29 October 2011

YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE: AM SORRY

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mt 23:1-12

Each day, in the entire year, I stand in front of you and preach to you.  Today, I stand again before you.  But I feel that I am more being preached to than preaching to you.  The first reading today gives me that kind of feeling right away.  Through the Prophet Malachi, the Lord of hosts is addressing me now even as He was addressing the priests of the Old Testament thousands of years ago, warning me with what can become of me if I betray the priestly ministry He entrusted me with.  St. Paul the Apostle, for his part, reminds me, through the second reading today, that the secret to effective preaching is found not only in theological soundness, rhetorical proficiency, and the ability to relate what was written by the ancients to the experience of modern man.  There is no better way to convince people to obey the Word of God than for me to be the first to obey it.  Preaching may begin with telling, but it must necessarily proceed to exemplifying.  Moreover, a special word of concern from St. Paul: never be a burden to anyone while proclaiming God’s Good News – a trait that Jesus, in the Gospel, saw wanting in the teachers of His time, the scribes and the Pharisees.  Thus, Jesus tells His disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses.  You must therefore do what they tell you and listen to what they say; but do not be guided by what they do: since they do not practice what they preach.  They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but will they lift a finger to move them?  Not they!  Everything they do is done to attract attention.”
          (Now, may I have you attention please.)  Among other things, I was ordained to preach.  I am a priest, a minister of the Word of God, called and sent forth to teach and to preach.  The truth is, as in the case of all priests, preaching became my mandate not when I was ordained a priest but as early as when I was ordained a deacon.  Following the rite for ordination of deacons, on December 12, 1994, Jaime Cardinal Sin, of blessed memory, right after the laying on of hands and the investiture of the stole and dalmatic (the vestments for deacons), handed me a copy of the Gospel while saying: “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are.  Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.”  All priests are already ministers of the Word before they became ministers of the Eucharist.  Long before we started changing bread into the Body of Christ and wine into His Blood, we have already been preaching the Word of God.
          But teaching is not the first among our tasks and neither is it the last.  The formula I mentioned earlier in the ordination of deacons say it very clearly: first, believe; second, teach; and third, practice.  “Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.”  I cannot teach what I do not believe and I should practice what I teach.  It is worth noting that the formula is not an invitation but a command.  No invitation extended; a mandate is given.  I must preach the Gospel of Christ and I must be an example of that Gospel I preach.  Such a claim is easily said than done.  Anyone who says otherwise may be a self-righteous hypocrite.
          And so I stand before you convicted by my own shortcomings even as I preach to you the Gospel of Christ.  Shamefacedly, with the psalmist, “I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (Ps 51:3).  But sincerely I ask for your forgiveness even as I first beg for God’s.  To those to whom I only preach but am not a good example of what I teach: I am sorry.  To those I drive away from the Church, and even more so from Jesus, not because my preaching hit them hard but because my preaching is empty of my witnessing: I am sorry.  To those I hinder from believing because my preaching lacks the practicing of what I teach: I am sorry.  To those I preach too hard to while I am so soft with my self: I am sorry.  Never did I and never do I wish to be the stumbling block for anyone.  Borrowing the spirit of St. Augustine’s words, I humbly acknowledge that to you I am a shepherd but with you I am a fellow member of the sheepfold that like any sheep of that fold can go astray and be lost.  I do not mean to put up a show with this public apology.  I simply wish to follow the call to continuing, personal conversion, with the hope that in doing so, still, I would be  preaching to you.
          In his Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelization In The Modern World” (Evangelii Nuntiandi), Pope Paul VI wrote, “Modern man no longer listens to teachers but to witnesses.  If he listens to teachers it is because they are first witnesses.”  Let us strive to be witnesses, not teachers.  The best preacher is the best witness.  The best homily is the preacher’s life.  And part of that life is recognizing where one fails in his witnessing, with the resolution of making his deeds more faithful to his words.
          Someone approached me some years back.  She looked very worried.  “Father, my children are leaving the Church one after the other,” she laments.  “What must I do?  What must I do?”  “It’s not what you must do,” I replied, “but what you must be.”  Let us be what we preach.  Against our human weaknesses and in the midst of so many temptations, let us not despair but continue the struggle to become more Christ-like in every way.
          My homily is ended but my preaching continues.  My homily for this Sunday’s liturgy has been delivered, but my witnessing is yet unfolding.  I was ordained to preach.  But one does not need to be ordained to give witness.

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