BEYOND SUSPICION: A HOMILY ON TUESDAY, 32ND WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR II, IBADAN
The readings of the last few days have been very hard on bishops, priests and church leaders generally. The reason is because they are the head, and when the head is cut off, the body stands no chance. People do not call the priest ‘Father’ for nothing. He is the father of the community, no matter how young he is. Therefore, what is required of him is more than what is required of the rest of the community.
Today, he is asked to preach and teach people how to behave. In those days, the priest preached alot on what is good behaviour and what is bad behaviour. The result of that is that few people went for communion, because of one or two things they have done wrong, and many people went for confession for the same reason. Today, we claim to be nice and we condemn the people of old for being too harsh. We invite everybody to communion, even people who are not members of the church, in the name of being nice to people. Then we tell people jokes and make them laugh, and we tell them they are doing very well. We tell them they have done nothing wrong, and even if they do, God understands that they are weak.
St. Paul tells us to teach the kind of behaviour that is in line with healthy doctrine. Fr. Anthony Padua CSsR, once observed that we seem to have moved away from what Jesus did. Reading the gospels, one would observe that Jesus was very hard on adults and soft on children. He instructed the adults, but blessed the children. We seem to be doing the opposite. We bless the adults and instruct the children. Most of our teachings on good behaviour seem directed towards children. But with adults, we assume that because they are adults, they are behaving well.
Well, St. Paul doesnt think so. He invites the preacher to instruct older men on how to be reserved, dignified, moderate, sound in faith, love and constancy. He also invites the preacher to instruct older women on how to behave religiously, with no scandal-mongering and no habitual drinking of alcohol. Instead of telling the preacher to teach the children, St. Paul said when the older women have learnt properly, it will be their turn to teach the younger women how to love their husbands and children, how to be sensible and chaste and how to be good home makers, how to be gentle and obedient to their husbands. Because the priest is a man, he is to become an example to other young men. Our children do not need long instructions. What they need is good examples, beginning from the priest to the adults in the community.
St. Paul goes on to instruct the priests to live in such a way that nobody will have anything to use against them. This one seem humanly impossible. The Late Bishop Ephraim Silas Obot, of Idah Diocese, in one ordination said something that really stayed with me. He told the newly ordained priests that they should aim at living beyond suspicion. I was wondering how possible it is for someone to live beyond suspicion. It is to live in such a way that you do not give reason to anyone to suspect you of any evil. I believe this should be the aim of every priest and also adults who should be examples to young ones.
Sometimes, someone may not be doing something bad, but he may be doing something else, which makes it easy for people to suspect him. For example, a priest goes out to eat, and opposite where he is going to eat is a brothel. Not finding a space to park his car in front of the eatery, he goes and parks his car in front of the brothel, and crosses over to the eatery to have his meal. Of course, a lot of people know his car and the plate number of the car. So many people will see the car and unaware of the full story will have reasons to believe he visits prostitutes. Sometimes someone may complain that people are saying something bad about him which he did not do. If you are not doing something bad, maybe there is something you are doing which gives people reasons to believe you are doing something bad. That also needs to change, to avoid scandal. It is not enough to say, ‘But my conscience is clear’. Adults, especially priests, should not even give wrong signals to young ones. You may not be able to explain to each and every one of them the reasons behind your actions.
Jesus tells us in the gospel to have the mentality of servants. The priest should see himself as a servant of the community. The people deserve to be taught by him and the people deserve a good example from him. Adults also should know that young people in the community are looking up to them. Dont give them reasons not to trust you. When you have done all of this, Jesus said, you have just done your duties.
Another side of this is that the priest is also human and needs to live his life normally like every other person, but not in a scandalous way. There are times when people see me at the mall and ask ‘Father what are you doing here?’ and I return the same question to them. If you think the priest shouldnt be there, then even you shouldnt be there. Sometimes, people can have unnecessary explectations, like saying something really annoying and expecting that because you are a priest, you will not be angry. Well, try me! My rule for lay people is, if you think the priest should not say that or do that, then you should also not say that and do that. Allow the priest to be human as well. Nobody is born a priest. Every priest became a priest only later in life, so we will always be humans and the priesthood does not take away our humanity. But priests should not hide under the cover of being humans to create scandals. They should aim and living beyond suspicion. People are looking up to you. Just do your duties.