TEXT: 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 5, 2023
The 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 5, 2023
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
For three Sundays in a row,
our Gospel readings have had an underlying common theme:
the idea of legitimate authority and legitimate laws.
Two Sundays ago, we heard Jesus say,
“Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
That Sunday I preached at this Mass
about the obedience that is owed to laws and leaders
in accord with true love and from genuine authority
—especially the ultimate love and authority of God.
Last Sunday, we heard Jesus tell us the greatest law is
to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength,
and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself.
I preached at other Masses about how all legitimate laws
have to reflect the basic love of God and neighbor
that is fundamentally explained in the Ten Commandments,
and elucidated through the rest of the lesser norms laid down in Scripture.
Now this week, Jesus tells His Jewish disciples that,
“The scribes and the Pharisees
have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you…”
Here Jesus recognized that the Pharisees and their experts, the scribes,
had legitimate authority because
they knew and taught the true faith given by God to Moses,
and handed down for 1200 years through the prophets and priests.
So, because they were teaching what God taught Moses to teach them,
the Jews were required to obey the teaching of the Pharisees.
But then Jesus makes a distinction, as He says,
“But do not do what they do, because they do not practice what they teach.”
The Pharisees and scribes, or at least most of them,
did not see their authority and the laws they taught
as rooted in the love of God and neighbor,
but mainly as a means to their own personal power and prestige.
So they weren’t looking out for God or their fellow Jews, but for themselves.
As Jesus says,
“They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
…All their works are performed to be seen…
They love places of honor at banquets, [and] …in synagogues…”
So, they have legitimate authority in what they say about the law,
but they lack legitimate authority in the example they give,
because it is devoid of God and true love.
So, they wind up degrading all their legitimate authority
by their illegitimate actions.
And as we know, as a consequence, Jesus told them that
their legitimate authority would be taken away from them
and given to His followers, especially His apostles.
Something that was prophesied in today’s first reading from Malachi,
“You…have caused many to falter by your instruction…
I, therefore, have made you base before all the people…”
Do you ever ask yourself how things got to be so crazy in the world around us?
So many problems, so much bitterness and madness?
Perhaps because the elites of this world, the pharisees of our time,
don’t understand where authority comes from and why it exists.
That it comes from God and exists for love.
And if you don’t understand that,
how will you understand how to exercise your authority?
Unfortunately, today most people don’t understand what “love”
actually means and requires in the first place.
Today you hear people say, “love is love.”
That is either the most duplicitous, naïve, or infantile saying ever.
Because the love of a mother for her child is NOT
the love a stranger has for that same child.
Just as the love a good husband has for his wife is diametrically opposed
to the so-called “love” a pedophile claims to have for his victim;
and sadly there is a large movement, including doctors and academics,
who defend the so-called love of pedophiles.
To understand true love we have to listen to what God, who is love Himself,
explains about what love means to Him.
He says, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”
And all throughout the Scriptures, He reminds us that the commandments are
the specific fundamental requirements of
how to truly love God and our neighbor.
But so many of our leaders and the elite of our society just don’t get this.
I told this story in last week’s homily at other Masses, but it bears repeating here.
A few weeks ago, we had a Candidate Forum here at St. Raymonds,
inviting all the folks running for state delegate and state senator in our area
—no matter what party.
We’ve done this before, but for the first time a Democrat candidate showed up,
State Senator Dave Marsden.
At first, I thought this took a lot of courage, since our parishioners
have the reputation for having conservative, traditional-value priorities,
and that hardly describes the Democrat party nowadays.
But near the end of the forum I changed my mind:
It wasn’t courage, it was arrogance.
Because after the people had asked their questions about things important to us,
in his closing comments Marsden told us,
“We’ve just spent a lot of time here tonight talking about fringe issues.”
These were the supposed fringe issues we discussed:
- firing teachers for using the wrong pronoun for a self-identifying transgender student
- teachers keeping secrets from parents about their children attempting to “change their gender”
- passing laws to require medical personnel to give medical care to babies who survive an abortion
- a constitutional amendment enshrining a so-called “right” to “same-sex marriage”
- support for school choice, allowing parents to choose their child’s school
- laws allowing assisted suicide
All these the senator called “fringe issues”:
defending parents’ rights;
protecting children with transgender dysphoria;
defending the life of the unborn and the sick.
Pro-life, pro-parent, pro-children.
These are fringe…to him, but not to us.
He thought the really important issues were things like
funding metro and preparing the way for 100% use of electric vehicles.
And while those may be important and can, I guess, in some circuitous way,
involve the love of God and neighbor,
they would be way, way, down the list.
What would be first on the list?
Let’s go back to God’s list of love: the Ten Commandments.
The first three commandments tell us the basics about loving God:
Don’t have false gods before Him, don’t take His name in vain,
and keep His day holy.
Then the next seven tell us about loving our neighbor.
And the very first of those seven is number four: “Honor your mother and father.”
And so, at the forum we asked about parental rights in education of their kids
and the role of teachers in supporting those parental rights.
Notice: The 4th commandment doesn’t say anything about
honoring your teacher, or superintendent, or your school board member,
or even your senator.
That honoring of authority flows from and cannot exist
without honoring the most primary authorities, God and parents.
So, if something or someone doesn’t recognize that first honor
goes to God and parents, we stop and say, this doesn’t work.
Now, I don’t mean to pick on this particular senator here,
but he just seemed to encapsulate so much that’s wrong
with our leaders today.
When he was asked if teachers should inform parents
if their child is identifying as transgender or whatever,
he responded by saying, essentially,
“Well, I used to work in juvenile corrections,
so I know some parents just can’t be trusted not to react badly to that and might hurt the child.”
Okay…some parents aren’t good people…
maybe particularly a lot of parents of kids in jail.
But does that mean that the typical parents should not be trusted
to take care of their children?
And how do we know that the teacher can be trusted?
Are teachers infallible or impeccable?
Should the government presume that the teacher
knows what’s best for the children better than the parent,
or that the teacher loves the child better than the parent?
This is the root problem in society: misunderstanding love.
In this case, misunderstanding the love of parents,
and what it means and requires of them as parents,
and of the rest of us, who are here to support them in their love.
Then there’s the 2nd commandment about loving your neighbor:
You shall not kill.
Imagine that a doctor tries to abort a little baby.
But the baby survives and is born.
And the doctors and nurses just leave him there in the delivery room,
on the table or maybe even in the waste can,
leaving him to die alone and in pain.
And then imagine a leader saying that is a fringe issue.
How do you love your neighbor if you kill him?
Or let the most defenseless die without showing care for him?
If a politician doesn’t understand that that’s not a fringe issue,
a lot more important than funding metro,
what kind of human being is he, much less what kind of leader?
So many of today’s leaders are nothing more than modern-day Pharisees
because they just don’t understand where their authority comes from,
why they have it, and how it relates to God and love.
I don’t know about you, but I’m so very tired, exhausted really,
of these modern Pharisees and Scribes,
whether it’s the political, social, or academic elites of this world
or their brainwashed followers,
telling me that they know what’s best for me.
They know what I should think, how I should speak, how I should feel, and even
what I should believe.
They know what’s really important, and the rest of us who don’t get it
are just ignorant little peons.
That should be insulting to every Christian.
Who do they think they are?
As Jesus reminds us in today’s gospel,
“You have but one teacher…one Father in heaven…one master, the Christ.”
But the thing is, we can be Pharisees too.
Not because we don’t understand all that,
but because we often do understand what God and love demands,
but then do not practice what we believe; we can be hypocrites.
This Tuesday, November 7, is election day in Virginia.
And Catholics need to practice what we preach.
I encourage you not to imitate the hypocrisy of the Pharisees,
but to reject the Pharisaical elites
and their illegitimate notions of authority and law.
Do not vote for their illegitimate priorities.
Vote for God’s priorities: to love God and to love your neighbor,
beginning with defending the mothers and fathers
and the lives of all the children of Fairfax and Virginia.
Follow God’s commandments of love and vote pro-life, pro-parent, and pro-children.