Reading (1 Samuel 15:16-23) Gospel (St. Mark 2:18-22)
In the first reading today, we hear something that is exceedingly important for all of us, that is, the directive of the Lord when He is teaching Saul about the situation he had gotten himself into. The Lord says to us, Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission than the fat of rams. For a sin like divination is rebellion, and presumption is the crime of idolatry. Most of us would not necessarily think that way. Here Saul was thinking he did something great. He took all of the things that had been banned, which means they were supposed to put to death all of the sheep and the oxen (they were not supposed to take anything for themselves of the gold and silver and so on; all of that stuff would be under the ban), but what he did was to take the best sheep and the best oxen and offer them in sacrifice, basically saying, “We’re going to offer this to God in thanksgiving for the victory.” It sounds like a pretty good thing to do, a rather pious gesture, something that should be very pleasing to the Lord – except that it was disobedient to God. Is God going to be pleased that he offered sacrifice from the very things he was supposed to have put to death? And so even though, on the one hand, his heart was in the right place, the reality was that he was being completely disobedient.
In that disobedience, we see that there are a couple of different points. Number one, we have the point of the presumption. That is a point many of us will fall into. We just presume on God’s mercy. It is the idea that “I can just go to Confession, and God will forgive me. So it’s no big deal if I commit this sin; I’ll just go to Confession afterwards.” Well, that is presumption, and the Lord makes very clear in this reading that presumption is a sin of idolatry. So it is something we need to completely reject.
We also hear that divination is rebellion. And we also hear in the Old Testament that divination is as witchcraft, because that is what it is. When we think about that, it is a problem that people today are falling into left and right. Everybody is calling psychics on the radio and on the television to try to get information, reading horoscopes, checking out all kinds of bizarre ways of seeing if they can get some sort of knowledge. That is all divination. It is witchcraft and it is rebellion against the Lord. Yet what we wind up doing is not even assuming that it is presumption. Most people these days do not even think it is a sin! It is exactly what Saul did. It is something which is completely forbidden by the First Commandment, and it is all mortal sin. Yet people think it is perfectly all right, but it is exactly what Saul did.
We try to justify ourselves into trying to say that something which is completely wrong is okay. Why? Because we were not trying to do anything evil. “After all, I just wanted to talk to the psychic to find out what happened to this person or that person.” Well, it sounds like it might be okay, but it is not. “We just wanted to find out by going to a palm reader what was going to happen with my life.” It is not okay. “I just wanted my cards read; I just wanted the tea leaves looked at.” It is all forbidden. These things are witchcraft; they are divination.
I am fascinated by the fact these days that Satan has come up with an unbelievable number of things just in the last few years that have never been heard of before that fall into this same category, and people are flocking to them. It is interesting if you go to the hospital these days. Try to find a Catholic chapel or ask for one, you know what you can find? People who are doing alternative healings, which are all demonic. Yet this is being encouraged. You cannot pray with anybody because you might offend somebody, but you can bring somebody in to call on your energy fields or your chakras or they can wave their hand over you and do some kind of weird form of healing. That is okay. It is okay to call on Satan, but it is not okay to pray to the Lord. This is witchcraft and it is purely demonic. You can see exactly why God would forbid it. Yet so many fall right into the category that Saul fell into. They do not have any bad intention; they were not trying to call on Satan to see if they could get healed. “After all, the person who came in to do this was real nice, so that’s all that matters” – no it is not. We need to do what is right; we need to be obedient to the commandments of God.
The Lord makes very clear that obedience is better than sacrifice, that divination is rebellion and presumption is idolatry. These are sins that are multiplying greatly in our culture, and we need to make sure we do not fall into them since it is getting easier and easier to do because, as the saying goes, “everyone else is doing it” and there are so many more opportunities for it. We need to make sure that we keep our focus proper, and that we are going to serve the Lord – not the way we think He wants to be served, but according to the way He has made clear that He wants to be served – and to make sure that obedience is at the very foundation of everything we do because obedience and humility are the things that will give to God the greatest glory.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.