Nothing Is More Threatening to an Uncertain Person than Someone Who Is Certain.
The Memorial of Saint Gregory the Great, Pope & Doctor of the Church.
Lessons from the primary feria for the Twenty-Second Tuesday of Ordinary Time, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• I Thessalonians 5: 1-6, 9-11.
• Psalm 27: 1, 4, 13-14.
• Luke 4: 31-37.
…or, from the proper:
• II Corinthians 4: 1-2, 5-7.
• Psalm 96: 1-3, 7-8, 10.
• Luke 22: 24-30.
…or, any lessons from the common of Pastors for a Pope, or the common of Doctors of the Church.
The Third Class Feast of Saint Pius X, Pope & Confessor.*
Lessons from the proper, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• I Thessalonians 2: 2-8.
• Psalm 39: 10-11.
• John 21: 15-17.
10:08 AM 9/3/2019 — Today we observe the memorial of Pope Saint Gregory the Great, a remarkable reformer pope who gave the Church, among other things, a beautiful liturgy complete with music which is all but forgotten now. Born in the year 540, he abandoned a position in the Roman government to become a monk, and used his wealth to establish six monasteries, all while serving as a papal legate to Constantinople. When he was elected pope, he instituted liturgical reforms and organized missions; in fact, it was due to him that missionaries were first sent to England. He died in 604.
Briefly reflecting on our Gospel lesson today, we are reminded how the Evangelists repeatedly mention the surprised reactions that our Lord’s teaching provokes in people. From yesterday’s Gospel, in which our Lord makes His first visit to preach in His home-town synagogue: Saint Luke tells us that they “were astonished at the gracious words which came from His mouth” (Luke 4: 22 Knox). Today’s lesson, which follows directly from yesterday’s, opens with the statement that “they were astonished at His teaching because He spoke with authority” (v. 32 RM3). At the end of the lesson, after Jesus has cured a possessed man, they again remark, “What is this word of his? See how he has authority and power to lay his command on the unclean spirits, so that they come out!” (v. 36 Knox). That’s twice the word “authority” is used, and it should remind us of another passage from another occasion, in which Saint Mark informs us that “they were amazed by his teaching, for he sat there teaching them like one who had authority, not like the scribes” (Mark 1: 22 Knox).
It isn’t hard to figure out what that means: He’s different from the Scribes and Pharisees because He pronounces His doctrine with vitality and certainty. He doesn’t teach mere opinion, nor does He show any sign of uncertainty or doubt. He doesn’t speak, like the prophets, in God’s name because He is not just another prophet; He speaks in His own Name because He, Himself, is God. He teaches people the divine mysteries and the nature of human relationships, and He backs up His teaching with His miracles. He explains His doctrine simply and vigorously because He speaks of what He has seen (cf. John 3: 11), and He doesn’t give long-winded explanations. He demonstrates nothing, He doesn’t try to justify Himself, He doesn’t argue. He teaches! And He teaches with authority.
I can only guess that this is what made our Lord’s words so irresistible to so many people. It’s also what made His words so threatening to the powers that be; after all, the corruption that infects people in power hasn’t changed in thousands of years. Once someone has power and authority over others, one becomes obsessed with holding on to it, and one of the ways you hold on to it is to never “box yourself in,” never paint yourself into a corner, always hedging your bets by leaving yourself open to any number of possibilities. Is that not what we usually despise in politicians? The candidate for office is asked a question in an interview or a debate, and instead of directly answering the question he or she talks in circles, trying to cover all the bases and avoid making a gaff, with the result that he spews out a plethora of words which don’t really mean anything, but which protects him from potential criticism. The Scribes and the Pharisees of our Lord’s time were the same, which is why, when our Lord comes along and teaches, as we hear today, “with authority”—that’s to say, with certainty—people are impressed … and some people are threatened and afraid, because there is nothing more threatening to an uncertain and cautious person than someone who is certain.
It used to be the teaching of the Church—and, in fact, still is—that all authority derives from God. Well, Jesus is God, so it seems that those in authority, both in the secular sphere and especially in the Church, would do well to imitate our Blessed Lord by not trying to straddle the fence and speak cautiously. If the world and the Church need anything today, it’s solid and sound teaching which doesn’t speculate, doesn’t opine, doesn’t worry about who’s offended, but simply and impartially declares what has been revealed.
For our part, we must consider our own relationship to the truths of the faith which our Lord teaches us. When we open the Holy Gospel, we must remember that what’s written there—the words and deeds of Christ—is something that we should not only know, but live. Everything, every point that is told there, has been gathered, detail by detail, for us to make it come alive in the individual circumstances of our lives. In the Gospel we should not simply find the life of Jesus, but we should also find our own lives there as we strive, day by day, to reproduce His life within us. After all, if our Lord is going to teach us with certainty and authority, then we must resolve to listen to Him with the humility and docility of good students.
* Born near Venice, Pope St. Pius X (1835-1914) was known for his service to all members of the Church as a priest, bishop, Patriarch of Venice, and Pope. He defended the purity of Catholic doctrine against modern and resugrent heresies and was instrumental in extending the practice of frequent reception of Holy Communion. Most remember him for having allowed children who have reached the age of reason to receive Holy Communion before being confirmed; prior to this, one had to be confirmed to receive the Eucharist. The unfortunate consequence of this was to gradually push the reception of Confirmation further back until it became a kind of coming-of-age ceremony, which is not of the essense of that sacrament. In recent years, many dioceses, some in this country, have elected to return to the more ancient practice, requiring confirmation prior to First Holy Communion. In the Eastern Churches, Confirmation is administered in infancy along with Baptism in the same ceremony, along with Holy Communion.
In the ordinary form, Pope St. Pius is commemorated on Aug. 21st.