Sunday Scriptures

Keeping Watch for The Lord’s People

by Father Anthony F. Raso

TO BE CALLED, as was the prophet Ezekiel, to be the “watchman” for the House of God, is a great honor and a solemn responsibility.

In as much as this is what we are hearing in our first reading today, we must assume that this is no mere history lesson. We, too, are called to be watchmen. We are called by the Father and empowered by the Holy Spirit through our baptism and confirmation to stand up for the Lord, and to take responsibility of our sisters and brothers in the faith.

However, as we well know, this honor is also, as it was for Ezekiel long ago, a double-edged sword. It leaves no room for silence, nor for shifting the responsibility. If we do that, we can be placing our own souls in jeopardy: “If I tell the wicked ‘O wicked one, you shall surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked one from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt but I will hold you responsible for his death.”

This certainly sounds like the sort of “honor” which, when offered to us by God, would bring out the reply of “Thank you, Lord, for thinking of me, but well, no thanks.”

Not Just Faces in the Crowd

However, we don’t have that option. We are Christians, and therefore, we are in every way our sister’s and our brother’s keeper. We are not just faces in the crowd; we’re apostles of the Lord.

We see around and among us these days a lot of things that are sad and wrong. It is very, very easy to find a seat in the Church on weekends. One watches with great uneasiness as everybody gets up for Communion at a wedding or a funeral, no matter whether they’ve been to Mass much in the past decade or so. Our young people just move in together and then maybe, if that works out, get married. When you see a family attending Mass together on a weekend, the sight of them is a real surprise, albeit a happy one.

A Sigh and A Shrug

We react to all of this, clergy and laity alike, with a sigh and a shrug of the shoulders, wishing that things were back to those more reverent and “religious” times of years gone by. Then we conclude that the lesser of two evils is to be quiet and not make pests of ourselves by pointing out the shortcomings of others. It would be none of our business. Anyway, what’s the use?

To do our job as apostles may very well be frustrating, as Jesus Himself tells us in today’s Gospel. If your sister or brother sins, you must talk to him or her. If (when?) that doesn’t work, you must bring along someone else to back you up. If (when?) that doesn’t pan out, you must bring the problem to the Church. If (When?) that doesn’t do the job either, then “tough love” must be used – treat them like “a gentile” or worse, it seems, like a tax collector – but even then, keep the door open to them.

Now that seems like a lot of work, but we have to try the best we can. We must never give up on anyone or leave it up to someone else, no matter who that person is. Pope Francis, for instance, is a very inspiring fellow, but if my sister or brother is forgetting about the Lord and His Church here in Brooklyn or Queens, they need me, who is also in Brooklyn and Queens, to reach out to them like a shepherd, and try to call them home like a watchman.

Bother Them, Be a Pest

The key word here is try. Never give up. Follow them. Bother them if you must. Be a pest if that is what might work. But do it!

Why? St. Paul explains with his usual eloquence in today’s second reading: “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another, for the one who loves has fulfilled the law. … Love does no evil to the neighbor. Hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

It may seem that the best thing to do is to just be quiet and not bother anyone, and thus, not come off like some kind of religious fanatic. This sounds right. It certainly seems to be the most comfortable solution. But it is just not what God was saying to Ezekiel, not what Christ was saying to the Apostles and not what Paul was saying to the Christians in Rome.

Pope Francis is a terrific apostle, but he’s not the one living near Ocean Parkway or Queens Boulevard. We’re the ones who live there, and so that means we’re the ones the Lord needs to be His watchmen, right here and right now. If we are not reaching out to our erring sisters and brothers, then we are not showing them the love we are called to show them. We are disappointing Ezekiel, disappointing Paul, disappointing Jesus, and in the most profound sense, we are letting ourselves down.

We are called upon to be watchmen and we must answer that ancient and ever-living call from Heaven. If we do, then we are being who God wants us – and needs us – to be.

Readings for 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ezekiel 33:7-9

95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9

Romans 13:8-10

Matthew 18:15-20

Father Raso is a parochial vicar at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Dyker Heights.