Sunday, January 31, 2021



He taught them as one having authority. 

Mark 1:21-28

One of the hardest, and most valuable, lessons I learned as a pastor was one I learned from my very first associate pastor at our CathedralHis name was Father Joe Vest. Actually, it ia bit embarrassing to talk about. When I arrived at the Cathedral in Louisville to be its pastor in 1983, I had already been pastor of three small rural churches – so small in fact that I could remember what I was supposed to do without even looking at a calendar or do much planning. I could wing it most of the time and get by quite well 


At my first few Cathedral staff meetings, I would enter the meeting with an empty yellow pad and Father Vest would enter with hand-outs. In short, I was disorganized and he was super-prepared. I was getting madder by the week until one day it hit me. I had power and he had authority. I was pastor in name and he was pastor in fact! I realized at that point that I had two choices. I could either kill him or get my act together and become pastor, not only in name, but also in fact. It became painfully obvious that the problem was not his strength, but my weakness.  


I was reminded of this situation when I read today’s gospel. Jesus was a teacher in fact, while the scribes were teachers only in name. The Scribes had the power and Jesus had the authority. When Jesus taught, people listened because he was believable. What he said rang true with them. When the scribes taught, people did not listen because what they said seemed so cold and impersonal and abstract. It did not ring true. It merely sounded scripted.  


This whole contrast between Jesus and the scribes reminds me of our wonderful Pope, Francis.  When he teaches, his words have “authority.”  What makes Pope Francis so popular with ordinary people (even non-Catholics), and so threatening to those overly invested in the status quo, is that people find what he says rings true! Like Jesus, who moved among the common folk rather hiding behind titles, positions, robes and rules like the scribes, Pope Francis asks all of us to become who we say we are, he calls us to leave our comfort zones and get out among the people on the margins of society. He asks us to leave our self-righteous certainty and radically embrace a trust in God. If we don’t, he says we become “abstract ideologists,” “fundamentalists,” “little monsters that gives him goose-bumps.” “rigorists locked up in small things,” “bureaucrats and government officials” and “people who connect the proclamation of the gospel with inquisitional blows of condemnation.” Pope Francis is calling us to be authentic priests, deacons, sisters and faithful lay people – not some caricature of those high callings.  


He taught them as one having authority. 


I am worried about Pope Francis. If I remember correctly the scribes were part of aestablishment coalition, who had a lot to lose, who were committed to having Jesus killed to protect the religious traditions of the old-time religion.  The scribes were religious leaders in name. Jesus was a religious leader in fact. Let us never forget that prophets are not killed because they lie. They are killed because they tell the truth.   I fear that if he is “done in,” it will be an “inside job” by people who want to protect the institution from any real serious change.  


The Catechism of the Catholic Church says there are two sacraments directed at the salvation of others: holy orders and marriage. In other words, there are two kinds of “spiritual leaders” in the Church: bishops, priests and deacons, as well as married couples. Yes, married couples are “spiritual leaders” too! Priests, like me, are “spiritual leaders” of the people entrusted to them by the bishop. Married couples are “spiritual leaders” of their spouses and their children. Just as I am responsible to lead you spiritually when I preach and preside at Mass, as married partners you are responsible to lead your spouse and your children spiritually.   


Neither you, nor I, can give what we do not have!  If I do not practice what I preach, I cannot hope to inspire you to grow spiritually. You can, no doubt, tell if I am a phony and a fraud or practice what I preach! Just so, as marriage partners, you are not able to inspire your spouse or your children if you are not a credible examples of what you expect of them!   


Just being a “priest” or “spouse” or “parent” as a noun is not enough! We have to be able to “priest,” “spouse” and “parent” as a verb!  Not every ordained priest is effective at priesting! Not every married person is effective at spousing. Not every parent is effective at parenting.  The mere title of priest, spouse or parent is not enough. We must be convincing voices that ring true. We must be effective at what we do. We must walk the talk or we will end up being people nobody listens to!  We must become who we say we are, not only in name, but in fact!      

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