Saturday August 20, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Ruth 2:1-3, 8-11; 4:13-17) Gospel (St. Matthew 23:1-12)
In the Gospel reading today, we have an extremely important statement on the part of Our Lord. He tells us that the scribes and the Pharisees take their seat on the chair of Moses. Now there are a couple of things that are important in this. First of all, when we put it into our own day, He is telling us, in essence, because Moses was the leader of the people, that it is not just simply the high priest who has taken his seat on the chair of Moses but all of the scribes and Pharisees were sharing in that office. So in our own day, we would say it is not just our Holy Father who has taken his seat on the throne of Peter; certainly, in the person of Pope Benedict – he alone has that office – but all of the bishops and all of the priests share in the authority which comes from that office. Consequently, we need to be so extraordinarily careful about the manner in which we deal with things.
If we look around today, we will all have to admit that there are many priests and bishops who are not doing what they are supposed to. They are not preaching the Gospel; they preach themselves. They are not living virtuous lives, but rather they have become worldly. And so even though we recognize that these sorts of things go on, on our part it must be our task to pray for them. Our Lady has said over and over again: Do not talk about the priests. “I myself will take care of them,” she said. So if there is a priest whom you know whom you might dub a “bad priest,” pray for him. Do not gossip about him. What good is it going to do? Absolutely no good. It will do you no good, it will do the person who is hearing you no good, and it will do the priest no good. All that it will do is cause you to sin and you will have to go to Confession. So why gossip? Why slander? Why calumnize and detract? They are all sins, and we feel justified in doing it because we see that they are not doing what they are supposed to.
Well, let me relate to you a true story. There is a priest who several years ago stood up in his pulpit and at the prayers of the faithful he prayed for the “courageous pro-choice people” that they would continue their crusade of upholding the rights of women to abort their babies. That is a Roman Catholic priest. He was assigned to another parish, and the people of that parish decided that rather than having a mass exodus from the parish because of some of the things this man was doing, they decided instead to pray for him. Around the clock, 24 hours a day, they had someone in front of the Blessed Sacrament praying for the priest. Within a few years of being there, the priest was spending two hours a day in front of the Blessed Sacrament and he was preaching the truth.
Now we see what is necessary. As someone has put it more recently: “I don’t know any bad priests, but I know a whole bunch of priests who don’t have enough people praying for them.” When was the last time that you prayed for these people? When was the last time that you complained and whined and gossiped about them? What is our response as Catholic people? The devil is very shrewd. He knows that if all he needs to do is go after one person, the pastor, the people are going to follow him. Why go after thousands if all you have to do is go after one? Consequently, there is the necessity of praying for that one because he is there to lead you. If he leads you into the desert and you did not pray for him, whose fault is that? We need to recognize our part in this.
I was talking recently to a deacon and he was telling me about his family, which is a very pious family. At this point, they have one priest (this man who will be ordained next year) and one of his brothers who will be entering religious life within a month. He said that his dad always told him a story about a priest who was a good orthodox priest. One day, the priest looked at this man and said, “Please pray for me.” The man said to himself, “He’s a priest. He doesn’t need me to pray for him. He’s holy; he’s a good guy. Why would I need to pray for him?” So he did not. After a little while, the priest was involved in a scandal and left the priesthood. At that point, the man realized that here was somebody who was humble enough to say, “Please pray for me,” and he failed to do so.
The priests share in the authority that is passed down from the apostles through the bishops. We need to pray for the priests and the bishops. We need to pray desperately for the priests and the bishops because they share in that authority that is represented in the chair of Peter. It is not ours to gossip or to complain or to calumnize. It is ours to pray. That is what is required of each one of us. If you see somebody who is preaching things that are wrong or doing things that are wrong, rather than telling the whole world about it, go to Our Lord and to Our Lady, and let Our Lady fulfill her promise that if we pray for them she will take care of the rest.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.