Fr. David Gibson, May 11, 2010 in Medjugorje
Father David Gibson from Ireland in Medjugorje, May 11, 2010
The readings for the mass this morning, when I had a chance to look over them, I thought there were lots of places you could go with these. So please forgive me if I start to wander, and I can’t keep myself on track, but I’ll try my best.
The story in the first reading, this morning, from the Acts of the Apostles, is typical of God’s action towards His people. The story of God’s action towards us, is always the story of being set free. Right from the beginning, God’s only intention towards us has been to set us free, so we can freely choose to be with Him. We live in a world that honors freedom, but in fact, we find ourselves to be slaves in so many different areas of our lives. I often think of young couples at home living in Ireland, and their compulsion to burden themselves with massive mortgages. Their compulsion to be the slave of banks, for thirty or forty years, with huge worries every month about how they’re going to come up with thousands of euros, so that they can keep the roof over their head. Is that freedom? I think not. And particularly in our world today, when we’ve become very aware of how quickly money and resources can become very scarce through the actions of others, we realize how trapped we can be. So many of your sons and daughters, so many of you perhaps, find yourselves worried beyond words, about how you’re going to keep the roof over your head, how you’re going to provide for your families over the next couple of months and years. Maybe you’re even worried about how you’re going to provide for them tomorrow. That is the slavery we find ourselves in at this particular time.
Well, as human beings, we always seem to have a longing to be enslaved to something or someone. The level of addiction in our society testifies to that. So many of our brothers and sisters addicted in so many different ways, and not just the big addictions that we see all in lights like drugs and alcohol, and addictions of the flesh, which is becoming very prevalent and is a big excuse for infidelity in our world today. So many people addicted in so many different ways. We are addicted to fame, addicted to the cost of personality, all the things that we’re warned about in the Scriptures. I am reminded of the story in the Scriptures of God setting His people free from their slavery in Egypt, and how after He had eventually set them free, they mumbled and grumbled and wanted to go back. They would rather be slaves, comfortable, knowing what’s going to happen tomorrow, and not having to experience the freedom of being the children of God, of not knowing what tomorrow will bring. That is the beauty of being a child of God. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. We entrust ourselves to God’s providence. But we have a fascination with wanting to know, and that fascination is exemplified in all the people we know who call themselves Christians, but dabble in the unknown, who want to find out and be able to have control of the future. The future is not ours to know, and Jesus makes it quite clear in the Scriptures, that the future was not even His to know, but that time would unfold itself in God’s time, and the future would happen as it’s supposed to happen.
We are called to be people of trust, to put our faith and to put our hope in God, that everything will be alright in the end. God constantly tries to convince us of that, and He sends His Blessed Mother, I’m convinced, to this place, to call that to mind for us each and every day. That we may believe everything will be alright. That we are in God’s hands and allow ourselves to be. We put our trust in so many places other than God, and I think, if we are to learn anything of the events of recent weeks and months, the Icelandic volcano that has been the consternation of our lives over the last number of weeks, proves to us that pride as human beings, as explorers, as scientists, has been put to flight. One simple act of the earth can ground the entire world for days on end, and we don’t know what to do or where to go. It was like the end of the world was coming when we couldn’t fly from one airport to the next, because suddenly something that we had our trust in, our ability to jump in an airplane and go anywhere we wanted to go, was taken away from us. It was like the end of the world, even if we weren’t flying or planning to fly anywhere. I was listening to people, it was like the end of the world for them. We need to place our trust and our hope in God. And God assures us, and Jesus assures us in the Gospel this morning, that everything will be alright because He is going to the Father, and He has said in the Acts, that the Holy Spirit will guide us and lead us and guarantee us a victory. That’s why we are called to be joyful as Christians. We are called to put our trust in God and in His Church.
I am very convinced that the Church is very secure, because she stands on two solid feet, the feet of Scripture and of Tradition. She teaches us from that solid foundation. Jesus guarantees that the Holy Spirit will lead us into the complete truth. So many people say to me that they have a problem with the way the Church teaches on this matter or that matter, considering our morals or our life affairs. And I am reminded of the words at the end of Saint John’s Gospel, when the Gospel writer says to us, “there are many other signs that Jesus worked and many other words that He spoke, that are not written in this book, these words that are written, are written so that you may believe.” Jesus said and did far more than is recorded in Scripture. God has said and done far more than is recorded in the Bible. Our Tradition in the Church, the Spoken Word that has been handed down to us, to teach us truth, that guaranteed by the presence of Peter, the rock on which the Church was built. The Church has always called to itself the right to interpret the Scriptures, the right to gather the Scriptures together. Right from the beginning, there was a lot of writing about the life of Jesus, but the Church took to Herself the authority that was given to her by God, to choose which of these writings, are truly the word of God, and which are simply the scribblings of human beings. It shocks me sometimes, to listen to priests and theologians, quote the Gospel of Thomas, or talk about the writings of Mary Magdalene, or talk about some other piece of antiquated writing that is not in the cannon of Scripture, and use it as if it was. I may try and sit down and write out my story, and that would be just as valuable to you as those pieces of documentation are. I’m not saying they’re not tremendously valuable as historical documents, but they have no value when it comes to faith, no value. Our Scripture is very clear, our tradition is very clear, and our Holy Father, thanks be to God, is not shy of reminding us of the authority the Church has, when it comes to our life of faith and our moral life. Despite the sins and transgressions of priests and bishops and God knows who else, he continues to stand up and to say, yes these things happened, but they do not take away from the fact that we are charged to speak the truth, and we cannot allow anything to undermine our call and our challenge to speak the truth.
Some of the most distressing things that I’ve heard about priests, some of them begin with the line, ‘Father you know we have a great priest in our parish,’ and that goes on to include sentences like, ‘he’s so down to earth. He’s so ordinary. He’s in the pub every night. He’s a great singer. And you know what else, he never asks us for money.’ One of the killers, ‘He says Mass in fifteen minutes.’ I don’t think you understand the power that you have over us, who are priests. You have the power of care. You have the power to constantly remind us of who we aren’t, to remind us of our weakness and of our need for God. You also have the power of flattery over us, the power to flatter us into thinking that somehow or other we are entitled. And you use that power, and sometimes you use it to build up your priests, and sometimes you use it to tear them down. I think you must be very careful how you use your power over your priests. I am convinced, and I say this with no disrespect to my brother priests and no disrespect to the bishop, about us who are priests, is that we are weaker. God chooses the weak, and Saint Paul backs me up on that. God chooses the weak because weakness is the strength of the priesthood and also its downfall. When a priest knows that he is weak, and that he is not worthy, and that without God in his life, he is not capable of accomplishing anything, then he is a good priest. When a priest thinks that he is invincible, and thinks that all the gifts that the Holy Spirit has given to him are his own, that’s when we get into difficulty. I am constantly worried about my brother priests who allow themselves to be flattered into thinking that they are diamonds of the media, people who only tell their people what they want to hear, who don’t ever challenge them to live the life that God wants us to live. If we never challenge our people, we never give them something to rise to.
You know when you raise your children, you try to instill goals in them, so that they strive to do their best, to be the best that they can. If a priest doesn’t challenge his people, then they are going nowhere. If a priest hasn’t the conviction to stand up and to preach the Good News, to preach the Gospel, to speak the truth about our faith and about our moral life, then his people are going nowhere. They are not benefiting by his presence as they should. Priests are so afraid, in many occasions, to stand up and to speak the truth to you, because they’re afraid of your reaction. Sometimes we don’t want to hear the truth, because sometimes it’s difficult for us to hear it. Nobody wants to be told that what they’re doing is wrong, nobody wants to be challenged. Nobody wants to be chastised, even if that’s in a loving way. Your children don’t want it from you, and yet you see what happens to them when you don’t chastise them. You see what happens to them when you don’t discipline them. Some of the greatest horror stories or movies that I’ve ever seen on TV, are the ones that concern those nannies. Nanny 911, Super Nanny, who has to go into a household and discipline children who’ve turned into absolute monsters because their parents can’t discipline them, or their parents can’t teach them how to be good human beings. Psychologists are doing this all the time now. ‘You have to let them be themselves. You have to let them be this. You have to let them be that.’ But you also have to teach them how to be human beings, and how to live in community with their brothers and sisters, and how to be part of the family and not to be selfish. There is an advertisement on TV in Ireland. It involves a lady in a shopping center going down one of the aisles, with lots of sweet things and candies on one side and lots of sodas and soft drinks on the other side. She’s got a little child walking beside her and he’s trying to grab something off the shelf and she puts it back. The child gets into a tantrum, and the mother throws herself down on the ground. She starts banging on the ground and beating the ground, and the child just stops and stares at the mother. We all see it all the time, and I hope I’m not speaking about your child or about your grandchild.
People need to learn. We need to know where there are boundaries. We need to know that there are things that are right and things that are wrong. Somebody needs to speak about those things too. It is the priest’s responsibility, the priest who on the day of his ordination, promised that he would teach the truth, that he would preach the truth. Not his truth, the Church’s truth; the truth of Jesus Christ. That he would speak to us about what God wants from us. So many fall into the trap of preaching their own truth. ‘This is what I think God wants.’ We don’t need to think or wonder what God wants. We know very well what God wants for us. You look at the Bible. You look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church. You go and ask your priest. Even if he tells you something you are suspicious about, you go back to your Bible. You go back to your Catechism of the Catholic Church. You speak to another priest. You find out. It’s there. It’s not hidden away. It’s not a secret. God wants you to know, because He wants you to live your life so that you can be free, and the teachings of the Church are there in order to set us free, not to burden us. It’s real freedom. It’s freedom with consequences. It’s freedom enough to know that when you behave in a certain way, these are the consequences of our actions. And once we know about the consequences of our actions, then we can make informed decisions about how we want to live our lives. It’s when the consequences are hidden away from us or covered up, and we do it so often, we try to make acceptable in our communities, what is totally unacceptable to God. We try to find ways to justify people’s bad behavior and their sin. Cover it over. Let’s not talk about it and it might go away. In fact, the Church doesn’t change. “It might change. Perhaps God will change, He might change His mind, what He thought was wrong yesterday He might think it’s right tomorrow. God might even catch up with us in our modern way of thinking.” We have fooled ourselves for wrong. We have convinced ourselves so much of what is wrong in our lives is right, and let ourselves off the hook. But to let our brothers and sisters off the hook, and to let our children off the hook because we don’t want them to fall. So many parents that I talk to today, say it’s OK or they think it’s OK for their children to be living in sin. They know it’s not right. Your children deserve to be respected and loved and cherished, and the Church teaches us how to do that, but the world asks us to ignore it, and do our own thing anyway.
We give thanks to God for His gifts, the gift of the Scriptures and the gift of the Tradition of the Church, and we try our best to live our lives in accordance with God’s will.