Homily for September 30, Friday of the XXVI week in Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Jerome
Often when I travel on planes or other public transportation, I end up chatting with people, and the fact that I am a priest almost inevitably surfaces, whether or not I’m wearing my clerical garb. As a result, we often end up at least touching on the topic of the other person’s faith. I meet Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, Jews, and adherents of a variety of other less-well-defined belief systems. One man told me he believes in a Supreme Being, but calls Him Fred, instead of God. He also mentioned that his cat’s name is Barney, and that Barney has an immortal soul. Barney and Fred. Maybe his faith could be called Flintstone-ism.
Some people say that they believe in God, and even in Jesus Christ, but not in the Church. They claim to have a direct relationship with God, with no need of intermediaries. Today’s readings, however, emphasize that God does work through human intermediaries. In the Gospel, Jesus says to His apostles, “Whoever listens to you listens to Me. Whoever rejects you rejects Me. And whoever rejects Me rejects the One Who sent me.” He sent the Apostles out as His representatives, and their role as guides and evangelizers is carried out by their successors in the Church. This is not to deny that we also should have a personal relationship with God. Both the personal and the institutional elements are integral parts of God’s plan.
Some people object that Jesus Himself did not establish a Church. They claim that references to the authority of the Apostles and the Church were added later by the members of the early Church who were imposing an organizational structure which Jesus never intended. However, these arguments are usually without any basis in authentic scholarship, and are often based on inaccuracies gleaned from novels, TV, movies and other media.
If we arbitrarily pick and choose which parts of the Bible we think are applicable to us and which are not, we can end up making religion in our own image and likeness, instead of letting God elevate us with His Truth. In fact, in the first reading, the people of Israel in exile recognize that the cause of their misfortune is that they “did not heed the voice of the Lord, our God, in all the words of the prophets” whom God had sent them, but each one of them went off and served other gods according to their own desires.
May God grant us to continually discover Him both in the intimacy of our own hearts and prayer lives, and in the institutional Church founded by Jesus Christ. And let us pray for all those who are far from the Church, that they may see past the defects of God’s human instruments, to the beauty of God’s truth and holiness present in the Catholic community.