Seventh Sunday after Pentecost—19 July AD 2009
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
“By their fruits....” “Beware of false teachers, who come to you in the
clothing of sheep.”
This morning's Gospel sounds like it was written for us in
the 20ú century. We certainly seem to have more than our share of false
teachers and prophets. But, of course, it was written in the time of
Christ, to warn the infant Church to be on guard about the teachings of the
Pharisees and Sadducees (the leaders of the Jews), to warn them about the
influence of the Romans, and even to warn them that there would shortly be false
Christians who would try to deceive them.
But there is an enduring character in all of our Lord's
teaching. It seems to address the “human condition,” rather than a few
individual people or a few isolated situations. From this Gospel, we can
easily see that our Lord's teachings are for all people, in all places and
times. The Pharisees and Sadducees may have been replaced by rebellious
priests and bishops—the Romans may have been replaced by Republicans and
Democrats—we may even have a unique institution in the mass media (the TV, the
Radio, and the newspapers) —but our Lord's words still stand.
Individuals within the Church, the government, the media,
and other organs of society may do some very good things indeed. We
shouldn't always be cynical—some of them do good more often than harm.
Yet, they do have an enormous potential for doing damage.
Our Lord is not telling us to be unnecessarily
critical—He's not telling us, so to speak, to throw the baby out with the bath
water. He is simply telling us that we need to be alert, and to examine
the things done by those in positions of authority or influence.
Our Lord is not suggesting that we shouldn't listen to what
people say. We should listen to them. Sometimes evil men talk like
evil men. If they do, there is no point in waiting around for them to do
something evil, as they have promised. For example, if a man with a gun
threatens to shoot you, you don't wait around for him to prove that he is
We should know what the influential people in society are
promising (or threatening) to do—whether they be politicians, priests, or
whatever. For citizens to have any meaningful say in government, they have
to know the positions held by the major politicians—they can't just vote for a
pretty smile, a fancy suit, the best barbecue, or the accent which sounds most
like their own. As much as they are able, they also need to understand the
issues: be they moral issues, political, economic, military, social issues, or
It is the same with our Faith. Blind obedience is not
a virtue. Insofar as we are able, we need to understand our Lord's moral
and doctrinal teachings. We need to support those priests, bishops, and
political leaders which follow our Lord's teachings—and oppose those who do
Now, it is not always clear where people stand on the
important concerns of life. Sometimes they lie—they say one thing and do
another—they make promises they can't keep. This is where we apply what
our Lord says in the Gospel. A person's actions speak louder than his
words. At least over the long-run, we will see good fruits from the good
people in positions of power—and bad fruits from the bad people.
Of course, finally, we have to ask ourselves what is
“good fruit” and what is “bad”? Our Lord gives us the standard by
which that is to be judged. He says: “He that does the will of My Father
in heaven, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” The standard for
“good fruit,” then, is doing the will of God.
And we can know the will of God in public affairs, the same
way we know it in private life—by making an examination of conscience.
Only in this case, instead of asking ourselves how well we are keeping the
Commandments, or how well we are living in virtue, or how well we are conforming
to the natural law—we must ask ourselves these questions in terms of how well
society is doing these things under the leader in question.
It is a mistaken notion to think that society at large can
live under any different rules than those which must apply to individual people.
As Saint Paul says: “The wages of sin is death” —and that is true for
the country, or for the church, or for a community—just as it is true for you
and me. In fact, serious sin in a society is, in many ways, more serious
than serious sin in some of its members—because it has a more widespread and
All authority comes from God. And those who exercise
authority, yet scorn the will of God, very quickly lose their legitimacy—and
ultimately lose their authority. It is the height of folly to think that
the “will of the people,” or the will of a governing elite, can replace the
will of God!
This is a serious obligation for every one of us. We
must make an effort to be informed about what is going on around us—in the
Church, in politics, in all aspects of our society—we should try to know what
is going on, and what should be going on. And we should bring whatever
influence we have to bear, so that what should be comes closer to what is.
Our life here on earth, as well as our eternal salvation,
depends on making intelligent choices. We can't always know who the
“good guys” are just by what they say. We also have to pay attention
to what they do.
“By their fruits you will know them.” And, the
only good fruit—the only fruit worth having and keeping -- is to do the will
of God—both in private and in public.