself. The same pattern is for us, who share in the royal priesthood of Christ.

While not all of us are ministerial priests who serve at the altar, all of us, by virtue of our baptism share in the royal priesthood. Hence we are to imitate Jesus, our high priest.

It is not enough for us to engage merely in ritual observance. In the end we must make the sacrifice of obedience, sacrificing our will, and wishes. Further, we must say with Jesus, “Behold I come.” That is to say, “I offer you the sacrifice of my own life, my mind, heart, will, strength, and body.”

St. Paul says, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as livings sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your act of worship. (Rom 12:1). This is what we offer to God, the gift of our very selves.

Consider this as you meditate on one of the great hymns of the 19th Century. Frances Havergal speaks of how she came to write it:

I went for a little visit of five days….. (to Areley House)….. The last night of my visit after I had retired….; it was nearly midnight. I was too happy to sleep, and passed most of the night in praise and renewal of my own consecration; and these little couplets formed themselves, and chimed in my heart one after another till they finished with “Ever, Only, ALL for Thee!” [1]

And these are the words she wrote:

Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take my voice, and let me sing, always, only, for my King.
Take my lips, and let them be filled with messages from Thee.
Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold.

Take my intellect, and use, every power as Thou choose.
Take my will, and make it Thine; it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own; it shall be Thy royal throne.
Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store.

Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for Thee.

Yes, all for thee Lord. The sacrifice I offer to you is more than my money, more than my time, the sacrifice I offer is my very self, in imitation of your Son. My it be so Lord, ever more truly so, that my sacrifice be whole and entire: ever, only all for thee.

Photo Credit David Paul Ohmer via Creative Commons

Here is a modern version of this old hymn. The video links the words to vocations to the priesthood and religious life, but the hymn can surely refer to us all, whatever our state.

On the Silence of Pastors and a Call to Prayer

One of the more consistent concerns I hear expressed here on the blog about priests and bishops is the problem of too much silence from us. There seems to be quite a hunger from many of you to hear from us more cogently and consistently on matters of the faith, moral law, and the cultural breakdown. There is frustration that more is not said about critical matters.

Although I know of many heroic exceptions to this problem I will admit that the big picture does no always look too pretty. Too many Catholic preachers are content to speak in abstractions and generalities and fear offending with too many specifics. This has meant that important moral issues go unaddressed and that the faith has been poorly handed on for many decades now.

That said I also want to express a little frustration from the clergy side of the equation. While it is true that many people want us to say many things about many issues they still want Mass to be out in 45 minutes and the sermon to be 7-10 minutes. This presents a challenge in covering all the many issues of our day and it seems a little more time has to be taken to effectively address matters of the faith and the meltdown of our culture. Seven minutes a week to hand on the faith compared to dozens of hours per day of  exposure to worldly influence is hardly a good balance. I am not asking for interminable sermons but we do have to have more time thatn merely to present a “thought for the week” if we are going to win this battle.

But I’d like to get out of the way and let a Saint speak on this matter of the silence of pastors and ask your prayers for all our Catholic clergy as you read this instruction of Pope St. Gregory the Great to his Clergy. These writings are excerpted from two sources: Pastoral Rule Book 2.4; and Homily. 17.3 and 14.  The boldface introductory phrase is mine otherwise all the indented text is his:

Discretion is good, fearful silence is not – A spiritual guide should be silent when discretion requires and speak when words are of service. Otherwise he may say what he should not or be silent when he should speak. Indiscreet speech may lead men into error and an imprudent silence may leave in error those who could have been taught. Pastors who lack foresight hesitate to say openly what is right because they fear losing the favor of men. As the voice of truth tells us, such leaders are not zealous pastors who protect their flocks, rather they are like mercenaries who flee by taking refuge in silence when the wolf appears.

Silent Pastors are dumb dogs who leave the flock unprotected – The Lord reproaches them through the prophet: They are dumb dogs that cannot bark (Is 56:10). On another occasion he complains: You did not advance against the foe or set up a wall in front of the house of Israel, so that you might stand fast in battle on the day of the Lord (Ez 13:15). To advance against the foe involves a bold resistance to the powers of this world in defence of the flock. To stand fast in battle on the day of the Lord means to oppose the wicked enemy out of love for what is right. When a pastor has been afraid to assert what is right, has he not turned his back and fled by remaining silent? Whereas if he intervenes on behalf of the flock, he sets up a wall against the enemy in front of the house of Israel.

Silent Pastors are false prophets – Therefore, the Lord again says to his unfaithful people: Your prophets saw false and foolish visions and did not point out your wickedness, that you might repent of your sins (Lam 2:14). …The word of God accuses them of seeing false visions because they are afraid to reproach men for their faults and thereby lull the evildoer with an empty promise of safety. Because they fear reproach, they keep silent and fail to point out the sinner’s wrongdoing.

Scripture says the Clergy must Speak…..Paul says of the bishop: He must be able to encourage men in sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it (Titus 1:9). For the same reason God tells us through Malachi: The lips of the priest are to preserve knowledge, and men shall look to him for the law, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts (Mal 2:7). …..

Every Priest Must Preach – Anyone ordained a priest undertakes the task of preaching, so that with a loud cry he may go on ahead of the terrible judge who follows. If, then, a priest does not know how to preach, what kind of cry can such a dumb herald utter? It was to bring this home that the Holy Spirit descended in the form of tongues on the first pastors (Acts 2:3), for he causes those whom he has filled, to speak out spontaneously.

The People must pray for the clergy – Beloved brothers, consider what has been said: Pray the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into his harvest (Matt 9:38). Pray for us so that we may have the strength to work on your behalf, that our tongue may not grow weary of exhortation, and that after we have accepted the office of preaching, our silence may not condemn us before the just judge.

Poor preaching is not ONLY the fault of the clergy – For frequently the preacher’s tongue is bound fast on account of his own wickedness; while on the other hand it sometimes happens that because of the people’s sins, the word of preaching is withdrawn from those who preside over the assembly. With reference to the wickedness of the preacher, the psalmist says: But God asks the sinner: Why do you recite my commandments? (Psalm 50:16) And with reference to the latter, the Lord tells Ezekiel: I will make your tongue cleave to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be dumb and unable to reprove them, for they are a rebellious house (Ez 3:26). He clearly means this: the word of preaching will be taken away from you because as long as this people irritates me by their deeds, they are unworthy to hear the exhortation of truth.

It is not for us to assign the full blame – It is not easy to know for whose sinfulness the preacher’s word is withheld, but it is indisputable that the shepherd’s silence while often injurious to himself will always harm his flock.

Many clergy are not only silent or poor preachers, they are absorbed in worldly matters – There is something else about the life of the shepherds, dearest brothers, which discourages me greatly. But lest what I claim should seem unjust to anyone, I accuse myself of the very same thing, although I fall into it unwillingly – compelled by the urgency of these barbarous times. I speak of our absorption in external affairs; we accept the duties of office, but by our actions we show that we are attentive to other things. We abandon the ministry of preaching and, in my opinion, are called bishops to our detriment, for we retain the honourable office but fail to practice the virtues proper to it. Those who have been entrusted to us abandon God, and we are silent. They fall into sin, and we do not extend a hand of rebuke. But how can we who neglect ourselves be able to correct someone else? We are wrapped up in worldly concerns, and the more we devote ourselves to external things, the more insensitive we become in spirit….They made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept (Song 1:6). We are set to guard the vineyards but do not guard our own, for we get involved in irrelevant pursuits and neglect the performance of our ministry. 

Pray, Pray Pray! Well you know what you need to do. Pray for us who are clergy and leaders. An old saying is true, corruptio optimi pessima (the corruption of the best is the worst) or again, I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered (Matt 26:31). It is easy to criticize the clergy and well we deserve some of it. But realize this too, Satan has targeted the clergy, your bishop and your priests. It is easier for him to knock out the leaders than to go after the whole flock. Hence he targets bishops, priests and deacons. Send up your prayers as a hedge of protection around us. Pray for clergy who have become distracted and worldly. Pray for clergy who fear man more than God. Pray for clergy who have fallen under the burden of office. Pray for clergy who have been deceived by the evil one. Pray, pray, pray!

Pope Gregory’s feast isn’t until next week but here is an anticpation of it:

Eucharistic Adoration – It’s not just for Easter anymore

The Gift of the Eucharist

My parish has a gift that I must admit, I never really appreciated until recently. This is how God opened my eyes.

Last month, a young, newly ordained priest was celebrating his first Mass at the parish. I did not know him at all but, he grew up in the parish and was a product of the school there. Therefore, the parish community was very excited for this big event.

So many priests from one parish

One reason for our excitement is that the parish has a reputation for producing vocations to the priesthood. Noting this remarkable characteristic of the parish, this young new priest shared that he is often asked what is it about St. Mark’s in Hyattsville, Maryland that helps so many men find Christ in the priesthood.

His answer was extraordinary. He dutifully cited the school, its teachers, the people of the parish and the many priests that helped him hear that call. However, he pointed out that many parishes have these things and no priestly vocations to show for it. What was the difference then?

“Come worship him”

St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church has an Eucharistic adoration chapel that is open most of the day. Eucharistic Adoration has been a tradition at the parish for many years and this new priest cited its availability as the MAIN source of his vocation.

This is truly the greatest gift God gave us – The real presence of Christ is the Eucharist. Since that testimony, I have found more time to spend in the presence of the Eucharist in our adoration chapel. In the peaceful presence of the Body of Christ, I have found my prayers more fruitful, my problems more conquerable and my faith deepened.

Thank you Father Charles Gallagher for your vocation to the priesthood and for leading at least one deacon closer to Christ in the Eucharist.

Lost Liturgies File: The Manutergium

It has been a very exhausting but fulfilling weekend here in Washington. Yesterday saw the ordination of eight men to the priesthood for the Archdiocese. This took place at the Basilica. Then receptions, and today the first Masses and more receptions.

I was privileged to preach the First Mass of Fr. John Reutemann. It was a beautiful Mass. I was also pleased to see that he has kept a custom that had recently been lost in the western Church. He presented the manutergium to his mother.

“What,” you may ask, “Is the manutergium?” The manutergium (from the Latin manu+tergium = hand towel) was a long cloth that was wrapped around the hands of the newly ordained priest after the Bishop anointed his hands with the sacred Chrism (oil).  The purpose was to prevent excess oil from dripping onto vestments or the floor during the remainder of the ordination rites. (In the picture to the right, the newly ordained priest has his hands wrapped with the manutergium).

The use of the manutergium was discontinued in the current Rite of Ordination. Currently, the newly ordained steps aside to a table after his hands are anointed and uses a purificator to wipe away any excess oil. While it is not technically called the manutergium nor is it exactly the same in design or usage, (for the hands are not wrapped by it), nevertheless this is still a cloth used to wipe away the excess Chrism (oil).

Manutergium redivivus! In recent years many newly ordained have carefully set aside these purificators in a bag with their name on it so that they may retain this purificator and present it to their mother. The same word has been retained for the cloth (manutergium).

According to tradition, the mother of a priest is to keep this precious cloth in a safe place. Upon her death this cloth is placed in her hand as her body lies in the casket. It serves as a reminder that one  of her sons is a priest. She, according to tradition has this as a special glory,  and is to present this manutergium to the Lord at her judgement. Although there is no free ticket to heaven, it is a special honor to have borne a son who became a priest. As I said, Fr. Reutemann presented his manutergium to his mother.

My own story – I also presented the manutergium to my mother  21 years ago. It was very rare in those days for a priest to do so, but I had read of this tradition and was taken by it. I carefully set aside the cloth  I had used to wipe my hands in a bag with my name and asked a seminarian friend of mine who was serving the mass to “guard it with his life!” He did so and proudly handed it to me after the mass having acquitted well his sacred duty. At my first Mass I presented it to my mother.

Five years ago my mother died very suddenly. I wondered if we could find the manutergium in her effects. Sure enough there it was carefully stored in her dresser. I sadly but proudly placed it in her hands at the funeral home and she carried it to her grave. I wept as the casket was closed, but the last sight I had was of my mother carrying that maniturgia to present to the Lord. I pray the Lord well considered it as my mother appeared before him for the great judgment we must all face.

A beautiful tradition from the Lost Liturgies file. Magnificently, this tradition is reviving as many younger priests practice it in a new but similar way.

This video shows the anointing of the priest’s hands in the Current Rite of Ordination. As the Bishop anoints the hands of the priest he says: The Lord Jesus Christ, whom the Father anointed with the Holy Spirit, empower, guard and preserve you, that you may sanctify the Christian people and offer sacrifice to God.

Priests and the Ministry of Prayer

Tomorrow in my Parish we will have the privilege of hosting the Ordination to the Priesthood of six men in the Josephite Order. The Josephites have historical links to this Parish even though it is now a Diocesan Parish.

Holy Order – As priests we are ordained to Holy Orders. Thus, among the many ways we can understand the ministry of the ordained clergy is that we provide “holy order” by our obedience to the Bishop or Superior and by unifying the faithful under our care to the Bishop and the Church. Nothing is more egregious (and also silly) as a disobedient priest who thereby creates disorder. By our obedient link to the Bishop we help exercise a threefold office of teaching, governing and sanctifying.

Sanctifying Ministry – I would like to mention only very briefly one aspect of the sanctifying ministry of the priest. Surely we sanctify the faithful in a unique way through the celebration of the Sacraments. But another way we do this, a way perhaps more hidden and ordinary, is to pray for our people. The Church both commends us to pray for the faithful under our care and also commands it.

A Ministry of Prayer – How does she command it?  By the obligation to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Breviary. Every day we priests are obligated to pray this somewhat lengthy series of prayers and to earnestly pray for the faithful and in union with the whole Church. The basic series of prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours includes: The Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Mid Day Prayer, Evening Prayer and Night Prayer. Ideally we should pray it through out the day at each appointed hour. But, due to our busy and often unpredictable schedules many of us pray large sections of it in the morning and another part of it later in the evening.

An image: But you must know that your priests pray for you. As I hold the Breviary in my hands I often imagine I am holding  the faithful of my parish in my very hands. It is my duty and privilege to pray for them, and also for the whole Church.

Someone is praying for you – I want to keep this brief (always a challenge for me) because I simply want you to know that someone is praying for you. Surely my prayers are especially for my parishioners. But you who regularly read this blog are parishioners of mine too. I pray for you each day.

I also wanted to keep this short in hopes that you might see this video which is a very touching way of depicting how priests pray for their people and their people pray for them.

The Whole Counsel of God

There is a wonderful passage from the Acts of Apostles in today’s Mass and it comprises a sermon from an early Bishop (St. Paul) to the priests of the early Church.

Paul’s Farewell Sermon – The scene is Miletus, a town in Asia Minor on the coast not far from Ephesus. Paul, who is about to depart for Jerusalem summons the presbyters (priests) of the early Church at Ephesus. Paul has ministered there for three years and now summons the priests for this final exhortation. In the sermon, St. Paul cites his own example of having been a zealous teacher of the faith who did not fail to preach the “whole counsel of God.” He did not merely preach what suited him or made him popular. He preached it all. To these early priests Paul leaves this legacy and would have them follow in his footsteps. Let’s look at excerpts from this final exhortation. First the text them some commentary:

From Miletus Paul had the presbyters  of the Church at Ephesus summoned. When they came to him, he addressed them, “You know how I lived among you the whole time from the day I first came to the province of Asia. I served the Lord with all humility and with the tears and trials that came to me…., and I did not at all shrink from telling you what was for your benefit, or from teaching you in public or in your homes. I earnestly bore witness for both Jews and Greeks to repentance before God and to faith in our Lord Jesus…..But now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem……“But now I know that none of you to whom I preached the kingdom during my travels will ever see my face again. And so I solemnly declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God….. (Acts 20:1-38 selected)

Here then is the prescription for every Bishop, every priest and deacon, every catechist, parent and Catholic: that we should preach the whole counsel (the entire plan of God). It is too easy for us to emphasize only that which pleases us or makes sense to us or fits in our worldview. There are some who love the Lord’s sermons on love but cannot abide  his teachings on death, judgment, heaven and hell. Some love to discuss liturgy and ceremony but the care of the poor is far from them. Others point to His compassion but neglect his call to repentance. Some love the way he dispatches the Pharisees and other leaders of the day but become suddenly deaf when the Lord warns against fornication or insists that we love our neighbor, enemy and spouse. Some love to focus inwardly and debate over doctrine but the outward focus of true evangelization to which we are commanded (cf Mat 28:19) is neglected.

In the Church as a whole we too easily divide out rather predictably along certain lines and emphases. Life issues here, social justice over there. Strong moral preaching over here, compassionate inclusiveness over there. When one side speaks the other side says, “There they go again.”

And yet somewhere we must be able to say with St. Paul that we did not shrink from proclaiming the whole counsel of God. While this is especially incumbent on the clergy it must also be true for parents and all who attain to any leadership in the Church. All of the issues above are important and must have their proper place in the preaching and witness of every Catholic, clergy and lay. While we may have gifts to work in certain areas we should learn to appreciate the whole counsel and the fact that others in the Church may be needed to balance and complete our work. It is true we must exclude notions that stray from revealed doctrine, but within doctrine’s protective walls it is necessary that we not shrink from proclaiming the whole counsel of God.

And if we do this we will suffer. Paul speaks above of tears and trials. In preaching the whole counsel of God, (not just favorite passages and politically correct themes), expect to suffer. Expect to not quite fit in with people’s expectations. Jesus got into trouble with just about everyone. He didn’t just offend the elite and powerful. Even his own disciples puzzled over his teachings on divorce saying “If that is the case of man not being able to divorce his wife it is better never to marry!” (Matt 19). Regarding the Eucharist, many left him and would no longer walk in his company (John 6). In speaking of his divine origins many took up stones to stone him but he passed through their midst (Jn 8).  In addition he spoke of taking up crosses, forgiving your enemy and preferring nothing to him. He forbade even lustful thoughts let alone fornication, and insisted we must learn to curb our unrighteous anger. Preaching the whole counsel of God is guaranteed to earn us the wrath of many.

As a priest I have sadly had to bid farewell to congregations and this is a critical passage whereby I examine my ministry. Did I preach even the difficult stuff? Was I willing to suffer for the truth? Did my people hear from me the whole counsel of God or just the safe stuff?

How about you? Have you proclaimed the whole counsel of God? If you are clergy when you move on…..if you are a parent when your child leaves for college…..if you are a Catechist when the children are ready to be confirmed or have reached college age…..If you teach in RCIA and the time comes for sacraments……Can you say you preached it all? God warned Ezekiel that if he failed to warn the sinner, that sinner would surely die for his sins but that Ezekiel himself would be responsible for his death, (Ez 3:17ff). Paul is able to say he is not responsible for the death (the blood) of any of them for he did not shrink from proclaiming the whole counsel of God. How about us?

The whole counsel of God.

This video contains the warning to the watchmen (us) in Ezekiel 3. Watch it if you dare.