Homily given by Rev. Tony Thurston for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 3, 2019

This Sunday marks the beginning of Vocations Awareness Week.  I had planned to give a brief homily this weekend, with just one point which I hoped would make a lasting impression.  But I’m afraid I have to say more.  I’ll get the “more”, which is not very pleasant, out of the way first; and then conclude with the point I originally intended.

A meeting of Bishops and others from around the world recently concluded at the Vatican.  The topic addressed was the situation of the Church in the Amazon region of South America.  In a preliminary prayer service in the Vatican gardens, a carved wooden image of an Incan earth “goddess”—that is, of a pagan idol—was set up and ritually bowed down to.  This false god was later processed into Saint Peter’s Basilica for the opening ceremony of the Synod itself.

Now, I’m just some minimally-educated priest out here in the hinterlands, but it certainly seems to me that a terrible infidelity to the Catholic Faith—an infidelity to Jesus Christ Himself—occurred right within the Vatican during the now-concluded Amazon Synod.

This sure looked like idolatry, and not only to me.  Others who know more than I do have made similar comments.  A Brazilian Bishop, José Luis Azcona Hermoso, called the Vatican garden ritual a “demonic sacrilege”.  [ https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/demonic-sacrilege-brazil-bishops-condemns-vatican-gardenspachamama-ritual]  The courageous Bishop Athanasius Schneider called the Incan idol “a new golden calf”.  He wrote: “Syncretism and paganism are like poisons entering the veins of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church.”  [same lifesitenews link]  Syncretism—the attempted melding of false and true religion— is a poison, an evil corruption, within the Church.

The ritual in the Vatican gardens and the ceremonial procession of this idol into Saint Peter’s Basilica were a betrayal of the truth.  An earth goddess is a falsehood.  The earth is a part of created reality, created by God and is not a god or goddess itself.  We know that from the very first sentence of the Bible: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

These ceremonies were a betrayal of the Faith.  The very first of the Ten Commandments forbids them: “I am the Lord your God; you shall not have strange gods before me”.  The Psalmist condemns them: “O Lord, you hate those who pay regard to vain idols.”  [Psalm 31: 6]  The Prophets condemn them: Isaiah, for one, wrote numerous criticisms, including, “All of them are put to shame and confounded, the makers of idols go in confusion together.  But Israel is saved by the Lord . . . .”  [Isaiah 45: 16-17]  Saint Paul forbids it: “Therefore, my beloved, shun the worship of idols.”  [1. Corinthians 10: 14]  Saint John forbids it: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”  [1. John 5: 21]  The Book of Revelation links idolatry to the demonic: “The rest of mankind . . . did not . . . give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood.”  [Revelation 9: 20]

Not only sexual and financial corruption, but also theological and spiritual corruption, are attacking the Faith and the Church from within.  But things that are wrong can be set right.  Faith that is lost can be recovered.  Souls that have gone astray can be converted.  (And for my own sake, I  thank God that this is so!)  Sinners can become saints.  We need to help this happen.

We need to be holy ourselves.  And beyond this, we need to challenge.  We need to fast and pray.  We need to make reparation for the wicked things done in and to the Church: our Church, the true Church, the Church of Jesus Christ . . . the Catholic Church.  Because the more the Catholic Church is damaged, the closer to Hell the whole world gets.

Alright: that’s the unpleasant part I had to say.  For now, please file that away.  On to the point I originally wanted to make.

It’s Vocations Awareness Week and—no surprise—I want to say something about the vocation of the priest.

When the priest is praying at Mass, the great majority of the time, he is praying to God the Father as spokesman for all of the faithful.  So when the priest prays “we”, that “we” refers to each/all of you as well as to me

In the second Eucharistic Prayer, the priest prays, “we offer you, Lord, the Bread of life and the Chalice of Salvation, giving thanks that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you.”  The priest is praying to God—“we offer you, Lord . . . “; and he is speaking for all the faithful—“you have held us worthy”.

A couple of years ago, in late November, I was offering Mass; the date was the anniversary of my ordination, and—not by my design—I was using this Eucharistic Prayer.  And as I prayed the words, “giving thanks that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you,” the thought came to my mind that I, as an individual person, could say this to God Who called me to be a priest.  That He has held me (?!) worthy to be in His presence and minster to Him: what an astonishing and undeserved honor!  A priest is profoundly honored by God!

And then, a couple of months ago, as I prayed these same words, another thought came to my mind.  This was at a Saint Joseph’s Sunday evening Mass, and just before that Mass, I had been hearing Confessions: absolving sinners!; freeing persons!;  reopening the gates of Heaven for those in mortal sin!

You know, it humbles me to hear Confessions.  I have no right to hear what someone’s sins are; that’s none of my business.  Yet, Penitent after Penitent comes in to the Confessional and confides in me: entrusts me (!) with this most intimate (and sometimes shameful) personal information.

As I say, I have no right to that.  And yet it is given to me.  This . . . is a most astonishing honor.  I find it amazing how greatly Catholics (and sometimes others) honor priests.  And not only in the Sacrament of Penance: in many ways, we priests receive honor that goes far beyond anything we might deserve.

Of course, when it’s done rightly, it’s honor paid to Jesus, Whom we priests represent and bring to people.

And so at that Mass a couple of months ago, still feeling the impact of having administered those Confessions, when I prayed to God the Father, “giving thanks that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you”, the thought came to my mind that I could say that to all of you: I give you thanks that you have held me (?!) worthy to be in your presence and minister to you.

I’m not worthy, and so all the more I thank you.  And I rejoice that the priesthood is honored.