No meltdowns, please. This is NOT a Redskinesque scenario. (Please, God.)
We can recover from an early losing streak.
Here is a homily on Mark 12:38-39
Beware the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept seats of honor. As a pretext, they recite lengthy prayers.
Our Holy Father dedicated this year to priests. 2009-2010 is the “Year of the Priest.”
But when we hear the gospel passage we just heard, it seems like the Lord is telling us that priests will receive a very serious condemnation. After all, wearing long robes, sitting up front, and reciting lengthy prayers is what we do.
Now, let’s make a distinction. It seems pretty clear that the good Lord is condemning not ALL men in robes, but just the greedy and vain ones, the ones who pray without meaning it and who glorify ourselves instead of God.
Vanity and greed are deadly sins for anyone. For a man of God, they are more deadly. A vain, greedy priest harms not just himself, but others, too—because we are supposed to teach humility and poverty of spirit.
We who wear robes are supposed to pray at the altar with humble and sincere hearts. We are supposed to sit up front to honor God, not ourselves.
I am neither as humble nor sincere as I should be. I am not worthy of the sacred office I have been given. None of us priests can really measure up to the standard, because Christ Himself is the standard.
None of us priests are as holy as we should be, as humble and sincere. Does that mean that the priesthood itself is bad? Should we just all sit in a circle, and anyone can speak whenever he feels like it? Is that what the Lord Jesus means when he warns us to beware the men in long robes who recite lengthy prayers?
Okay. To answer this question, let’s do the one spiritual exercise which is guaranteed to clarify the answer to any question. I don’t mean any math question or history question—I mean any question of a moral or spiritual nature. There is one spiritual exercise that we can do, and when we do it, we see things much more clearly.
Here we go. The spiritual exercise is to ask ourselves this question: Why do we exist? Why?
We exist to glorify God on earth and in heaven.
Everything else is secondary. Everything. Am I meant to succeed in this world? Maybe I am, maybe I am not. Am I meant to be in charge of things? Maybe. Am I meant to have a good reputation and lots of friends and plenty of money? Maybe.
On the other hand: Am I meant to glorify God on earth by doing everything for Him, by suffering everything for Him in this pilgrim life? Am I meant to glorify Him in heaven forever? Yes. Yes! Definitely yes. That is why I exist.
The Lord Jesus chose the first priests. He trained them; He ordained them. His plan for His Holy Church has involved popes, bishops, and priests from the very beginning.
At one point while He was training the first priests, after He finished explaining some of His parables to the Apostles, He declared: “Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
Every scribe, He said. So there are scribes for the Kingdom of Heaven, clerics for His Holy Church. When the Lord said, “Beware the scribes,” He was not saying, “There should be no priests.”
No, He instituted the sacred priesthood Himself. When He says, Beware the vain and greedy scribes, He is saying: “Remember, o priest; remember, o layman; remember, o widow, o laywoman; remember: You exist to glorify God on earth and in heaven. All of this, all that you see, all that you are—it is not about you. It is for the glory of the One Who made you.”
The priesthood is not for its own sake. Sacred teaching is not for its own sake. Being a layperson is not for its own sake. Religion is not for its own sake. There is a higher reason for it, namely the Kingdom of Heaven.
In the gospel, the Lord is warning us: If we lose the higher reason for church, then we are in serious trouble. Church has to be about humbling ourselves before God. This goes for the priest; it goes for the people; it goes for everybody. Church has to be about praying.
I mean, it’s one thing to draw attention to oneself somewhere else. It’s one thing to be worldly and vain in the office, or at a party, or at home. It’s better to be humble everywhere, of course. But sometimes we need to focus attention on ourselves, for one reason or another.
But if we are self-conscious and vain in church, if we are worldly in church–then where are we going to go to humble ourselves and pray? If we turn God’s house into our house, then where are we going to go when we really need God?
Let me level with you. I don’t like sitting up front. –I do like the robes, I’ll admit. I like nice chasubles…But I don’t like being up front. I would rather kneel in the back, say my prayers–have a nice, quiet life.
But the good Lord gives us all duties to attend to. Sometimes doing your duty is a lot of fun, sometimes it is a challenge. That’s not the point.
The point is to glorify God.