Even God Obeys the Pope, Shouldn’t We?
Thursday August 7, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Numbers 20:1-13) Gospel (St. Matthew 16:13-23)
In the readings today, we see two different elements. We see, on one side, the leadership that God has chosen for His people, whether that be through Moses for the children of Israel, or whether that be through Saint Peter and his successors for the New Israel; and we see the responsibility which is theirs. We see also what the people of God are to do and the struggle they are going to have.
We hear the people grumbling against Moses and against Aaron out in the desert because the things that they wanted were not there. They did not have figs and pomegranates, and they did not have the water. One can understand out in the desert, when there is no water and people are thirsting, why they would grumble; except, again, they had been fed right along by God, they had been given water by God, and they did not trust. They grumbled against Moses and Aaron. Moses did exactly what he should have done and he went to the Lord. The Lord told him what to do, except at this point Moses, frustrated with the people and getting upset, took his staff and was disobedient to God. God told Moses, “Speak to the rock, and the rock will put forth its water.” Instead, Moses took his staff and he struck the rock twice, and the rock brought forth the water. Immediately, God said, “Because you have disobeyed, you will not enter into the land that I will give to this people.” So one small act of disobedience on Moses’ part, after all that he had done – standing between God and the people, interceding for the people, leading the people, carrying the people, walking them through the desert, all the things that he had done – this one act of disobedience cost Moses entrance into the Promised Land. All he was able to do was climb a mountain and look at the Promised Land, but he was not able to cross the Jordan River to enter into it. And the reason is because the people were opposed to him; they grumbled against him.
Now we look at Peter and we see that God, for His Church, for the New Israel and the new people of God, has chosen one man to lead the Church. In our day, we have been given one of the most extraordinary men in human history to lead the Church. And what do the people do? They grumble against him - exactly what they did to Moses. And the Holy Father does exactly what he should do. He goes before the Lord and he prays and he tries to seek what he is supposed to do. And the more that he does what is right, the more the Catholics grumble against him. It is a tragic thing. It is one thing if non-Catholics grumble against him. What would we expect? But these are the Catholic people grumbling against the Lord and against his Pope, against His chosen leader.
So we need to recognize what we are doing and we need to see what he is doing. There is a principle which says that no one – no one – can stand in judgment of the Pope because there is not one single living person on earth who has walked one single day in his shoes. No one knows what it is to be the Pope except the Pope himself. So none of us can stand in judgment of this man. At the same time, what we have to recognize is that he is doing an incredible job. And then we need to look at ourselves and simply throw our arms up and say, “We ourselves have been pretty incredible. We have a shepherd who is trying to lead us to Christ and we want to go every other direction other than the way he is leading us. We want to grumble and complain. We want to tell him to change the rules. We want to tell him that it shouldn’t go this way. We want it our way.” We do not want a shepherd. We are like the ones that Jesus looked at who were lying around like sheep without a shepherd, except that He has given to us a shepherd and what we are doing is grumbling against him.
It is about time that we start to follow the shepherd, the one that God has given to us. It is time that we are obedient – which is exactly what we are supposed to do – and that we trust. None of us is going to be held responsible for the decisions that the Holy Father makes. He alone will have to be responsible for that. Each one of us, however, will be responsible for the decisions that we make. And there is one decision that should be so simple, so easy, and so obvious to us that it does not even take a second of thought. That is, Jesus Christ has founded His Church on Peter and his successors and He has given them so much authority that God Himself is obedient to the Pope, as it says right in the reading we just heard: Whatever you declare bound on earth will be declared bound in Heaven, and whatever you declare loosed on earth will be loosed in Heaven. God Himself has made Himself obedient to the Pope, and in our arrogance we won’t be???
So the simplest, clearest, most obvious choice that we should have to make is simply to be obedient. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure this out. God Himself has established it this way. He is the shepherd, we are the sheep. It is pretty obvious: The sheep are supposed to follow the shepherd. And we have one of the best shepherds the Church has ever had. It is about time that we stop grumbling against him and recognize that he is following the Good Shepherd, and that we need to follow our human shepherd who leads us to the Good Shepherd. It is time that we stop mumbling and groaning and grumbling and whining about the Pope and that we start praying for him and be obedient.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.