As a priest, I often find myself in a position which is similar to what we hear about in the first reading from the prophet Amos (7:12-15), even though this is 2000 years later. In modern English it might sound something like this: ‘Look Fr. Murchadh go and talk about God somewhere else. We don’t want to hear about it here, we are busy with our own lives.’ And I might respond like Amos, ‘Why don’t you listen to me?! I didn’t choose to do this. God ordered me to go and speak to you, but now you can take it or leave it.’
In one way we priests—and indeed anyone who teaches about the ways of God—are still in the same position today. We are asked to pass on the same message of Christ, regardless of whether people listen to us or not. This is not an easy thing to do, as people often don’t want to hear what we have to say, especially if it’s controversial. There is a big temptation for us, for me, to try to only say what you would like to hear, so that you will think well of me, because like anyone else, I want to be accepted by other people too, but that is not what we are called to do by the Lord.
The message God asks us to preach is what Jesus preached and what He told the Apostles to preach. Christ died for our sins, so that we could have eternal life. If we want to receive this eternal life, we must listen to his teaching, live by his Commandments and repent of our sins. The repentance of our sins is one part of that message that is getting very blurred at this time. We are being told that everyone must be accepted as they are. Certainly, everyone is welcome in the Church, but God’s calling is also one of repentance. In the Gospel it says, ‘So they went off and preached repentance.’ If my way of life is not in accordance with what God asks of me, I must change. That is the basic calling of the Gospel and it has not changed and will not change, because God’s message does not change.
Think of the people Jesus met in the Gospels. The woman caught in adultery. Jesus finishes by saying to her, ‘“Has no one condemned you? She replied, “No one sir.” “Neither do I condemn you. Go and do not sin anymore.”’ (John 8:10-11). Matthew the tax collector gave up the corrupt way he was living when he began to follow Jesus. It was the same with all the others who began to follow Jesus. St. Paul completely changed his life after he encountered Jesus. He stopped persecuting the Christians. The basic call of God for all of us is one of repentance.
In Nazi Germany, I’m sure many of the people considered themselves good people, law abiding citizens, who tried to do the right thing. So why did such terrible evil come about? Because they were measuring themselves by their own standards, not by God’s standards. The same applies to us. We must be careful not to measure ourselves by our own standards, or by society’s standards, but by God’s standards. That is why we keep listening to his Word, and asking ourselves what is God asking of me right now? How is my life situation according to God’s word? It is easy to say that I love God and I am a good person, but what God asks of us is very specific: put God first, not yourself; not even your family. Do not misuse the God’s holy name. Keep Sunday as a day when God is given priority, not just when we try to fit him in. Honor your father and mother, whether you love them or not. Do not kill, steal, cheat, lust, lie, or covet. Accept what God teaches us as right and wrong. We must not be the ones to decide what is ultimately right and wrong. That is what is happening in our society at this time. We are being told that we must be tolerant of what God tells us is wrong. We are told that marriage is whatever you want it to be. God tells us that marriage is a life-long commitment between a man and a woman. We are being told that there are no differences between a man and a woman. God tells us that there are very definite distinctions between men and women, which He created and He decides. God tells us what is right and wrong and we must not change that.
The temptation that Satan presented to Adam and Eve, was to be like God and to become the ones who decide what is ultimately good and evil. That’s why God told them not to touch the fruit of the tree of good and evil. Listen to what Satan said: “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5). But they gave in to the temptation and decided that they could be the ones to decide what was good and evil and be like God. Look what happens in our society when we do that. It implodes, falls apart.
The Lord tells us that if we reject his order of creation, then we will no longer enjoy his blessing and protection. ‘You’re on your own.’
The message that the Lord calls us to preach, often meets with opposition, as it has since the first Prophets began speaking in his name, because that same message challenges us when we are doing wrong and no one likes to be told that they are doing wrong. Most of the Prophets were murdered because of what they said. It is interesting that almost all of them resisted when God called them to go and speak to the people. For the most part their response was, ‘No Lord, please ask someone else. I am not able to do that!’ God told them to point out what was wrong, what was not in accordance with his will and they were hated and killed for it.
The prophet Elijah, after working an extraordinary miracle, then has a death threat against him. He flees into the desert, sits down under a tree and says, ‘Lord, take my life, I am no better than my ancestors’ (1Kg 19:4). In other words, ‘I wish I was dead. I have had enough of this!’ It says that he lay down and went to sleep, but then an angel woke him and told him to eat the food that was there, as he would need it for the journey. God doesn’t let him off the hook, but pushes him to keep going.
When Jeremiah was called to be a prophet, he resists. Listen to his response:
“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”
But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. (Jer 1:6-8)
When Moses was called his response was to give all the reasons why he shouldn’t go and eventually he just says: ‘Please Lord, send someone else!’ (Ex 4:13)
Over the last decade in Mexico, twenty-five priests were murdered, probably because they were speaking out against the terrible violence and corruption that exists, largely because of the drug cartels. Preaching God’s word is not always popular, but that is what He asks us to do. I personally know two priests who were murdered: one in Iraq for continuing to keep the church open and celebrate mass. He was continually warned by extremists to close the church, but he wouldn’t and so they ambushed him after mass and shot him along with three deacons. The other priest I know was working in Africa to bring about peace between two warring tribes. He was also ambushed and shot. That’s pretty-much what they did with the prophets too. If they didn’t like what they were hearing, they killed them.
So, pray for us priests that we will have the courage to do what the Lord calls us to do. Help us to be strong in our faith. It is not our place to preach our opinions, but to preach the Word of God. Our opinions will not help or nourish you, but the Word of God will. What we say should challenge you, because the voice of the Lord is a very challenging one. Hearing about all those priests and prophets who were killed might seem bleak, but it is really a sign of how powerful God’s word is and how much we need to listen to what God is saying to us.
Perhaps it seems like I’m preaching to the converted, but I believe that if we really want to grow in our faith, then we need to continually re-decide to follow Jesus Christ. The world around us may not agree with us, or like the way we live, but it has always been like that. Many people today are deciding not to be Christian anymore, sometimes consciously, sometimes through indifference. But the Lord demands a decision from us.
Moses said to the people: “For I am commanding you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, statutes, and ordinances, so that you may live and increase, and the LORD your God may bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.…” (Exodus 30:16)
If any place does not welcome you and people refuse to listen to you, as you walk away shake off the dust from under your feet as a sign to them. (Mark 6:11)