Only By the Wisdom of God Will We Survive
Reading (Titus 1:1-9) Gospel (St. Luke 17:1-6)
In the Gospel reading today, Our Lord, in speaking about sin and just how big of a problem that is, tells us that it would be better for a person to have a millstone tied around his neck and thrown into the sea than to cause a little one to sin. Now we can look at our own selves and there are lots of things we do that we tend to ignore. We tell ourselves it was not that big of a deal. In fact, if we look back in our lives to maybe the time that we were teenage kids, we thought it was pretty funny to teach other people how to sin, to do things that were just plain wrong and were going to be destructive to their souls. The Lord tells us just how major that is. Not only is it something that is not funny (which, I assume, most of us have grown out of by now) but also the fact that it is not something that is small. But rather, if it would be better for us to have a millstone tied around our neck – a millstone which would weigh several hundred pounds – and be thrown into the sea than to teach one of the little ones to sin, it tells us just how grave those sins of scandal are. The word “scandal” means to place a stumbling block in front of somebody to make them stumble. So, if by our example or by our teaching we have caused someone else to sin, we need to make sure we get that taken care of in Confession because it is not a little thing to teach someone else how to do evil.
The Lord also tells us, on the other side of it, that we have to make sure we are forgiving. He tells us that if somebody sins against us seven times a day and then seven times a day apologizes that we need to forgive that person seven times a day. And that, as we look at the first reading, is living out our priestly office that we have from Baptism. We see that Saint Paul left Titus in Crete to be able to appoint priests and to appoint bishops. And part of the bishop’s job, Saint Paul tells us, is to make sure that he will exhort with sound doctrine and refute opponents. And so it is to be able to be a good example; it is to be able to teach the truth; it is to be able to put down error. We see that part of the priestly role is the forgiveness of sin and offering of sacrifice, which each of us must do, but then that lived out reality of the faith, of not only not being a bad example to others but of teaching them the truth, of calling sinners to repentance, as Our Lord in the Gospel tells us to do: “If your brother sins against you, rebuke him.” We need to be able to do that, which again follows right out of the priestly office. If we are to be able to refute opponents and teach with sound doctrine, that is part of the priestly office we have. The bishop, in a particular way because of the prophetic office which belongs to him, has the obligation of teaching; he is the primary teacher in a diocese. But each one of us, having a share in that priestly office of Christ and in the prophetic office of Christ, must live that out, to be able to see what the bishop does hierarchically, to see what the priest does in the hierarchy, as well as the deacon, and then to realize in our own individual and personal lives that we must live out those same things: to serve, to sacrifice, to teach.
These are just the opposite of the things that come naturally to us. Because of sin and our fallen nature, what comes naturally is selfishness. In that selfishness, we do not want to serve others, we do not want to teach them the truth, we do not want to offer sacrifice of ourselves – but rather, we want to focus just on us. The Lord makes very clear to us that that is not what our life is about. It is not what is to be happening in the hierarchy of the Church, and it is not what is to be happening within our own individual lives. We must accept the dignity which is ours as baptized persons into Jesus Christ: to embrace that threefold office which is ours – priest, prophet, and king – and to live it out fully, to be willing to teach, to refute error, to forgive, to offer sacrifice, to serve, to do all of these things so that we will live holy lives, that we will be good examples to people, that instead of putting stumbling blocks in their way we will remove those stumbling blocks to holiness, and that we will help each other on the way to eternal life.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.