Reflection for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Rev. Fr Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

A bishop was visiting a parish to confer the sacrament of confirmation. Before the sermon, the bishop did something unusual. He randomly picked a few congregation members, including a ten-year-old boy. When they assembled in front of the Church, the bishop asked each to preach briefly to him and the priests and nuns at the mass as the Readings were directed to religious leaders.

The ten-year-old boy concluded with a stunning statement that shocked everyone. The translation to the English language says: “Dear bishop, priests, deacons, and nuns, we want to see you do the things you always ask us to do so that God will be happy with everyone.”

What a great message from the Holy Spirit. In the same spirit, the reflection this thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A will be unusual, like in the story.  However, the only difference will be that I will be preaching to myself. So, listen along.

God’s Anger at the Priests and Religious Leaders

In the First Reading (Malachi 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10), God gives a serious charge to priests. He begins by warning that if they do not listen and lay His directives on their hearts to give glory to His name, he will curse them and turn their blessing into a curse.

Furthermore, God accused the priests of turning aside from the right way and made others falter by the discordant instructions that voided the covenant of Levi or the priesthood. God also said that He would make the Priests contemptible before the people since they compromised His ways and even became partial.

In the Gospel Reading (Matthew 23:1-12), our Lord Jesus Christ took a swipe at the Pharisees and the Scribes who represented the religious leadership of the people as they had access to the chair of Moses. Instructing the crowd from the angle of their hypocrisy, he said, among other things:

Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.

Our Lord also pointed out their religious acts meant to attract people’s admiration and their acute desire for honor and recognition among the people in public spaces.

Does My Life as a Priest Serve as a Positive Influence?   
What I did to power this reflection was to go through the Readings, inserting my name in those places God was referring to the Priests, where Paul was referring to himself and his co-workers, and where our Lord Jesus Christ was referring to the Pharisees and the Scribes. It was scary but very effective for me.

First, I discovered that my life as a priest could be a blessing or a curse, depending on my choices regarding my conduct with the people I serve. God has given me a great privilege that comes with a huge responsibility. The Letter to the Hebrews (5:4) says: “And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.”   

Reflecting, therefore, on the Readings, I have these questions and instructions for myself.

Do I have a listening ear or just a speaking mouth? One of the best qualities of a good leader is the ability to listen. This quality is more important to me as a priest because I need to listen to God and the people with intentional stillness and patience, even when they don’t make sense.

Am I turning people away from God or bringing them to Him through my words and actions? This was one of the major contentions of God against the priests in the First Reading. It is instructive that my verbal expressions and activities are potentially effective. Therefore, I must be selective when using them.

Do I care about the people under my watch? To this, Hebrews (5:2) says: “He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray since he himself is subject to weakness.”

My ministry is not a paid profession; it is a spiritual service and care for souls. I should be able to care not because of what I should get but what I should offer. Like St. Paul in the Second Reading (1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9,13), I should be a nursing mother to the flock.

Do my teachings align with my personal life? Recall that Jesus condemned the Pharisees and the Scribes for not practicing what they preach. I should be able to beat my chest and say, like St. Paul, I share not only the Gospel but also my life as an example for others.

Am I transforming lives or just making impressions? The whole essence of my ministry is to reveal my Lord Jesus Christ to the world around me. So, it is not all about me; it is all about the Lord who called me, revealed, exalted, and glorified.

Moving Forward: Excelling Ministry Points

Beyond the beautiful messages about love, I should be an unconditional conduit of love. I should love without benefits and boundaries after the manner of Jesus Christ, who said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44).

Beyond the inspiring renditions on forgiveness, I should be able to dispense forgiveness to others. Irrespective of the depth of the hurt I may have incurred. Even my Lord Jesus pleaded with the Father to “forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

My life should be a template of faith. I cannot inspire faith in others and despair when challenged by situations and circumstances. I should reckon with the scripture that says, “It is impossible to please God without faith (Heb. 11:6).

I need humility to execute the demands of the priestly ministry. St. Paul challenged me to let the same mind be in me that was in Christ Jesus, who, though, was in the form of God, did not count on his equality with God but humbled himself (Phil. 2:5-7). With humility, I should be able to serve with intentional selflessness.

Thank you and pray for me.

Fr. Bonnie.

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