5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 07, 2010
Obedience versus Convenience
A senior citizen was driving on the highway. His wife called him on the phone. “Bill, I heard the news that there is a car going the wrong way at the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. That’s where you are now. Be careful!” The man replied, “Yes, I am careful. But, hey, you’re wrong! There is not only one car going the wrong way. There are hundreds of them!”
It is really scary to go against the flow of traffic. But it is more frightening to go against the tide of popular opinion and behavior. Man is a social being. We all want to belong to a group or community. That is why we do not dare to oppose the prevailing standards of our society.
But this is not the case with Jesus. He was not afraid to go against the tide of public opinion. He ate and drank with tax collectors and public sinners. He touched lepers. He cured the sick even during the Sabbath. And he publicly criticized the arrogance and hypocrisy of the rich and the powerful of his time. He did not seek the approval of society and the admiration of people. He was just intent on following the will of the heavenly Father even if it meant being ridiculed, ostracized or persecuted by society. After all, objective truth and rectitude do not depend on the opinion of the vast majority of people, but are based on the immutable divine principles.
In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus told Peter: “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” From the point of view and experience of seasoned fishermen like Peter and his companions, this instruction did not make sense. Peter made his point known: “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing.” If during the night they have caught nothing, it would be a waste of time fishing in broad daylight. Secondly, they were using nets. These are most effective in shallow waters, but not in the deep. Jesus must be mistaken –he was going against popular practice in fishing. Fortunately, Peter obeyed: “But at your command, I will lower the nets.” The proof of true faith is obedience. It is obedience to God’s commands that brings about great results and even miracles. The miracle of the great catch is a clear illustration of this truth that made Peter keenly aware of his own unworthiness: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
In a barbershop, a man said: “I don’t believe in God.” The barber asked, “Why did you say that?” The man answered, “If God is real, why are there many bad people?” The barber said: “I also don’t believe that soap is real. If it is, why do we see many dirty people on the streets?” The man responded, “Well, it’s because they do not wash themselves and use soap.” “That’s precisely my point,” the barber said. “There are many bad people, not because God is not real, but because they ignore God and His teachings.”
The world is in disarray because people do not obey God’s teachings. Obedience to God is the key to lasting peace and real prosperity in the world. The Book of Deuteronomy gives this timeless advice: “This command which I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out” (Deut 30:11, 14). What is only needed is to follow God, even though it may be contrary to popular opinion. A quotation said: “Don’t put a question mark where God put a period.”
Today, people tend to question God and His teachings instead of just obeying. Forty years ago, Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical “Humanae Vitae.” It is simply a reiteration of the divine truths about the sanctity of human life. But many people, instead of following the teaching, complained and tried to discredit it. Many simply ignored it, branding the Pope and the Catholic Church as outdated. And now, after forty years of widespread contraception since “Humanae Vitae” we find these distressing results in the United States: a 50% divorce rate, 80% cohabitation rate, 35% of all babies are born out of wedlock, one out of four unborn babies are surgically aborted (not counting the chemical abortions), 85% of Catholics practice contraception, with sterilization being the most popular form of birth control among Catholics. These are the times St. Paul referred to when he gave this warning: “the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires” (2 Tim 4:3).
Sadly, in the Church there are more “popularist” teachers who seek to please people, than the “prophetic” teachers who seek to please God and speak the truth of God. These “popularist” teachers are those priests who preach only the “feel-good” homilies. In the October issue of the Homiletic and Pastoral Review, Mr. John Moreno in his article “Preaching the Whole Truth” said: “It is the rare preacher today who will get up in the pulpit and address specific sinful acts.” In the Letter to the Editor, a reader gave this reaction: “There is a complete lack of truth being fed from the pulpit…One explanation has been that many priests have personalities that make them reluctant to offend so that they never say anything that anyone could consider offensive. Or that might cause one either to leave the parish or withhold financial support” (HPR, Feb 2010).
Jesus told Peter: “Do not be afraid.” Let us pray in this Mass that the Lord may give us the courage and strength to obey God’s teachings and commands. And especially during this Year of the Priests, let us pray for our priests that they may be faithful to their vocation of proclaiming the truth of Christ’s teachings with firm conviction, boldness and courage so that the people will know the genuine truth that leads to salvation.
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
New York, NY 10002