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Who are YOU
to threaten US with Hell ?
[ a sermon addressed to the high and mightyRoman Catholic hierarchy
on behalf of their normally voiceless subjects in the pews ]
When, back in the 1960's, I was a Roman-Catholic seminary professor during the week, I spent weekends working as a parish priest to supplement my income, and one of the sermons that I delivered to a number of Catholic congregations at the time was so well received by the laity that it created quite a stir. The pastor of one of the churches where I preached the sermon dared me to address it to the hierarchy directly, so I accepted his challenge and sent a copy of it to every R.C. bishop in the country, including the Pope's representative to the U.S.A.
When not one of those bishops took notice -- not even to pressure my superiors to silence me --, I came to the conclusion that there wasn't enough life left in this church to justify any efforts on the part of people like myself to revive that institution. So I left a church where there was no hope of reform, to join one where the Reformation had already taken place. I have been a United Methodist minister ever since, though now retired. But because I believe that this sermon is as relevant and noteworthy now as ever I have republished it below, ( with just a few editorial improvements) : [ the Bible's words are set apart by color and italics. ]
"At that time, Jesus addressed the crowds and His disciples, saying : 'The scribes and the Pharisees speak with the authority of Moses, so you must do what they tell you and follow their instructions. But don't make the mistake of imitating their lives! For, they preach but do not practice. They pile up back-breaking burdens and lay them on other men's shoulders -- yet they themselves will not so much as raise a finger to move them. Their whole lives are planned with an eye to effect. They increase the size of their prayer books and lengthen the tassels of their robes; they love seats of honor at public functions and front places and to have men call them 'rabbi' or 'teacher'. As for yourselves, don't you ever be called 'rabbi' -- you only have one teacher, and all of you are brother of one another. And don't call any human being 'father' -- for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. And you must not let people call you 'leaders' -- for you have only one leader, the Anointed One (Christ). The only 'superior' among you is the one who serves the others. For, every man who promotes himself will be humbled, and every man who learns to be humble will find promotion.
But alas for you, you scribes and Pharisees, play actors (hypocrites) that you are! You lock the doors of the kingdom of Heaven in men's faces. You will not go inside yourselves, and neither will you allow others to enter."
There's a story often told about a mighty ruler who was so full of himself that a clever tailor was able to convince him that he looked 'simply marvelous' in a suit consisting of nothing at all. None of his subjects had the courage to challenge his delusions until at a public parade a young child saw him and asked out loud, "What's wrong with the emperor, parading around like that with no clothes on?" We may chuckle over the candor and honesty of such a child, but as adults aware of the power authorities wield over us, let's face it: we are much more likely to behave like the adults in that story, rather than the child.
Maybe it's time that something happened to wake us up, so that we too might begin to see things as they really are. It's time, in particular, that someone, somewhere, blew the whistle on those who think that they have a God-given right to be princes, kings or emperors in our own Roman Catholic Church! It is time that whoever claims to be Peter's successor be told that Christ never intended him or any man to be or to act like the "4th person of the blessed Trinity." Instead, Jesus directed "Anyone who wishes to be first in the kingdom of god should make himself the last and the servant of the rest." It's time that those who claim to derive their authority from Christ take another look at Our Lord and get off of their high horses, out of their luxurious vestments and automobiles, and out of their palatial homes, and away from their rich and powerful friends and neighbors. Instead of constantly condemning the faithful for new-found sins supposedly missed by the authors of the Bible, such as the practice of birth control, the marriage of the clergy, masturbation and yes even abortion, when are today's high priests going to pay attention to what the Bible says repeatedly and unequivocally to them?
In the Gospel selection that inspired this sermon, Jesus insisted that the leaders of his new religious community should never go around having people address them with honorific titles like 'father,' 'teacher,' and 'leader'. How can anyone imagine Jesus being anything but horrified by titles like "Monsignor" (meaning "my Lord'), "Your Excellency," "Your Eminence," "Your Holiness," "Supreme Pontiff," and most presumptuous of all "the Vicar of Christ"? Do such people take Jesus Christ seriously? Or, are they only using Christ as a means of having trusting people take them seriously?
Today's "high priests" quote some of Christ's words, namely those which suit them and seem to support the overwhelming authority they enjoy wielding over others. They won't let their subjects forget for example, that Jesus once said to the Apostles, "Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me." And they are forever reminding people that Jesus seemingly intended to put Peter, and all of his successors on pedestals, in a class by themselves, when he said: "You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church; and the gates of the netherworld will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven, while whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven." (Matt. Ch. 16) But why are they so silent about the words Jesus proceeded to address to this same Peter, just a few verses later: "Get behind me, Satan. You are an obstacle in my path, for the way you think is not God's way but man's." And what about the warning the Lord gave to those to whom he was entrusting a role of leadership in his new Church: "You know that among the pagans, rulers lord it over their subjects and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No, anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the son of man came, not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matt. Ch. 20)
Jesus had tried many times to instill this attitude in his leadership, saying to them, for example, when he overhead them arguing among themselves as to which of them was the greatest, " If anyone wishes to be first, he must make himself the last, and the servant of the rest." Finally, on the night before his death on the cross, Jesus made one last attempt to get this same message across. Although Peter objected strenuously to it, Jesus didn't feel it was beneath his dignity as the Son of God to put himself at the service of mere human beings -- that was what his life was all about! Getting down on his knees before each of his apostles, he washed their dirty feet! And when he had finished, in order to make sure that this dramatic lesson had not been wasted on them, he asked, "Do you understand what I have done to you? you call me lord and master, and rightly so, because that is what I am. But if I, the lord and master have washed your feet, so much the more should you wash the feet of others. for I have given you an example so that you may copy what i have done to you." (John Ch. 13)
Is that the example you see being followed by those who claim so boldly to be filling Christ's shoes on earth? Are they acting as servants when their "Excellencies" mount their royal thrones to proclaim their doctored-up version on Christ's teaching in such pontifical tones?
Is it Christ's example they are following when they try to make the majority of young married people feel guilty of grave sin for merely trying to plan for the family's future?
Is it Christ's example of loving and understanding service that they are practicing when they tell thousands of people that their previous disastrous marriages to monsters are still binding, while their present ones, no matter how successful, should be dissolved?
Is it the welfare of Christ's flock that they are looking after when they deprive millions of Catholics the services of marvelous priests just because those priests will no longer allow them to arbitrarily deprive them of a right so basic as the right to marriage?
Whom are they serving when they proclaim on their own authority alone that any man natural enough to want to share his life with a woman, no matter how holy, must be considered unfit to serve mankind as a priest?
Why are these clergymen so rigid in their interpretation of Scripture when it applies to married and/or divorced people but the very opposite when interpreting Scripture that is addressed to themselves?
And finally, whose example are they following when they allow many of the Church's younger generation to turn off the Church, and possibly Christ, in order to search elsewhere for an inspiring message and meaningful way of serving their fellow man?
Such policies and improbable doctrines are not God's will; they are man's will pure and simple. They are the policies and doctrines of men who have managed, over the centuries since Christ's time, to amass so much power into their hands that they have been able to force anyone and everyone to play their particular version of make-believe Christianity. So powerful have they become that anyone who attempted to unmask them -- even if only to wake them up to what they might have done unknowingly -- was easily put out of the picture by "excommunication", or by being branded a "heretic," a "fallen away priest" or the like. And so, again and again, Christ's prophecies about the fate of faithful followers has come true: "The disciple is not greater than his master. . . If they have called the master of the house (Jesus himself) 'Beelzebub' (one of the jewish names for Satan) what will they not say of his household?" (Matt. Ch. 16)
But how long will this charade be allowed to continue? I don't know, but I suspect the answer lies with you, the "People of God". As you well know, Jesus eventually allowed the chief priests, the experts in the old law, and the Pharisee leaders to capture him, put him through a mock trial and have him executed. But did you ever notice that the Gospels give the people the credit for Jesus' being able to continue his ministry for so long in the face of the fury of the so-called "men of God" of that day? "When they heard his parables, the chief priests and the scribes realized that Jesus was referring to them. Nevertheless, though they would have liked to put Jesus behind bars, they were afraid of the crowds, who looked on him as a prophet." (Matt. Ch. 21) Just as the common people of that day had the good sense to repudiate the slanderous lies the hierarchy was always trying to spread about Jesus, today's Catholics should think twice about the charges made by today's high priests. Many such leaders need to be reminded of Jesus' reproach: " Should you say, 'friend, let me help you get that speck out of your eye,' when you can't even see because of the board in your own? Hypocrite! First get rid of the board; then you can see to help your brother." (Matt. 7:4-5)