Saturday after the Epiphany
Scripture Readings: 1 Jn 5:14-21; Jn 3:22-30
A few days ago a worker at Trappist Caskets shared with me that he had asked his son: “Is your little girl going to make her First Communion soon? It’s about that time”, to which his son replied: “I’m not sure Gabrielle will make her First Communion, dad. I’m not very happy with the church right at the moment.” The man’s words express the frustration and anger of many Catholics today who have become skeptical, not to say disgusted, with the church’s hierarchy in light of the seemingly never ending allegations of sexual abuse by priests.
It is a time when many faithful Catholics are asking themselves why it is that our church is hierarchically ordered; why is the church presided over by ordained ministers divinely authorized to lead and govern the people of God. Why not socialize church leadership; spread it around, and give a little bit to everyone? Well, for one thing, most of us would acknowledge that some individuals are, by nature, more competent in roles of leadership than others. But, besides being contrary to nature, attempts to level the hierarchy are also incompatible with the practice of true religion. Thomas Aquinas defined religion as a virtue. Religion is that moral virtue by which I render to Almighty God what I owe to God in all justice. What I owe to God, is to witness to His love and power and mercy. But among witnesses to God there is a necessary and essential inequality. Why? Because our religion begins with God becoming flesh and God became flesh at one and only one moment in history, in the presence of just a tiny select handful of eye witnesses. Authority in the Catholic Church is “apostolic” because the apostles Peter, John, James and the rest were eye witnesses to an event you and I did not witness. John the Baptist was a witness, but he was not the Christ. And so we see an irreducible, objective hierarchy in place from the first moment of Jesus’ appearance in the world. This same hierarchy remains an essential and indispensable characteristic of the church of Jesus Christ to the present day. Grace builds on nature. Nature provides the hierarchy, twelve apostles re-found that hierarchy as eye witnesses to the Incarnation, faith opens our eyes to meet and commune with the living God in his hierarchically ordered church.
Having shared with me the sad conversation with his son, our co-worker at Trappist Caskets ended by saying: “My own faith is not affected by a few bad bishops.” The voice of John the Baptist in this morning’s gospel is expressive of the same simple and enduring faith. In faith, each of us, with full awareness of the sinful betrayal of certain members of the hierarchy can yet affirm that hierarchy as an essential and necessary consequence of God becoming flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. And with John, each of us can assume our rightful place in that hierarchy saying: “I am not the Christ.” I am not Peter. I am not the ordained successor of Peter. I am not a bishop. I am a member of the body of Christ, to whom the fullness of life and salvation is communicated through Christ’s body. May Christ in his church increase and my decrease be manifest in adoration and heartfelt praise of the God who died for me.
Saturday after the Epiphany
[Scripture Readings: 1 Jn 54-21; Jn 3:22-30 ]
In a “Peanuts” cartoon, little Linus tells Charlie Brown, “When I get big, I'm going to be a humble little country doctor. I'll live in the city, and every morning I'll get up, climb into my sports car, and zoom into the country! Then I'll start healing people… I'll heal people for miles around! I'll be a world famous humble little country doctor!”
Charles Schultz was poking fun at how difficult it is to be humble. You may start out with the goal of being a humble little monk, but before you know it, you're into being a world-famous humble little monk, writing books and appearing on YouTube.
John the Baptist gives us a rule to live by: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” As monks, and as Christians, we constantly battle with pride, and if we attain any measure of humility, we've got to be on guard against being proud of our humility!1 Because pride makes oneself an idol.