The Bishop Speaks

Bishop Louis Vezelis O.F.M.

There is a very dangerous epidemic going around in religious circles that is far more deadly than any physical virus.

This `spiritual virus' has been around a very long time. It's been around since the first sin of disobedience that cast Satan and his fellow-fliers down to earth. It's called `pride.' It's not the kind of pride that we ought to be proud of, such as taking pride in our work, or taking legitimate pride in our accomplishments.

Everyone needs a little pride in himself because it is not easy to find many people willing to give encouragement when self-doubt freezes fruitful activity.

The kind of pride that undermines all virtue and progress in the spiritual life is self-delusion. This delusion is particularly evident when those entrusted by the Holy Ghost to teach and guide are rebuked for being `harsh.'

It is only the preaching of some hard and harsh truths that wake people up to the reality of things. The reality, one must say, of their own false appreciation of themselves.

This kind of harsh preaching is necessary for all of us. And, rather than be rejected, it should be sought with eager longing. At times, the preacher must make himself appear as a motley fool for the sake of those souls entrusted to his care.

Harsh preaching provides the medicine for souls that are sick. The kind of preaching that has led souls to their mutual destruction is the kind that flatters individual tastes and cures nothing. Much like patent medicines that are flavored and scented for easy consumption _ but very little effect.

It would be good if those appointed to preach remembered the words of God spoken through the Prophet Ezechiel: "If thou declare not to the wicked his iniquity, I will require his blood at thy hand" (Ezech.8,11)

And again, the Prophet Isaias says: "cry, cease not; lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their sins" (Isa. 58, 1).

The negligent priest is also addressed in severe tones in the Gospel: "Wicked servant! Why didst thou not put my money in a bank, so that I on my return might have gotten it with interest?" (Luke 19, 23).

The people do not wish to hear of any `narrow gate' which leads into the kingdom of heaven. This is the duty of the bishop and priests under him. But, if they will not listen to the bishop or priest, might they still listen to the words of Jesus Christ?

Consider for a moment the scene when our Lord and His disciples were going from towns and villages, "teaching and making his way towards Jerusalem." (Luke 13, 22).

After hearing His words, someone asked him: "Lord, are only a few to be saved?"(Ibid.).

What answer did Jesus give to this man? Jesus did not only answer the individual, He used this question to address everyone without exception: "Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.

"But when the master of the house has entered and shut the door, you will begin to stand outside and knock at the door saying, `Lord, open for us!' And he shall say to you in answer, `I do not know where you are from.' Then you shall begin to say, `We ate and drank in thy presence, and thou didst teach in our streets.' And he shall say to you, `I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity.'

"There will be weeping, and the gnashing of teeth, when you shall see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves cast forth outside." (Ibid. 13, 24-28).

These words of Jesus were applied to all those who listened to the Rabbis and priests of the Old Testament. They apply today to all those bishops and priests who were validly and legitimately consecrated or ordained according to the Order of Melchisedech (Roman Catholic bishops and priests).

This is the sentence careless bishops and priests will have to endure if they are unwilling to preach the word of God in season and out of season.

For this reason, the esteemed reader will understand that one who must preach with the force of simple truth must do so in order to absolve his conscience in the sight of God.

It is a rash and false judgment to conclude from the forcefulness and urgency of the truth that the preacher lacks humility in performing his divine duty.

The Old Testament gives us the example of the priest Heli who, when he heard that his sons were committing adultery pretended to kill them or to cast them out of the community (for adultery was a crime punishable by death or excommunication), but gently admonished them, saying: "My sons, it is no good report that I hear about you. If one man shall sin against another, the priest will pray for him; but if the priest himself sin, who shall pray for him?"(I Samuel 2, 24-25).

Even though Heli gave this mild admonition, he fell backwards from his stool and died of a broken neck, and his name was blotted out of the book of life because he would not punish his sons with great severity.

Heli's two sons were killed with 30,000 on one day and the ark of the covenant taken by the enemy. This evil was done because of the negligence of a priest who did not fear the words that were quoted above, namely: "If thou declare not to the wicked his iniquity, I will require his blood at thy hand".

This is the same God Whom we worship in this 20th century. The evils condemned in past days can in no wise become virtues in our present days. All of Scripture was written for our instruction and consolation. Instruction: so we may know how we must deal in a god-like manner; consolation: so that we may bear with patience the sufferings that befall the innocent and the guilty.

Clearly, from hearing with what a heavy blow a careless priest was struck, let us look at what the priest Phinees earned to hear from the Lord because he exercised holy severity.

When he had killed two adulterers together by striking them with one blow, he merited to hear the Lord say: "Phinees the priest, moved with my zeal, turned away my wrath that I might not destroy the people." (Num. 25, 11)).

We also find written of him in Psalm 105, 30-31: "Then Phinees stood forth in judgment and the plague was checked, and it was imputed to him for merit through all generations forever."

Can it be anything other than an abomination practiced by the clergy to close an eye upon adultery? More than an abomination, it must be a hideous mockery of God to condone it even after Jesus Christ Himself denounced it?

We live in a time when the wisdom of Holy Scripture finds clear application. The adulteries of the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, have become such a mockery of morality that dismissing such a thing places the nation on notice that morality is meaningless.

When sinners are rebuked for their crimes, what is worse, they do not all accept it with humility and obedience. Many hasten to reply without as much as a blush and with insolent boldness, saying: Am I the only one who did this? Have not those people, and those, done similar things and worse? Do not even the clergy with major orders commit such sins? Unfortunate soul!

How can a crowd of miserable people be a comfort to such a one? Is the torment any less for the individual sinner if immense crowds of sinners be tortured in eternal punishment with him?

Not long ago, an American comedian made the observation on his TV show that pillorying a President for perjury in matters dealing with the sixth commandment is tantamount to singling out one man. The comic pointed to a picture of thousands of citizens gathered before the White House. His comment? "All those people are coming to perjure themselves!"

How much better would it be for each one to abandon the evil of one's sins and exclaim in humble confession: O Lord, be merciful to me. Heal my soul, for I have sinned against thee. Or, as King David avows in the Psalm: "I know my iniquity, and my sin is always before me."

For the good of his soul, the rebuked sinner should follow the example of those who were honestly converted after many sins, rather than propose for imitation those who will suffer endless punishment after brief joy.

With a temerity and rashness that can only be described as impious, slanderous souls are inclined to despair of God's justice, thinking that many people who commit the same or even worse sins suffer no evil in this world but remain healthy and wealthy in every kind of good fortune.

The proud and evil souls who commit serious sins may seem happy to the bystander because they suffer no evil in this world. And so it would seem. It does seem that the most vicious people in this world enjoy not only good health but extremely great success.

But, what do the Scriptures say? Read what the Psalmist says of them: "They are not in the labors of men: neither shall they be scourged with other men. Therefore their pride hath held them fast: they are covered with their iniquity and their wickedness. Their iniquity hath come forth, as it were from fatness." (Ps. 72, 5-7).

They may not be scourged in this world because they may be reserved for eternal punishment due to the excessive number of their sins. They cannot be punished in this short time because they require endless punishment.

Because we do not understand the mind of God, the fact that He does not punish evildoers according to His justice, it comes to us as an unpleasant surprise that He subjects those who He loves to all kinds of tribulations.

"God scourges every son whom he receives" Heb. 12,6). And even further on we find this truth repeated in the Apocalypse: "Those whom I love I rebuke and chastise" (Apoc. 3,19). Since this is the case, namely, that God scourges every son whom He receives, if He does not chastise a man, He does not accept him. If He chastises all whom He loves, He does not love a man if He does not chastise him.

It is not so much God Himself effecting this chastisement as it is the wickedness of men. And for this reason it is written: "He who is filthy, let him be filthy still; and he who is just, let him be just still (Apoc.22,11).

It is a dangerous illusion to think that one's sins are less in comparison with those who are worse. A little diligent thought on this matter will prove enlightening.

While in his sinful soul a man is still contained in this frail body, he should provide for himself remedies that will remain forever. For example, if it delights him to be clothed in fine garments and soft linens and to be a slave to pleasure in the midst of wealth and luxury, the future flames of hell will force him to seek in vain for a drop of consolation.

When wicked men hear these truths, they become like madmen who have lost their sense of reason. And then they envy and ridicule those who preach these things with great effort.

We should let them laugh as much as they wish; but, it is the Lord Who answers for us: "Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted." (Matt. 5,5). The Lord also answers for them: "Woe to you who laugh now! For you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you who are filled! For you shall hunger."(Luke 6,25).

Let the proud laugh at us; let us nevertheless day and night implore God's mercy for their salvation, unworthy as we ourselves may be.

We might wish that God would punish them immediately as His children, so that having been rebuked, they may be recalled from the depths of their sins.

Then, performing suitable acts of penance, they may merit to be received unto eternal reward with the saints. The performing of fruitful works of repentance is a condition for returning to grace.

Something that has been tragically forgotten is the truth concerning the priests' heavy burden. Both priests and laity have forgotten this important truth. It is truly a most heavy burden that threatens the lives of bishops and priests of whom will required the souls of many men.

We ought to consider that which was seen in the life of the careless priest Heli, and the glory merited by the faithful Phinees because of his supernatural zeal for souls. Keeping these examples in mind, gratitude and patience should mark our listening to preaching that is not always tender and flattering, but harsh and severe.

The worst habits of sin are diminished by harsh reproof. When a doctor of the body refuses to come to the sick, they are begged with great humility and gifts are offered even though there is doubt that the remedy will be useful.

Great sums of money are spent for physical health; much pain is endured on the mere hope that health might be restored. Why, then, is not the health of the soul sought with at least equal effort and that without great expense?

The answer to this question is provocatively plain: Many people exert greater care for the body than for the soul. Yet, it is our soul, created in the image and likeness of God, that makes us so superior to the rest of creation and so important before God.

The body will eventually rot and become the food of flies and worms; while the soul will be presented to God by the angels in heaven. Then, if the soul has sought truth and goodness, has turned away from evil and pursued good, it will be crowned. If it was wicked, it will be cast into the darkness outside. May God protect us from this darkness by giving us bishops and priests who are not afraid to preach the plain, simple, harsh truth.

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