Christian Formator or Pharisee?

10.1.17  Sun. wk 26 – O.T. – A

1st Reading  Ezekiel  18: 25 – 28
2nd Reading  Philippians  2: 1 – 11
Gospel – Matt 21: 28 – 32

Please refer to your own Bible for the Scripture readings.

Homily:  Fr. Mike Murphy

Christian Formator or Pharisee?

     What does the ‘Gospel Parable’ this morning reveal to us about †Jesus?  Let us explore it.  The first son was clearly rebellious.   When asked to go out into the field he said: “I will not.”  And the second son, who said: “Yes,” was only giving his dad lip service; he ended up not going at all.  Imagine the father’s disappointment with his two sons.  But what was the father’s reaction?  He did not punish them, he did not get angry with them.  He was patient.  And the one son eventually went out into the field.  This is the God that †Jesus came to reveal.

You heard this proclaimed in the prophecy of Ezekiel this morning. “When someone…turns from the wickedness they have committed and does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life…he shall surely live and not die.” (Ez.18:27f)  (Am I happy to read that.  There is hope for me yet, after all the ways that I have messed up in my life!)  This is the God revealed in the Old Testament – a loving God who is patient – patient with our spiritual and moral immaturity.  The chief priests and the elders of Israel, at the time of †Jesus, were called to proclaim this mercy of God.  But instead, they acted as agents of a god created in their own image – an angry god – a punishing god, constantly laying burdens on the people and throwing guilt at the people; rejecting those who are not just like them.

The God that †Jesus reveals in the New Testament is the God of love, mercy and compassion – a God who is infinitely patient with us in our weakness and our sins.  And this is the God that all Christians must proclaim and imitate.  But sadly this is not the case in the world today, not even in the Church; even among some bishops and theologians.  You may have read in the newspaper or seen online last weekend, a bishop and 61 theologians made a public of  ‘Statement a Fraternal Correction” against Pope Francis.   This bishop, to clarify, is a member of ‘The Society of St. Pius X’,  a group of clergy and laity who left the Church after The Second Vatican Council along with Archbishop Lefebvre, because they did not agree with the reforms of The Second Vatican Council.  They established a schismatic Church and so this bishop is part of that group as well as a many of these theologians.  They really are not of the same mind of the Church is today.  They call the pope’s teaching ‘heretical’.  This is because of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation: “Amoris Laetitia,” which came out about a year and a half ago.  More specifically, they objected to the Pope’s encouragement of pastors to be compassionate, particularly toward those Catholics divorced and civilly remarried and finding a way to return them to communion in the Church.  He opened the door for us to be compassionate, merciful and patient as †Jesus was.  These misguided theologians are out-of-step with the Church’s Mission, which is to proclaim God’s love, mercy and compassion to the world.

Pope Frances made it very, very clear in this apostolic exhortation that there is no change in our moral or doctrinal teaching in this document.  In fact this teaching is in line with The Second Vatican Council where Pope St. John XXIII stated: The Council is not about doctrine.  The Second Vatican Council was about the pastoral application of our doctrine.  Fifty years ago when the bishops around the world gathered for The Second Vatican Council, it wasn’t to establish a new doctrine, which was already set.  But it was how, in the 1960s, the Church could pastorally apply our doctrine to read the signs of the times?   The world was changing in the 1960s.

As pastors, we are called to accompany those who cannot live the fullness of the Gospel, those who cannot enjoy full communion in the Church.  We are not to close the doors of the Church and reject them.  We are to accompany them; we are to take †Jesus as our model.  Recall in John’s Gospel (chapter 4), when †Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman.  It was revealed that she had five husbands and she was living with a sixth man whom she wasn’t married to.   †Jesus did not angrily state the Mosaic Law to her and then walk off; He didn’t do that.  †Jesus accompanied her on her journey of faith.  He spoke with her about the Spirit and Truth, until she finally accepted who He was.  Then, she ran into her town to proclaim to everyone that she had met the Messiah.  She proclaimed “†Jesus as the Messiah” but only because †Jesus sat down with her at that well, listened to her, spoke with her and touched her heart.  He didn’t condemn her.  This is “accompaniment” in the Spirit of †Jesus.  It is helping to form others in the faith.  It is discipleship as taught by †Jesus.  Formation means helping and preparing people to live their commitment as disciples of †Jesus, to grow in their faith and “Amoris Laetitia” teaches this in the context of marriage and family life.  Christian formation is a process.  It takes time.  Those of you who are parents understand this in the raising and formation of your children.

The father in today’s parable knew this and he waited for his son to respond in obedience.  Formation means that we continue to strive for the ideal, for what God has called us to, even when it is difficult to achieve that.  Even in the midst of failure and weakness, we keep striving for the fullness of embracing the Gospel message of †Jesus, the fullness of our doctrine.   That does not go away, but it is the goal that we look toward as we keep growing in the faith.  Formation is essentially the work of grace; it is not following a rigid program.  Formation creates an environment where people can learn to prefer †Jesus to other ways of living.  That’s what formation does.  We, as Christians (every one of us here) are called to help people along the way by being patient, and listening.  Christian formation is not about condemning or accusing.

In the first reading Ezekiel reveals how God is patient with the sinner, forming the person over time, to prefer God’s way, over any other way.  When we sin, the Lord does not immediately punish us.  No!  Through grace, God patiently waits for us to change.  Then again, Christian parents instinctively do this with their children, even when their children are rebellious.  You love your children, don’t you?  Of course you do!  God loves and forms us to be holy, to be saints and He is patient with us.

So, how does the disciple form people like †Jesus did?  First – the disciple summons the weak and proclaims the Word of God to them.  We always start from the revealed Word of God.  This is the truth!  So we start with the Word of God.  And the disciple never gives up, the summons and call is repeated in the face of rejection.  The disciple keeps walking along with and summoning the sinner and does not go away angry because of lack of results.  We don’t ‘write people off’ when they don’t respond.  That’s not what discipleship and Christian formation is all about.  The disciple lets go of their own ego, respecting the freedom of others and there is no attempt to control or engineer or manipulate the other person.  We are there to help form a conscience, not to replace their conscience, which is what the chief priests and the scribes, at the time of †Jesus, tried to do.   (They didn’t want to form anybody’s conscience; they wanted to replace it with their own.)  It is the Holy Spirit who directs others to holiness, not us.  We are just there to create the environment so they can open their hearts to the Holy Spirit.   And we must have the same reverence for the freedom of others as God has for us.  God gives us the freedom to mess-up!   God gives us the freedom to fall, but He is always there with His hand to lift us up.  Always.  That’s the God we believe in!   That’s the true God!  The disciple invites dialogue and engages in dialogue.  We should not be afraid to speak with people who disagree with us.  We have the truth behind us.  Don’t be afraid, we want them to know why we believe – what we believe and to share our faith with them.  The disciple holds the vision that ‘we are all called to holiness.’  We are called to the perfection of love as †Jesus has called us.  Never compromise this when we are walking with others.  We always have to remain firm in the vision that God has set for us, and never give into the lies of the culture.  The disciple also focuses on the individual, leading them slowly to integration with the larger community.   And then, finally, the disciple watches with the person (but not above the person) to help them identify God’s movement in their life, helping them to recognize the movements of the Spirit that is at work within them, watching and waiting for them to discover the truth of God.

Giselle Acevedo discovered that truth and we will Baptize her this morning and receive her into the Church.   She has walked that journey but was with the patience of those who love her, like Steve, her fiancé and her friends around her.   They’re the ones who have patiently walked with her on this journey, accompanied her until now as she comes to accept †Jesus in her life and to be Baptized.

This is what Pope Francis is calling us to.  It is the way of Christian discipleship and evangelization.  Whether we accompany divorced or remarried Catholics, whether we accompany members of the  LGBT community, whether we accompany atheists or agnostics, or anyone whom God is calling to holiness (and by the way, He is calling us all to holiness) we must accompany them with mercy, love, compassion and patience.  And patience is what †Jesus is calling us to in the Gospel today.  The work of formation is the vocation of the disciple of †Jesus; the vocation of all Christians.

There is one more virtue essential to form and accompany others; that virtue is humility.  St. Paul writes in our second reading: “(†Jesus,) though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.  Rather, He emptied Himself…He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to the point of death.” (Phil. 2:5ff)  Without humility, we are no different than the Pharisees at the time of †Jesus, condemning those who are not perfect, condemning those who are not following the way we think they should follow.  To live with humility, which is the queen of the virtues, is to accompany a weak, sinful, child of God, forming them as †Jesus would form them, with love, patience, compassion, and mercy.  As we heard in Psalm 25:  “The Lord guides the humble to justice, and He teaches the humble His way (Ps. 25:9).

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit  .