Sunday, 5 November 2017 : Thirty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday all of us heard from the Scriptures contrasting between what we heard from the prophet Malachi in our first reading today and what we heard in the Gospel, speaking about a warning given from God through His prophet Malachi, about those who have not obeyed the Lord and misled His people, particularly the priests and elders, on whom had been granted the responsibilities of shepherding God’s people to the right path.

In the Gospel passage, we heard about the Lord Jesus Who spoke to the people about listening and obeying the Pharisees and the elders in their teachings. Jesus exhorted the people to listen to the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law in their teachings, but not to follow them in their actions, for those leaders did not practice what they had preached. And even though they sat on the chair of Judgement, but they misused their authorities to abuse the power entrusted to them.

In the Gospel, it was mentioned how the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law liked to boast about their faith by making lots of outward expressions of the faith, through public prayers and expositions of their faith life, by parading around in prayer garments with wide prayer tassels and shawls. Jesus our Lord criticised the behaviour of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law because when they did all those, they did not do them for God or for His people, but for themselves.

This passage was often misused and misunderstood, especially by those who were against the Church and against God’s teachings. There were those who attacked and criticised the Church, for the riches and the greatness exhibited and shown in our churches, in our liturgical celebrations, in all the sacred vestments and vessels we used for the Holy Mass and many more. They criticised us by misunderstanding the purpose and intentions of these things, through which in fact the Church proclaims its faith in God.

Why is that so? That is because all that the Church has done, in using beautiful and appropriate vestments, precious materials for the sacred vessels and all the things used in the celebrations of the Holy Mass and Liturgy are designed to recreate Heaven itself on earth, to bring mankind, all the faithful people of God into the authentic experience of worship, so that they may be able to centre their focus and attention towards God.

In the first reading and the Gospel, the prophet Malachi and Our Lord Jesus criticised and warned all those who have misled the people by false teachings and by their personal ambitions, trying to supplant God with their personal desires and ambitions, ego and pride, even though outwardly they might appear to be pious and devoted to God. Thus, the Lord criticised the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, because their prayers and all the external signs of their faith were ultimately directed to themselves, and not to God.

But in the case of our Church, the purpose of our use of sacred architecture, vestments and all the liturgical paraphernalia is completely different, and in fact, they are, as mentioned, designed to help all of us to focus on God. When the priest celebrates the Holy Mass, he has been ordained to be the very representation of Christ Himself, that in ‘persona Christi’ or in the person of Christ Himself, the priest enacts the same Sacrifice at Calvary on the Altar of God.

The vestments worn by the priests and the other ministers ought to be richly decorated with the symbols of the faith, not so as to glorify the person of the priest, but rather to emphasise the divine ministry to which he has been ordained for, to be the one through whom the Lord exercises His power, as the priest turns the bread and wine into the Real Presence of our God Himself, and therefore, bringing the Lord directly to His people in the Eucharist.

The sacred vessels, the ciborium and the chalice, as well as other sacred vessels, particularly the former two use precious materials for the very simple reason that because we believe that the Lord Himself is really present in the Eucharist, in the bread and wine transubstantiated or transformed completely in matter and nature to the Precious Body and Blood of Our Lord. If we believe that the Lord Himself is present, then, we mankind are just doing our very best to provide the most precious vessels to contain the Lord.

Thus, in fact, with proper instruction and understanding, of why we do certain things in our worship of God, we can even proclaim our faith and what we believe to others. On the other hand, when we end up focusing on the wrong things because of the abuses we often witness in many occasions, when the liturgy was not properly followed in the celebration of the Holy Mass, when the priests end up focusing the people not towards God but towards themselves, these are truly lamentable and regrettable.

And then again, in the Gospel today, the Lord Jesus spoke of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who enjoyed themselves being called ‘fathers’ or ‘leaders’ or ‘masters’, and criticised them for that. This is what has also been misused and misunderstood in what people had criticised about the Church, because we call our priests as fathers. Yet, we must understand it in the whole picture and the true intent of what Jesus told the people, lest we also misunderstand it.

We call our priests as fathers not because we idolise the person or because we find him greater than the Lord God, the Father of us all. As I have mentioned earlier, the priests have been called to a great vocation in life, as they gave it all, surrendering themselves completely to God, and they have been ordained to be the representative of Christ Our Lord Himself in the Holy Mass. Therefore, we call them fathers because we believe that they represent the Lord Himself, Our Father, in this world.

The Lord criticised the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, as well as the priestly caste of Judea because they prided themselves as the leaders and elders of the people, placing their own ego and greed ahead of their duty as the shepherds appointed by God to take care of His people. Their hubris and ambition is what the Lord Jesus rebuked them against in the Gospel passage today, not their position as shepherds or priests.

In the end, what does this mean for all of us, brothers and sisters in Christ? First of all, it means that for all of us Christians, be it we are members of the laity or of the priesthood, all of us must not put our own desires and wants before that of God in our hearts and minds. We must place God as the priority and as the focus of our lives. Otherwise, if we allow our pride, ego, ambition and desire to take control over us, we will end up falling into the same condition that happened to the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, where their faith became merely superficial and not truly founded on genuine faith and love for God.

Secondly, it means that all of us ought to pray for our priests and all those who have given themselves to the service of God in the Church. They are always under unjust and unfair criticism and attacks from those who misunderstood or misjudge the missions of the Church and its teachings, its intent and purpose in this world. Let us also help them in whatever way we can, so that they may continue to persevere amidst the challenges and difficulties they have to face daily.

And last of all, let us all be genuinely devoted to God, that in our every actions, our deeds and our words, in our prayer life, in our charitable works, in our outreach to our less fortunate brethren, we will always do them for the pure love and concern for our brothers and sisters, and by doing so, we glorify God’s Name and grow to love Him all the more with our lives. May God be with us always, and may He continue to guide us in our endeavours.

May the Lord also be with our priests, bishops, Cardinals and Pope, and may He bless them with an enduring faith and ever increasing love for Him. May He guide His Church through the turbulent times and help us through all these challenges we face together as one Church. Amen.