TUESDAY HOMILY: Coherence in Preaching and Living God's Word
Jesus' words about fathers, teachers and guides put into relief the reasons for Pope Benedict's greatness and our Christian apostolic calling.
Even though successors of St. Peter will come and go, the Good Shepherd will never have an interregnum. Today's Gospel helps us to understand not only the relationship between Christ and the Pope - crucial for our faith in this Year of Faith - but also between Christ and all of us who are called by our baptism and confirmation to proclaim his Gospel to all creation.
But at first there's something disconcerting with regard to the Pope. In Christian piety, we called Benedict "Holy Father," and have recognized him, even in his relatively short eight-year papacy, to be one of the greatest teachers in the history of the Church. Yet Jesus today, with very strong language, tells us to call no one on earth our father or our teacher. Are we ignoring the Supreme Pastor's words?
Jesus wants to make clear that we have only one Father, one Teacher and one Spiritual Guide - God himself. God is our Father, and any human fatherhood (physical for the dads here, and spiritual for the priest or the pope) is derivative and vicarious of the Eternal Father's paternity. Jesus is our one Teacher or Master and any other teaching must point to Him who is the Truth. The Holy Spirit is our one Spiritual Guide, or Rabbi, and any other guide must cooperate with the Holy Spirit to point the person along the straight path to true life and love.
Jesus tells us to call no one on earth our father, or teacher, or rabbi, because so often human parents, instructors, or guides, rather than leading us to God, sometimes can seem to want to take God's place. Jesus' concern is not really one of vocabulary, but of mentality. Regardless of the words we use, he wants us to know that no one can take his place as the giver of life, as our teacher and our guide - and to the extent that any parent, teacher, or guide is worthy of the name, they must first be a good child, student and disciple of the one Father, Teacher and Guide. And we can be grateful that Joseph Ratzinger was indeed certainly one!
That said, Jesus also stresses, paradoxically, that God doesn't work alone. Throughout salvation history, he has used many others as his instruments to bless us with the gifts of fatherhood, knowledge and direction. He illustrates this by what he says about the scribes and Pharisees. He tells us that they sit on "Moses' seat."
God raised up Moses to pass on to the chosen people God's words and direction, leading them from slavery into the promised land. The scribes were those people who made their entire living out of knowledge of the Law of the Covenant God gave through Moses. The Pharisees were the group of people who publicly dedicated themselves full-time to trying to live by that law. Jesus said that since they sit on Moses' seat, "Do whatever they teach you and follow it," because it is not their words that one's following, but God's words through them.
Jesus also gave a warning, however, one that must have pained him to say: "But do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach." They were hypocrites who were not acting on the words of God. They used the word to put burdens on others, but had no love for those to whom they were preaching; they didn't "lift a finger," didn't make the least effort, to help others understand how every one of God's commands is given out of love and meant to help us to learn how to love God and love others.
Jesus told us that insofar as the Pharisees and the scribes sat in Moses' chair and passed along to the people what Moses himself had heard from God, their words were actually God's words and needed to be followed. Their personal hypocrisy, in other words, could not be used as an excuse by others not to follow the words of God they were teaching. But Jesus also stressed that we should not consider them great or exalted and follow them as individuals, because they were not humble servants of others, but rather proud hypocrites whose example would lead others astray.
What does this mean for Catholics in this Year of Faith? If Jesus, who said that we have only one Father, Teacher and Guide, told us that God works vicariously to pass on to us his words and guidance though those sit on Moses' seat, how much more would he say the same thing about those who sit not on Moses' seat but on Christ's own chair! The Pope is Christ's own earthly vicar. The bishop is a successor of the apostles. The priest is ordained by Christ through a bishop to be his collaborators. All of them, to varying degrees, sit on Christ's own chair and ...
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