Saturday: Twentieth Week of the Year: August 20, 2016
Year II: Ezekiel 43:1-7; Psalm 85:9-14; Matthew 23:1-12
The Responsorial acclaims the “tranquility of order”: “The Lord speaks of peace to his people.”
In Ezekiel 43:1-7 God is teaching us about reverence. When the “glory of the Lord” fills the temple we must respond to that physically. Ezekiel fell prostrate on his face.
The presence of the Eucharist in our churches is truly the “glory of the Lord.” God is saying, “this is the place of my throne and the place for the soles of my feet, where I will reside among [my] people… forever.” But if we neglect to recognize that physically — by genuflections or bowing, by body-language and appropriate silences — we cease, for practical purposes, to believe it.
The principle is: what we express is what we experience as real. That applies to reverence shown to people as well as to God. Reverence should match reality.
In Matthew 23:1-12 Jesus teaches that sometimes the smallest things can do the greatest harm. Either because they are so small they are unnoticed (like germs), or because they are so frequent they become taken for granted (like cuss words). So we need to notice little things. And we need to ask whether the commonplace is, in fact, corruption.
Jesus spoke about the small, commonplace practices of those recognized in Israel as official teachers and “model” Jews: the scribes and Pharisees. He spoke about the way they called attention to their religious status through the size of their “phylacteries and fringes” (see Numbers 15:38); about where they liked to sit at banquets; about the signs of respect they expected when they walked around, and the titles they liked to be addressed by. Is any of this so bad? Is not every external detail Jesus warned the “scribes and Pharisees” against in this reading something that all Catholics take for granted in the behavior of priests and bishops?
Many Catholics wear crosses. Priests and bishops wear bigger ones — and Roman collars to boot. At Church functions and banquets it is normal for bishops or even priests to sit at the “head table,” if there is one. Almost all bishops and many priests insist on being addressed by their titles. If not by pretentious ones anymore, like “Your Excellency” and “Monsignor,” at least as “Bishop,” “Father,” or (in writing) “Reverend.” Never by their first names!
And so what? This is “standard operating procedure” in the military and in many (but not all) corporations. You usually don’t have to ask who the boss is; it is made apparent by protocol.
Is it wrong for us to do this in the Church? Does it distort the truth of Baptism? Does it do damage — especially to those who are on the receiving end of this special treatment — if we act as if ordination to a sacred function makes this particular divine member of the body of Christ more sacred than other divine members? (Question: Is anything more “sacred” than giving birth to a child?)
When Jesus told us not to do this, was he simply making a mountain out of molehills? Can we really corrupt our ministers by a little thing like protocol?
What do you think?
More important: What did Jesus think?