(For the audio version of this blog, please visit: https://brothersinchristcmf.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/Mass-Blog-for-the-31st-Sunday-in-Ordinary-time-2023.mp3)
It seems impossible for us modern humans to live up to the meanings of our given names. But think how hard that must have been for the gospel writers. Matthew means “Gift of God.” John: “Gracious God.” Luke: “Light Giving.” As for Mark, the bearer of that name was in real trouble because it meant “warlike” to the Romans and “soft and tender” to the Greeks—so it might as well mean “can’t please anybody.”
But names are meant to be like oversized clothes: big enough for us to grow into. One online tool designed to help parents buy clothes for their rapidly growing children suggests “it’s always better for your child to wear clothes slightly too big for them rather than being too small. … To get the most bang for your buck, stretch the lifespan of their clothes by dressing them in outfits a size or two bigger than what they should normally have.”
Titles are like that too. Judging by biblical and modern history, both “Priest” and “Father” are difficult occupations for us mortals to grow into. Sunday’s readings support that. The first from Malachi (Mal 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10) addresses the priests descended from the tribe of Levi, responsible for the religious guidance of God’s people. It reads as both a calling and a warning about how they fulfill their grand commitment:
And now, O priests, this commandment is for you: If you do not listen, if you do not lay it to heart, to give glory to my name, says the LORD of hosts, I will send a curse upon you and of your blessing I will make a curse. You have turned aside from the way, and have caused many to falter by your instruction; you have made void the covenant of Levi.
With the modern-day scandals caused by misguided bearers of several faiths, including Catholics, that Old Testament verse seems strangely current. Our human frailties, exemplified among those in our hierarchies, have inspired inter-faith critiques of each other’s traditions. People have used Sunday’s gospel reading from Matthew (Mt 23:1-12) to call-out the Catholic Church for using the over-sized title “Father” for our priests, citing this admonition from Jesus:
“Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
But we all have earthly fathers, and all of them are called to spend their lives growing in faith to fit that title perfectly. Jesus may not have wanted us to think ourselves equal to his Father, but he admonished us to try. With regard to that inter-faith sniping, we’d be well on our way to fitting the lofty title of Christian if we remembered what Jesus taught toward the beginning of Matthew’s gospel (Mt 5: 44-48):
“Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? … So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
We’ll probably never come close to fitting that title either, but we’re expected to try—and in trying, setting a fitting example for others. As Paul taught the Thessalonians in Sunday’s second reading (1 Thes 2:7b-9, 13), we are called to grow into an awesome job description:
“In receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe.”
Belief, like perfection, is an Extra-Large garment, and fitting into it requires us to endure severe growing pains as we occasionally trip on it and fall during our journey through life. But we’re not walking alone. The Church is Christ’s bride, after all, and we should all do our part in lifting her train as we take that journey together to God’s altar.