I’ve got a secret to tell you, but you have to promise not to tell anyone else, in fact, especially don’t tell your pastor, because, well, he might not let me back….
Fr. Reutter/Fr. St. George, well, he is, ummm…, a sinner. He is not perfect. In fact, there are things that he struggles with. Now, be assured I am not breaking a seal of confession, as I am pretty sure he has never gone to confession to me, nor would I really want him to, unless it is an emergency. But how do I know that he is a sinner? Well, because the second secret is that I am a sinner, too. I have weaknesses, I have foibles, I make mistakes, I fall down. It isn’t the place to discuss them openly, but rest assured, I am very sure that I am not perfect. Ask my mother!
But I don’t say this as if it is a bad thing, in fact, it is a very good thing to have your priest, your pastor, be a sinner. It is something that I became conscious of very soon after I was ordained a priest. Even though I am still working out my own salvation as a Catholic Christian, salvation which involves me now serving Christ as a Priest, I must also help others in their path to salvation. It is the marvelous way that Christ set up His Church, that even though it is the Spirit who is in charge, He works through the instruments of very imperfect agents. So it is important to pray for your priests, as they in turn, pray for you.
I do not say this to beg for prayers, even though I am very much in need of them, I do this in recognition of our First Reading today, for this is exactly what the priests of the Old Covenant, at the time of the Captivity, failed to realize. They forgot that they were there as God’s instruments, to help lead the people towards salvation. Instead, as we hear in the Second Book of Chronicles, they ‘added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the LORD’s temple, which he had consecrated in Jerusalem.’ The priests should have known better, but became comfortable in their position and in their status, in their place as leaders, and no longer call the people to conversion, no longer cared about the right sacrifice in the Temple, they no longer recognized their own need for salvation and that they were supposed to lead others to salvation.
Because of this, God destroyed the Temple and allowed them to be carted off into Exile. We hear echoes of the shame in the Psalm for today: “We hung our harps by the streams of Babylon and sat and wept, for Zion, God’s Holy City has been destroyed!”
But this fact that we priests are sinners and imperfect, in fact that we all are imperfect and sinners, is something which we strangely rejoice over! So many times throughout the Old Covenant, God tried to reach out and restore us to His friendship, restore us to a place of honor in Creation. But the more He called us to conversion, the more we turned our hearts against him. While Moses and Aaron were present, we did fairly well, but even then the Golden Calf was made. During the time of judges and prophets, the people of Israel were sometimes good, as long as a righteous leader was present. But soon, they would fall back into their old ways. The Kings were an unmitigated disaster!
But in the New Covenant, the Covenant founded in Christ, we no longer have to rely on the weaknesses and foibles of the priests, for we have a perfect priest whom we all worship: Jesus Christ! And what we see in this snippet of the passage of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, is the whole key that will turn this whole thing we call the experiment of life around: John 3:16. There are many apparent answers to why Christ came to this Earth, but here we have a summary of his whole mission, a short summary which, I think, we should all memorize: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life.”
This is the key! Christ came not to be a good teacher, not even to embrace the poor, not to be a spiritual role model, he came to save us from our sins, so that we can dwell with him forever. If we are here to experience something other than salvation, if we are here looking for something other than that great gift of Salvation; we are here for the wrong reasons. Salvation is first and foremost what we are about. My salvation. My coming to know Christ so much, that I cannot wait to be with him not only in this life, but also in the next. This is what drives the Church’s mission to the poor, this is what drives her commitment to social justice, because it helps me to know that Christ died for my sins, in a way that is perfect and eternal, and unlimited. And I want others to know about it.
Hence, we rejoice that we are sinners, for when we forget that we are in need of salvation, we forget that we are in need of Christ. It starts with the Holy Father, it runs through every priest and bishop, and drives every Catholic and Christian in the world to be Christ’s agent of light out in the midst of the world.
As we reach this midpoint of the Lenten Season, let us rejoice that we have so great a redeemer who won for us Salvation. But let us also strive to always recognize our great need for redemption, for it is only in that recognition are our hearts truly opened to receive the powerful and great light of Christ, which will dispel the darkness of sin and radiate the bright joy of Everlasting Life.