God called the prophet Ezekiel to preach to the defeated and exiled people of Israel. He tried to help the people find meaning in the terrible things that had happened to them. 597 years before Christ was born, Jerusalem was attacked by the Babylonians and the people were carried off into exile and slavery. 10 years later the centre of Jewish faith and life, the Temple, was destroyed. And the people asked: Why didn’t God protect us? How could such a disaster have fallen upon us?
Ezekiel was sent by God to explain the grim truth to the people, and God’s words were not pleasant to hear. In fact Ezekiel was told to eat a scroll on which three of God’s words to his people were written. Those words were lamentation, wailing and woe. The people were being punished because they had rebelled against God. The punishment would continue until there was a radical change in their whole religious orientation. God told Ezekiel that the people are not going to like what he had to say. But he also told him that whether the people agreed with him or not, one thing is for sure, they would know that there was a prophet in their midst.
The gospel we’ve just heard presents Our Lord teaching in a very hostile environment. Jesus had just given life to Jairus’ dead daughter. He had felt the faith of the woman with the haemorrhage and allowed his healing power to cure her. Although these might seem to be mighty works, miracles in fact, they were not as difficult as the challenge Our Lord was presented with in today’s gospel. Our Lord had to preach, he had to proclaim the truth to the people who knew him the best. They didn’t want to hear what he had to say simply because he was too familiar to them. He was someone they had grown up with. They knew his family. How could he proclaim the truth of God?
Our Lord’s words fell on deaf ears that day because the people had no faith in him. Saint Mark tells us that their lack of faith actually prevented Jesus from curing any of them. But Our Lord continued to preach, and in time these people would remember that the great prophet of truth who himself was Truth Made Flesh, Truth Incarnate, taught in their towns.
In just the same way we are called to proclaim the truth, often to people who don’t want to hear it. There are people we all know who have stopped coming to Mass and are no longer involved in the life of the Church simply because they were presented with the truth and they couldn’t accept it. Catholicism, as I’ve said before, is not a pick-and-mix religion where we can choose which doctrines and disciplines we like, and disregard the rest.
We are all called to be prophets of the truth. And we all know how the teaching of the Church continues to fall on deaf ears. Those of you who are parents may have children or grandchildren who don’t want to hear that some of their actions or the actions of their friends are improper, or even immoral. People look at us aghast when we talk of Catholic couples living in sin and turning their back on marriage. Some of our Catholic mothers and fathers will get into trouble with their teenage children if they say certain things or make certain demands of them. They know it’s easier to let things slide than to speak their mind and cause a fight. To make matters worse, our Catholic children may get support from the families of their friends who don’t share or promote Christian values. But like Ezekiel, whether our neighbours agree with us or not, whether our children agree with us or not, they must always know that we stand for the truth. And if we Catholics don’t make a stand for the truth, who will? And so we shouldn’t be surprised, when numbers at Mass begin to decline, or the Sunday collection falls. This is what happens when Catholics presented with the truth go their own way and choose not to follow the teachings and discipline of the Church.
We are called to proclaim the truth in difficult circumstances. Many people of faith have been seduced by the values and principles of the secular and materialistic world in which we live. Religion means nothing to most people with whom we share our lives. Many of our neighbours and friends will consider us to be at least severely old fashioned if they knew we practised our Faith.
We are called to proclaim that Faith to people who know us intimately. And we have an additional burden that Our Lord didn’t have. We are called to proclaim what is right and wrong to people who have seen us not only at our best, but also at our worst. That’s why it’s so important that our proclamation of the truth is made with our lives and not just with our words. Words are cheap, they fall from our lips like sugar; but a life well lived has much greater value than the most eloquent sermon.
We are all human. We’ve all made mistakes. We all have temptations and failings. We all think we know best. We have all sinned and we are all in need of God’s mercy. It makes it so much harder for people to hear the truth of our words when they are aware of inconsistencies in our actions. But the truth is still the truth. Even if a person lived a spotless life, even if they lived every sentence that he or she proclaimed, the people who know this person intimately would question their message. It’s hard for any of us to recognize God working in someone we are very familiar with. It takes an act of faith and humility on our part to recognize that God is working through this person who is just like us. It took an act of humility for the people of Nazareth to see God’s presence in the carpenter’s son. It takes an act of faith and humility for you to recognize the Spirit of God working in me, or through the lady next door, or our spouse, our children or our parents.
After more than two thousand years the Catholic Church knows what it stands for, and the Church proclaims its message loud and clear; it does so through those bishops and priests who have the courage to proclaim the truth. In our history we have never been concerned with whether a particular position is popular or unpopular. We’re not like some Christian groups who take polls to see what the people would like to believe in today. We’re not Cafeteria Christians. We stand with truth even when we are mocked and ridiculed and martyred. Yes, we recognize that we are a church whose leaders from the Pope to the newly confirmed teenager are human beings continually tempted to sin, but we don’t doubt the ability of God to proclaim his truth through any of us.
I really feel for Catholic parents today who have a tough job because standing up for the truth begins in the home and we need to give our parents all the support and encouragement we can. In these days of Anything Goes we Catholics need to stick with the truth, for Jesus is the basis of all truth. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Prophets may not be popular, or accepted in their home towns, but the message they proclaim will never die. Ezekiel was told: Thus says the Lord God, whether they heed or resist, the people will know that a prophet has been among them.
Now, I’m no Ezekiel, and I’m certainly not on a crusade to bring back the old time religion. But I do feel that it’s time for us Catholics to get back on track and to make a stand for what we believe to be right and true. It’s part of the priest’s role to teach what the Church teaches, and to do what the Church wants us to do. When Our Lord preached hard words to his disciples, some of them left him; they still do so today. And so today I encourage you all to take heart: to proclaim the truth, to live the truth, to make a stand for what is good and right, so that our children will know that God lives in our midst.