Holy Family Sunday – Prophets of Change

Thank you to all that helped with our celebration of the Christmas season: our Holiday Fair, Wreath Sale and Meet and Greet teams, Maureen Pond and the Family Faith Program teachers, families and students, our Music Program: Ulises Solano, Sergio Sandí, Coco Leung, Anne Bordley and our Parish Midnight Mass Choir, the Altar and Garden Committee led by Faith Burges, and our ushers, lectors, Eucharistic ministers, and altar servers.

We are always looking for more volunteers for fellowship and service – talk to us after Mass in the back of the church.

Andy Warhol and the Church

Many parishioners have visited the Andy Warhol show at the Whitney Museum and left with a sense that there was more to his work than they originally believed. Some were surprised that he was a practicing Catholic and suspect that some of the paintings have a religious dimension. “Communion and Liberation”, an ecclesial movement in the Church with a commitment to adult religious formation, sponsors a weekend of Catholic thought and artistic expression every year called “New York Encounter”. This year one of the talks will be “I just happen to love ordinary things”, a presentation by Francis Greene, Art Historian, on Andy Warhol’s realism and the religious sense. Dr Greene is no stranger to St Charles. He wrote the text for the self-guided tour of the stained glass in our church and has attended Mass with us. His talk will be at 1:00 PM, February 17th at the Metropolitan Pavilion (125 W 18th) (This is President’s Day weekend). If you are interested in going as a group, please see Fr Smith. You may also wish to check the web site: http://www.newyorkencounter.org/2019-program/. There are many very interesting talks and exhibits. Speakers include Cardinal Patrick O’Malley and David Brooks and topics range from Loneliness to Pope Francis’ vision for evangelization.


First Reading

Holy Family Sunday

1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28

We have two options for the first reading this week. There is Sirach 3 which speaks of the respect and care parents deserve from their children. It contains the line “even if his mind fails, be considerate of him”. This is far too close for comfort, which leaves us with 1 Samuel 1. This tells the story of how Hannah, a woman thought to be sterile, conceived a child by the power of God and gave him to the sanctuary at Shiloh when he was 3 years old. On the surface this is not “mother of the year” material, so let us begin with its political and symbolic meaning.

After leading the Israelites out of Egypt and through the desert for 40 years, Moses ceded leadership to Joshua to enter the promised land. After Joshua died in about 1250 BC, the Israelites formed a loose confederation among themselves and would join together under a leader in times of need. This leader was called a “Judge”, but was more a general than a jurist. A judge was called by God and was not restricted to hereditary clan leaders. Thus Deborah, a woman, could be a judge. This worked well until other groups in the area began to develop a more centralized organization. Especially threatening for the Israelites were the Philistines who used their trading network to import superior weapons. By 1100 BC this had become a crisis and another way of organizing themselves was needed. A King was the obvious solution but the Israelites were quite aware of the dangers of kingship as well as its benefits. Although it would allow for a more coherent response to danger there would be a price to pay. Samuel will himself tell the people:

“These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; 12 and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 1 Sa 8:11–13)

This continues for quite some time but ends with:

19 The people, however, refused to listen to Samuel’s warning and said, “Not so! There must be a king over us. 20 We too must be like other nations, with a king to rule us and to lead us in warfare and fight our battles.” 21 When Samuel had listened to all the people had to say, he repeated it to the LORD, 22 who then said to him, “Grant their request and appoint a king to rule them.” 1 Samuel 8:19

Note however that the people go to Samuel to find them a king, they do not make such a serious decision without the aid of a prophet. Now for the symbols:

Hannah, the mother of Samuel, was thought barren. She represents the people of Israel who did not have an authentic prophet to proclaim the word of God to them. Although there was Sanctuary in Shiloh presided over by Eli and his sons, the people felt spiritually barren. There was no one who could act in God’s name. Hannah’s conception of Samuel was a sign that prophecy has been reborn and if they must have a king, he will be chosen by God himself.

But there is more, after today’s reading Hannah says:

1 “My heart exults in the LORD,

my horn is exalted in my God.

I have swallowed up my enemies;

I rejoice in my victory.

7 The LORD makes poor and makes rich,

he humbles, he also exalts.

8 He raises the needy from the dust;

from the ash heap he lifts up the poor,

To seat them with nobles

and make a glorious throne their heritage.

9 He will guard the footsteps of his faithful ones,

but the wicked shall perish in the darkness.

For not by strength does man prevail;

This has a very specific meaning. Eli had two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, and they exploited their positions as priests. Once Samuel is given to the sanctuary they are killed in battle. Eli also dies and Samuel is the undeniable leader of the People.

We may find this an odd way to write history, but it demonstrates that prophecy is irreplaceable. Samuel will be king maker and king breaker, and set the pattern for the rest of Jewish history. He will first anoint Sau,l but when he proves too flawed, he will replace him with David. David received God’s promise of eternal favor and help, but this did not mean impunity, When David ordered his officers to kill Uriah the husband of Bathsheba the prophet Nathan confronted David with his sin. David acknowledged it and repented. This is the pattern of the Old Testament. The king may be hereditary, but God will choose whoever he wants as his prophet to keep the king in line. Samuel, Nathan, Hosea and Jeremiah have nothing in common but their calling.

This is relevant for us in two ways: the necessity of power and the primacy of prophecy.

The contrast between the roles of king and prophet in the Old Testament is an early but by no means primitive example of checks and balances and one from which we can learn. The recent scandals in our society about the abuse of power was, as it almost always is, reflected in sexual exploitation. In virtually every case, this was aided by a failure to establish, much less implement effective controls within closed hierarchical organizations.  There was no comparable power to force compliance. An oversight committee, much less an HR department is just not adequate.  A group or institution must have and be seen to have real power before it can exercise constraint.

We say far too easily in the church that this will be lay involvement. Where will the power be? Recently Bishop Frank Caggiano, the Bishop of Bridgeport and formerly an auxiliary Bishop in Brooklyn, appointed a lay person to have effective administrative control of a parish. As she is appointed by the Bishop, she can only be removed for cause. This is the power of the purse strings from below and the means of constraint will develop from it. First the power, then the mechanisms.

This is not a panacea or magic bullet. If there is real power, there will be the opportunity for real corruption as well. But the inevitable tension between this level and the traditional power structure of the Church can be creative and keep both honest. The present attempt of members of the rich and motivated right wing of the church to buy it at fire sale prices is deeply disturbing. We need several locations of power.

But more than anything else, we need prophets. We have experienced sterility. The word of God is not bearing fruit and the message judges the messenger. As in the day of Samuel, we need institutional change, but as in every age whatever develops will need prophets to guide it. Change is difficult and prophets are annoying. Let us pray that we can accept both.