Churches/Priests

CLOSING AND SELLING OF CATHOLIC CHURCHES ALL OVER THE WORLD ESPECIALLY HERE IN THE USA. WHO IS TO BLAME? A WORD FOR MY FELLOW PRIESTS.

 Closing and selling of churches in the United States today and in other parts of the world, especially the developed countries, is not something uncommon.  What could be the reasons for the closing and selling of the churches consecrated for Catholic worship and sacred liturgies?  Since the Church is inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit, could we say, perhaps, that the Spirit who was sent by the Father is tired of the ministry, overwhelmed by the weight and magnitude of the work in the ministry and has given up or is gradually retiring?  It would be silly to conceive any of the above as the reason why some of the churches are being closed and sold out to other churches and to business corporations.

Could it be that the people of God have discovered for sure that the things we have taught them are not really true, for example, that Our Blessed Lord is not really present in the Holy Eucharist after the words of consecration, that sins are not really forgiven when a priest pronounces absolution over the penitent, that our original sins are not washed away at baptism, that the Church was not founded by Christ etc? This cannot be the reason because none of those who have left the Church has given any of the above reasons for leaving the Church.

Could it be that those who were called to minister in the Lord’s vineyard under the guidance of the Holy Spirit have departed from following the guidance and rules laid down by the Church under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit? May be, but let us first examine its implication and consequences in order to find out if this could be the reason or one of the reasons for losing our members to other churches, closing and selling of Catholic churches today. Have I, as a minister, laid aside the instructions and guidelines I should follow in ministering to God’s children in the Lord’s vineyard, and have taken up my own self generated ideologies and ways that I thought could work best?

When we have court cases we look for the best lawyers and when we have health problems we look for the best doctors.  Likewise, when we have spiritual problems we look for the best spiritual counselors, etc.  Though we may not always have them within our reach, they are our first priorities in the list of our wishes while we look for someone to take care of our problems. What makes a good lawyer, a good physician, a good pastor of souls, etc?

What attracts people to churches is not the physical beauty, the paintings or the architectural designs of those churches but the Spirit of God and the priest in whom this Spirit dwells and operates.  Believe it or not, the Holy Spirit breathes where He wills and is no respecter of any person no matter your church, color, race or nationality.  The head of the Apostles, St. Peter, captures this truth when he said:  “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35). Likewise, in every church or denomination anyone who does what is right is acceptable to him.  What was Jesus’ reaction to the apostle when John said to him: “Master, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he does not follow with us.”  Jesus’ first reaction and response to them was “No, do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us”( Mk. 9:38-40).

Jesus then went further to warn as follows: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone is hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (Mk. 9:42). By this our Blessed Lord made reference to those of us priests and religious who would be sowing the seed of scandals by our words, actions and omissions, in those souls entrusted to our pastoral care.  
How do I fit into this group that are with Jesus or those that are against Him?  Can I as a priest stand against Jesus while ministering as a priest inside the Catholic Church?  Can I rebel against Jesus and against His church while serving as His minister?  Do I still believe in the Word and the teachings of Christ Himself, the founder of this one Universal Church, which is designated today as the Catholic Church?  The words of our Blessed Lord regarding those who do not belong to this one fold are laden with meaning when He said:  “And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice.  So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.” (Jn 10:16)

Our churches are maintained by the donations in cash and kind generously brought forward by the people we serve and minister to.  It is not our eloquence, intelligence, administrative skills and academic achievements that attract them to the Church and keep them in the Church but the Spirit of God who dwells in the churches.  It’s this same Spirit who inspires the people of God to volunteer their services and donate their money for the welfare and upkeep of the Church.  As a minister of God I am bound to fail when I lose connection with this Spirit by doing “my own thing” and no longer what the Church tells me to do. When this happens, I depart from worshipping this Spirit in truth and in spirit contrary to the injunction of our Blessed Lord, when He said: “But the hour is coming and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23-24).

To worship in spirit and truth as God’s minister I must minister with devotion and dedication in following the rules and regulations laid down for me to follow when I minister the Word of God and the Sacraments to God’s children.  I must convince myself that I did not found the Church and I did not send myself.  Jesus founded the Church on the Apostle St. Peter (Mt 16:18-19) This Apostle sent your Bishop through his successor (the Pope) and your Bishop sent you.  This is the thread of the apostolic succession which has subsisted in the Catholic Church to date. I as a Catholic Priest share in this apostolic succession and in all of the powers and charismatic gifts of the Church in the second degree when the bishop and college of presbyters laid their hands upon me at my priestly ordination.

The whole teachings and activities of the Church in faith and morals, word and sacrament, throughout the course of human history to the end of time, have been entrusted to the Holy Spirit when the Blessed Lord Himself announced: “I have many things to say to you, but you cannot hear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (Jn 16:12-13).  Because our Blessed Lord is aware of who would be operating in the Church, through the Church and with the Church, he did not mince words when he decreed: “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk. 10:16).

When I depart from the rules and regulations laid down for me by the Church, I depart from the Holy Spirit because where the Church is there is the Holy Spirit.  When the Church is not with me in what I am doing, the Holy Spirit is not with me either. And, when the Holy Spirit is not with me, I begin to lose the members of my flock because He is the one who gathers and feeds the sheep through my ministrations.

At this juncture, let me share some of my experiences and encounters with priests who have deviated from the rules and regulations laid down by the Church in ministering to the Lord’s people in the Lord’s vineyard to do their own things.  The moment I cease to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in my ministry, the sweetness, the fervor and piety which the Holy Spirit inspires in the hearts of those I minister to, extinguish.  From that moment things begin to go downhill. At first it is not noticeable but with time the difference becomes clear—the parish income, the church attendance, donations, volunteers, begin to decline.  But when a priest of different spirit comes into the parish, things change, motivation returns and progress is jerked up, and different parish activities are revived.  This is a practical proof that the Holy Spirit is always present in his Church but the individual ministers who would cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the implementation of what the Church teaches and practices, are not always available. And, many a time we disagree and contradict one another in what we teach and practice to the scandal and confusion of the faithful.

What a shame!  The adage is always true—united we stand but divided we fall.  When I disagree with the Church in what I do and teach, my pastoral leadership collapses. Why, because the Word of God prevails in all things. When I disagree with the Church in what I do and teach, my ministry is cursed by the Word of God pronounced by Christ Himself when he declared that the gates of hell shall not prevail against his Church (Mt. 16:18). Disobedience is one of the gates of hell. The disobedience of Lucifer, created hell for the fallen angels and the disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, created death for us human beings. A priest that does things contrary to what the Church does and teaches is a shame to the Church and a disgrace to the Holy Spirit. Failure is his terminal end.

When we display contradictions in what we do and teach as God’s ministers, we create an environment for the enemy—Satan, to breed his confusion and nefarious activities.  My problem as a God’s minister could be two-fold:  (1) Ignorance of the Word of God– because I do not read the Scriptures or research for it. (2) Faithlessness—I know the word of God and what the Church teaches, but I do not believe in them.  Either of these can explain the following experiences of mine in my encounter with priests who do their own things—other than what the Church teaches and does.  Many people leave the Church when they discover that the priest minister does not believe in what he does because he does not do what he should do and does not teach what he should teach. He does not demonstrate sincerity in what he does and teaches. They are not by any means justified for leaving the Church. But, woe to that priest by whose scandal God’s children are scared away from God’s Church. I will run few samples of some of my experiences in my encounter with fellow priests in active ministry.

THE SACRED SPECIES IN THE DUST BIN:  I once encountered a priest who does not do ablution after Communion.  At the end of Holy Communion at Mass all the sacred vessels would be carried into the sacristy.  After un-vesting he would carry the paten and the ciborium containing the sacred species to the trashcan in the sacristy and with the purificator, dust them off inside the trashcan in the wild gaze of      the people of God in the sacristy.  This was his routine.  I observed him do this for some time and one day we were having breakfast together after the first two Masses and I asked him why he does not do ablution in the normal manner but prefers to wipe off the sacred species into the trashcan.  He responded:  “I do not want to appear scrupulous before the people of God”.  I responded back:  “Well then, you would not want to appear scrupulous before the people of God, would rather prefer to appear sacrilegious before them?”  A great silence ensued.  After a protracted pause and deep reflection, the priest asked “What do you suggest that I do?”  I responded:  “It is safer to stick to what the Church does”.

HANDING OUT MASS WINE TO THE PEOPLE OF GOD TO DO CONSECRATION AT HOME:  In a different church altogether, I once entered the sacristy to dress up for the next Mass immediately following the Mass that just ended.  I saw the priest who just finished the previous Mass handing a bottle of Mass wine to one middle-aged man.  I was new to this parish then.  When I saw this, I thought the young man was being given a bottle of wine to take to a priest who’s saying Mass in one of the outstations or who was out of wine in a neighboring parish.  I did not take the incident to mean anything other than what I just stated that I thought within me.  About two months later after the parishioners had come to know me a little better, that man, who received a bottle of Mass wine from the priest, approached me in the sacristy after one of my Masses and asked me:  “Is it permissible for a lay faithful to do a valid consecration of wine in their home?”  To understand more clearly his question I said: “By valid consecration you mean a lay person who is not a priest consecrating wine so that it becomes the real blood of Jesus?”  He said “Yes”.  I responded:  “In the first place, it is not possible for a lay person to consecrate wine to become the real blood of Jesus.  Secondly, no lay person has the permission of the Church to do that because it would never work.  It’s only a validly ordained bishop and priest in the West and Eastern Catholic Churches who possess the apostolic succession by virtue of their valid ordination that can consecrate bread and wine to become the body and blood of Christ.” 
Then I asked him:  “Why do you ask this question?”  He said that one of the priests in the parish gives him Mass wine to consecrate at home.  He reminded me that I saw him the day he was receiving it from the priest. Only then did I come to learn the purpose for which he was given that bottle of mass wine. I said to him:  “You are a Eucharistic Minister.  You come to Mass and participate in sharing the body and precious blood of our Blessed Lord.  What should bring about the priest giving you wine to consecrate at home after your Mass attendance.  He replied:  “At  Mass I receive only the body of Christ (the consecrated bread) and not the precious blood, the reason being that I have a kind of chronic cough that I would not like to pass on to anybody.  So when I spoke to the priest, he said that I could consecrate wine myself at home after I had received the consecrated host at the Church.”  

I said to this young man:  “It is not obligatory to receive Holy Communion in both kinds because the Church teaches that whoever receives Holy Communion in one kind receives the whole of Christ (his body, soul and divinity).  But there is no problem if we are opportune to receive Holy Communion in both kinds, though it is not necessary to do so.  The person who receives Holy Communion in both kinds (body and blood) does not receive more of Christ than the person who receives Holy Communion in one kind (body or blood).   Any particle or drop of the sacred species is the whole of Christ.  When the host is broken the person of Christ is not broken.  When the precious blood is shared, the person of Christ is not shared.  Everyone goes home with the whole and the same Christ (body, soul and divinity).  If it is not so then the whole article of faith concerning the Eucharist would become meaningless, senseless and irrational whereby some of the communicants would leave the Church with either part of Jesus’ leg or hand which is totally ridiculous to conceive.  I then asked this young man, “if the priest had explained to you all that I have just explained, would you have bothered to receive a bottle of wine periodically to do consecration at your house?”  He said “No”.

I then took this man further in our faith and said to him: “You do not need to worry whether you would pass on your cough to others or not when you go to Communion.  Feel free to receive the precious blood from the chalice.  It is the Lord Himself who feeds His children with the food of the angels.  You can never pass on your cough to others and you will never get any disease from them by drinking from the chalice at Mass.  If it were to be possible to spread diseases or germs through sharing in one chalice at Mass the devil himself and the wicked people would have poisoned the chalice a long time ago and severally to scare the people of God away from the Lord’s Eucharistic table.  If it were possible for such to happen, epidemics would have broken out in some churches and wiped away multitude of worshipers.  But this has never happened in the history of the church, is not happening now and will never happen.”

A PROTESTANT CHAPLAIN TAKING CATHOLIC COMMUNION TO THE SICK IN THE ABSENCE OF A CATHOLIC PRIEST CHAPLAIN IN A HOSPITAL: 

 A priest friend was newly assigned to a hospital as a chaplain. He was assigned to take the place of the previous priest who had been the chaplain of the hospital for so many years but retired.  Inside this hospital a woman protestant minister was the chief of all the chaplains of different denominations who minister to their various congregations at the hospital.  It happened that one day the new priest chaplain received a call that somebody was seriously ill and that he should come to administer Holy Communion and the last rites.  The priest rushed to the hospital.  As he was heading to the Catholic chapel to take Holy Communion to the sick, he met the Protestant Chaplain who is the Chief Chaplain of the hospital as she was just closing the tabernacle with a Communion in the pix. 

The priest was shocked to see the protestant minister at the Catholic tabernacle where we reserve the Blessed Sacrament in the hospital.  So he asked—“What’s going on?”  The protestant minister told him that since she didn’t know how long it would take him to arrive at the hospital she wanted to take Communion to the sick person first so that he could do other things when he arrived. This woman chaplain was being thoughtful and trying to help humanly speaking. But it is not all about being thoughtful or helpful. She dabbled into the mystery of faith, highly sensitive, sacred, delicate and sophisticated, to do what she was not supposed to do, perhaps because nobody ever told her.

The priest told this protestant minister that it is not done.  “You have no right and no authorization,” the priest said, “to go to the tabernacle inside the Catholic chapel to take Communion to the sick even if the sick person is at the danger of death.”  This protestant chaplain felt embarrassed and insulted.  She told the priest that that was how it used to be for years with the priest that just retired.  The priest insisted:  “Even if that was how it used to be in the past, it has got to stop.  Don’t do it again.”  The woman got so mad that she fired the priest.  It’s good to recall that Our Blessed Lord said that the Kingdom that is divided against itself will never stand.  In this scenario, the retired priest had brought a division in the Church of Christ by what he had taught and done by his pastoral examples which had brought about the firing of his fellow priest for doing what is right and for insisting on the right doctrine and practice of the Catholic faith regarding the Eucharist which is the foundation and corner stone of the entire edifice of our Catholic faith, the center, the focal point and the highest peak of our Christian worship, the most Sacred of all the sacred.

REFILLING THE CIBORIUM WITH UNCONSECRATED HOSTS WHEN THE CONSECRATED HOSTS RUN OUT DURING THE DISTRIBUTION OF HOLY COMMUNION AT MASS:
In a certain parish, I was once asked to consecrate one more ciborium of holy communion to add to the one that was left in the tabernacle.  When I came to say the morning Mass that day, I first went to the tabernacle to see how things were.  Indeed, there was one ciborium left.  The practice in this parish was that there should be two—the priest would distribute one and the Eucharistic Minister would distribute the other.  So I prepared one more ciborium and placed it on the altar for consecration.  After the consecration, as the priest was getting ready to receive Holy Communion, the Eucharistic minister placed on the altar two ciboria with hosts in them.  I recognized one of them as the ciborium that I saw in the tabernacle before I began the Mass.  At that point in time there were three ciboria, the one I saw in the tabernacle prior to beginning the Mass, the one I prepared myself and has just consecrated and the third ciborium which the Eucharist minister brought to the altar.  As I was breaking the bread and the people of God were reciting the Lamb of God, I was trying to recollect where the third ciborium could have come from because we do not have two tabernacles in that Church and neither did we have a tabernacle at the Fathers’ rectory.

Being unable to figure out where the third ciborium came from since I was still new in the parish and unwilling to ask cross questions and attract undue attention, I grabbed the ciborium that I consecrated and gave it to the Eucharistic minister and grabbed the ciborium that I saw in the tabernacle before Mass.  We went to distribute Holy Communion.  This Eucharistic minister finished her distribution before me.  By the time I finished and went back to the altar, she had removed the two ciboria.  But little did I know that that she sent the two, consecrated and the unconsecrated ciboria to the tabernacle.  I thought that she had taken the unconsecrated one to where she got it from. She came back and collected the ciborium that I used for distribution which had hosts left in it and took it to the tabernacle as well.

I finished Mass, went into the sacristy and requested the sacristan to summon the Eucharistic minister for me.  She came.  This woman was in her late 70’s.  My first question was:  “You brought two ciboria full of hosts to the altar this morning, didn’t you?”  “Yes, I did”, she said.   Then I continued:  “I recognized one of them as the one I saw in the tabernacle prior to beginning the Mass, but the other ciborium that you brought with it, I do not know where it came from.  Where did you get that ciborium from?”  She said, “I came into the sacristy and filled it with hosts from the box, because when I went to the tabernacle I saw only one ciborium whereas there should be two.”  My next question was, “Did you not see that I consecrated one already on the altar?”She responded, “I did not take notice of it until I approached the altar to place the two ciboria that I brought.”

I continued: “You said that you filled one of the ciboria with the hosts from the box in the sacristy, are you aware that they were not consecrated?”  She said:  “Yes”.  “What was your plan about those unconsecrated hosts when you were bringing them to the altar after the hour of consecration had passed and the people were reciting the ‘Lamb of God’?”  She explained: “My plan was to distribute them because we refill from the box in the sacristy when the consecrated hosts in the ciboria run out during distribution of Holy Communion and the pastor is aware that we do that.” 

To clarify I asked:  “By what you said you mean that when the hosts the Eucharistic minister is distributing runs out during Holy Communion he/she goes back into the sacristy and refills from the box?”  She said: “Yes”.  I then asked her:  “Are you a convert or were you born and raised Catholic?”  She said she was born and raised Catholic.  I paused deeply. This is nothing but a gross manifestation of long abandonment of proper Catechesis by the priests and pastors of souls.

I asked this woman: “What did you do with the unconsecrated hosts after Mass since we did not distribute them?”  The woman told me that she placed the ciborium in the tabernacle.   Then I said to her: “But you know that they were not consecrated.”  She responded:  “That’s how we do it here in this parish.”  I asked the woman if she could recognize the ciborium that contained those unconsecrated hosts in the tabernacle, and she said “yes”.  I then instructed her to go back to the tabernacle and bring it out and place it on the altar to be consecrated by the priest who was to say the next Mass that morning.  She went and did so. Before I left the church, I checked myself to make sure that the ciborium was placed on the altar for the priest to consecrate in the next mass.

With the foregoing as the modus operandi, it is not surprising why in this very parish, some Eucharistic ministers would finish the distribution of Holy Communion and drop the ciborium containing some consecrated hosts in either the pew or on the floor and left.  I had been called on different occasions after Mass, especially weekend Masses, to pick up from the floor or the pew, a ciborium with consecrated hosts abandoned by a Eucharistic minister after distribution of Holy Communion.  If they could collect from the sacristy and distribute unconsecrated hosts, why should they waste their time in taking the left over back to the tabernacle?

How much of our faith and the faith of the people of God is being tarnished especially in the lives of those who know what is going on in the parish. How can you successfully convince the people to visit the Blessed Sacrament when they know that the hosts in the tabernacle was the left over of the unconsecrated hosts from the previous Sunday Mass.

In this very parish, a Eucharistic minister placed a ciborium with consecrated hosts in the baptismal font.  I went over to where she was and whispered into her ear to remove the ciborium and take it to the tabernacle.  She preferred to remove it after mass, but I wanted her to remove and send to the tabernacle immediately. As she was hesitating, I went over and collected it myself and gave it to her.  She took it from me very irreverently, went to the tabernacle and yanked it in and from there revolted yelling at the top of her voice:  “Father Ezeh, you are wrong!”  Perhaps she was right in saying that I was “wrong” because I was disturbing the peace and quiet of a long standing practice of abandoning the Eucharist anywhere in the Church, without anybody caring about it.  A kingdom divided against itself will not stand.  If they could collect from the box in the sacristy and distribute the unconsecrated hosts just as they distribute the consecrated ones with the awareness of the priests, the implication is that there is no difference between the consecrated and the unconsecrated hosts.  And if there is no difference, why should I insist on reverencing the Eucharist by asking the Eucharistic minister to remove the ciborium with consecrated hosts from the Baptismal font and take it to the tabernacle?

MAKING  FIRST COMMUNION BEFORE CONFESSION:
In one parish, the pastor requires those being prepared for First Communion to receive Communion before making their First Confession.  It’s just like asking a child to eat food before washing his hands.  Parents teach their children to wash their hands before eating.  But this spiritual father in his parish teaches his spiritual children that they can eat before washing their hands, whereas it should be the other way around.  The sacrament of Reconciliation (Sacrament of Penance) is what God uses to give us a spiritual bath to cleanse us of all our iniquities contracted after our baptism.  The Church teaches that at the age of 7, a child is mature to sin and should take responsibility for his/her actions.  The Church also teaches that a child can make his/her First Communion from the age of 7 and above.  The very same Church teaches that we must receive Holy Communion in the state of grace and that it is sacrilege to receive Holy Communion in a grave sin.

If this is how it is am I not contradicting the Church’s teaching by requiring those I am preparing for First Communion who have reached the age of 7 and above, to receive Communion before receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation?  Am I not destroying these innocent souls by teaching them that they can receive Holy Communion in sin? The beauty and sublime dignity of the priesthood lies in these two sacraments, namely the Eucharistic consecration and the Absolution of sins. For a priest to downplay their importance by what he does and teaches is a pure display of Satanism and is itself a downplay on the importance of the priesthood itself. When the priest does not go to confession himself, and does not encourage his flock to go to confession and receive holy communion in the state of grace because he does not believe that the Eucharist is of any importance that deserves any special honor, the priest is of no use to the kingdom.

On one occasion I was in a certain hospital attending to the sick. I met a woman who is protestant but her husband is Catholic. She told me something she loved about the priest in their parish because on several occasions, she had accompanied her husband to Catholic masses. She said that this priest encourages everybody to come forward to receive holy communion regardless of the church in which you belong, and that she’s been receiving holy communion in that parish though she is not Catholic. I asked this woman. Do you believe that our Eucharist is God? She said, no and added: “Father it is hard to believe it.”

The Eucharist is the corner stone of our faith just as Christ is the corner stone of the Church. If you strike the Eucharist, everything about our Catholic faith spills. It is the hinge on which every other doctrine spins or revolves. To strike the Eucharist is to strike Christ who is the corner stone of our Church and our faith.

What this priest does not realize is what his words and practice do to the faith of the Catholics who believe that the Eucharist is truly God and that we must be well prepared in order to receive it. He thinks that he makes the unbelievers feel good but forgets that by what he says and does, he stifles the faith of those who strongly believe in the Eucharist, some of whom might leave the church unannounced because of what he is doing.
If this is the impression that I give to the people of God, they would not encourage their children to aspire to the priesthood because by what the priests do, they have demonstrated that priesthood is of no importance.  This gives rise to shortage of priests because less number of candidates join the priesthood.  The people of God who entered and had continued in the Church because they believed that the Eucharist is God and the Sacrament of Reconciliation is of great importance in their growth in holiness and that the priest is the gift of God to make these sacraments available to them, would have no reason to continue staying in the Church if I convince them by what I say and do that these sacraments are something other than what the Church taught that they are.  They would leave one after the other until the Church is emptied out and closed. This does not happen in a twinkle of an eye.

The exit of God’s people out of the Church is a gradual process that continues unnoticed. Some of God’s people stay at home and some join other churches because they are tired of our hypocrisy, disbelief and contradictions.  When one priest does and teaches one thing and the other does and teaches another thing, are we not divided?  How can we be divided and at the same time keep our worshippers in God’s Church.  

 
Some of our faithful would leave their parish because their priest would not encourage general absolution to go to another parish where the priest administers general absolution to those faithful who would not like to make auricular confession to a priest. What a shame? Is Christ divided? The conditions for general absolution are well specified in the code of canon law by the Church. Why must I deceive and lead astray the people of God who might not have read the canon law to know these conditions and refrain from general absolution because their circumstance does not qualify for it? This is taking an undue advantage of the ignorance of the people of God to mislead them, making them feel they are forgiven when you know that they aren’t.                

Here is what God has to say about us priests in the book of Malachi:  “For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge and men should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts.  But you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your instruction…and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you have not kept my ways but have shown partiality in your instruction”(Mal 2:7-9).

 

STARVING THE PEOPLE OF GOD AT THE TABLE OF THE WORD:
I was working in one parish where there were four priests. Two of these priests were competing with one another on who would give Sunday homily in the shortest amount of time. One priest came back home one Sunday and boasted that his homily was only five minutes. The other priest said that he would strike his homily in three minutes next time and he did. The other guy said that he would round his own off in two minutes the following Sunday. He came back the following Sunday and regretted that it wasn’t exact as he planned. It exceeded by half a minute. So he gave his Sunday homily in two and half minutes.

These two priests forgot that the Word of God is real food with which the children of God are fed for their spiritual nourishment. Just as we can be under nourished with material food and develop sickness out of starvation and malnutrition, so also can we be spiritually starved and under nourished with the Word of God and the Sacraments and become spiritually weak and sick. Since these two priests are focused more on displaying the brevity of their homilies and not on nourishing the people of God with a well prepared spiritual diet, they totally forgot what Jesus told the devil when he said that “man shall not live by bread alone but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4).

Virtue stands in the middle. Preaching too long or too little is not good for the soul. Nevertheless, our homily must be long enough to contain well balanced catechetical, moral, dogmatic, social and spiritual ingredients needed to nourish and energize the soul to carry on her spiritual and moral battle with the world and the devil until she comes back again the following Sunday. The people of God look up to this spiritual nourishment at the table of the Word and the Eucharist and are entitled to receiving full ration of the food of the Word of God from their pastor. To deprive them of this entitlement is an injustice on the part of the pastor.

On different occasions, I have encountered a good number of men and women some of whom have left the Catholic church and some are still with Catholic church but they attend other churches as well. When I asked them their reasons, one of the common answers they gave is that we don’t preach long enough, but other churches do. Some have told me that they attend the Catholic mass in the morning but in the evening they attend this or that church to listen to the Word of God. When I asked them how long they preach, the answer was: “About one hour or more.” The Word of God is the food of the soul.

 I am not saying that a homily must be one hour long in order to be effective or productive. But our problem is that we so emphasize time to the point of worshipping time itself and no longer God and we lose souls to the devil in the process. The truth of the matter is that we have lost most of our members to these churches to the point of closing down most of our churches and schools because we do not have enough worshippers to generate resources with which to maintain them. Some of our separated brethren buy our churches in order to accommodate their members. What a shame!

A good lawyer prepares his case very well if he must save his client from imprisonment, execution or heavy fine or lessen his punishment. It does not just take him two and half minutes or five minutes to state his case and argue constructively and intelligibly to convince the members of jury in defense of his client. If this is how it is with a lawyer in saving his client from a mere material punishment, how much more a priest who has souls to defend against the enemy of souls and snatch them from his clutches and from eternal damnation. The devil engages these souls 24 hours of the day trying to convince them and win them in the face of real life issues and problems. How would you think that in two and half minutes or five minutes you would be able to talk persuasively, constructively and convincingly on the pulpit in a way that you touch souls to win them back to God, and keep your worshippers in the Church and not lose them?

STAYING IN TOUCH WITH THE LORD OF THE VINEYARD:
The pastor of souls is duty bound by virtue of his office as a pastor to prepare his homily well with prayer and meditation on the Word of God and the Church’s documents and should have his homily divinized by presenting himself to the Divine Master to receive his anointing remembering His warning: “Without me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). His intimate union with the Master of the vineyard thru his frequent visit with the Blessed Sacrament must not be under estimated if his homily must be productive and highly charged with divine anointing.

We lose our faithful and run down our churches because we are not connected with the Lord of the vineyard. When we do not keep in touch with our Blessed Lord who called us to this holy ministry, we degenerate into doing our own thing unawares. Being the master of the vineyard, he knows all the nooks and crannies of our parish or place of assignment. He knows all the bad and good people in it; he knows all the rich and the poor, he knows all the cases, politics and problems in the parish more than I do. And, being all wise, He knows how to fix all problems. If I keep in touch and develop close intimacy and union with him, he does all the work for me at no charge. He is ever willing to help. But we are ever unwilling to approach him to seek his wisdom and guidance.

When we are not in union with the Master of the vineyard, we lose the zeal and the joy of the ministry which displays itself in various ways. For example, we lose interest in our prayer life, in hearing confessions, in listening to the problems of the souls entrusted to our care when they come for counseling, we refer them out to other places at the least provocation because we won’t like to bug ourselves with their problems and long stories; we lose interest in visiting the sick and the bereaved; we lose interest in visiting our parish schools to catechize children and pass on the Catholic faith to the younger generation; we leave the entire work of catechesis to the religious education teachers unsupervised  and without participating in teaching some classes that have to do with faith and moral.

Though lay people can teach these things, it comes from your lips more beautifully and authoritatively because the Lord has designed your lips to guard such knowledge; we pick and chose what to teach or preach in our homilies as it relates to the areas of our interest and abandon the rest; we champion worldly scandals in sexual immorality; we lose interest in exposing the Blessed Sacrament but leave it to the lay faithful to do, thereby underrating the dignity of the Blessed Sacrament and the Lord of hosts who is really present in the Holy Eucharist, forgetting that the hands of the priest are anointed to consecrate, handle and expose the Blessed Sacrament for adoration and blessing, for so it has pleased the Blessed Lord that he be handled by the hands of his anointed priests. All of these happen because we have lost connection and intimacy with Him and so have forgotten who we are and what we are.

When we do not exercise our priestly duties very well, we lose souls that are entrusted to our pastoral care. When we lose souls more than we gain, the churches eventually close and get sold out for commercial use. What a shame!
Today in the United States of America and in other developed countries, the dignity of the priests has crumbled in the face of all the sexual scandals and other scandals discussed above. Priests have lost much of their respect in the world and among their flock. Hence, comes the fulfillment of the Word of God in the book of Malachy when He said, addressing the priests: “But you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your instruction…and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you have not kept my ways but have shown partiality in your instruction” (Mal.2: 8-9).

As our churches get emptied out of worshippers, closed and sold out to business corporations and other church denominations, the Word of God in Ezekiel does not cease to accuse us as follows: “Ho, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the crippled you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the wild beasts” (Ezek. 34:2-5).