by Fr. Tommy Lane
Does God really love us? Does God really care? When a disaster strikes unfortunately some people think God does not love them and does not care and they distance themselves from God. We heard in our first reading that when God was giving the Israelites the covenant through Moses he reminded them of all he had done for them,
You have seen for yourselves how I treated the Egyptians and how I bore you up on eagle wings and brought you here to myself. (Ex 19:4)
Yet unfortunately when a hardship came their way they forgot that God bore them up on eagle wings and brought them to himself at Sinai. We could say that the great sin of the Old Testament is forgetting what God did for his people.
Paul, in our second reading, reminded the Romans of God’s love for them,
For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly (Rom 5:6).
Paul goes on to write that this proves God’s love for us,
But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8)
Once again in the Gospel we see God’s love in Jesus,
At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matt 9:36)
The great thing about God’s love is that it has specificity. God’s love is not so general that you cannot see it, God’s love for us is expressed in specific ways that we can see. So when Jesus was moved with pity for the crowds because they were like sheep without a shepherd he appointed twelve apostles and sent them out on mission to cure the sick. Through the apostles Jesus loved the “shepherdless” crowds. The apostles were the specific way in which Jesus showed his love for these people.
One of the many specific ways in which Jesus shows his love for us is through the priesthood, the gift of priests to his Church. One of the distinguishing marks of the Catholic Church is that our bishops go all the way back to the apostles in a direct line of succession. The bishop who ordained me a priest, Bishop John Magee, was ordained a bishop by Pope John Paul II in 1987, who was ordained a bishop by Archbishop Baziak in 1958, who was ordained a bishop by Bishop Twardowski in 1919, who was ordained a bishop by Bishop Bilczewski in 1901…Shall I continue? The Catholic Church through its bishops goes right back to Jesus and the apostles he appointed. Bishops, priests, and deacons, are specific signs of the love of God for us. They remind us that God has not forgotten us, that God bore us on eagle wings and brought us to himself. This also explains why we do not receive the Eucharist in the churches of other denominations because, as Pope John Paul II reminded us, they do not have the fullness of the Eucharistic mystery since they lack the sacrament of Holy Orders in which priests are ordained. (Ecclesia de Eucharistia §30)
Today we heard Matthew’s account of Jesus calling his twelve apostles. Luke also relates Jesus calling his twelve apostles but makes a clear distinction between Jesus’ disciples and apostles,
When day came, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named apostles. (Luke 6:13)
During the Last Supper John’s Gospel gives us many hints that Jesus ordained those apostles as his priests, as the first bishops. So it is good for us to keep that distinction between the twelve apostles and the other disciples clear in our heads. We hear much now about the priestly role of everyone who is baptized and that is good, but we must never forget God’s unique gift to us of priests ordained in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the ministerial priesthood. As God was making the covenant with Moses he promised,
You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. (Ex 19:6)
In some way all Israelites were to be priestly. But after the Israelites rebelled and worshipped the golden calf the priesthood was confined to just one of the twelve tribes, the tribe of Levi. We have to wait until the New Covenant before we hear that promise of the entire people being priestly fulfilled. In 1 Peter 2:9 we read,
But you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Pet 2:9)
While the entire Church is called to be “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own” the twelve apostles were ordained by Jesus during the Last Supper to serve the priestly baptized, and the bishops of the Catholic Church, with their assistants the priests, go all the way back to the apostles in a direct line of succession.
Does God really love us? Does God really care? The great sin of the Old Testament is forgetting God’s love when a time of hardship comes. It is also our sin. God does love us, and God’s love for us is expressed in specific ways that we can see, one being the gift of the priesthood to the Church.
At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” Then he summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness. (Matt 9:36-10:1)
More homilies for the Eleventh Sunday Year A
Second Reading related: Love of God for us 2009