Today's first reading from 1 Samuel offers the culmination to an Old Testament story of ecclesial corruption. Father Steve's homily offers a comparison to our current age, drawing our attention to the biblical means by which God acts to bring about renewal in His Church.
Since Monday the Church has presented these marvelous scripture passages from the first Book of Samuel.
The story presents not just the early life of one of Israel’s most formidable prophets, but the story of Israel itself, beset by troubles, particularly the corruption of its religious leadership.
As the people languish, the corruption of Israel’s priests is met by the power of God who acts to bring about change through the birth of a child. This child would be given over to the service of the Lord’s sanctuary and would, as an adult, initiate the great events that would lead to the kingdom of David.
Today we hear about what the depth of the corruption of Israel’s priests brings upon Israel. The Israelites are delivered into the hands of their enemies, and the Ark of the Covenant is lost.
Among the dead are the sons of the high priest Eli, the priests Hophni and Phinehas.
Eli’s corruption was that knowing of the crimes of his sons, he did nothing. Now, his sons are dead, and Israel has been shamed before the world.
The scripture that follows includes the damning detail that when the priest Eli hears of the deaths of his son, he falls over backward, and because of his immense girth, breaks his neck and dies.
The resonance of today’s scripture to our own times and circumstances is uncanny.
God will raise up from his Church people like Samuel, but they will likely appear as Samuel did. God will work in accord with his own purposes, behind the scenes, inserting into the situation men and women who will bring the corruption to an end.
But further, the lesson in these scriptures is that God is not mocked. God’s justice may not manifest itself on the time schedule that we would like, but the movement of God’s justice will eventually hit its mark, and if there is not repentance, if there is not conversion, catastrophes like those that overtook Eli and his sons are inevitable.
Today’s Gospel corrects the tendency that often manifests itself in times of corruption- the tendency to seek the destruction of the Church itself!
Christ came to confront the dark powers that had insinuated themselves into Israel’s priesthood and corrupted its worship, but he did not come to destroy Israel’s priesthood or its worship. He came to transform both.
He manifests this is his instruction to the leper to fulfill the prescriptions of the Law of Moses and present himself to the priest. In doing so he not only manifests his power to Israel’s priests, but he recognizes that God continues to act in Israel through the mediation of the priesthood that the Lord himself established.
Christ bears into the world the extraordinary revelation that God offers to the sinner, salvation and to his people burdened by the weight of their sins, the grace of redemption. In other words, God comes to deliver his people from corruption, and even though the Lord does not exempt his people from the consequences of their sins, he does not will his people’s destruction.
God uses the tribulations justly deserved by his people’s sins as the means by which they will be purified and transformed.
And that is perhaps the lesson for us in an age in which the corruption of so many in the Church has been so apparent and acute.
We are not, in the face of very real and challenging circumstances, supposed to be silent or passive. The truth must be told and the faithful must act, but in our witness and in our actions it must be clear that we do not seek the destruction of the Church, but its reform and renewal.
We want for God’s people, for the Church, what the Lord has always wanted: salvation for our sin-sick souls and redemption from the power of sin.
O God, who willed to provide shepherds for your people,
pour out in your Church a spirit of piety and fortitude,
to raise up worthy ministers for your altars
and make them ardent yet gentle heralds of your Gospel.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Father Steve Grunow is the Assistant Director of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.