My brothers and sisters, now with the beginning of a new liturgical year, we enter a new cycle of Gospel readings, this year, the year C of the cycle, we hear mostly from Gospel of Luke. Luke, in addition to being a physician, is an historian, and so he is conscious about writing the historical fact of the time and place of the real events. Have you ever wondered why God came into that place at that time? Even though you and I might so often skim over the unfamiliar names and places mentioned in the Gospels, they are important because not only do they give credibility of the historical real events, but they also give meaningful context to the readers who did know of the people and places mentioned. And so, Luke begins this Gospel: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, … during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas”. Even though you and I have heard of the names of Tiberius Caesar, Pilate, Herod, and so on, in hearing and reading the Gospels, we probably don’t really know who these people were. Each of the names mentioned were people who had made wrong choices and had done evil things. For example, Tiberius was the emperor from year 14AD to 37AD, so 23 years, for the entire adult life and ministry of Jesus. Well, of all the emperors of Rome, it is written that Tiberius was the most depraved and wicked. Even though the Roman empire was peaceful during his reign, Tiberius’ personal life was extremely immoral. Similarly, the Gospels speak of the dishonesty of the governor, Pontius Pilate. There are non-Christians’ accounts that testify that Pilate was known for corruption, acts of insolence, inhumane cruelty and murder of untried, un-condemned people. Sounds pretty bad, right? Well, that is how the politicians behaved at that time, so what about the religious people serving in the Temple? Luke specifies that Annas and Caiaphas were high priests at that time, unfortunately, Annas and Caiaphas were both deposed from their high priesthood for various wicked acts they were engaged in. Therefore, Luke is giving the reader the political and spiritual context of the times, times in which there were evil leaders, corrupt governors, and even scandalous high priests.
Are times much different today? Let’s see, no matter which side you stand on politically, it is clear that our politicians over the years to today have been less than stellar in their personal and political lives- dishonest, adulterous, having their own agenda and using their power and authority to serve themselves and their agenda, instead of the people. Like in the time of Christ, tragically, even some of the leaders in the Church today have also been dishonest, corrupt, giving into their own lustful desires, and living two-faced lives. See the parallels? However, also, in both times, the time of the Gospel, as well as today, the people, you and I, feel generally powerless in the midst of such corruption and evil. Let me be straightforward and practical now about the Church at this time. I have said it before and want to say it again in case someone did not hear me. I am saddened for the victims and I understand the hurt, distrust, discrediting, and abandonment many feel about the Church at this time. I too am frustrated by the evil acts that some Church leaders have done, and the wound they have caused in the Church. And I, perhaps you too, and I know many of the US Bishops, are angry and upset that the larger Church doesn’t seem to see this time as so devastating and critical for the Church of the United States. For those who don’t know, in light of the on-going scandal of clergy sex-abuse, and what appears to be a blatant and seemingly heartless cover-up of it by some Bishops, and other leadership, the US Bishops have drafted a “Code of Conduct” for bishops and a lay-led body to investigate bishops accused of misconduct. The US Bishops had planned to vote on it at their recent meeting, but they were asked by the leadership in Rome to wait until February, for the world-wide Bishops meeting, before voting, advertising, and implementing, the new code to the faithful people as a response to the scandal. Obviously, it is understandable why the Holy See wants the US Bishops to wait until after the world-wide meeting of bishops which Pope Francis called for in February, as this scandal of cover-up is world-wide. But even still, while we are thankful for the quick and decisive action of the US Bishops, many American Catholics are at the same time, a little frustrated at the inaction and especially the lack of acknowledgment and response from the Holy See. Perhaps the people at the time of our Gospel, and you and I feel powerless, and perhaps even hopeless. We desire to move on and help the Church heal from these devastating and crippling self-inflicted wounds as well as the hurtful sins of others, but here we find ourselves in this day and time, feeling and living in the effects of the immorality, corruption, and self-serving agendas of the political and spiritual leaders of our time. And there is seemingly nothing we can do about it.
But my brothers and sisters, it is into such a time and place of so much evil and hopelessness that God wants to come! Luke is saying that God sent John the Baptist into such a time to announce and prophecy the good news that the coming of the Messiah and salvation of all people is at hand. So, John the Baptist’s message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and to prepare for and make straight the paths of the Lord, was a breath of fresh air, it was hope for a powerless people. Indeed, the Baptist is calling all people of that time to repent, just as the Church is doing today- calling all people to repent, including her leaders. For truly it is the sins of the people, the political people as well as the sins of people in the Church, especially her leaders, that has caused such a time we live in. And for us, it is our repentance which will allow Christ to be born and to bring his healing and renewing power into such a time and place that we live.
But there is one more detail that our Gospel gives which is important for us to reflect on. We have reflected on the leaders at the time of Christ, and time in which He came, but let us also look at where God sent John the Baptist and the Messiah. As we read the scriptures, we see that they were sent into a specific location. Instead of going to the Temple and the heart of the city of Jerusalem to where the people lived, John the Baptist goes out into the wilderness, into the desert, into the region of the Jordan River. Why there, you might ask? Because that is the place where God first saved his people, at the Exodus. Remember how God saved His people from slavery under Pharaoh, the political leader in Egypt, through the Red Sea, by leading them through the desert, until they finally crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land. And so there were prophecies, like the one Luke references from Isaiah, as well as our first reading from Baruch, which prophecies that God will come and save his people in the desert, in the same place, that he first saved them in the past. Even through trials, God comes and has a plan to save his people.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, even though we might feel frustrated and powerless in this time and place the Church is in right now; what if we, the Church, truly recognized that God wants to come into this time and place. What if we prayed whole heartedly for God to come into the mess and sin that His Church is in right now and save us. Personally, I don’t know how God will come and save his Church in this day and time, I just know that He wants to and is doing something. I do hope and pray daily, and ask you to join me in praying that come February and the world-wide meeting of bishops, that the whole Church, and all her leaders, will reflect and take an honest look at themselves. This reflection is something we all should do. Many members of our leadership need to have the courage to honestly confess and repent of our sins and self-serving actions, and really clear out the air of pride and cover-up and let the fresh air of mercy and healing into the souls and the collective Church. For that is the only way to let the healing truly take root. However, while I hope for a heart-felt conversion and solid preventive action in the Church and her leaders this February, it is quite possible that we won’t get what we want quite yet, and it might have to get worse before it gets better. But like how God saved through the Exodus, what I do know is that God wants to come into this day and time and lead us. We too might have to wander in the desert and not really know where we are going for a while, but all we need to know is that God has and wants to come into our place, to save and lead us. We just have to be faithful in following wherever He leads, and know that He has us, like He did the Israelites, it the palm of his Hand. Will you follow faithfully, wherever He leads His Church?BACK TO LIST